I move: "That in the opinion of the Seanad, ether, chloroform and other drugs used in the relief of the sick should be free of taxation." The introduction of anything in connection with money matters may be looked on as an invasion of the prerogative of the other House, but my apology for bringing this motion forward is because of its extreme urgency and importance.
COURTS OF JUSTICE BILL, 1923. - DUTIES ON DRUGS.
There is nothing to prevent the Seanad expressing an opinion. That is not legislation.
I hope we will express an opinion on this.
I do not think anyone will contest your right to express your opinion.
Last year we adopted England's fiscal policy, and we did not know at that time that there was such a thing as a duty on chloroform, ether, and other drugs used in the treatment of the sick. It came on us like a thunderbolt. I am really more concerned with the difficulties of procuring medicine, ether, chloroform and other drugs, than I am with the amount of tax that was imposed. There has been nothing but chaos and confusion, and it has caused very unnecessary suffering. Last year we approached the Minister for Finance, President Cosgrave, and he decided to remit the duty on chloroform and ether used in public hospitals. The Revenue Commissioners issued regulations prescribing that the least amount that could be got was five gallons. Another Board, the Local Government Department, issued orders previously that the amount of any drug that a dispensary doctor could order was a three months supply, and the three months supply in most dispensaries would not amount to more than two pints, so that between the two orders a doctor can do nothing. The duty on chloroform is about 100 per cent., and on ether practically 100 per cent. also. Very serious trouble has arisen over this duty. It was only yesterday that a druggist in this city ordered pneumococcic serum by telegram, and in the ordinary way that would be procured from London next morning. On this occasion he got it four days after the unfortunate man for whom it was required was interred in Glasnevin. Another chemist told me that some weeks ago he ordered a drug called actophan, and instead of having that drug the next day he received, four days after, a letter from the Customs Department, as follows:—
"The Postal Authorities have handed to this Department one packet addressed to you from Charles Zimmermann, London, containing aetophan, which reached this country through letter post.
"As the importation of such dutiable goods by the Foreign Letter Post is prohibited, I hereby give you notice that the packet will be retained as a seizure."
That chemist is now liable to a prosecution because the man in London sent the drug by letter post, and not by parcel post, not declaring its contents. It was, of course, necessary that the drug should be obtained in a very short time, but he has not got it yet. I would appeal to the Minister for Finance when introducing the next Budget, to do away with this tax which originally was a tax to protect the manufacture of chloroform, ether and other industries, and not for the purpose of revenue. It is a tremendous hardship on people, rich and poor alike, and I think that this tax should be remitted. One of my friends, speaking to me on this question, asked me did I mean by "other drugs" whiskey and rum, which are very often used for illness. I do not include these drugs, and I do not wish that the duty should be remitted on them, but only on drugs supplied by a chemist.
It would make your motion more popular if you did.
I beg to second the motion. I know that there are any number of complaints in regard to the great hardship caused as the result of this tax. As Senator O'Sullivan pointed out, it was imposed as a protective tariff in England, but, needless to say, it protects no industry in this country, and the amount of revenue secured from it is negligible. It has never been imposed as a revenue-earning tax, but it has made some drugs that are absolutely indispensable exceedingly dear, and worse than that, it causes the delays to which Senator O'Sullivan has referred. These delays are, as he pointed out, in some cases fatal, and they tend to add to the great difficulties under which the medical profession in country districts labour at present. There are many drawbacks because of the distance of local hospitals from some parts of the country—30 or 40 miles—and this inflicts considerable hardships on the sick poor particularly, and these delays, caused by the infliction of this tax, add to the sufferings which have to be borne in country districts. I suppose the importation of such a drug as opium or things of that kind is absolutely forbidden, but, of course, that does not come within the terms of this particular motion, which I hope will be passed unanimously.
May I say that if Senator Dr. O'Sullivan will accept a slight addition, it might help the object he has in view. I think that more delays arise in connection with the Post Office and the Post Office Regulations than in connection with the Customs, and if he added something to say that the Post Office be requested to give facilities for these things, I think it would strengthen the case, which everybody admits is proved up to the hilt.
I am anxious to know whether patent medicines would be affected by this. There is a tax on them, and would that tax be no longer available if the resolution were adopted?
It does not affect patent medicines. It only affects chloroform, ether, and all medicines in which alcohol is used in the manufacture of.
Senator Bennett's question is directed to a different point, I think. I think he wanted to know would this exempt from taxation patent medicines if they included in their composition ether, chloroform, or other drugs.
That is quite right.
I think that may raise a difficulty. These patent medicines, I take it, or at least many of them, have ether, chloroform or other drugs in their composition, and they have a great many other things that they should not have.
The tax on these medicines does not come under the same category as chloroform and ether. They are in a different schedule.
