Finance Bill—Fifth Stage.

Question proposed—"That the Bill do now pass."—(Minister for Finance).

We, on this side of the House, feel that we cannot permit this Bill to pass from the Dáil without emphasising the fact that it is a measure which has probably received more opposition from all parts of the House than any Finance Bill introduced by the Minister. There are four provisions in the Bill which, in particular, have aroused the strongest opposition. The first of these is section 2, which proposes to give retrospective effect to an amendment of the law— an amendment of the law which is designed to make an offence of what, according to a decision of a judge of one of our courts, was not an offence and has not been an offence up to this. We have had many expressions of opinion from the Government Benches concerning the manufacture of crime in this country, but the Dáil has now turned itself into a manufactory of crime. This may be, in the eyes of the Minister, not a felony. It may be merely an infringement of the law, but deliberately and of set purpose, by inserting the words "and be deemed always to have had effect" in section 2 of this Bill, the Dáil does definitely make what was previously in accordance with the law, now an infringement of the law and not only an infringement of the law at the present moment, but an infringement of the law in times past. It is proposed to roll back, as it were, the time machine and to make offenders people who acted in a perfectly legal and constitutional way and in accordance with their legal rights prior to the introduction of the Bill by the Minister. I feel that none of the assurances which the Minister has given to this House is a sufficient justification for the step which he is asking the House to take. Speaking on my own behalf, I think it is time that the House took a serious view of the laws of the State and that it was itself prepared to pay to them that respect which the Minister for Justice states should be given to the laws of the State by all its citizens.

In order to enforce such respect, the Minister for Justice is prepared even to permit his own licensed bravadoes to commit illegalities. What respect can those who differ politically from the Minister for Justice and the members of the Executive Council have for the law when they see the very fount and origin of the law itself so disregardless of the dignity of the law, so disregardless of its permanence that they propose now, after the courts of the land have found that the law is such and such in a certain case, to amend it in order to make it not what it was but what the Revenue Commissioners and the officials of the Department of Finance thought it was. From that point of view, this section of the Act is entirely unjustifiable. Not only do we on the Fianna Fáil benches take that view, but the Independent members of this House have taken that view. The members of the Labour Party have taken that view and, more significant still, the members of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party have taken that view. Notwithstanding the fact that this proposal has met with opposition from all sections of the House, the Minister still continues to flout the opinion of the united representatives of the people and, by means of his party machine, to drive this objectionable enactment through the House. It is not often that I expect saving grace from the Seanad, but I hope that when the Bill goes to another place the party machine there will not be as effective as it has been here, and that the members, on this matter, will vote in accordance with their conscience and in accordance with their own opinion. If they do, I venture to say that this Finance Bill will not become law until the full suspensory period of twenty-one days has elapsed, and that it will not become law with the good-will of any independent representative of the people.

The second most objectionable feature of this measure is the proposal, under Section 5, to increase the tax upon petrol. I should like to make quite clear the attitude of the Fianna Fáil Party in regard to a tax upon petrol. In so far as petrol is used for luxury purposes—for motoring for pleasure—we regard a tax upon petrol as a legitimate resource of a Minister for Finance. In so far, however, as it becomes not only a tax upon petrol but a tax upon transport and, therefore, a tax upon business and upon the necessities of the community, we regard it as undesirable. If moneys had to be found for any purpose which would meet with the approval of this House, we should prefer that even before resort was had to that source of revenue, every possible means by which economies could be made should be investigated and examined.

As Deputy de Valera made quite clear when introducing his motion to provide £1,000,000 for relief of rates upon agricultural land, the opinion of the Fianna Fáil Party in the Dáil is that that £1,000,000 could be provided, not out of taxation but out of economies. We indicated then, and outlined, a number of Departments in which these economies could be made. There is the Army. According to a member of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party, Major-General Seán McKeon, who held very high rank in the Army, during the last eight or nine years, no less a sum than £14,000,000 has been wasted upon the Army. According to the investigations which have been made by the Committee of Public Accounts from time to time, large sums of money have been expended upon equipment—not always, I might say, in justice, under the régime of the present Minister for Defence— which was found on delivery to be useless. There were those aeroplane engines, purchased in 1925, when the machines for which they were purchased were already obsolete and have never gone into the air since. These aeroplane engines are still lying in store. Ten thousand rifle barrels were ordered which, on delivery, were found not to be true or accurate and which would be a greater source of danger to the men employing them than to the enemy against whom they might be directed. There are a considerable number of heads, particularly in regard to the purchase of military equipment in the Department of the Minister for Defence, in which we believe economies could be made which would go a long way to provide the £750,000 which the Minister proposes to vote for the purpose of agricultural relief. There are other Departments of the Government in which economies could be made. There is the whole administration of the Gárda Síochána and particularly of that branch of it which is concerned with the repression and investigation of political offences. We have, from time to time, and quite recently, pointed out the anomalous and ambiguous policy which the Minister for Justice has pursued in relation to that Department. We have him, on the one hand, subsidising men to stir up unrest in the country, to keep a certain section of public opinion in ferment, to urge them on and drive them on to commit what he calls illegalities and, at the same time, with the other hand he is spending £1,500,000 or £1,600,000 on a police force to repress what he calls these lawless and irregular organisations. You have a man, first of all, out of the taxpayers' money, fomenting crime and then, again, out of the taxpayers' money suppressing crime. Surely instead of acting in that ambiguous and inconsistent way, the Minister for Justice and the members of the Executive Council ought to cease to suborn men to commit crime, should cease to employ agents provocateur and content themselves with the preservation of the ordinary peace of the country by the ordinary police in the ordinary way.

