At the beginning of this debate, questions were raised which have not been referred to to-day. Deputy Sweetman advocated that there were certain reliefs which might have been given in the Budget. He mentioned children over 16 years of age and also an allowance in respect of payments for a superannuation scheme. I just refer to these but he mentioned others as well.
First of all, I should like to say that these things would naturally be considered by any Minister for Finance if he was in the position of having money to spend; in other words, if the accounts presented to him in preparing his Budget showed that the income for the coming year was likely to exceed the expenditure as then visualised. I think I can say that when that stage arises, these things will be considered, but I do not say in the priority in which Deputy Sweetman put them.
He mentioned another case, however, which I think merits more serious consideration. He spoke of death duties and said that for many years we had adopted the policy which had the effect of attracting people with money to come to live here. The reason why we attracted them was that taxation was lower here than it was elsewhere. I believe that was a sensible policy because if our taxation was higher in relation to such things as death duties and surtax, we would not get them at all. If we put it a bit lower, then we get something out of them. If I were in a position to do that next year, I would be accused by the Deputies opposite of giving something to the rich and taking something from the poor. A responsible Government has to ignore that sort of talk from irresponsible people or people who want to make capital by playing to the lower instincts of the people. As I say, these things must be put aside for the moment. They cannot be considered during this year.
A number of Deputies mentioned hire purchase. I mentioned already on one of the occasions I spoke since the Budget was brought in that we found, on coming into office, the hire purchase scheme was ineffective. Changes had been made in the hire purchase scheme by the outgoing Minister for Industry and Commerce which left it altogether ineffective and the only hope of making it right was to take the restrictions off. At the time, we did not decide whether we would put on the hire purchase restrictions or not. It is open to us to do that at any time. It is not a matter for me to initiate. It is a matter for the Minister for Industry and Commere to initiate that policy, and he may find himself in the position of having to impose those restrictions again.
The last Deputy who spoke seemed to think that we did nothing about housing, but some Deputies complained that we gave all our attention to housing since we became the Government. They said we thought we could solve everything by building houses. That is not true either. We have, it is true, removed a lot of the handicaps that existed on going ahead with housing schemes and giving employment, incidentally. We hope that housing will run smoothly again from this on.
We all know that houses are needed. Therefore, the people should get them, but, taking it from the employment point of view, we regard it not as a permanent nut as a temporary solution to absorb the unemployed until the country is built up and more permanent employment found for our people generally. Since 1933, we have been in favour of providing proper houses for the people and I think I need say nothing further on that matter. Our record as a Government will surely make that plain to anybody who wants to lookup the figures.
A number of Deputies on the opposite side seem to believe—at least if they always say what they believe— we have no policy. I stated our policy very clearly in the Budget speech and I am quite sure it has been stated also by the Taoiseach and other Ministers. Our aim, first of all—I am talking on the economic side of our programme only—is to create a better standard of living all round. I suppose I could probably say that would also be the aim of Fine Gael and of Labour. Therefore, we need not have any dispute on that point.
However, our method is to try to get more production in both industry and agriculture. It must be obvious to anybody who thinks on the matter that the only way by which we can achieve a better standard of living all round is to have more goods produced in the country and more services. The Budget was framed with that object in view. It was framed, as I pointed out in my Budget speech, with the object of balancing our current income against our current expenditure and, after that, with the object of providing as much as we possibly could afford for capital expenditure. It is on the capital side, naturally, that we would hope to build up our industries, including agriculture, and to get more production in order to give us the higher standard of living at which we are aiming.
Mention was made several times in this debate of the import levies. In my opinion, these levies are necessary at present to help, in so far as they do help, to keep our balance of payments right. In addition, the income from the levies is very helpful in our capital programme. However, we should not over-rate the import levies. Fine Gael speakers would give one the impressio that the import levies last year were responsible for bringing this country from a very bad position, economically, to a very good position, economically. I do not think we can claim that the import levies had such a very great influence generally as they are reputed to have had by the Fine Gael Party. I admit that they helped but they are not totally responsible for the improvement.
In the first place, in the last financial year we collected something like £4,500,000. In itself, that shows they were not entirely effective in balancing our payments because if, in spite of the levies, the goods came in and the levies were paid, then, to that extent, the balance of payment was not affected by these levies and they became really revenue rather than a remedy for the adverse trade balance that was there. They were effective in relation to our balance of payments whenever a person said: "I will not buy that article because it is to dear and it is dearer because"—whether the person knew it or not—"of the import levy."
It is difficult to calculate the effect of the import levies in that way but they were not solely responsible for bringing the adverse balance of trade down to the figure which it had reached by the beginning of this year. The other factor was much more potent, that is, the restriction of credit. That restriction came not by the will of the Government but as a result of the trade depression that occurred in 1956. I need not go into it fully. People in business, farmers and others, found it very difficult to borrow money during 1956 and that is the position even up to the moment. It was on account of the credit squeeze, as it was called, that the balance of payments was brought into line, in my opinion, more than on account of the import levies.
When we took office, we examined the import levies and decided, first of all, that where they were hindering employment they should either be altered or abolished. Disparaging references are frequently made by Opposition speakers to the way in which we dealt with the motor industry. We removed the import levies because they were having a disturbing effect on motor assemblers.
Motor assemblers have to incur a certain amount of capital expenditure in importing parts before they get the car together. They were never assured how long the import levies might last. They were in the position that they might pay a certain amount on importing parts, and pay the levy, nut, by the time the car would be assembled, the levy might be removed and they would then have to sell the car at a loss. They were living from hand to mouth. They were bringing in a small amount at a time, turning out a car and getting rid of it, in case the levy should be removed. That was because the then Minister for Industry and Commerce stated on more than one occasion that the import levies would be taken off shortly. If the the Government had even said: "These levies will remain in operation for 12 months"——