I move amendment No. 20:—
Before Section 14 to insert a new section as follows:—
(1) There shall be allowed in respect of beer brewed in Saorstát Eireann on and after the 6th day of October, 1936, the following rebate from the Excise duty now payable in respect thereof, that is 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 thirty-two 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 pounds 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 ship's 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 effect as from the 6th day of October, 1936.
(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.
The proposal in this amendment is pretty well worn, because it has been brought forward in connection with Finance Bills here from year to year. It asks the Minister to see the reasonableness of agreeing to a reduction in the interests of the working class people of the country, the people who mainly consume beer of the light or the heavier forms. From any angle I am quite sure that the Minister is conversant with all the facts and figures which I could put before him to-night. Members of the licensed trade have been very active this year, as they have been in other years, in laying a full statement of the case before the Minister, both from the point of view of the heavy exactions made upon them because of the continuance of war time taxation in normal times, and the hardship that that is inflicting upon the country generally. There are various view-points that ought to influence the Minister to give this matter his very favourable consideration. First, from the point of view of employment, there has certainly been a great reduction in employment through the diminution of the drinking of beer in the country. The loss to the barley growers would be something in the region of 500,000 barrels per annum, caused by the decreased consumption owing to war prices at a time when we have not war conditions. That carries in its train also, of course, a loss of employment in the distribution, and a loss to coopers and other people who have incidental employment in the manufacture and distribution of this native beverage.
It cannot be that the Minister is influenced by financial reasons, because it has been clearly proven on the other side of the water that when they wanted to increase the revenue they did it by reduction of the taxes on beer to a reasonable figure. There have been results to justify that. When they maintain a high level of taxation they lose revenue in the long run. It is estimated that if the concession sought in this amendment were conceded in regard to plain porter, as it is known here in Dublin, there will be an estimated loss of between £200,000 and £270,000 in a complete year. This amendment deals only with the period from 6th October, which would be just about half a year. But that estimated figure will have to be taken in relation to the absolute certainty of an increased consumption which I think it would be reasonable to assume would more than counteract or counterbalance any estimated loss. I do not think, therefore, that the Minister would dream of objecting to this amendment from the point of view of loss of revenue. He certainly could not resist it from the point of view of the interest that the Government has and must have in trying to cope with the unemployment menace. Any and every avenue ought to be explored to try to provide employment for our people.
What then can be the Minister's idea in resisting this amendment, if he will resist it, which I hope he will not? There can only be one reason, and that is the fear of increased drunkenness among our people. This is a matter which caused very serious discussion throughout the country during the régime of this Government and also of their predecessors. It is a very thorny subject, and one that many Deputies are diffident about tackling, but I think it ought to be courageously faced up to. We ought to ask ourselves if we are going to be a race of teetotallers, or if we are going to be a nation following on the lines that Russia and America found to be unsuitable for them and eventually had to abandon—the lines of total prohibition. If there is going to be the drinking of a pint allowed in this country, it is not reasonable to expect that the working-class people of this State should be asked to have their drink at such a prohibitive cost in comparison to the price which must be paid for the same drink in Northern Ireland or Great Britain. Personally, I would be very sorry to see anything done here which would lead to increased drunkenness in the country, but I have not the least fear that the reduction sought for in this amendment would have that effect. In fact, I believe it would lead to more careful and beneficial use of the beverages of beer and stout.
Anybody conversant with working-class conditions knows it is unreasonable to suggest that beer and stout can be treated as luxuries in relation to working-class people. Dockers and people of that kind engaged in very laborious occupations do a good deal of their work on the sustenance which they draw from stout and porter. It is their main beverage, and in some cases their food. If a man is confined to a limited expenditure in the week—as working-class people are, owing to the wages they receive—the first thing he has got to do is to contribute what the household needs for its requirements during the week, and what is left is all the working man can hope to have for the enjoyment of his leisure hours. From a study of this question, what I feel is happening is this: The working man finds he has a certain limited amount of money left after providing his wife with what is necessary for the week's budget, and he says: "This is not going to last me all the week, so I might as well spend it all on Friday night." Consequently, he has more pints than are good for him on Friday night and on Saturday. I suggest that if the drink were not quite so prohibitive in price he would be able to spread that money over the week, and have a pint or two per night, which would be a nourishment for him, instead of having it all on one night. This is a very prosaic and common-place discussion on what is a very common-place topic, and one which ought to be faced up to. I am inclined to believe that the Minister's idea in resisting a diminution in duties is not because of a fear that he would lose revenue—he knows he would not— and not, as I said, because he is ignoring the necessity for increased employment; I feel it is because of his fear that any reduction in beer duties is going inevitably to lead to increased drunkenness in our country.