There are many other ways in which economy could be made. There could be economies if, for instance, the Minister for Finance had at last the moral courage to admit, what I have no doubt he believes in his heart to be true, the fact that the Ultimate Financial Settlement that he made with Great Britain was a settlement which was extremely disadvantageous to this country, a settlement which should not have been made, a settlement which should be reopened and investigated. I hope that on such a reopening and reinvestigation the settlement will be so amended as to enable us to retain in this country at least the land annuities, the moneys paid to Great Britain in respect of the pensions of the ex-R.I.C. and the moneys paid in respect of the local loans. If these sums of money, instead of being exported from this country under the agreement made by the Minister for Finance, were retained in the country we should have for the use and benefit not only of the farming community but of all the citizens of the State a sum approximately of £5,000,000. That is almost seven times the amount which the Minister proposes to devote for the relief of rates upon agricultural land in the current year.

We say that before he imposes the tax even upon petrol—and we are prepared to contemplate a tax upon petrol but only as a last resort—instead of attempting to tax the people, even to the extent of this tax upon petrol, the Minister ought endeavour to make economies in the administration of the Army and Gárda Síochána, which are necessary, to provide us with an effective defence force, and a police force in which the citizens of the State will have every confidence. If the Minister had at first endeavoured to secure these economies, it would lead to efficiency; and secondly, if he would reopen the whole question of the Financial Settlement, he would not be driven—in order to provide part of this three-quarter of a million pounds which he proposes to provide for the relief of rates on agricultural land—to tax either petrol, which is a tax to a large extent upon the trade and industry of this country; and thirdly, he would not have been compelled to put a tax upon sugar, which is one of the necessities of the people's life. For that reason we object not only to Section 5, but also to Section 6, which deals with the tax on sugar. We see no justification whatever for this tax.

I will now go on to consider the new section which the Minister introduced into the Bill. That is a section altering the rates of the entertainments tax. Whatever the real effect of that section is ultimately going to be, the point I want to make on the Fifth Reading Stage of the Finance Bill before it leaves this House for good and all, is that the ostensible purpose of this section that was put before the House on the Committee Stage of this Bill by Deputy Shaw, was to enable the film renters, the film producers and the film exhibitors to pass the new tax on to the public.

And Deputy MacEntee and his Party accepted it.

Deputy MacEntee did not accept it.

The Deputy did not call for a division.

Deputy MacEntee pointed out to the Minister what the Minister was doing, and he left it at that. He is not going to let the Minister escape from the consequences of his action. If the Minister had refused to accept that amendment, the amendment would not be in the Bill. The tax on films would remain where the Minister intended to place it in the first instance, on the foreign films, on the producers and renters of the foreign films, and on the exhibitors, who are to a large extent, as far as Dublin is concerned, affiliated with British and American concerns.

But the Minister out of the kindness of his heart and out of the regard which he cherishes for Deputy Shaw accepted it. Deputy Shaw seems I must say to be a very powerful member of the Government Party because he has compelled the Minister not only to transfer the tax on films from the film exhibitors and other associated interests on to the Irish public, but he has also, according to his own statement, and so far as we can judge from the proceedings here in the House and in the country, compelled the Minister to remit the tax upon racecourse betting, and the tax on greyhound coursing meetings, so that he is a powerful and influential member of the Government Party. The extraordinary thing about it is that Deputy Shaw's influence, as far as this amendment was concerned, was exerted not on behalf of the Irish public to insure that this tax upon films should always remain upon foreign interests operating in this country, but was exerted in order to transfer the burden of that tax to the Irish public. His influence was exerted against the Irish public, against even his own constituents at Mullingar, in order to transfer the burden of that tax from the foreign interests. The Minister in deference to Deputy Shaw and bowing before the might and power of Deputy Shaw within the councils of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party accepted that amendment from Deputy Shaw and permitted this to be done.

