I feel that there is not really any justification for this section. If this tax is being evaded, it is being evaded mainly because it is an unjust tax. According to a very eminent authority, now a member of the Government, when the tax was first introduced, it was a tax which would hit hardest the person who was looking to buy the cheapest house on the market to-day, and there was such a tremendous demand for the cheaper type of house, he went on, that undoubtedly the tax would not be effective in stopping the appreciation in property values, but would merely increase the hardship which that inflation was already imposing upon less fortunate elements in the community. The person who made that statement was a person who is very conversant with the property market and the general situation therein. He was no less a person than the present Minister for Industry and Commerce, then Deputy Morrissey. I agree with him. This tax was introduced as an emergency measure to deal with an emergency situation. The position now, according to the Government, has been reached where the emergency has passed and, therefore, the original justification for imposing the tax has passed also. Accordingly, any person who can evade this tax by any exercise of ingenuity is properly entitled to evade it.
I submit that the House should not co-operate with the Minister in trying to victimise people who, because their means are limited, are compelled, as the Minister for Industry and Commerce said, to buy the cheapest house in the market to-day. That is what the house is being asked to do. By a simple device, this 5 per cent. property tax can be avoided, and the question, therefore, arises whether we are entitled to deprive the thrifty, provident and hard-driven sections of the community who wish to house themselves of the remedy which their own wisdom and ingenuity have been able to devise for the situation with which they have been faced.
Take the position as it exists in Dublin to-day. So far as I can see, the normal run of small houses such as would be occupied by a young married couple sells around £2,250. If we deduct the first £500 of that price which is not subject to tax, we are left with a sum of £1,750 which is subject to tax, and at the rate of 5 per cent., under Section 13 of the 1947 Act, it amounts to £87 10s. 0d. Despite the appearance of things here, if you vote to deprive the people of the natural way of escape which they have devised for themselves from this iniquitous and now burdensome tax, you are voting, if you vote for this section, to ensure that every person who buys a house at £2,200 or thereabouts will be saddled with stamp duty to the amount of not less than £87 10s. 0d. That is the simple situation, and I do not think that, in present circumstances, we are justified in doing it.
The amount of money which the tax brings in, I am told, is comparatively little, and certainly in a Budget of £107,000,000 it does not constitute 1 per cent.; but it is a tax which falls most heavily upon the young people and the middle-class people who are trying to provide houses for themselves. The Government does not cater for these people, except in the limited way in which it was done under the Fianna Fáil Housing Act, 1948, when a substantial grant was made towards the cost of a house which a man erects or purchases for his own occupation. Beyond that, no subsidy is given to the middle-class person with an income of £500 or £600 a year who hopes to marry, settle down and found a family. It is therefore upon that particular element in the community that this tax presses most heavily. I do not think we are justified, from the social point of view, in maintaining it, having regard to the circumstances which I have outlined. If we did feel that it was necessary to pass some sort of sumptuary law to prevent people in present circumstances providing themselves with more housing accommodation than the public interest seemed to demand, we could do so, if we thought that wise. I am not saying that I think it wise; in fact, I would protest against it, as it would only put another limitation on the incentives which are so necessary to enable a man to give his best to the community. However, to meet that point of view, which I think might appeal to some members of the Government Party, if we did feel it necessary in some way to prevent people from providing themselves with more housing accommodation than seemed in present circumstances justifiable in the public interest, we could, of course, provide for the imposition of a tax of this sort.
If we did, I think the tax should be levied upon a value very much higher than the value which is under the present code exempt from taxation. There might be something to be said for imposing the taxation — I say there might be, I am not saying there is — upon a house costing £4,000 or £5,000. Again, one would have to take the circumstances into consideration. If the family were large and consisted of a number of persons engaged in productive employment, there would be justification for providing them with a larger house, costing a greater amount of money. If it were felt that something should be done to limit the demand upon existing building facilities. I suggest that a figure of £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000 might be taken as the limit below which the tax would not be levied. Certainly, there is no justification in present circumstances, with the demand for housing accommodation being as intense as it is, for imposing this duty upon the smaller type of house, the house consisting of two reception rooms, three bedrooms and a kitchenette, the type of house which young married people look for in order to start off their own independent household.
I think, therefore, that before the House decides to vote for Section 17, the House should hear from the Minister some justification for this section. May I here, on behalf not merely of the members of this House, not merely on behalf of the Opposition but on behalf of the people outside whom we represent, protest against the rather contemptuous way in which the several provisions of the Finance Bill have been thrown at this House by the Minister? There was a previous section, a very complicated one dealing with stamp duty, Section 16, where some explanation of the provisions was asked for by a Deputy on this side of the House and the only reply he got was the rather discourteous one from the Minister, to read the section. I challenge anyone to read that section, containing as it does references to previous Finance Acts, and be able to gather for himself from a simple reading what the meaning of the section is. What I have said in relation to Section 16 applies to an even more marked degree to Section 17.
As to the content of this section and the purpose of it, all the guidance and assistance that the House has been given by the Minister is to refer the House to the marginal note. The marginal note consists of 12 words, but the section itself consists of 75 lines of close print. That proposal expressed in 75 lines is supposed to be apprehended by the representatives of the people from a glance at one sentence of 12 words. That is the guidance which the Minister has given to the House, that is the assistance which he has given to Deputies of Dáil Éireann to consider this proposal. Without any guidance from the Minister, without any attempt to enlighten us as to the provisions, we have had on behalf of the people to try and disentangle what the real purpose proposed to be secured is.
As I have said, despite the marginal note — which I am not saying is designedly misleading but does mislead to the extent that it makes one regard this section as being just a mere proposal to stop up a little loophole — the section does make it impossible for the class of person to whom I refer, the person who wants to buy a small house, to avail of the natural escape from this unjust and oppressive tax which his own ingenuity and his own skill and the skill of his lawyers have opened up to him.
In conclusion, I want to express the hope that the Minister will not say that it was his predecessor in office who introduced this tax. When these stamp duties were first brought in, it was made clear that they were brought in as a temporary expedient for a temporary purpose, to check the inflationary trend in property values at that time, and in the state of emergency then to enable the Minister to make provision for the increased subsidies which were being provided on essential foodstuffs. That is all past. There has been no increase in subsidies on essential foodstuffs — that is being evaded, because we are now buying butter at 3/6, we are entitled to buy it, and in the same way we have bread, sugar and tea at two prices.