That is the Fianna Fáil Budget. That is the Budget which will be operated through this Finance Bill. Fianna Fáil Deputies are possibly entitled to make the case that they did not have a great deal of time in which to consider the position before they brought in the Budget. I do not think that is a good case; I do not think it is a wise case to make because, in so far as it is made seriously, the conclusion which can be drawn from it is that the actions taken by the Fianna Fáil Government in introducing the Budget did not get serious consideration. In any event, while it may have been an unprecedented step to take, it does seem to me that the Government could have postponed the introduction of the Budget for a month, two months or even for three months if they felt they required extra time in which to consider the various factors involved.
The Minister for Finance, concluding the debate on the General Financial Resolution, seemed to me to chide Deputy John A. Costello and Deputy Sweetman in connection with their remarks regarding the decision of the inter-Party Government not to increase the figure in the Book of Estimates beyond a particular sum. I have not got the figure but I think it was about £96,500,000.
I want to remind the Minister that the Government of which he was a member in 1953 took a decision, as I understand the position, that as far as they were concerned taxation would not rise beyond the 1953 level. As I understand the position, that was a definite decision taken by the Minister and his colleagues in 1953 and announced in this House by the present Tánaiste who, as Deputy Lemass, occupied a seat in the Opposition when, speaking here on May 8th, 1956, and reported in the Official Debates at column 49 of Volume 157, he said:—
"In 1953, the Fianna Fáil Government of which I was a member took a decision that taxation in this country had reached the danger limit. We announced that we had made up our minds on that fact and that, so far as we were concerned, there would be no increase in tax rates above the 1953 level. We made it clear that, if any Budget difficulty arose, that difficulty would be met by a reduction of expenditure and not by increasing the burdens on the taxpayer."
Now the Minister for Finance, no doubt with Deputy Briscoe's support, brings in a Finance Bill asking this House, as far petrol is concerned, to increase the rate of taxation not merely above the 1953 level but by 6d. per gallon above the 1956 level. Fianna Fáil Deputies who occupied these benches last year put their views on record regarding the increase in the price of petrol brought about by last year's Budget.
Under the last inter-Party Budget the price of petrol was increased by 6d. per gallon. At the time most of the Fianna Fáil Deputies gave their views with regard to that increase. I do not think it worth while putting those views on record again. Twelve months later the price of petrol has not been reduced to the 1953 level but has another 6d. per gallon tax imposed on it under the Finance Bill which the Minister is now asking the House to pass.
I can foresee a number if the results that will ensue from that, In one way or another this new tax will lead to widespread increased charges. I do not know whether the Minister for Finance or his colleagues made any calculations in relations to this added tax, whether they made any calcula-t tions as to how much of it could be described as a tax on luxuries, how much of it will be a tax on industry, how much of it will be a tax generally on productive work as distinct from luxuries. I do not know whether the Deputies opposite have formed any views as to the extent petrol is used in this country for what might be described as purely luxury purpose.
I should imagine I would be putting it fairly finely if I said that petrol consumption for luxury purpose went as high as 15 per cent. or 16 per cent. That may be putting it a bit on the high side. If that figure is accepted— I want to confess I am simply guessing since I have not at my disposal the means of arriving at a definite conclusion —it would mean that approximately 85 per cent. of the petrol consumption in this country is for industrial and other useful productive purpose. I do not know whether the Minister for Finance or any of his colleagues would claim that this tax is a contribution towards the solution of the unemployment problem.
The Government have decided to add another 6d. per gallon to the price of petrol. When, in 1956, the inter-party Government imposed a similar tax they were criticised at length by members of the Fianna Fáil Opposition. The inter-Party Government, however, took other steps in relation to the financial position of the country among which was the imposition of import levies. I think it will be agreed that, by and large, the levies imposed by Deputy Sweetman as Minister for Finance were on articles which could be described as non-essentials.
