Before the House commences the debate on the amendments I should like to point out that there is a minor drafting error in amendment No. 18 in my name. The word "duties" should read "duty". I am informing the House of that error in case we do not reach the amendment.
Finance Bill, 1988: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.
The Minister's comment is noted.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 58, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
"63.—(1) In this section `property' means agricultural land under bona fide semi-mature forest.
(2) Stamp duty shall not, subject to section 4 of the Stamp Act, 1891, be charged on any instrument to which this section applies.
(3) For the purposes of this section, the Farm Development Service of the Department of Agriculture shall certify relevant property as being `bona fide semi-mature' forest.".
This amendment was tabled with the intention of bringing to the attention of the Minister for Finance the problems that have arisen in the creation of a market for standing timber or semi-mature timber. At present there is a stamp duty of 6 per cent applicable to the sale of such timber and that is restricting the establishing of a market. My amendment will not create any cost on the Exchequer because there is no income currently accruing from this source. It is appropriate that I should be moving the amendment now because in the next few weeks a Government Bill establishing Coillte Teoranta will be introduced in the House. The State will be relying heavily on the creation of a market for timber.
I understand that the only source of revenue the new company will have will be from the sale of timber. The Minister will accept that it is necessary that there should be a substantial investment in forestry here and that every effort should be made to encourage a volume increase in the rate of planting, particularly by private enterprise. If we can encourage such an increase in planting I have no doubt that many jobs will be created. I understand that the Programme for National Recovery envisages many jobs being created by the development of our forests but if the 6 per cent stamp duty is retained jobs will be put at risk.
I am sure the Minister understands the problems that have arisen in regard to the development of our forests. Taxing trees at the rate of 6 per cent is not logical. I hope the Minister can give a positive response to my request. I accept that the State gives a tax exemption to those who get involved in the development of our forests but that is wiped out by the 6 per cent stamp duty. Effectively, this amounts to taxing stock and trade. I should like to appeal to the Minister to review this duty. Investors are anxiously awaiting a response from the Minister and I hope it will be a positive one.
(Limerick East): I should like to support Deputy Carey. There is a strong case for encouraging the development of forestry here. The high grants that apply in areas covered by the western package do not provide the type of commercial stimulus that is necessary. The move suggested by Deputy Carey could result in a significant development of forests by private interests.
This proposed concession must be seen in the light of the other tax concessions which apply to forestry.
Profits from woodlands managed on a commercial basis are exempt from income tax and corporation tax. Individuals are exempt from capital gains tax on the disposal of standing timber. The exemption does not extend to the land itself. For gifts and inheritances of woodland, provided certain other conditions are met, agricultural relief will be available.
I should like to put on record what that relief is. In the case of capital acquisitions tax, agricultural land includes forestry growing on such land, and the value of that forestry would normally be included in the market value of the lands for the purposes of computing gift tax or inheritance tax. However, in relation to a beneficiary who is an Irish farmer, as defined, the market value of the lands, including forestry, is reduced by 50 per cent, or £200,000, whichever is the lesser, for the purposes of computation of tax. In relation to a beneficiary who is not an Irish farmer, as defined, the 50 per cent relief applies to the market value of forestry, but not to the lands on which it is growing.
Stamp duty on sales is by its nature paid by purchasers. Therefore, a developer of semi-mature forest would not normally incur a stamp duty liability on the sale of semi-mature forested land.
It will be seen from what I have said that the existing tax treatment of forestry is very favourable. Account must also be taken of the significant direct Exchequer assistance to private forestry. I could not, in view of this, accept the amendment.
Conveyances and transfers of agricultural land attract stamp duty at rates of up to 6 per cent. If an exception were to be made for agricultural land under semi-mature forest, it would be very difficult to refuse similar treatment to all farmers. The cost of a general exemption for agricultural land would be large.
