I move amendment No. 10:—
Before Section 10, to insert a new section as follows:—
(1) There shall be allowed in respect of beer brewed in Saorstát Eireann on or after the 6th day of August, 1934, the following rebate from the excise duty now payable in respect thereof, that it to say:—
In the case of beer brewed by a brewer for sale for every 32 gallons of beer of whatever original gravity charged with duty and delivered from the brewery, a rebate of one pound, or where the duty now payable in respect of 32 gallons of any beer so charged and delivered is less than two pounds four shillings, a rebate equal to the amount by which that duty exceeds the sum of one pound four shillings; and so in proportion for any less quantity.
(2) The excise drawback now payable on the exportation of any beer or on the deposit thereof in a warehouse for exportation from Saorstát Eireann as merchandise or for ships' stores shall unless it is shown to the satisfaction of the Revenue Commissioners that no rebate has been allowed in respect of that beer under this section be reduced by an amount equal to the amount of the rebate allowable under this section in respect thereof.
(3) This section shall be deemed to have had effect as from the 6th day of August, 1934.
(4) The Revenue Commissioners may make such regulations as they consider necessary for the purpose of carrying this section into effect, and in particular for the purpose of facilitating and controlling the calculation of the amount of the rebate to be allowed under this section and with respect to the method of computing the quantity of the beer in respect of which rebate is to be allowed.
This amendment is in similar terms to the amendment which I moved to the Finance Bill last year. Whilst the same considerations apply as applied then, there are new considerations that should be taken into account this year and to these I propose to advert later on. Before coming to those I would like to say a few words on the principle of my amendment. I would like to refer, first of all, to the extraordinary increase in these duties on beer and spirits which have taken place in comparatively recent times. Before the war period the duty per barrel on stout and beer—on everything under the generic name of beer —was 7/9 per barrel. That duty went up by successive rapid increases until it reached the sum of £5 per barrel.
As this is a matter in which we are dealing with Excise duty it is relevant to consider the revenue received. It will be relevant on this amendment to deal with the duty on spirits though it will be more appropriate to the following amendment. I will, however, deal with that matter on a subsequent amendment. The increase of duty on beer in this country rose from 7/9 in 1914 to a sum of £5 per barrel, at which it now stands. The amount of the increase was extraordinary, being 13 times the original duty. When these increases were put on it was also explained by the Ministers of the day that they were temporary, purely war measures. In relation to the increases in the duty on spirits, those increases rose from the original figure, the pre-war figure of 14/9 per gallon, to £3 12s. 6d.; in other words, an increase of five times the amount of the original duty.
Last year I put forward the considerations that I believe now apply and that should be taken into account in determining the question as to whether the reductions now sought for should be given. I think the main argument is this, that stout or porter, or to use its generic name, beer, is the drink of the working man. It is an extraordinary thing, even for revenue purposes, to keep on this enormous increase from 7/9 to 13 times that amount. It is the custom in every country, I think, to encourage the consumption of local drink as compared with foreign drinks. It is done in France and Italy and other foreign countries. This is, I think, the only country in the world in which there is such an extraordinary tax on a local product which is consumed, mainly, by the working people. The main consumers of porter or stout in this country are the working people— farmers, agricultural labourers and town workers. No doubt temperance advocates will say that it would be a retrograde step to reduce these duties, but I do not think that is an argument that can hold water for a moment, because long before these duties went on the consumption of all kinds of drink in this country was rapidly decreasing.
In a debate a number of years ago in this House on a kindred subject figures were quoted showing the decrease in arrests for drunkenness in this country from the year 1900 to 1919. In 1900 the number of people arrested for drunkenness came to 92,927, and that number had fallen to 15,339 in 1919. No doubt, in the years before 1919 the main part of those heavier increases of duty had been imposed. I do not know that figures are available for the decrease in arrests for dunkenness in the period from 1900 to 1914, but it is a matter of common knowledge that there was an extraordinary change in those years in the direction of decreased drinking. A change took place in the habits of the people apart from any question of cost and, in fact, during the period when these heavy duties were imposed in the war years and in the years immediately following, when the price of drink was a matter of small concern because there was so much money in circulation, the statistics still showed a continuing decrease in the consumption of liquor and a decrease in drunkenness.
On the question of the value of these drinks from the point of view of the working people, I do not like repeating what I said 12 months ago, but I did mention this, that a very eminent authority brought here in 1925 to give evidence before the Intoxicating Liquor Commission, Doctor Shadwell, who had control of the drink trade for the whole of Great Britain during the war years, a man who had written books on temperance and was a temperance reformer himself, said that as regards stout and beer they had a very high value from the point of view of food and they were of great value to working people such as the working people of Dublin, agricultural labourers and others in carrying out their work. He said that they contained a food element of considerable and very high value.
On the question of revenue, I should like to refer to figures showing the revenue derived from beer and spirits at three different periods of time. In 1924 the revenue from beer amounted to £5,640,415. I am omitting the odd figures indicating shillings and pence. In 1932 that amount had fallen to £2,548,050 and in 1933 there was a very slight increase on that figure. As regards spirits, in 1924 the amount was £3,184,000; in 1932 the figure was £2,061,000 and in 1933 it was £1,936,000, so there is a very steady and considerable decrease over that period of years in the revenue derived from spirits. Last year, on this subject, the Minister said he considered it a sufficient reply to the proposal in the amendment to say that there would be a loss of £500,000 on the year. I think later on he amended his figure and said £423,000. I should like to point out that these duties are at a pitch when they are becoming from year to year, particularly with the increasing financial pressure, unprofitable from a revenue point of view and, therefore, the argument that there would be a loss incurred is hardly a sound one. That was well illustrated by what happened in Great Britain in recent years. Their tax was never quite as high as ours, but they increased it two years ago in their Budget. The result was a definite loss of revenue and the increase then put on has since been removed.
I said that there are new considerations that apply to this question this year, considerations that were not available last year. The argument always put forward by the Finance Minister against a reduction of this kind is that it might be necessary, in order to grant such a remission, to impose new taxation. Last year there was a balance—I am taking the Budget figures—on the 31st March, for the year 1932-33, of income over expenditure for the year of £1,140,000. That was raised by taxation, and it was estimated by the Minister to be the sum required in order to balance the Budget for 1933-34, but, in fact it was not used.
In 1933-34 we had a balance of income over expenditure for the year, not including this £1,141,000, of £1,354,884. There is a third element that should be taken into account in this connection, namely, the Local Loans Fund. There is added to the Local Loans Fund, and set out as an asset of that fund, £550,000 for each year for loans to local authorities amounting to £1,130,000. The total sum collected from the taxpayers, and not required for any purpose, and not required to provide any service chargeable to expenditure at the present, was £3,595,884. That is a sum, accordingly, by which the public have been overtaxed in two years. It was money raised by taxation and not used for any purpose. No wonder we have speakers going around the country, in the last few days, putting forward the views and the policy of the Government, stating there is plenty of money for all purposes. I am glad to see that the solitary Deputy sitting behind the Minister approves of that.