There are some other provisions in this Bill to which exception might be made. I have already both on the Second Reading and on the Committee Stage pointed out that under Section 30 the Minister proposes to continue for a further term of years exemption from the corporation profits tax which is enjoyed by certain monopolies in the city and country. The purpose of that exemption is to enable the Tramway Undertakings and the Gas Company to escape from the corporation profits tax. I think that that proposal is unjustifiable. I have challenged the Minister to justify it in the House, but so far he has not been able to do so.

I have pointed out to him that the nominal limitation upon dividends, which is imposed by the Acts under which these companies operate, is not in practice effective. The only way in which it operates is that instead of the dividends being distributed immediately they are put to reserve, and when the reserve is of a sufficient size there is a bonus distribution of capital and the dividends are then distributed in the form of shares in the company. There is, therefore, no effective limitation of the dividends. The effect is that the statutory dividend is paid over a certain term of years and the payment of the excess dividends over and above that statutory limit is merely deferred for a period of years. Because that is the practice, there is no reason why these concerns should be exempted from corporation profits tax.

The Minister attempted to make the point with regard to the Gas Company that it was Irish and was registered here. In point of fact, the control of the Gas Company does not reside in the country at all. The great majority of the directors of the Gas Company are nominees of British interests and they are placed there as nominees of British interests. The same applies in respect to some of the other companies which are benefited under this Act. These are the main features in the Act. We regard every one of them as objectionable, and for that reason we are going to vote against the Fifth Reading.

All these points were fully discussed on the Committee Stage, and after being fully discussed, they were accepted unanimously by the House. I explained that £30,000 had to be found by somebody in connection with the tax on films. It could not be passed on to the renters. Deputy MacEntee was invited to suggest in what way it might be passed on to the renters, but, as usual, there was no reply. I once heard a phrase that I think is very appropriate to this particular occasion. It is: "He talks to me about subjects of which he knows nothing, and talks me down." I showed the verbatim report to the managers of all the large picture-houses in Dublin.

All the large ones!

And I showed them also to the managers of the small picture-houses in the country, and they all endorsed that phrase. They came to the conclusion that the Deputy knew nothing whatever about the subject. I might suggest to the Party opposite that, if they want to put up somebody who does know something about it, they should put up Deputy Flinn. He explained the position very fully. I will not on this occasion reply to Deputy MacEntee, because of the fact that he has put forward a lot of arguments about which he knows nothing.

I wish to emphasise what Deputy MacEntee said about the need for economy. The Dáil will adjourn next week for several months, and we will have no other opportunity of stressing the need for economy. The fact is that the people have come to the end of their tether in paying what the Minister is asking them to pay. There is evidence of that in the fact that during the first quarter of this year revenue dropped by almost a million pounds. The people cannot continue to support the extravagance of the Government. Those who have to pay 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the revenue in one way or another, the farming community, are breaking down under the strain. Everyone can see that farm prices are falling. The Government are doing nothing to protect the home market, and the farmers are forced into the foreign market. That policy has resulted in still smaller prices for the farmer. If it continues much longer the people will not be able to carry on.

The country has no confidence in the Government, and if the Government had any decency they would resign after the decision given by the people in the recent by-election. One of the Ministers was on the platform when the Government's election agent promised that if their candidate was turned down the Government would resign. The people rose to the occasion, and by a two to one majority they told the Government to get out. The Government is still hanging on, and for some time further, at any rate, they are going to rob the people. The fact is that the people cannot afford to pay taxes. The Government should fulfil their promise to resign. Of course, we are accustomed to such behaviour on the part of the Government. Soon, even for their own sakes, the Government will have to take action is they wish to remain in office. They will have to economise, because otherwise they will not be able to get their salaries. The whole thing is a disgrace. The people are overburdened, and yet you have Ministers going ahead in the old extravagant way.

I hope that some opportunity will be given to the people to tell the Government what they think of them. I am sure, just as in the case of Kildare, that the people all over the Free State will tell the Government they want no more of them.

I wish to register my protest against this tax on sugar. I know that the working-class people in the rural parts have very inadequate wages and, in consequence of this extra halfpenny tax on sugar, they will be compelled to pay 16/- or 18/- a year more. That is not alone unfair, but it is also unjust, to people who can badly afford to meet that extra payment. Amongst the working classes sugar is largely regarded as a necessary. It is unfair to impose any tax upon it that will have reactions upon the poorer people. It is characteristic of the Minister that on every occasion when he introduces a Finance Bill he makes it his business to take from those who can ill afford to pay and give to those who are already well provided for. The Minister has to find £750,000 in order to give a free grant to the ranchers in Meath and to people similarly placed all over the country, most of whom are spending their money in foreign countries. I will vote against the Fifth Reading of this measure.