I should like to thank the Minister for his reply but I do not accept the sentiments he expressed. I am endeavouring to create conditions for the establishing of a market for semi-mature timber. In my view it is the same as dealing in stocks and shares; semi-mature timber would pass from one institution to another or from one farmer to another. The income tax relief applies but as the market develops stamp duty costs will discourage big investments by private individuals or institutions. If the 50 per cent regime was applied and the £200,000 threshold excluded, the semi-mature market could develop. I am disappointed at the Minister's response to my amendment but I will pursue the matter again.
Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are related and, with the permission of the House, may be discussed together
Amendment No. 14 refers to page 64 and I should like to know if it refers to page 64 of the Bill as initiated.
(Limerick East): It is in line with the Bill as dealt with in Committee. I move amendment No. 14:
In page 64, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
"(v) the Capital Acquisitions Tax Act, 1976,".
I put forward these amendments on Committee Stage and asked the Minister to consider the position overnight. The purpose of the amendments is to extend the benefits of the tax amnesty to capital acquisitions tax and inheritance tax. There is a case to be made for this extension in ease of the taxpayer. I know that the amnesty is introduced to ensure a larger collection more quickly. I realise those problems could not arise in cases of inheritance tax but quite large sums of interest can accrue. Sometimes on inheritance people have to dispose of all or part of a property to enable them to pay the inheritance tax. While they are making those arrangements, interest can accrue. Again I ask the Minister to extend the amnesty to capital acquisitions tax so that people who have not paid their inheritance tax by the due date can have the penalty of heavy interest charges removed.
I did not promise anything yesterday. As I explained, the fundamental reason for not including capital acquisitions tax under the incentive scheme is that it is not subject to the same collection problems as the other taxes covered by that scheme. Assessments of capital acquisitions tax are made by the Revenue Commissioners on returns by the taxpayer and over 75 per cent of the tax so assessed is paid within 30 days. For the above reasons it was not considered necessary to provide the incentive to clear up arrears of tax provided for in section 70 of the Bill. In line with this, it was not considered necessary to attach the financial assets of defaulters in paying capital acquisitions tax, which might have been done in section 71 of the Bill.
Waiving outstanding interest on capital acquisitions tax would reduce the yield from the tax since interest is an integral part of the yield whose collection causes no undue difficulty. From the point of view of the Exchequer it would not make sense to forfeit something which would normally be collected, thus reducing the already low yield from the tax while getting nothing in return.
The amendment proposed might well act to the detriment of the taxpayer. The section envisages that all arrears must be paid before outstanding interest charges and penalties will be waived. There is a statutory provision for payment of capital acquisitions tax by five yearly instalments and it might not be possible for a taxpayer to pay all outstanding instalments due by him in order to be in a position to avail of the incentives in relation to other outstanding taxes due by him.
Cases can arise where people who are in receipt of gifts do not realise that they are liable for capital acquisitions tax and long delays can occur. I know one case where a person inherited a public house and ended up paying more than the market value of the premises after tax and interest had been computed. The original mistake in that case was made in a solicitor's office in drawing up the wrong kind of arrangement. There can be unusual delays for which the Bill makes no provision. The Minister gives the impression that this section is so secure that it is doing everything properly. I do not believe it is.
It is my experience that people in the capital branch of the Revenue take their care and management function quite liberally and have a realistic approach to getting in the money and making allowances for hard circumstances. I would be disposed to accept the Minister's view that it is not necessary to extend the amnesty in the manner suggested.
(Limerick East): Naturally I am disappointed with the Minister's reply but I will not press these amendments.
(Limerick East): I move amendment No. 16:
In page 72, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
"(19) Nothing in this section shall authorise the Revenue Commissioners to make an order of attachment based on an estimate of tax due.".
Yesterday we discussed at some length the manner in which the power of attachment would apply and the Minister was helpful in answering very precisely a series of detailed questions. The power of attachment will operate from October next when the tax amnesty runs out. The Minister indicated earlier that since the self-assessment system will be in place in October it will do away with the practice whereby exaggerated assessments are sent out to tax defaulters to encourage them to discuss the situation with the Revenue inspector. The section as drafted will apply to taxpayers who are in default prior to the introduction of the self-assessment system. There are currently people in receipt of exaggerated assessments and there is nothing in the section to prevent the Revenue Commissioners from attaching in the manner described in the section to recover the assessment rather than the amount due.
