Do Deputies realise that you are trying to apply to an economic set-up in our country a procedure which is as daft as a halfpenny watch? The thing will not work. What is particularly maddening to me is that you are creating a situation in which a certain body of people who have consistently complied with the law, and who want to comply with the law, whether or not they agree with it, will be driven almost insane and the bulk of the people will ignore the law and there is no conceivable means open to you of enforcing it. If there is any more damning condemnation of law than a law which creates a thousand problems of conscience every day for an honest man and which is demonstrably unenforceable against a man who is indifferent to the law, I do not know of it. It reduces the whole process of law-making to the lowest kind of degradation. We are doing that simply because the Minister for Finance came to the conclusion that this was a form of tax collection which he hoped would yield a large revenue and the responsibility for which he hoped he could pass over to the shopkeepers.
In the end, the impact of this tax must fall on the consumer. The Minister makes pious affirmations of that from time to time. In the process of doing it, we are making an attack on a law-abiding and public-spirited section of the community of the most scandalous character. I do not want to multiply examples as I am peculiarly qualified to do, because I am intimately familiar with the whole procedure relative to the administration of a sales tax of this character. Far from trying to bewilder the Minister, I am deliberately refraining from multiplying dilemmas—not by the dozen but by the hundred—I could propose to the Minister to expose him to the problems he would find himself unable to resolve.
What kind of law are we enacting? Is there a Deputy on any side with knowledge of the retail trade, particularly in rural Ireland who will challenge me when I say we are creating a position of utter impossibility for a man who wants to abide by the law? If that proposition is true, when will we open our eyes to the quality of the legislation we are passing? It is bad and it is evil. It will beget every kind of abuse. It will drive conscientious people into an impossible position, which will involve them in crushing expense in the effort to give effect to the law. It puts the unscrupulous person, indifferent to his obligations, in a position of great advantage.
People may say you have to be practical in these matters, but it is not an easy thing. If you are sending certificates to the Revenue Commissioners relative to factual statements on foot of which the Revenue Commissioners will reckon your tax liability, you are not entitled to sign a document which is not true. People talk about the moral obligation to pay tax, that it is not morally due to the Government until they have got it. But, whatever happens, you are not entitled to tell a lie. This Bill is riddled with the obligation on individuals to make returns relative to grave matters in respect of which they are not morally entitled to lie, and to tell the truth is being made virtually impossible.
I cannot make up an honest return to the Revenue Commissioners to determine whether the feeding stuffs, the seeds and the fertilisers sold in my shop are sold in bulk or not. Nobody in Ireland can do it. I cannot, and no country merchant can make an honest return as to whether every quarterstone of nails he sold was for the purpose of domestic repairs or was a contract within the meaning of the Act. If he sells a can of paint, he cannot make a return as to whether it is sold to a man in his personal capacity or in his capacity as a painting contractor. Anyone with any understanding of rural business knows that to be true.
I cannot make an honest return as to whether tea, sugar, bread and butter is sold to a woman who is a lodging-house keeper or a guesthouse proprietor. No merchant in rural Ireland can do it. It is an illusion to say to us that all such persons have accounts and are well-known to the persons with whom they are dealing. That is not true. It has no relation to the ordinary conditions obtaining in the towns of this country. I assure the Minister that, far from multiplying dilemmas for the purpose of exposing him to embarrassment, I have not spent one hour compiling questions of that kind. Under that Schedule, I could produce a thousand insoluble dilemmas for any conscientious merchant in this country.
I say legislation of that character is evil, bad and the by-product of a lazy approach to a solemn duty and a grave reflection on those who introduced it. I allege the reason it is being introduced in this dishonest form is to try to obscure from the people the real impact of the law and to deceive them as to where the burden of this tax will ultimately fall. The net result is that the people have not been deceived, but we have created a wilderness of ambiguity through which no honest person can conscientiously find his way.