"Other drugs" makes it a little too wide.
I think the main point of this resolution is to give publicity to the matter, and there would be some difficulty, possibly, in wording it in a perfect form. It is unfortunate that it comes to-day when it is quite obvious you could not, under the present circumstances, expect the Minister who is conversant with the whole details, to be present. I doubt if there is a patent medicine tax applicable to Ireland. In England there is a little stamp on the bottles containing patent medicines, but I believe the tax, apart from the duty, is not applicable to this country. There are two points in Senator O'Sullivan's remarks which are important, but which I think are somewhat different in their character. In the first place, I believe a tax on these drugs is part of the continuation of the key industries duties, which apply to optical instruments, drugs, certain kinds of glass, and a number of other industries introduced during the war, and which was for the protection of these vital industries in England, which could not by themselves enter into competition with foreign countries. I think it is practically admitted that to continue that duty on all these articles here is nothing but absurd. The Fiscal Committee which went into the matter, reported that the duty realisable from these articles was negligible, and recommended its removal. Why steps have not been taken to remove the duty on them, I have no idea. There is a second point which is not included in the resolution, but for which Senator O'Sullivan has made a clear case, and that is that the ordinary Customs regulations, which, whether we like it or not, have to be carried out if the Customs duties are to be enforced, ought not to be applicable in their rigid form to drugs, medicines or other articles which are either perishable or of an urgent character, and it seems to me to be exceedingly simple to provide a regulation by which suspected drugs could be delivered to reputable hospitals and medical men, leaving the question of the payment of duty to be discussed afterwards, without actually holding back the goods, and thus affecting the life of a patient, perhaps. I think, apart from the question of duty, that a parcel may be held up, as suspect, and there ought to be some arrangement by which chemists, hospitals and people from whom it would be easy to collect the duty, could obtain their supplies without delay. I think if that were done, apart from the duty, a good deal of the difficulties referred to by Senator O'Sullivan, could be met; and I think if this were brought before the notice of the Revenue Commissioners that they would bring it before the Minister for Finance to deal with it.
That point was emphasised by Senator Barrington in suggesting that the Post Office had a good deal to say to this, and perhaps Senator O'Sullivan may wish to have these words added at the end of his resolution: "And should in any event receive special facilities for transmission through the post."
I am only too delighted to agree to that, Sir.
Is not that your point, Senator Douglas?
Yes. I am not quite sure that the Post Office in this matter is to blame. I think that there is a special Customs section which certain parcels have to go through, but I think there are a number of articles which are of a breakable or perishable character that could not go through the post.
This would call attention to it. "Special facilities for transmission." You need not use the word post.
I was going to suggest another method of dealing with this subject. I remember hearing from General Maxwell how he dealt with the case in Pretoria when the troops went in there. He told me what the Irish Medical Mission did, was first to get all the medicines in Pretoria pooled into one central store, so that whenever medical men wanted a supply he was able to come at once and get it. Evidently the trouble is the main supply of these things lies in Great Britain, and we only have small quantities here. The question of duty is only a bagatelle, I suppose, in such matters to the Government. Why should there not be a central store open in the Free State for whatever things the medical profession say are required? Duty free or not, that is a detail, but for hospitals and such institutions, they should be duty free. If we got proper supplies here in a store properly looked after, where every medical man and hospital in Ireland could send at once, you would get over the difficulty of small lots held up by Customs officers and trouble in the post. I think it could be quite easily arranged that someone connected with the medical profession, or the Government themselves should open a small central store for all these things, and all those supplies ought to be bought in by the Government, and anyone who came in there and paid his money should be able to get what he wanted without any stoppage whatever.
I should like to support Senator Dr. O'Sullivan. In his motion he mentioned ether and chloroform for drugs. I believe Senator Dr. O'Sullivan means sera, freshly made, most of which must be used within 24 hours.
I meant tinctures and liniments in which alcohol is used. It also refers to sera, that must be used within a reasonable time, not necessarily 24 hours.
They have to be freshly made.
No, not in the case of tinctures.
Would the motion do in this form: "That in the opinion of the Seanad ether, chloroform, and other drugs, intended for the relief of the sick, should be free of taxation and arrangements made to obviate delay in transmission and delivery."
I think that will do all right. It is the delay in delivery that causes the trouble. Drugs have often been held up for months. There was no delay until the imposition of this tax. I think Senator Douglas was labouring under a mistake when he said that this was a recent war tax on ether and chloroform. That is not so. I believe it was in 1876 that a tax was put on chloroform and ether. Anaesthetics were imported form France, and a tax was put on by England to protect her own industry, and so foster the manufacture of ether and chloroform, particularly in Glasgow and Edinburgh. They manufacture their own supplies now, and have not to import these drugs.