I would ask the Chair for a couple of degrees of latitude on this question. We were some what rushed yesterday when discussing this section and the Minister gave a very helpful answer in a very short period of time.
Regarding sums to be attached in banks, there seemed to be a misunderstanding between the Minister and Deputy Cooney. Deputy Cooney asked some very specific questions and the Minister said that a client's money in a solicitor's clients' account was not the solicitor's property and therefore could not be subject to attachment. Whether it is the solicitor's money or the client's money, it is a debt due from the bank either to the solicitor or the client. It is like any other bank account and it would be liable to attachment. I do not think any special category of bank account is created by the Solicitor's Act. If one's money is in a bank either in one's own name or in a solicitor's name or a trustee's name, it is still a debt by the bank. On my reading of the Bill, it is liable to attachment.
There seems to be confusions as to the status of a person's money in a solicitor's account. I do not see how you can distinguish between money held in a client's account in a solicitor's offices and money held in an ordinary account. Any sum held in a bank account is a sum due by way of debt by the bank to whomever has the beneficiary ownership of the account. These are liable to the attachment. I am confident of that and confident that there are wires crossed here and that some special status is being attributed to a solicitor's client account which it just does not have. It is still a debt due by the bank to somebody and the person entitled to it is the beneficial owner of that account and it will be liable to attachment.
Secondly, the Minister will be aware that the provisions of the attachment procedure are that money is not classified as a debt if it is the subject matter of a dispute, but one comes back to what could be regarded as quasi-disputes. These are where one party says that he is owed more than the other party owes him. Those are cases where there can be a set-off or sometimes a counter-claim, when somebody holds money which he acknowledges he owes another person, but says that he is entitled to receive more than that money from the person to whom he owes it, on some other account altogether for some other reason. For instance, if the Minister leaves money in my control and at the same time runs up a debt with me on some completely different account, I am entitled to resist payment if he sues me, on the basis that he owes me more than that under some other head. This is what is wrong with this Bill. It does not take into account a situation such as this. The set-off or counter-claim procedure is not provided for in this Bill.
The real nub is precisely where the Minister went wrong yesterday in describing a deposit account and a current account overdrawn, where somebody has money in a deposit account, owes money on a current account and the bank have established, by contract with their customer, a right of set-off between the two accounts. It is quite clear that the bank in one sense owes money on the deposit account to the customer, but it is equally clear that they have a contractual right to apply it to another debt. That is a right in law, not something which they can do because it is convenient for them. If it is their agreement with the client that they can use the money in one account to apply to a debt under another account, that is a set-off to which they are entitled as a matter of law. Legally speaking, it involves a situation in which the money due on the deposit account, money not in dispute, is liable to be set-off for another purpose. This Bill is defective because it has not come to grips with that situation.
I was stunned when the Minister said yesterday that a bank which had a set-off arrangement by contract with the customer is not entitled to resist a demand from the Revenue Commissioners for payment out on the account in credit, even though that money is on a contractual back to back with a collateral debt in another account. First, it does not have that effect but, secondly if it did, you would run into all sorts of legal and constitutional objections. The property right of the bank is depending on its contract with its customer. If the bank has a contract with a customer which allows them to do a set off, I do not believe that the Revenue Commissioners can, by law, tear up that contract and ask for the money in credit and let the bank whistle for the money due to it. That is an entirely wrong proposition. It does not come from this Bill and a court would not interpret it to mean that. The information the Minister gave yesterday is wrong on that issue.
Deputy McDowell appreciates that——
I was off point.
The strategy of advising the Chair beforehand that you are going to be out of order might work once, but not twice.
In support of Deputy Noonan's amendment, it would be very harsh indeed if the Revenue Commissioners were able to make an order of attachment based on an estimate of tax due, bearing in mind the consequences that would then fall on a solicitor and on the money in his client's account.
The Deputy is still out of order.