I am never much impressed by calls for economy from the Opposition Benches. The previous policy of that Party is responsible for a fair proportion of the charges that rest on the people, and, so far as the Dáil is concerned, we find them in the forefront in demanding additional expenditure and additional burdens by way of taxation. We hear occasional calls for reductions in the Army and reduction in the police force, calls which, I think, are based more upon political spite than upon anything else. I do not think I need say anything further with regard to the remarks we have heard. The only thing that Deputy MacEntee omitted from the usual litany was the demand for the abolition of the Seanad, and I will take that as said. With reference to the first point Deputy MacEntee made, that Section 2 of the Bill was designed to make an offence that was not, according to a judge of the courts, an offence before, there is absolutely no foundation for it. I cannot believe that the Deputy is so stupid, after all the debate which has gone on, as not to know that that absolutely misrepresents the facts and is without a shadow or a shade of foundation.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 62; Níl, 43.

  • Aird, William P.
  • Beckett, James Walter.
  • Bennett, George Cecil.
  • Blythe, Ernest.
  • Bourke, Séamus A.
  • Brennan, Michael.
  • Brodrick, Seán.
  • Carey, Edmund.
  • Cole, John James.
  • Collins-O'Driscoll, Mrs. Margt.
  • Conlon, Martin.
  • Connolly, Michael P.
  • Cosgrave, William T.
  • Craig, Sir James.
  • Crowley, James.
  • Daly, John.
  • Davis, Michael.
  • Doherty, Eugene.
  • Dolan, James N.
  • Doyle, Peadar Seán.
  • Duggan, Edmund John.
  • Dwyer, James.
  • Egan, Barry M.
  • Esmonde, Osmond Thos. Grattan.
  • Fitzgerald, Desmond.
  • Fitzgerald-Kenney, James.
  • Gorey, Denis J.
  • Haslett, Alexander.
  • Hassett, John J.
  • Heffernan, Michael R.
  • Hennessy, Michael Joseph.
  • Hennessy, Thomas.
  • Hennigan, John.
  • Henry, Mark.
  • Hogan, Patrick (Galway).
  • Kelly, Patrick Michael.
  • Keogh, Myles.
  • Lynch, Finian.
  • Mathews, Arthur Patrick.
  • McDonogh, Martin.
  • McFadden, Michael Og.
  • McGilligan, Patrick.
  • Mongan, Joseph W.
  • Mulcahy, Richard.
  • Nally, Martin Michael.
  • Nolan, John Thomas.
  • O'Connell, Richard.
  • O'Connor, Bartholomew.
  • O'Leary, Daniel.
  • O'Mahony, The.
  • O'Sullivan, Gearóid.
  • O'Sullivan, John Marcus.
  • Reynolds, Patrick.
  • Rice, Vincent.
  • Roddy, Martin.
  • Shaw, Patrick W.
  • Sheehy, Timothy (West Cork).
  • Thrift, William Edward.
  • Tierney, Michael.
  • White, John.
  • White, Vincent Joseph.
  • Wolfe, George.

Níl

  • Aiken, Frank.
  • Boland, Gerald.
  • Bourke, Daniel.
  • Briscoe, Robert.
  • Broderick, Henry.
  • Buckley, Daniel.
  • Clery, Michael.
  • Colbert, James.
  • Corkery, Dan.
  • Crowley, Fred Hugh.
  • Derrig, Thomas.
  • De Valera, Eamon.
  • Doyle, Edward.
  • Everett, James.
  • Flinn, Hugo.
  • Fogarty, Andrew.
  • Gorry, Patrick J.
  • Goulding, John.
  • Harris, Thomas.
  • Hayes, Seán.
  • Houlihan, Patrick.
  • Jordan, Stephen.
  • Kennedy, Michael Joseph.
  • Kent, William R.
  • Kilroy, Michael.
  • Lemass, Seán F.
  • Little, Patrick John.
  • Maguire, Ben.
  • MacEntee, Seán.
  • Moore, Séamus.
  • Morrissey, Daniel.
  • O'Connell, Thomas J.
  • O'Kelly, Seán T.
  • O'Leary, William.
  • O'Reilly, Matthew.
  • O'Reilly, Thomas.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Sexton, Martin.
  • Sheehy, Timothy (Tipp.).
  • Smith, Patrick.
  • Tubridy, John.
  • Walsh, Richard.
  • Ward, Francis C.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Duggan and P.S. Doyle. Níl, Deputies G. Boland and Briscoe.
Question declared carried.
Bill read a Fifth Time and ordered to be sent to the Seanad.
Bill certified a Money Bill for the purpose of Article 35 of the Constitution.