I suggest that an inquiry into the statistics of the drink evil in the country in recent years will show that the major portion of the drunkenness cases tried by the district justices are not concerned with people who drink beer, who are mainly the working class people. The higher percentage of cases causing investigation by the Gárdaí and the district justices comes from that section of the community who drink something more high-falutin and lofty—champagne, wines and whiskey. I think it would be very well worth while inquiring into that matter, if that is the reason at the back of the Minister's mind for objecting to this reduction. If he has not got it at the back of his mind it is at the back of the minds of a lot of very influential people in this country who are trying to tie us down rigidly to the assumption that any opening of this door is going inevitably to lead to definite drunkenness. I do suggest that those pioneer methods are not necessary not desirable nor advisable to-day. Pioneering methods call for muscular and robust tactics at the outset, but after that the pioneers do not continue those rough muscular tactics. They adopt much less drastic methods, which are more suitable to the needs of the occasion. I suggest that it is not now necessary to adopt pioneering tactics in dealing with the drink menace in this country. I believe there is no greater danger amongst our Irish people of sitting back into excessive drinking than there is amongst any other people in the world.
I do seriously suggest that the Minister should look calmly into this matter, and I think he ought to deal with it on very broad lines. I feel that in various parts of this House, whether on the Government Benches, the Opposition Benches or the Labour Benches, there are very definite views on this question, and I should like to have recorded the views of the elected Deputies of this House on the question of beer duties. I have carefully avoided dealing with spirit duties. That is quite another question. I am mainly concerned with duties on stout and porter. I think it would be very desirable in the interests of the country's progress as a whole that a decision should be taken in this House—free from Party trammels. As I said outside the House, we have plenty of expression given to views on the question.
We have various contending Parties, each of them fanatical, perhaps, in their own points of view and with not a good deal of common-sense between them. You do not get common-sense in extremes, and perhaps, sometimes, you do not get common-sense between extremes either. I should like to have, for once, a free expression of opinion of the Deputies of this House on this matter and I think, if it would not be too much to ask the Minister to do so, he ought to allow this matter to be tested by a free vote of the House. I do not think he need have much fear that his revenue would suffer by this reduction. The estimated loss would be only about £250,000 for 12 months, and we are only asking for half of that. I think that the increased consumption would counterbalance that. At any rate, it would be surely worth the experiment for one half-year—from next October to next March—in order to see how it would work out.
If the Minister is inclined to agree to the proposed reduction, I shall not ask for any vote of the House, but if he is inclined to be adamant on the matter I shall press it. If he does not see his way to accept the proposal in the spirit in which I have moved it, I think he would be doing himself and the country a service by allowing a free vote of the Deputies of this House in order that we might see where we stand on the matter. If he allows a free vote of the House, I shall be quite prepared to agree with the decision of the House; but I feel fairly certain that we would have a majority of supporters from both the Fianna Fáil and other Parties in favour of the proposal. I think this is a perfectly fair and reasonable amendment. Its purpose is to reduce the price of the working-man's pint and it would enable him, when he is hospitably inclined, to treat his friend. Correspondingly, there would be a similar reduction in the price of the pint of stout where stout is the favourite beverage, as it is in my part of the country and, indeed, in most parts of the country, I understand. As a matter of fact, if it were known in Limerick that I was here advocating some reduction in the duty on porter and not advocating a reduction in the duty on stout, I am afraid I might not go home again. Down there they consider porter too light and only use it for washing hearses. I believe the Minister would be well warranted in giving the experiment a chance as from next October to the end of the next financial year. As I have said, he will not suffer any loss and, although he will not gain much, I am certain that he will gain a little; and he will have the added advantage of being the first Minister to have the courage to break away from this tradition which has been inflicted upon us and that has now reached the stage in which it ought to be broken away from.