I would refer the Minister to the definition of debt. I am a paraphrasing in the sense of omitting part of the definition but getting the kernel of it. Debt means any money due by the relevant person whether on his own account or as an agent or trustee to the taxpayer. That to me surely means money held by a solicitor in his client's account. It seems clear to me that that money is attachable. I am perfectly happy to take the Minister's assurance that money in a client's account could not be attached and I would urge him to repeat that assurance to me here this afternoon. I would go home very happily in a position to advise all my clients who might be under any apprehension of an attachment order coming from the Revenue Commissioners immediately to bring into their accounts all the funds that can possibly be mustered. That would be to the benefit of me, my clients' accounts for the marginal rate and to my clients for the deposit rate applicable to the amount of money that they have left with me. I am happy either way. The Minister has not corrected what he said yesterday. I am perfectly happy if he does not want to do so.
In relation to the amendment, Deputy Noonan quite rightly expressed concern about estimates of tax due. The new arrangements for returns, assessments and appeals provided for in Chapter 2 of Part I of the Bill will, it is expected, greatly reduce the number of estimated assessments which are issued by the inspectors of taxes. It must be remembered, though, that an estimated assessment is issued only by an inspector of taxes where the taxpayer has failed to supply the basic data required to make a true determination of his liability. It is open to a taxpayer to lodge an appeal against an estimated assessment and amounts of tax which are under appeal cannot be the subject of an attachment notice. It is only where the taxpayer chooses to ignore totally the estimated assessment, which, as I said already, arises from his failure to furnish the required data in the first place, that the amount of tax in the estimate becomes lawfully due. If, as the Deputy is now proposing, an attachment order could not be issued in respect of an estimate of tax which is lawfully due, would-be tax defaulters would be encouraged not to make returns of income but to await estimated assessments which they would probably ignore in the knowledge that attachment could not be used against them.
Acceptance of this amendment would, in effect, deny the Revenue Commissioners the use of one of their enforcement options in situations where it is most needed, that is, in the case of taxpayers who simply choose to ignore the normal tax processes.
I shall sum up by repeating that attachment will be applied only in the case of tax debts which are lawfully due. Amounts of tax which are under appeal cannot be the subject of an attachment notice. The tax contained in an attachment notice will have been agreed by the taxpayer, or will have been returns determined on the hearing of an appeal, or will arise because the taxpayer has failed to meet a basic tax obligation such as making a return of income. For all those reasons and in all the circumstances, I cannot accept the amendment.
I am sure you will bear with me, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, if I reply to some of the important points made. I thought I had replied to them but perhaps we were rushing it a bit. I would refer Deputies to page 67, section 71 (1) (b): "debt" means, in relation to a notice of attachment... which was referred to by Deputies, but they left out—
(i) where a relevant person is a financial institution, any amount or aggregate amount of money, including interest thereon, which at that time is a deposit held by the relevant person to the credit of the taxpayer for his sole benefit, shall be regarded as a debt due by the relevant person to the taxpayer at that time,
I would repeat that a client's account is not for the sole benefit of either the client or a solicitor, so it is not subject to attachment.
That point was raised by both Deputy Cooney and Deputy McDowell. Deputy McDowell talked today and yesterday about offsets. As I indicated yesterday, situations can arise where a defaulter both owes and is owed money by the same third party. For example, a defaulter may have both a deposit and a loan account with a financial institution. In such instances it may be that the outstanding loan is being repaid by instalments from the proceeds of the deposit account and the outstanding loan may in effect be in excess of the deposit account balance. The fact that an individual may have a standing order, direct debit or other offsetting arrangement is merely a facility offered by the financial institution and agreed to by the taxpayer. In these circumstances there would be no prohibition on the taxpayer uplifting money from his deposit account. The taxpayer would have access to the money owed by the bank to him. If an account is attached and as a result insufficient funds remain to meet a standing order or a direct debit, it will be a matter for the defaulting taxpayer to resolve with the financial institution concerned. Standing orders or similar arrangements are such a common feature of banking that to exclude accounts which are subject to such arrangements would virtually exclude bank accounts from the attachment process. It must be remembered that the taxpayer will first be warned and then be kept informed of the attachment process as it progresses and as such he should be aware that his account may be or has been attached and that he may not have sufficients funds to meet standing orders or direct debits. It must also be stressed that the taxpayer would avoid this difficulty if he had paid his normal tax liabilities in the first instance.
