First of all, let me say I am somewhat surprised at the Minister's estimate of £5 million as the cost of this. I would have put the figure somewhat lower. However, if we accept that the cost would be £5 million, I wonder has the Minister considered the fact that the adoption of this resolution could well save the Exchequer a great deal more than £5 million, because unless some method is found whereby we can ensure an adequate supply of money for the building of houses, the direct cost to the Exchequer of the breakdown and redundancies that will occur—the loss of income tax, VAT and various other forms of revenue—would far exceed £5 million. Therefore, purely on the question of cost, I think the Minister is mistaken in imagining that he should have regard only to the direct cost of this without having regard to the cost in the other direction if this amendment is not accepted.
The Minister said that the only beneficiaries of this would be depositors in building societies. Indeed, if he did not say it, he implied that all these people would be very wealthy, a fact we know is simply not true. But we know also that the beneficiaries in this case would be primarily, as Deputy Brugha said those who are repaying loans on their houses and who are put to the pin of their collar to meet those repayments. They would be the first people to benefit by the reduction in interest. Secondly, thousands of people at present employed in the building industry whose jobs are at risk at present would be beneficiaries of the provisions of this amendment if it were accepted.
It seems to me to be a useless and futile exercise to be talking about equity in the taxation system if, in order to achieve that equity, one is going to produce a situation in which no loans are available to people to purchase houses. We are very close to that situation now. It does not matter how much denial comes from members of the Government, we all know the facts. One has only to get in touch with any building society to find out just how difficult it is for people to get loans. That is the factual position. This amendment is designed both to ease the burden on borrowers and improve the flow of money to building societies. I agree with the Minister that I do not care from what source the money comes, whether it be from insurance companies, banks, building societies or any other, as long as there is an adequate flow of money to maintain the housing programme.
But that is not the situation at the moment. If the Minister can spell out specifically where the necessary money for the building programme, particularly the private sector, is to come from, I am quite prepared to withdraw this amendment. I think that should indicate very clearly to Deputy Desmond at any rate, if not to the Minister, that the object of this amendment is not simply to benefit wealthy depositors. But I suggest that the Minister is not in a position to spell out any such thing. I would suggest that in the circumstances in the building industry and in the circumstances in regard to borrowers trying to obtain loans, it is simply not good enough to talk about idealogical notions.
Deputy Desmond amazed me in the approach he took to this. He is concerned only with whether some people are going to avoid a certain amount of income tax and does not seem to be concerned in the least with whether there would be a reduction in repayments for borrowers and an increased flow of money for house loans. I just cannot understand Deputy Desmond's approach to this, unless of course he is so blinded by some idealogical hang-up that he cannot see the wood for the trees. We all know what is the situation, and unless Deputy Desmond, the Minister and other people on that side of the House come out now and tell us precisely how that situation in the building industry and the availability or non-availability of mortgages is to be remedied, they are not entitled to start prating here about equity in the taxation system while people are queuing up, at their wit's end, trying to get loans on houses. It simply is not good enough for Deputies on the other side of the House to approach this problem in this way.
Deputy Desmond made a reference to the announcement by the Minister for Local Government about a further £9 million for local authorities. Deputy Desmond should know by now that that is merely a window-dressing operation. He knows there was no announcement about an increase in the limits either in the amounts of loans available or in the qualifying salary. That being so, it is purely a window-dressing operation. It will not build one more house, and he should know that.
We are interested in seeing that the housing programme is kept going. We are interested also in seeing if it is possible to reduce the burden on borrowers. We claim that this amendment is a rational approach to achieving these objectives. We have had no answer from the other side of the House other than ideological arguments about inequity in the taxation system. In fact, it would not be unfair to summarise what Deputy Desmond was saying as that he would prefer that millions of pounds would go abroad rather than be invested in the building industry in this country, through building societies, if getting the money into the building societies—and therefore into the building of houses here— were to result in some people not paying as much income tax as they do at the moment.
Of course, there is also the fact that the continued starvation of money for loans from building societies for privately-built houses will have the effect of sending people even further seeking local authority houses at far greater cost to the taxpayer than the cost of implementing this amendment. For all those reasons I would hope that the Minister and his colleagues on the other side of the House would have a little sense and would approach this in some kind of a rational down-to-earth way.
The Minister should forget the theory and face the reality. If he has a better way of dealing with it he should let us know, but if he has not he should not be talking about theoretical points while the building industry is running down and while people are at their wits end to get loans for housing.