The first thing I should like to do is to join with Deputy Sweetman and the other speakers who referred to the action of the Government, which is being implemented by means of Section 17 of this Bill, in imposing or continuing the special import levies but with the difference that, instead of these levies now being regarded as temporary, they are, by virtue of this Bill, being incorporated into the permanent taxation. Any Deputy on these benches and, indeed, many Deputies sitting behind the Minister are entitled to protest at the Government's action in this regard. All of us will recollect that when these special import levies were imposed by the previous Government, in March, 1956, at a time of extreme difficulty, for the purpose of preserving our national solvency, we had an outcry from the Fianna Fáil Party then sitting in these benches. One of the things they were demanding in the course of their outcry was that they should be satisfied and that the country should be satisfied that these levies would be regarded as temporary only and that they would be removed at the first possible opportunity. They coupled with that demand, which in fact was unnecessary because of the legislation then being introduced, that the revenue derived from these levies should be used for productive capital purposes only. Not only was that conceded by the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Sweetman, but when he introduced his proposals for the imposition of those levies, he made it quite clear, without any urgings from the Fianna Fáil Party, that the purpose of the levies was to meet a temporary situation arising out of the imbalance of payments and that the proceeds of those levies would be used for capital purposes only.
I do not accuse the present Government or the Minister for Finance of being in breach of an undertaking given to this House because the undertaking was not given by him, but I do think that in matters such as this, this Government or any Minister who succeeded Deputy Sweetman should have honoured the undertaking which he gave to the House and which he implemented at that time as far as he could by legislation regarding the use of those levies. If there is to be any stability or any confidence by the people in the Government and in financial policy, when a firm undertaking is given, as it was given by Deputy Sweetman, succeeding Ministers for Finance should have regard to that. Certainly any Minister for Finance drawn from the Fianna Fáil Party, having regard to their attitude at the time the levies were imposed, should not only have honoured the undertaking given by the then Minister for Finance but should have gone a lot further and completely abolished these levies rather than put them into the form of permanent taxation.
In case any Deputy sitting opposite doubts what I am saying, I want to refer to columns 334 and 335 of the Dáil Debates of 13th March, 1956, where Deputy Sweetman as Minister for Finance said this with regard to the levies which were being introduced:
I should like to say, too, that the intention is to retain this special import levy only as long as the balance of payments situation requires. The primary purpose of the levy is to reduce imports and in so far as it produces revenue for the Exchequer that revenue will not be used for general purposes but solely towards preserving employment on useful works and easing the pressure on the balance of payments. With this in mind I intend to provide in the Central Fund Bill for the diversion of the proceeds of the levy towards financing the State capital programme. I should not like it to be thought, however, that this will do more than provide a small, and of course merely temporary, easement of the great difficulty likely to be experienced in raising sufficient capital for all public authority purposes.
There was a clear undertaking given there by the then Minister for Finance as to the purposes for which the special import levies were to be used. Fianna Fáil speakers, notwithstanding the specific nature of the statement made by Deputy Sweetman as Minister for Finance, pressed him to be even more specific regarding it, and we had the present Minister for Local Government, at column 685 of the same volume of the Dáil Debates, saying:
I would like the House to be given the facts as to how this money will be spent, this £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 which will be collected as a result of these impositions. I want to know if that money will be used for the purpose for which the Minister so glibly explained it would be used, but gave us no details. Let us have from the Minister in his closing speech a definite indication of where this £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 extra will go. Let him say that it will, in fact, be used for something which will give lasting benefit. Let us be able to tell the people, whose savings will be eaten into by virtue of their having to pay higher prices for these taxed commodities, that their savings, so reaped from them in these taxes, will go into productive employment in the future by way of capital development throughout the country.
Not only was that in the mind of the Minister for Finance at the time but it was implemented by him in the terms of the Central Fund Bill of 1956. It was clear to everyone that the levies were imposed as a temporary measure to meet a particular situation which then existed. That was implicit in the imposition of the levies by the then Government and it was even more implicit in the speeches made by members of the Fianna Fáil Party in Opposition, that those levies would be removed either by the Government who proposed them or by any succeeding Government, whether composed of the Fianna Fáil Party or other Parties in the House. Certainly as far as Deputy Sweetman and his colleagues in the Government which imposed the levies were concerned, it was quite clearly their intention that the levies which were imposed to meet a temporary situation would be regarded merely as temporary and would be removed at the earliest possible date.
Now we are discussing this Finance Bill some five years later, a Bill introduced by the Minister for Finance in the Party who were so critical of the imposition of these levies. Instead of legislating to remove the levies, now that they have served their purpose, we are legislating to make them permanent and to make the taxation thereby imposed a permanent feature of our taxation framework. There is no doubt the levies did the job they were intended to do. That has since been acknowledged by the Taoiseach, who after the change of Government acknowledged that despite his doubts on the occasion of the imposition of the levies, the measures the then Government took had succeeded in solving the balance of payments problem. The Government are letting the people down and they are letting themselves down —certainly they are letting down those who were so vociferous during the last general election campaign — in taking the action they are now taking in this Finance Bill.
Other speakers have pointed out that the measures which the Government are taking are not such as will solve the problems which have to be solved and which, according to the Minister for Defence, this Government were elected to solve. I think all Deputies — more particularly than any other, the Minister for Defence — will recall the propaganda and the publicity of the Fianna Fáil Party during and prior to the last general election. They will recall how Fianna Fáil propaganda and Fianna Fáil spokesmen dealt with the question of unemployment. They will recall how Fianna Fáil speakers used to refer to the year 1956 as the "black year" as far as employment in this country went. The present Minister for Defence put himself on record in this House in giving the reasons why his Government were elected to office. On 15th May, 1957, very shortly after the Fianna Fáil Government were formed, as reported at columns 1283 and 1284 of the Official Report, the Minister had this to say:
In my opinion, and in the opinion of any fair minded person who even now goes back and looks over the speeches made in the election campaign, it is beyond all doubt that we were put in here as a Government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of mass unemployment and emigration brought about by the previous Government.
I should like to ask the Minister for Defence if he is proud of his Government's achievements in that direction over the past few years.