I am not worried about the taxpayer but about the banks.
(Limerick East): The Minister has confirmed that assessments rather than actual amounts can be attached. That is bad news although the Minister has given a lot of good news to other people, in that people will be warned in the first instance that they are going to be attached and then they will be informed of the process of the attachment as it proceeds. The Minister has told Deputy Cooney——
Go to your local solicitor——
(Limerick East):——that client accounts will be exempt. At the first warning shot there will be queues at the solicitors' offices all over the country and client accounts will become highly fashionable.
We are now going to advertise it.
(Limerick East): I suggest to Deputy Cooney that he should take the first step to set up a client account consultancy business, since he was the man that raised it in the House and I can envisage branch offices all over the country doing very good business in a short time.
The Minister will get an opportunity to intervene again on the next amendment. On the question of accountancy, the Minister might deal with another problem. I presume accounts for the sole benefit of the tax defaulter would apply to accounts in the joint names of husband and wife, since it is the one tax assessment or is an account in the name of husband and wife outside the scope of the section on account of the phrase "the sole benefit" being used? What about an account in the joint names of a father and son, a father and daughter or a mother and daughter? They would not be assesed jointly for income tax purposes and yet if money was in a bank or a financial institution, on that basis, it would seem that that would be outside the scope of the section.
A quick answer to that is, "no".
(Limerick East): To which question?
Account in the two people's names cannot be attached. It has to be solely in the name of the defaulter.
(Limerick East): If it is in the name of husband and wife it cannot be attached. That will reduce the solicitor's business and there will be another movement towards joint accounts.
I will reply to that later. It is another question.
Perhaps the Minister will reply before Deputy Cooney has left.
On the next amendment.
(Limerick East): Salaries and wages are exempt. Salaries and wages however, are frequently paid directly into banks accounts. We had that type of debate, although not in the House, when we were arguing against the levy on ATM cards. We are saying that it is increasingly an industrial relations policy to pay money into bank accounts so that they can be drawn safely and securely through the cashcard, eliminating the risk of theft. Salaries and wages cannot be attached but could a salary or wage as soon as it goes in to a deposit account be attached? It seems to me that it could be and that the exemption——
It will be different in that it will be an account for the sole benefit of the individual.
(Limerick East): That is right, so it seems to me that the exemption is not really an exemption at all. Suppose the money is not paid directly into a bank account but somebody just gets a monthly cheque and puts it in the bank or the Post Office themselves, that is attachable too, from the Minister's interpretation of the section. In what circumstances are wages and salaries exempt from this? This seems to be quite limited——
Back to the mattress.
(Limerick East):——and probably, as a Deputy Mac Giolla says, it will be a movement back to the mattress, where whatever else might happen to it, it will not be attached. There are difficulties in the section and it is a pity we did not have more time to debate it. Those of us who agree with self-assessment also agree that the Revenue must have at its disposal a range of penalties in ascending order, but the power of attachment as specified here, is a very strange power indeed. Will the Minister give us some more information about bank accounts and the circumstances in which bank accounts other than joint accounts would not be subject to attachment? It seems to me that the banks have different arrangements for different people and there is a whole area there which has not been explained with any clarity to us. In view of the Minister's very strong objections to amendment No. 16, and because I have another amendment on the same section in which I have a stronger interest, I will withdraw the first amendment.
(Limerick East): I move amendment No. 17:
17. In page 72, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
"(19) Nothing in this section gives a right to the Revenue Commissioners to act in a manner, which would deprive an individual or family of an income sufficient to provide for their individual or family needs.".
Even if we were to agree that the power of attachment is something that should be in the armoury of the Revenue Commissioners, especially as we move towards self-assessment, from a sense of fair play, common sense and basic justice, an attachment order should not cause a situation to arise where all family income over a period of months could be transferred to the Revenue Commissioners. That can easily arise especially in the farming community.
