This Bill now reported to the House differs in one important respect from the Bill which was submitted to the Dáil by the Minister, in so far as he has seen fit to accept an amendment which stood in the names of Deputy Shaw and Deputy Egan to insert before Section 20 a new section. The purpose and the intention of that new section was to pass on to the public a tax which the Minister, in the Bill as originally introduced, proposed to levy upon sound films. I have been reading the debate on that matter, and I am not satisfied that the Minister and those who proposed that amendment have justified it to the House. In that connection, I would like to refer the House to the Minister's original financial statement, in which he indicated that this new tax would be imposed and I would like to emphasise the words with which he defended it. The Minister stated
For some time past the silent film has been going out of use in picture houses in the Saorstát, as in picture houses elsewhere, and the long queues in the streets testify to the popularity of the sound film and to the large sums of money which are going to support it. It is supplanting not merely the silent picture but also the orchestra. It has been felt for some time that the rate of tax which was appropriate to silent films was an insufficient levy on talkies. They are not only a more complex product but their attractiveness to the public enables them to bear more tax. Further, they are also more effective agents for the reduction of our revenue in other directions than the old films. I propose, therefore, that the customs duties on sound films, whether they themselves bear the sound record or whether they are adapted for use with a separate sound record shall be increased from one penny to threepence per linear foot.
The original intention of the Minister is quite clear from his statement and that was, not to increase the amusements tax, but to put such a duty upon sound films as would compensate for the loss to the public and the public particularly of the Free State and to those who have earned their living by following music as a profession. He proposed to compensate for those losses by imposing a tax upon sound films. I think that that is a tax which in all the circumstances was justifiable because the introduction of the sound film has enabled every picture house in the Saorstát to dispense with its orchestra. We know that in the largest picture-houses in Dublin the orchestra has been entirely dispensed with and these Dublin citizens who formerly earned their living as members of these orchestras are, many of them, now facing destitution. I believe that some of them ultimately will either be compelled to emigrate or will be supported out of public funds. Merely as compensation for the public moneys which would be spent in supporting those disemployed members of the orchestras, the tax on the sound film would be justifiable. The people who are reaping the profits—and there is a considerable amount of profit out of the talkie films, firstly because of their popularity and secondly, because of the economies which the proprietors of picture-houses are enabled to make by using them—are the renters and the exhibitors. The public only benefit to the extent that their taste is gratified and it is to my mind unfair and unjust that the Minister who designed this tax as a tax on renters and exhibitors should now, owing to political pressure within his own Party, pass that tax on to the public.
In proposing his amendment, Deputy Shaw endeavoured to justify it by asking the Dáil to behold the piteous spectacle of the poor film exhibitor. He said that the renters intended to pass this tax on to the exhibitor. Well and good, if the renters do, the film exhibitors have had ample compensation, and still will have ample compensation, for that tax if it is passed on to them, in the increased audiences which these films are bringing to their picture-houses. But, as I pointed out in the debate on the Committee Stage of the amendment, so far as Dublin is concerned, the film exhibitors and the film renters in the case of two and, to a certain extent in the case of a third, of the largest picture-houses in Dublin, are one and the same interest. I think the biggest, or the second biggest house in Dublin is owned by a film-producing corporation in America. A picture-house which is either the biggest or the second biggest, either of these alternatives, is in close association with a British film-producing corporation, and a third one has also certain contracts and affiliations with a British film corporation. If Deputy Shaw's amendment had not been accepted by the Minister those picture-houses would not be able to pass on the tax to the public.
Those picture-houses, I believe, represent a seating capacity which is equal to more than 60 per cent. of the total seating capacity of the cinemas in Dublin. They will be unable to pass this tax on to the public as they would have been if the Minister had not accepted this amendment. We say that the film renters ought to be compelled to bear this tax, but now on account of the flexibility, as it has been euphoniously described, of this amendment, a flexibility which Deputy Shaw states is necessary, these picture-houses will be able, as I have said, to pass on the tax. What the Minister originally intended, I believe, was to put the tax upon the external monopolies which control the film business in this country, but now they will be able to make it a tax upon the Irish public. That was not the original intention, I believe, of the Minister or of this House when it accepted the principle of this increased tax on films.
We on this side of the House, I believe, would be prepared, to a certain extent, to meet the point of view of the smaller cinemas and of the provincial cinemas, but I do not think we are entitled to meet it to the extent which Deputy Shaw asks us to do, or the Minister in the amendment he has accepted. I believe we could meet Deputy Shaw and the provincial exhibitors if we only permitted the alteration in the rates of the entertainment duty to apply to houses of a certain limited capacity. Very few of the provincial cinemas have a seating capacity of more than 800 or 1,000 at the outside. If we limited the alteration only to those houses which have a seating capacity not exceeding 1,000 or 1,200 we would be excluding those houses in which the film producers, renters and exhibitors represent one and the same interest. We would be compelling them to refrain from passing the tax on to the public and would enable the smaller houses in certain of the provincial towns where, in the majority of cases, competition does not exist, to meet any extra charge which the film renters might pass on to them.
Even though we would be prepared to meet Deputy Shaw to that extent we would like to make it clear that no figures and no data have been put before the House to justify the statement the Deputy has made, that the provincial cinemas are at the mercy of the film renters, and that if this amendment is not accepted they will be compelled to pay exorbitant rates for their films. For myself I do not believe that, because while I believe it is true that there is a shortage of suitable films in Dublin, where you have a considerable number of picture houses, and therefore competition for the films available, there is no shortage of suitable films for exhibition in the provincial towns. I suppose it is correct to say that you have nineteen or twenty picture houses in Dublin competing for the limited number of films released by the film censor each week. They are willing and anxious to pay a great deal in order to get a programme. In the case of the provincial towns you have at most one or two picture houses in each town. These picture houses have a choice of the films that are released for the use of the Dublin houses week after week. I believe that the film renters have to deal with the provincial exhibitors on competitive terms. Because of that I do not believe that the provincial exhibitors would be able to pass on this tax to the film exhibitors in the way that Deputy Shaw fears. For that reason I do not think that the amendment has been justified to the House either by Deputy Shaw or the Minister.
The only good argument from the financial point of view of which the Minister could justify his acceptance of the amendment was that it was going to mean no loss of revenue. He is going to get exactly the same revenue from the tax under Deputy Shaw's amendment as he would have got if it were not accepted. The important thing for the House to bear in mind is that the original intention of the Minister was to tax the film renters and the film producers in order to compensate for the dislocation in the economic life of the State which the introduction of the films has produced. That was his point of view, and certainly I believe it was not his original intention to seek that compensation at the cost of the Irish public. The effect of the amendment will be to pass the tax from the foreign film producer to the native Irish public. Unless the Minister is able to defend the amendment on its merits, and unless Deputy Shaw is able to produce more cogent reasons in support of his amendment than he has given hitherto we will be compelled to oppose it.