I think it will be agreed that many of the articles on which the levies were imposed would and could be described as luxury articles. Deputy Sweetman, when announcing the introduction of the levies, if my memory serves me aright, did state that the levies were the nearest approach we could arrive at in this country to a purchase tax. I think it was a sensible policy. It was the policy of a Government that had in mind the necessity of dealing with non-essentials and luxury articles in this way rather than articles which were more necessary to the people or which were actual necessaries. The Fianna Fáil Government have made some alterations in the levies, about which other Deputies have spoken, and I do not intend taking up the time of the House in repeating what has been said already on that score.
I have referred to the decision of the Fianna Fáil Government in 1953 not to allow taxation to exceed the rates obtaining in that year. I do not want to be taken as adopting the attitude that, because that decision was taken in 1953—whether or not it was a formal decision by the Government or simply a kind of gentleman's agreement amongst themselves, I do not know— and I have no doubt taken with a sense of responsibility and in good faith, thereafter the Fianna Fáil Party must always be tied to it. I recognise, and I think any Deputy will recognise, that conditions and circumstances may alter from time to time. Deputies on all sides of the House will recognise that the condition which came into existence to threaten us in 1955 and 1956 were conditions that could not readily be foreseen by any Government.
The inter-Party Government, under the leadership, as far as financial policy was concerned, of Deputy Sweetman, were concerned, of Deputy in a vigorous and straightforward way, and even their most severely critical opponents will not deny the fact that the steps taken by the inter-Party Government had the effect of remedying the situation which had come into existence and which, I think, was described by Deputy Sweetman as Minister for Finance, as a threat to our national solvency. That threat was faced squarely by the inter-Party Government and overcome by the steps the inter-Party Government took to deal with it.
In addition to the increase in the price of petrol which has been implemented in this Bill, the other tax increases on beer and tobacco are contained in this Bill. I do not intend to give my views on this. All I want to say is that I personally am not particularly critical of the Minister and the Government in relation to the increases either on tobacco or beer. As far as petrol is concerned, I should like to hear from the Minister what calculation, if any, he made with regard to the break-up of the use of petrol as between luxury use, on the one hand, and productive, commercial and industrial use on the other.
I think, quite apart from any increase which may take place in wages—leaving that aside entirely-that quite a number of increases will flow from the implemention of the Government's Budget proposals and the passing of this Finance Bill. I believe, rightly or wrongly, that the rates of this city and generally throughout the country are very likely to increase as a result of the Budget of 1957. I believe that school meals will cost more and that the cost of maintenance in local authority hospitals and institutions is likely to increase as a result of it. That will reflect itself in an increase in rates.
I believe that various other rises are likely to take place, even inside Government Departments. The Department of Justice and the Department of Defence are likely to find themselves faced with increases as a result of the proposals in this Bill to increase the price of petrol. Increases of one sort or another will take place and Deputies on the other side of the House should recognise that, and that these increazses, when that take place, will be the responsibility of the Fianna Fáil Government and of the Deputies supporting it.
At this hour, I am not going to discuss whether to not the result of the General Election might have been as it was if Deputies on the opposite benches, led by the Minister for Finance, had indicated, prior to the date of the General Election, that if they were returned as a Government, they would complete the job they started in 1952 in relation to the food subsidies, that they would complete the abolotion of food subsidies. That is a matter which, no doubt, the Deputies opposite are concerned with and will find their constituents and their organisations concerned with. I leave it to them to discover the views of their constituents through their own organisations.
Deputies on this side of the House have been critical of the Minister's proposals and critical of this Bill, as I think we are entitled to be critical of it. We are entitled to point out firmly the difference between the policies of the present Government and of its predecessor, and we are entitled to claim that the people, particularly those who were dissatisfied with the results achieved by the inter-Party Government, but at the same time were not willing to vote into office a Fianna Fáil Government, and who refrained from voting at the General Election, are now regretting their inactivity on polling day. If they were to get an opportunity oce more of coming to a decision by means of a General Election, I have very little doubt—I think Deputies on the opposite benches have very little doubt —as to what the decision the people would take.