An attachment order to a co-op, where the debt due for the supply of the milk was returned to the Revenue Commissioners rather than going to the family farmer could have very serious consequences. Under the section, as it stands, the order of attachment would remain in place until the full debt is met. If the milk cheques for the months of May, June and July go to the Revenue Commissioners, how are the farmer and his family going to survive for those three months of the summer? It is not good enough to say that these people are tax defaulters and that if they had paid their taxes in the first instance they would have no problems. What has happened is that the sheriffs have been very effective and have succeeded in collecting outstanding taxes from those defaulters who have money.
The second phase of this process is the granting of amnesties. Again, those who have the money and can put it together fairly quickly are settling their tax affairs but where life is going to become very difficult is when the sheriffs try to collect outstanding taxes from those defaulters who no longer have the money.
All of us know of people who have defaulted in the payment of their taxes and we also know that they have spent the money they should have paid over in taxes. This applies equally to the small businessman who has not returned his PRSI and VAT returns, to the publican, or shopkeeper or self-employed individual who has not regularised his tax affairs and who now faces a bill and has not got the money to meet it. With the best will in the world I can see people not being able to come to an arrangement with the Revenue Commissioners and it would be unjust if they had the power to make an order of attachment. I do not think it is beyond the imagination of the Minister, the Department of Finance or the Revenue Commissioners to allow arrangements whereby an individual would be allowed to retain some income in order to provide for his family. Placing an order of attachment on a co-op could have devastating effects on a family whose only income may be the milk cheque, particularly where the attachment order is continued month after month until the debt plus interest is paid.
The Minister said yesterday that this proposal was drafted too loosely. I am not a parliamentary draftsman but I think the concept contained in this proposal is very clear. On the grounds of social justice this section should contain such a mechanism. I have already drawn the attention of the Minister to the practice of the Agricultural Credit Corporation who instruct a liquidator on making orders of attachment to allow the person in difficulty to retain a certain amount of money so as to ensure that he can provide for his family. I think the Minister should incorporate that practice in this section. I am quite prepared to withdraw my amendment if the Minister is willing to incorporate the spirit of the amendment in one section or in regulations, even by way of guidelines to the Revenue Commissioners.
A difficulty exists and the Minister should meet that difficulty. The Minister argued that the term "income sufficient to provide for their individual or family needs" is very loose but under the social welfare code supplementary welfare benefit can be paid by the health boards to those who are in difficulties. If an arrangement could be made under the social welfare code where a person would be allowed to obtain supplementary welfare benefit without a means test from the health boards it would meet what I am looking for but the section as it stands is and will be seen to be grossly unfair.
I repeat what I said at the outset, the collection system has been working reasonably well but I have no doubt that the sheriffs have collected all of the loose money which was available. When we move towards the end of the year the sheriffs will be going after those who will not have the money to pay their outstanding taxes as they will have it spent. That is when the difficulties are going to start. If this section is applied without there being some mechanism whereby an individual would be allowed to retain some income so as to maintain his family, difficulties are going to arise.
We are all anxious to ensure that the Revenue Commissioners would have powers which enable them to tackle those who wilfully try to get away without paying their fair share of tax but I put it to the Minister that the Revenue Commissioners have already got more than enough powers at their disposal to collect outstanding taxes. As I said last night, I have great reservations about the advent of sheriffs to our society. What I would like to make very clear is that Fine Gael oppose the concept of making orders of attachment. The amendment which has been moved by Deputy Noonan is fair and reasonable. It states, and I quote:
Nothing in this section gives the right to the Revenue Commissioners to act in a manner, which would deprive an individual or a family of an income sufficient to provide for their individual or family needs.
Let us take the case of a farmer who sells milk to his local creamery and the Revenue Commissioners make an order of attachment on that creamery. Until the debt is discharged the milk cheque which would go to that farmer would go direct to the Revenue Commissioners and not to the farmer. What Deputy Noonan's amendment seeks to ensure is that that farmer would be allowed to Noonan's amendment seeks to ensure is that that farmer would be allowed to retain a sufficient amount of money so as to enable him to provide the basic necessities of life for his family.
