For the past 30 years no Government has even taken office in this country under more favourable circumstances than those in which the present Fianna Fáil Government takes office to-night. Thanks to the work of the past three years we have brought to this nation of ours a domestic peace that it has never known before; we have brought stability to the nation, and we have given our people a standard of living incomparably better than they had in 1947 under the administration of the Government now in office.
One of our first acts on taking office was to repeal the penal taxes which the present Government imposed in 1947 on cigarettes, on tobacco, on beer and on cinema seats. We gave back to the people £6,000,000 per annum by the repeal of these taxes. If the present Government had been in office during the past three and a quarter years they would have siphoned out of the pockets of the people no less than £20,000,000 in taxes on these commodities. We remitted these taxes; the people, therefore, are £20,000,000 better off than they would have been if the Fianna Fáil Government had continued in office since 1948. I want to know now from this Government whether on the minority which they got in the recent election they will reimpose these taxes on the people because they managed to manoeuvre themselves into office to-night. The country is entitled to an answer to that question.
During the past three years the last Government's record in respect to housing has completely eclipsed anything which was done in the realm of housing in this country during the past 30 years. Not only did we gear up the housing machine which we found rusty and creaking in 1948, but we have built during the last three years no less than 24,000 houses which are to be seen in every part of the country. The new Minister for Local Government, on going to the Custom House to-morrow, will find abundant documentary evidence of the fact that the outgoing Government built 24,000 houses for the people during the past three years. Remember that the new Minister for Local Government has good reason to thank Deputy Keyes for the fact that there are 12,000 houses in course of erection and that there is no reason in the world, if that machine is not interfered with by the Fianna Fáil Minister for Local Government, why we should not continue to produce houses at the rate of not less than 12,000 houses per year for the years to come. We have now reached the situation that, given competent government and no niggardly approach to housing, we can solve for all time the housing problem in the large town, in the smaller town, in the village and in the rural area within three years from this date. We can now so organise our housing activity, thanks to the housing machine which Deputy Keyes and his predecessor, the late Tim Murphy, built up, as to ensure that housing will not be an issue in any general election held three years from this date.
Look at this Government's record in respect of employment. We have, during the past three years, put 37,000 additional people into insurable employment. The records are there and they can be examined. Deputy Dr. Ryan can go into the Department of Social Welfare and he will get there to-morrow statistics that will convince him that during the past three years we put 37,000 additional people into employment. There are more people to-day in industrial employment in this country than at any time in the past 30 years. So far as unemployment is concerned, we have reached now an all-time low record. There are less people unemployed in this country to-day than at any time in the past 100 years, and that fact cannot be gainsaid either. Therefore, in the realm of employment or in the realm of unemployment, not only have we put more and more people into work but we have succeeded in keeping our unemployment figures down to a level that we never attained in this country in the past 100 years. That is a record of which we are entitled to feel proud.
Take this Government's record in the field of social services. While our predecessors could not afford a miserable £500,000 for a modification of the means test for old age pension purposes in 1947, we in 1948 introduced the Social Welfare Bill which not only modified the means test but increased old age pensions, blind pensions, widows' and orphans' non-contributory pensions. On that measure alone we spent not the £500,000 we asked Fianna Fáil for in 1947, but an additional £2,500,000 which has gone into the pockets of old age pensioners, blind pensioners and windows and orphans during the past three years and for each of these years. We increased workmen's compensation during our period of office by no less than 33 per cent., bringing the rate of benefit to a higher level than it had ever reached before.
We have given to this Government a cut and dried Bill on social security. It passed through this House on the Second Reading. It is the best Bill this country has ever seen in the sphere of social security. For the first time it gives our people a comprehensive scheme of social security. It gives them benefits they never had in the past 30 years — benefits they did not get under Fianna Fáil's 16 years of office. I want now to ask Deputy Cowan if he has got a guarantee from the Fianna Fáil Government that that scheme will be proceeded with. Has he got a guarantee that that Bill will not be dropped? Has he got a guarantee that the opposition to that Bill, manifested by Fianna Fáil when they were in opposition, will not be pursued by the same Party when it is functioning as a Government? That Bill assured the working people of greater sickness benefits, greater maternity benefits, greater widows' and orphans' pensions, increased unemployment benefits, new death benefits, new retirement pensions, old age pensions of £1 a week, blind pensions of £1 a week, a further modification of the means test and the conditions so modified as to permit thousands of additional persons to qualify for old age pensions who do not qualify under the existing code. That Bill is there. It may be reintroduced into the Dáil next week and it will have the support of the Labour Party and, I hope, of ever other Party concerned with giving a charter of social security to the toiling masses of our people.
