I would like to have from the Minister a more clear explanation as to the reasons that prompted the imposition of higher taxation in the case of a licence for a rifle as against a shotgun. Arising from the emergency, many of our young people have been very anxious to equip themselves in the use of a rifle, and the 22 rifle was something recommended by those in charge of our Defence Forces. I think the imposition of additional taxation on this particular type of activity is one about which we should have more information, before the Seanad should give the Minister power to impose such taxation.
Finance Bill, 1949—Certified Money Bill—Committee and Final Stages.
The whole tax brings in an additional £30,000 in the year and the rates, which are being replaced by the new rates, were fixed as long ago as 1925. It is thought that as there has been a good deal of change in the aids to people by way of changes in the rates of value of money, the rates of 1925 could without any injustice suffer an increase. I cannot say what amount of money has been got from the increased charge, raising the rifle tax from 5/- to £1. On this matter, I took the advice of the Department of Justice, the Department mainly concerned. My case, in the main, is that the rates were fixed so long ago that they are completely inconsistent with the licensing fees paid in respect of many other matters where changes have been made based upon the changed value of money.
Ba mhaith liom a fhiafraí den Aire an bhfuil aon tuairim aige cén fáth a bhfuil difríocht déanta idir an muscaed agus an gunna. Tá 10/- curtha síos le hagaidh an ghunna agus £1 le haghaidh an mhuscaeid. Bhfuil cúis speisialta in intinn an Aire leis an athrú sin a dhéanamh?
Is muscaed a rifle?
I cannot say.
Níl aon mhíníú air, mar sin? Ní thógfaidh mé ar an Aire nach bhfuil a fhios aige go mion cén fáth atá leis. Ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil mé ar aon intinn leis an Seanadóir O hAcháin nuair deir sé go bhfuil cosúlacht air seo go bhfuil leatrom á dheanamh, go háirithe ar dhaoine óga. Feicim a lán díobh ag dul tríd an tír agus muscaeidí acu. Is ábhar áthais dhom fhéin é, tríd is tríd, go raibh baint ag a lán díobh leis na fórsaí cosanta agus is trua liom gur piocadh an dream seo amach go speisialta le cáin a ghearradh orthu. Sílim go dtuilleann siad níos mó ná sin uainn.
Recommendation No. 1 has been ruled out of order.
I move recommendation No. 2:—
In paragraph (d) (ii), line 15, to delete the words "five hundred" and substitute the words "one thousand".
I intend to deal only with recommendation No. 2 but I should like to point out that when I was putting down these recommendations I did so because of complaints which were made to me and pressure which was brought to bear upon me not only from my own district and county but also from the adjoining counties. I think that in that respect I am not alone and that many other Senators here have had similar experience. The matter was raised at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party and discussed at great length. It was unanimously decided to ask the Minister to increase the limit of the population from 500 to 1,000. It must be remembered in connection with the entertainment tax, that in 1947 the Fianna Fáil Government increased the tax by almost 100 per cent. That was followed in the autumn of 1947 by the Supplementary Budget taxes. We all know what followed. I think the Minister for Finance, when he was replying to the debate last year, put it very properly when he said that these people were compelled to engage a pianist or the player of some other instrument and that they played to the four walls of the cinema for the duration of the programme for that particular night. The present proposals have certainly made the matter considerably worse.