It is grossly wrong to deprive an individual or a family of sufficient income to provide for their needs. The Minister should accept this amendment because of if he fails to do so great hardship is going to be caused. A person who is already in trouble with the bank and who finds that his creamery cheque is also being seized will have nowhere to turn. As the Minister is aware, it is the duty of the Revenue Commissioners to administer the law and that is what they do. This amendment seeks to ensure that hardship is avoided. I put it to the Minister that the manager of any provincial livestock mart, when there is a notice of attachment served on that mart, will be unable to pay farmers for the cattle sold through that mart. Can one envisage the circumstances that will obtain in any livestock mart around the country with mart managers refusing to pay farmers for the cattle sold there?
Farmers will go to another mart.
I can visualise the poor mart manager or his staff——
I would ask the Deputy to confine his visualising to the amendment before us, because we hope to deal with another amendment before concluding.
I envisage very difficult circumstances obtaining in such cases. we, in our amendment, are seeking the bare necessities of life for people. Powers exist already under which farmers and business people are faced by action on the part of a sheriff, involving seizure of their goods, household furniture and so on, but this provision will mean that any income they receive may also be seized. We consider that to be much too excessive, and very dangerous.
All they have to do with it in rural Ireland: that is why they is pay their taxes.
I live in rural Ireland. Deputy Mac Giolla lives in Dublin west, some part of which represents the wealthiest parts of the country.
They can get away with it in rural Ireland: that is why they do not pay their taxes.
I have seen sheriffs move in on firms and factories seizing their goods and property. We should remember that there are many decent Irish people employing natives in their businesses and factories. It saddens me to see such firms and businesses being closed down. I mentioned last evening that others, with limited liability, can get away without paying their taxes whereas another individual trying to make a livelihood for himself and his family, and providing jobs for others, cannot do so.
We are endeavouring to ensure that there is a certain amount of latitude and discretion afforded the Revenue Commissioners in such matters. I am against the concept of attachment. I would urge the Minister to be generous and meet our recommendations in this area. If the Minister cannot see his way to doing so, this will constitute one of the most draconian provisions passed in this House for many a long day, one about which I have the gravest reservations. Deputy Noonan's amendment endeavours to afford the Revenue Commissioners an opportunity of providing the bare necessities of life for a farmer, an industrialist, a shopkeeper or a businessman——
Repetition is not in order. That is the third time——
The record will show, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that I am not being repetitive. What I am saying is of the utmost importance to my constituents. I feel I have a duty to articulate their viewpoint on this serious matter, something to which I am very opposed. I feel strongly that this amendment should be accepted.
I will not repeat what I said yesterday — it is on the record — but I might refer briefly to it without delaying the House because I am sure there are other things Deputies want to mention before we conclude at 5 o'clock.
I do not accept this amendment at all. I do not accept, if you like, its purport, that the Revenue Commissioners are deliberately going out to deprive people of sufficient to provide for their families. What we are dealing with here is a power that is shown to be necessary after a period of nine months in which people have had an opportunity to settle their tax affairs and been given an incentive to do so. That is being forgotten conveniently, particularly by Deputy Enright.
Before answering some other points raised about attachment, I should tell the House that the Revenue Commissioners will be amenable to instalment arrangements if and when taxpayers approach them. That is the kind of assurance Deputy Noonan sought in the terms of his amendment. I can give the House that assurance. But, having done so, I want to repeat that there is the period between now and the end of September for all and sundry throughout the country to come forward and make arrangements to pay their taxes and be given an incentive to do so. It will be only after all of that process has been gone through that the power of attachment will become operative; that is the position. Even when it does become operative, as I have said, the Revenue Commissioners will be prepared to consider any instalment arrangements that can be made, if there are such people as were described by Deputy Enright, which I honestly do not accept.