We were told by Deputy Lemass in 1948 that Fianna Fáil had a cut and dried scheme on social security in the Department of Social Welfare. We were told that, when Deputy Dr. Ryan was leaving office. I searched the Department's records from top to bottom and I got officials to search the records from top to bottom and the only thing I could find in the Department was a document the size of a quarter of a foolscap sheet of paper on which Deputy Dr. Ryan had written about 20 words not connected with social security at all. The Department is there now. Find your scheme when you go back. You will not. Only one single document of the size of a quarter of a foolscap sheet, with 20 words about social security, in fact, about statistics, could be found in the Department of Social Welfare — showing the abiding care and the deep thought which our predecessors had given to the problem of social security. Produce in this House next week your 1948 scheme. I defy and challenge you to do it now. Not a single thing had been decided. You left us the job of deciding about 500 issues which had to be decided before a scheme of social security could be introduced. Produce the scheme you are supposed to have left there — or apologise for the misrepresentation of 1948. I bet you will do neither.
Look at our health services. In 1947 we were spending £615,000 per annum on our health services. Look at the 1951 Estimates — £4,225,000 made available by the outgoing Government for its health services. Never before was there such a substantial increase for health services as during the period 1947-51.
Look at the national income. In 1947 it was £318,000,000. In 1950 it was £363,000,000 — all denoting the progress and the courageous approach to problems which characterised the Government with which the Labour Party was associated during the last three years.
Turn to our exports. In 1947 our exports were £39,000,000. In 1950 they were £72,000,000 — nearly twice what they were in 1947.
If we turn to economic matters and look at wages, what do we see? We remember in 1947 statements made in this House and statements made on the platform by spokesmen of the Fianna Fáil Party that if the trade unions or workers demanded further compensation than the inadequate compensation which, up to then, they had received for the rise in prices during the emergency, the Fianna Fáil Government would introduce legislation for the purpose of freezing wages. That was the intention in 1947. You even left behind you the draft proposals which you intended to bring before the Dáil to freeze the wages and to prevent the trade unions from exercising the constitutional rights which they have exercised in this country for 75 years, if they dared to try to get compensation for the workers for the depreciation in their standard of living due to the wage freezing policy practised by Fianna Fáil during the emergency. Wage freezing was no part of our policy. Not only did we kill, and I hope kill forever, the wage freezing mentality of our predecessors but, in addition, we dealt liberally, broadly and generously with demands for increased wages wherever these wage increases necessitated Government approval or Government sanction or Government regulation in one way or the other.
The position to-day is that every class of worker in this country has a wage level immeasurably better than he had in 1947. We killed wage freezing, and we killed the mentality behind wage freezing. Our people can now negotiate freely and conclude collective agreements with employers. While we were in office there was never any danger of the Government with which we were associated lending itself to making the trade unions impotent, while the employers were free to fight with both hands, as the last Government planned to do. We have given to our people to-day, and it is acknowledged by everybody who has any contact with the workers, a standard of living immeasurably better than they had in 1947. Organised bodies like the teachers had striven for arbitration for 30 years and civil servants had striven for arbitration for a like period.
We have given arbitration boards so that disputes between them, on the one hand, and the executive Government on the other hand, may be arbitrated upon, free from the element of coercion and free from any suggestion of injustice — arbitrated upon and pronounced upon by an independent chairman mutually acceptable to both sides. By that we have brought into the teaching profession and into the Civil Service a measure of contentment that never previously existed. They know now that the last word does not rest with the Minister. They know now that an independment mind will be brought to bear on their problems, on the injustices under which they may suffer, and that, subject to the overriding authority of the people's Parliament, this Assembly, they can now get a verdict implemented once they secure that verdict from an independent arbitrator.
Let us come to the field of agriculture. We have brought to agriculture a prosperity that it never previously experienced. You can get as much to-day for a rabbit as you could get for a calf when Fianna Fáil were in office. We have brought to the farmer a prosperity that he has never previously enjoyed. We have given to the agricultural worker increased wages, and, if we were in office for another week or two, he would have got a further increase in wages. We had given him holidays with pay, and we have given him a weekly half-holiday. These three things have been done in three years, and not a single one of them was done during the 16 years that the Fianna Fáil Government was in office.
Yes, and we have done more than that. We repealed the External Relations Act——