Most of our cinemas are losing money. As a result of the present arrangements, a ring has been drawn around them. Any travelling showman or any other person can come to within three miles of a particular town with a population of between 500 and 1,000 and set up a show and carry on free of entertainment tax, free of rent, free of rates and free of other expenses which are heaped upon the properly established cinema. In my county, there is a cinema at Greystones, Rathdrum, Baltinglass and Carnew. Since the imposition of the 1947 tax—and I think the Minister must be well aware of this because deputations have been with him from time to time about the matter —three of the cinemas have been losing money. They did everything to try and stem the tide. They curtailed their showings to three or four nights a week. They cut down rent, heating and lighting expenses, and other expenses. Nevertheless they are still losing money. If they are to be ringed in to a three-mile radius where, as I pointed out, the travelling showman or others can come along and set up free of entertainment tax, there is not a hope in the world that the cinemas will be able to continue. I have authority to say that at least three of the cinemas I have mentioned are closing down in September when the present bookings have been taken up. Further, I have authority to say that if the Minister has the slightest doubt on this point the proprietors of these cinemas are prepared to submit certified audited accounts for the past three years. In Bunclody, a town with a population of 600, an enterprising man who came in there will have to close down his cinema because he has no option but to do so. I have been asked to ask the Minister to increase the population limit from 500 to 1,000, and I do not think there is anything unreasonable in the request. A document has just been handed to me. It is an article which appeared in the journal Hibernia in October, 1948. It was written by John Gerrard, and it is entitled “Fair Play for Rural Cinemas”. I should like to read this relevant extract:
"The majority of our sub-standard cinemas cater for so small a public that they can barely pay their expenses and, in fact, many would never have begun operation were it not for the public-spirited action of Parish Priests and local committees. Already an alarming number of enterprises have been compelled to cease the struggle and sell their equipment.
Deputies in Dáil Éireann must by now be aware of the facts and should appreciate their significance. Yet when the subject was brought up for discussion it was neatly shelved and has not since been brought into daylight.
The attitude provides an unfavourable contrast to that of the British Government. Over there the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated in his Budget speech:—
‘I am also anxious, for the sake of our agricultural communities, to encourage all types of entertainments in rural areas, including such things as cinema shows. I propose, therefore, to grant complete exemption from duty in the case of all entertainments in buildings situated in places in the rural areas, where the population does not exceed 2,000.'"
That is the position in Britain and Northern Ireland. All entertainments are exempt in Northern Ireland up to a population of 2,000, so I think that in asking the Minister to accept this amendment I am not asking anything unreasonable. I do not want to prolong the agony any further but what is happening in Wicklow, Wexford and Carlow will happen all over the country. Cinemas which have been built and are properly equipped, heated and lighted and which cater for large sections of the rural community will definitely close down unless there is some relaxation of the present arrangement.
I would like to second the amendment. I have a record of the takings of a cinema for three nights which were £35 13s. 8d.; the tax was £12 4s. 3d.; the net receipts £23 9s. 5d.; the renter's share £13 5s. 9d. and the exhibitor's share £10 3s. 8d. The weekly wages of the staff, consisting of four girls, one charwoman and three men, were £20 10s. and taxes and rates were £120 per year. I do not see where a man like that is going to make money. The Minister is thinking of the queues in Dublin in imposing the tax, not of country cinemas.
I am prepared to support Senator McCrea's amendment and as a matter of fact to go much further. Here and throughout the country there have been many complaints about the flight from rural Ireland into the larger cities and the suggestion has been made that it is due in no small way to the lack of entertainment and social life in rural Ireland. The question which Senator McCrea's amendment puts before the House is whether we are prepared to levy a tax on an entertainment held in a town the population of which according to the census does not exceed 1,000. We are exempting an entertainment held three miles distant from such a town, but I am a believer in Parliament passing laws in the knowledge that they will be respected by the people for whom they cater. I hold that in putting this condition in the Finance Bill we are suggesting to people how to evade taxation. I am sure it has been brought to the Minister's notice, or if not to the Minister's to the Revenue Commissioners', that steps have been taken to evade this particular tax. All one has to do is to erect a marquee or a temporary dance hall just outside the three mile limit. It is just the same as the bona fide travellers on Sunday who have been commented upon in the past.