We are dealing here with tax arrears. Deputy Mac Giolla mentioned his constituents, the PAYE sector, and hoped that wages would not be the subject of attachment. Deputy Noonan asked how this could apply when they went into an account. I should say it is a different matter when they are in an account. But, in so far as the PAYE worker is concerned, it is most unlikely that people on salaries and wages, who pay their tax as they earn and then put their income into an account, will be tax defaulters. That would be highly unlikely, if not almost impossible. What is not allowed there is the power of attachment to be given to tax an employer vis-à-vis the wages or salaries of his employees. That is clearly understood.
The point of why a power of attachment is necessary has been raised inside and outside the House. The major reason for the build-up of tax arrears is that there is no immediate sanction available to the Revenue Commissioners in the event of default. Normally the Revenue Commissioners are one of a number of creditors in competition for payment of debts. Creditors who are capable of exerting immediate pressure will be paid first. For example, trade creditors can cease supplying goods, the ESB can shut off power, the banks can bounce cheques or insist on having security against assets to cover their debts. Because the sanctions available to the Revenue Commissioners lack simple immediacy, the debts due to other creditors frequently are paid while taxes remain unpaid. Deputies will be aware that it is not uncommon, in company liquidations, to find the Revenue Commissioners the only unsecured creditor at the time insolvency is admitted. The introduction of a power of attachment will afford the Revenue Commissioners a quick and efficient method of enforcing payment of tax debts, and that after a period of nine months' opportunity with an incentive for them to bring their tax affairs up to date. I think that generally covers the points raised. We could get into deeper argument — but we do not have time — in relation to the sole beneficiary of a particular account. I think I have covered that point and given the assurance sought by Deputies McDowell and Cooney.
(Limerick East): At the end of the Minister's contribution he put his finger on why the Revenue Commissioners are pressing for this power. They are creditors, like any others, and are in competition with other creditors. It is a bit fast and loose that, without going through a liquidation process — where they now have priority — the Revenue Commissioners want to be put in a position of being priority creditors by using the power of attachment. In his last intervention the Minister hit on the reason this provision has been inserted.
It is a good reason, that is why——
(Limerick East): Is it a good reason?
That is a good reason. They should have priority.
After a long process.
(Limerick East): Why should they have priority over somebody else who is owed money?
The State has to pay for the services it provides.
(Limerick East): Why should the Revenue Commissioners have priority over some poor fellow down the road who is providing goods and services, because he will now be left hanging while the power of attachment gives priority to the Revenue Commissioners? I am disappointed the Minister would not take this on board and give us an assurance.
I take it Deputy Noonan will contain his disappointment and not press his amendment?
(Limerick East): I am not withdrawing the amendment.
Is the Deputy asking me to put the question?
(Limerick East): Yes.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 73, lines 26 and 27, to delete "(except the excise duties on vehicles to which section 54 relates)".
The removal of section 54 from the Bill on Committee Stage yesterday renders the reference in brackets in section 74 to that section unnecessary. As I have already informed the House, the word "duties" should read "duty".
I should like to pay tribute to the Opposition spokespersons on finance and, in particular, to Deputy Noonan, Deputy McDowell and Deputy Mac Giolla who attended throughout the weeks of debate that have gone on in the House. It has been one of the most extensively debated Finance Bills, in my time at least. I also want to pay tribute to Deputy Desmond who was here on different occasions and to all the other Deputies who contributed. I thank them for their co-operation and the effort undertaken by them on behalf of us all us taxpayers to seek as much clarification as possible about what is being done in all sections of the bill. I think we covered all the section fairly extensively. I am grateful to Deputy Noonan, Deputy McDowell, Deputy Mac Giolla and all the Deputies who contributed to the debate.
(Limerick East): I should like to thank the Minister for his courtesy and clarity in dealing with the many points we raised. It was a very satisfactory debate and we had sufficient time to fully debate the Bill. It was a very long Finance Bill and many sections of it were complicated and we needed that time to debate it. I thank the Minister for providing us with the opportunity to raise many questions and for the way in which the sections and amendments were debated.
I each Deputy Noonan's remarks.
I suppose the Chair should join in and say thanks to the House for the understanding and co-operation shown, especially in circumstances where time was not as liberally available as it is normally.
This Bill is certified a money Bill in accordance with Article 22 of the Constitution.