The Minister, in trying to bluff his way out of this, has concentrated time after time on his allegation that what is involved and what we are trying to do on this side of the House is to benefit people whom he alleges are making "a kill" in regard to life assurance. The absurdity of that in regard to life assurance has already been dealt with. We, on this side of the House, know of no case which could possibly answer to that description. Last night I asked the Minister if he knew of any such case and we got no answer. But what he has endeavoured to do is conceal the fact that what is really involved is much more than any such mythical figure—I doubt if there is such a person: whether there is or not the Minister has endeavoured consistently to cloud the issue—that there are numerous people—there must be—who took out insurance policies following the budget statement, which has been dealt with in detail here and who, as a result of this section, if this amendment is not effected, will find that the tax relief they are getting will be different from what the Minister said it would be in his budget statement.
They entered into these insurance contracts in good faith. These contracts could be for premiums of £20, £30, or £50 per year. There must be numerous people in that position and not only are they affected as regards the tax relief which they will get under this section and what they thought they would get on the basis of what the Minister said in his budget statement but, in addition, the differential existing between Irish and non-Irish companies is affected and considerably widened by this section. Therefore, the choice of a person taking out a policy would necessarily be affected by the position as he thought it was when he took out his insurance. Here, the Minister changes the whole position and wants to change it retrospectively as of the date of the budget. He said in his Second Reading speech in relation to this very section:
One section which was not mentioned in my budget speech is section 9 which makes a change in regard to the amount of life assurance premiums which may qualify for tax relief.
To me the position is perfectly clear: the Minister made no reference to this in his budget speech—as he confirms himself—but he has a section here which is framed as though he had referred to it in his budget speech. Surely it is not beyond the ability of the Minister to acknowledge that because no reference was made to it in his budget speech—although perhaps he would prefer to have made such a reference; I am not suggesting that he personally was responsible for its omission—the consequence is that he cannot ram through a section framed as though he had mentioned it in his budget speech.
The first mention of it, as he confirmed, in his Second Reading speech came when the Bill was published. The amendment is designed to provide that anybody who took out an insurance policy—not somebody taking out, as the Minister alleges, a huge policy; I am talking of hundreds if not thousands of people who must have taken out ordinary small policies—based on what the Minister said is not adversely affected. In that interval, why should the Minister retrospectively change the rules for people who acted on what he said in his budget statement? Is there any possible justification for this?
Surely nobody—and I include Deputy Esomnde in this—could possibly justify what the Minister is trying to do here. Deputy Esmonde should not allow himself to be fooled by the Minister's smokescreen about large policy holders. We do not know if there are any such: and apparently the Minister does not know, because when we asked him he did not tell us. But we do know there must be small policy holders who acted in good faith as a result of what the Minister said on budget day. Is it too much to ask that these should be protected to the extent that the Minister's change in the law should apply from the date on which he published this Bill, which was the first intimation anyone outside the Minister's office had of it, and not from the date the Minister proposes? Is that an unreasonable request? I submit it is not; the only reason it has not been granted long ago and the only reason why we have had to spend so much time on this is because the Minister apparently finds himself unable to acknowledge what the position is, to stand up and be man enough to acknowledge it, and let us get on with the important outstanding business of this House in regard to this Finance Bill. All this very serious business is being held up because the Minister is being stubborn—another adjective springs to my mind—but, at the very least the Minister is being stubborn. Surely it has been demonstrated beyond all doubt now that the right course, the course that was always followed in this House in the past and should be followed now, is to make the section operate from the date of publication of the Bill.
As Deputy O'Malley said, there is probably little or no revenue involved, but there is a vitally important principle involved. Why should the Minister hold up the important business of discussion of the Finance Bill to stick on a point like this when he knows, as well as we do, that he has not a leg to stand on. It is sad—I am choosing less emotive words than I might otherwise—that so much time should be spent in trying to establish a principle the Minister said last night he accepted. But we have to spend this time in this way because of the stubbornness of the Minister and because of his apparent inability to acknowledge the fact that a mistake was made and this was not referred to in his budget statement. Why can he not do as any reasonable Minister would and acknowledge that it was not mentioned in his budget speech and, therefore, whatever the consequences, he must accept the fact that it should operate from the date on which notice was first given of this provision, namely, the date of publication of the Bill? Is that an unreasonable request and, if it is not, would somebody on those benches, for God's sake, talk sense to the Minister and not be wasting our valuable time and the valuable time of the public in regard to the very important matters still to be discussed simply because the Minister will not come down off his high horse and have a bit of common sense?