The mere fact that the public houses are closed on Sunday in a particular area does not deprive people of their refreshment when they can travel three miles for it. The people who evade taxation by putting up a dance hall outside the three mile limit would also make money because their expenses would be less. They would have to provide a much better type of entertainment in a town. In order to make a dance attractive they would have to employ a proper dance band but the people who are anxious to evade the taxation need only erect a marquee outside the three mile limit and engage a second or third rate band. No case has been made for this proposal. Of course the Minister will say in his reply that for a number of years there was a tax on dancing in particular, but I believe that one of the worst acts ever passed through this or the other House was that which licensed dance halls. It commercialised dancing and did away with an old Irish tradition, the social event of the dance in a farmer's house. Now that is an offence as a result of legislation passed by the Oireachtas some years ago. Since then various Ministers for Finance have considered this a ready way to collect revenue, but to my mind, and I am sure to the Revenue Commissioners and the inspectors concerned, it is not as pleasant as one would think.
Would the Senator look at the side note to the section? It is an exemption section. This is not a tax gathering section.
But provision is made in the section that an entertainment held outside a particular type of town does not come within it. I hold, and I am sure many Senators will agree with me, that we should completely wipe out this form of taxation as it is very difficult to collect. I know that the Minister has said that it costs 2½ per cent. of the total proceeds, but apart from the cost, those of us who live in rural Ireland know that there is a large amount of evasion of this duty. Furthermore, by making a limit of five, seven, or even ten miles, you are inducing people to evade the law and I think that is a bad thing for a Parliament to do. If you are going to pass legislation let the legislation cover the whole people and let us not induce people to go outside the three mile limit to evade it.
This particular section was rather lengthily debated in the Dáil and as has been said, I think it is quite possible that it will lead to quite an amount of unemployment particularly of musicians engaged in dance bands. Surely the Minister and every member of the House will agree—and some references were made by some Senators to a statement of mine the last day— that we have sufficient unemployment at the moment without attempting to add to the numbers. I would ask the Minister to accept this recommendation. While I would be prepared to support a recommendation that would go much further I am certainly prepared to give every support to Senator McCrea in getting the Minister to accept this one.
In a qualifying sense I am inclined to support the recommendation of Senator McCrea for the reason that I think this section is bringing relief to a certain sort of cinema. We had this matter mentioned last year and also the question of the rural cinema and exemption.
This is not exemption for cinemas but it includes small dance halls and everything.
Yes, but from the point of view of the cinema if the Minister is satisfied from the Senator's arguments that the concessions would aid the rural cinemas or entertainment halls, in achieving the purpose which the Minister aims to achieve, namely, to assist such permanent structures, would he not be inclined to increase the population limit so as to aid such cinemas? I am impressed by the suggestion that cinemas in small towns, far from being helped by this exemption, are being hurt by it. I take it that it was intended to assist them.
No, that was not the intention. The intention was not to assist cinema proprietors but to provide for the rural areas.
The fact is that it aims at aiding such cinemas to provide amusement and entertainment for the people. Those with permanent cinemas will not be able to provide it at all and the travelling cinema would then supplant the more permanent structure. Possibly the concession was not intended for the cinemas but for the people, but if the effect of this section is to close rural cinemas, whether the intention was to help the people or the cinemas is immaterial if the people cannot see the cinema. Can the Minister at this stage give us some indication as to what would be the loss to revenue by accepting this recommendation? If the loss is not a substantial one then, in my view, the amendment is a reasonable one which will assist the rural community and only in a small measure deplete the Exchequer funds.
It will cost £25,000 in a full year.
I am supporting Senator McCrea's recommendation. One point which I think should be emphasised is that the proprietors of many of these cinemas provide proper sanitary accommodation and heating, and if these cinemas are closed down and substituted by travelling-show tents the people will lose the benefit of these more substantial structures and the proper sanitary accommodation and heating provided in them. The question has been raised of the loss to revenue by accepting this recommendation and the Minister might well ask where the money was to be found to meet it. I would suggest that one method of raising the necessary money would be by increasing the death duties on large estates.
