Before I proceed to deal with our general financial position, I should like to refer to a matter which I brought up on two previous occasions and with which the House may be familiar. I refer to the raising of revenue by the licensing of betting-shops. I think that these betting-shops are a grave, social evil. One has only to be near them, if only by accident, as I have sometimes been, and see the type of people that frequents them in order to realise this. They are a temptation to men on a low income basis to hazard money which should be spent on their homes. They are a temptation to workmen who, on their rounds, may drop into them in their employers' time. They are a real, social evil in which the State should have neither lot nor part. When I brought up this matter before, the Minister, in his charming and disarming way, said: "You cannot have one law for the rich and another law for the poor; every man must be permitted to have a flutter if he likes." That may be theoretically right but you have to relate it to fact and circumstance. It is one thing for a man who is well off to risk a small portion of his surplus income in credit betting or betting on the course. It is quite another thing to have this constant temptation round the corner, with all the evils with which it is associated. I do think that the Government is undertaking a great responsibility in remaining a party to what I would go so far as to describe as a vicious type of traffic. I hope that the Government will see fit to reconsider its attitude towards these places.
With regard to our finances generally, the Minister has taken—perhaps rightly—considerable credit for their buoyant state. He said that we have been fortunate in that, for a second or third time, we have been able to present a Budget which imposes no fresh taxation. I do not agree with that. I hope to show the House that there is implicit in this Budget a very serious measure of hidden taxation. I refer to the increased revenue which has come from income-tax and corporation profits tax. Taxes from these sources are in a totally different category from revenue from customs. Revenue from customs is on a quantitative basis and represents tax on an increased quantity of goods. The other is revenue from increased profits from either manufacture or distribution—I do not know which and, for my purpose, it does not matter which. There has been no substantially increased quantity of goods for sale.
We all know of the scarcity which exists and it is, therefore, not necessary to show that there is no increase in the quantity of goods being sold. That increased hidden taxation falls largely on the very poor. Take an increase of £1,000,000 in income-tax which, for the purpose of my argument, I must assume comes mainly from increased profits from manufacture or distribution. I do not think that there has been any substantial increase in dividends. Dividends have been fixed. No increase has been allowed and there has been no substantial increase in foreign dividends. £1,000,000 in taxation represents about £2,500,000 profits. That is a matter of simple arithmetic. My argument is borne out further by the fact that the increase in income-tax is also reflected in corporation profits tax. There has been an increase in both those categories of taxation. If the increase had not affected corporation profits tax, it might be argued that it was not due to industrial profits but to profits on private investments. Inasmuch as this increase is reflected both in income-tax and corporation profits tax, I claim to be justified in the argument that it is derived from increased profits on the sale of goods that are scarce. I claim further that that has been a hidden tax mainly on the very poor. In so far as it has represented an increase in prices and profits on a limited quantity of goods, it has been a distinctly inflationary element in our national finances.
There is this also to be borne in mind. When you say: "Surely, with so much taken by the State in the way of taxation on increased profits, there is no inducement for any trader unduly to put up prices," I could argue this way: "The less you leave him, the more he wants to get what he considers he should have. If you allowed him all his profits, he would be satisfied with a comparatively small increased profit; if you take half of it, he might say, ‘In order to get what I want, I must charge twice as much'; if you take three quarters, as you roughly do, he will say, ‘I must have so much more'." I think there has been a distinct tendency—I use the words advisedly—to profiteer out of the prevailing scarcity. I think that is reflected in the increased revenue from corporation profits tax and from income-tax, which represents a hidden tax.
I pass to the question which is bound up in our general financial position, and that is the question of the cost of living. Senator Hayes dwelt upon the plight of certain people, the small salaried classes and those having fixed incomes in the ranges up to £700 or £800 a year. I think they deserve the very greatest sympathy, in view of the increased cost of living. But when Senator Hayes suggests that the Minister should consider increasing the incomes of those people to meet the increased cost of living I say "No, that is the wrong end at which to begin." The Minister should aim at reducing the cost of living, and it is in respect of our rapidly rising cost of living that I feel the Government are most to blame in their financial policy.
When we come to examine the figures, what do we find? We find that since 1914 the cost of living in Éire has risen from 100 to 296—that is our present figure—whereas the corresponding figure for the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland is 199. That means that we are now standing, roughly, within three points of being 100 points higher than the corresponding figure in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Nobody can say that we are a richer country. We have not got the benefit of higher wages, and I feel in agreement with Senator Foran that labourers in this country have been extremely restrained in their attitude towards that position, and the small amount of industrial unrest we have had in the last two or three years has been extraordinary. I feel that the cost of living must be pressing very hard on the working classes and on the small fixed-income classes as well, and any bonuses that have been given to meet this increased cost have been in no way commensurate with the rise in the cost itself.
This question of the increased cost of living was dealt with at some length in the Dáil on the Vote on Account in March last and, according to the report of the debates there, I observed that the Minister gave certain figures which, he said, came from the bulletin of statistics issued by the League of Nations. I have been unable to reconcile these figures, which are correctly taken from the bulletin, with the actual figures given in the publication of the Currency Commission, which are the official figures for this country. The Minister gave the figure for the cost of living as 157 in November, 1943; that is, 57 points over the pre-war figure. The statistics issued by the Currency Commission show that the figure is 218. I cannot reconcile these figures, and perhaps the Minister will give us some explanation.
Generally, I feel that the cost of living is a burden on large masses of our citizens and I feel constrained to quote from an article written in theIrish Times, last December, by Professor Busteed. He said:
"The plain truth is that for those with money life is far better in Eire than in Great Britain, while for those with lower incomes living is more secure and so much cheaper in Great Britain than in Eire."
I think that represents the facts. The Minister should tell the House why no serious attempt has been made to stabilise the cost of living. We know, of course, those figures in England are the result of subsidies. In Australia the cost of living is even lower than in Great Britain, and the position in Canada is somewhat similar. If it has been possible in those three countries— Canada, Australia and Great Britain— to stabilise the cost of living, why has it not been done here? Have the Government ever seriously addressed themselves to this matter? I cannot help feeling they have not tried. It is felt that the Government could stem this inflation merely by stabilising the cost of living by a standstill Order, but it never has attempted seriously to do so. I cannot see why, if it has been done in Canada and Australia, it could not have been done here. I would far rather see the £2,500,000 of increased profits used in the form of subsidies to reduce the cost of living than to be taken into the general taxation.
Senator Baxter dealt with agricultural production and he made what sounded to me an astonishing statement. He did not give any very convincing data for it. He said that gross production in agriculture has diminished in the last year. That surprises me. He quoted from certain research work on some dairy farms in West Cork, but that did not justify me in drawing the conclusion—I may not have heard him correctly—that the gross production of agriculture had diminished. I would agree with him if he meant to convey that the yield per acre had diminished. I think it has, owing to lack of fertilisers; but surely the gross production has not diminished.