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.