I was inclined to support this recommendation until I heard the arguments in favour of it. Senator McCrea is a cinema proprietor and appeals for the cinema proprietors and the dance hall proprietors. He has advanced the arguments that if this recommendation is not accepted many of the rural cinemas and dance halls will close down and there will be unemployment. I do not like to see threats being made against any Government. If the remission of taxation was to benefit the people I would be in favour of it. If, however, it was merely to enrich those who have speculated in business for themselves then I am not so sympathetic. In my opinion, if anyone goes into business he must run that business and take the risks, whether they are up or down. I do not like to see the legitimate amusement of the people taxed and, like Senator Hawkins, I would like to see the people provide their own amusement; dancing when they like to dance and not to some commercial tune and not because they have paid for permission to dance. I would like to see the tax kept on all cinemas and halls except those run by the people in parish halls for their own benefit. I do not see why it should be used for the benefit of one section of cinema owners. Any remissions which are given should be passed on to the community. If the commercial cinemas do not pay then let them close down.
Sometimes I think there are too many cinemas and too much commercialism about them. If the travelling cinema comes in let them do so or let the people use the parish halls for their own entertainment and get a remission of taxation. If the Minister consented to increasing the population limit from 500 to 1,000 he would still be in the difficulty of constant changes in the population, and I can imagine in some small towns with the population going over the 1,000 mark, some of the people engaging in the business being prepared to get rid of a few of the surplus.
Lest the impression get abroad from some of the remarks made here that I am a young Rank I would point out that I am interested in cinemas only to the extent that I am associated with a number of local people in establishing a cinema in the town for the people. I, and my people before me, have always supported every local effort to improve the facilities for the people of the town.
I look upon the section as a definite attempt to encourage and help the people in rural areas. I do not know whether the Senators here live in what I call a rural area which is a place as far away as five miles from a cinema. I look upon rural areas as areas so remote from the town that once a week is the most that some of the people are able to reach the town or city. I think this concession which the Minister is offering to remote areas to provide amusement and entertainment for themselves is very encouraging. I wish we could do more to retain in rural Ireland facilities for the people living there to help themselves and I think that this section goes some way towards encouraging people in remote areas to help themselves.
I should like to have this matter viewed in its proper perspective. This is an exemption section, a section which not merely exempts these places from cinema tax but from dance tax. It is an effort to meet the argument made to me last year in Dáil Eireann, and, I think repeated here, an argument which I promised to consider for this year's Budget. The stress last year was put upon the life of the people in remote areas, very remote areas, and, in particular, such remote areas as had meagre populations. That was the argument addressed to me and the case was made entirely on that. I think I have met that case this year, because I am relieving, not merely from the newly imposed dance tax but from the old imposed cinema tax, places up to 500 population and places outside the three mile radius. It is an effort to relieve these people.
The argument this year shifts over to the cinema proprietor who was not in the picture at all last year, and with regard to him all I can say is that very elaborate forecasts are built up by those who have experience of doing that work for a number of years as to the yield to be expected from any tax, old or new. The entertainment tax last year was almost entirely a cinema tax —although there may have been some other small items in it—and it yielded over £100,000 more than the estimate. That is not an indication that cinemas are on the wane. I have been told in another connection that, while cinemas are on the increase and drawing greater audiences, they have helped to ruin dances and the great plaint made to me this year with regard to the dance tax was that dancing was on the wane and that the revenue could not be expected to be as great as was forecast because the cinema was so much on the increase that it would remove people from the dance halls. I have no evidence to show that cinemas are going down—the evidence is all to the contrary.
I am yielding to the arguments addressed to me last year with regard to populations remote from big areas and populations which are rather scant, and meeting the case in regard to them. If I had felt that I would have to face the arguments which have been made this year, I would not have given any exemption but would have let the dance and cinema taxes run. It may be that that will be the situation next year. I am trying this as an experiment this year and I have already warned people who might be tempted to set up some sort of permanent establishment just outside the three mile limit, in order to draw away what might be regarded as a legitimate audience of a small town, that next year I will not be affected by any argument as to capital involved in any of these structures, because I have given warning that this is entirely experimental and next year the radius may be shifted. I hold myself open to do anything according as experience educates me during the year.
There seems to be a certain amount of misapprehension about country dances. The farmer who used to invite people into his farm-house to dance can still do it and he does not pay a shilling to anybody, but, if he commercialises that dance, he will pay. At the same time, even where it is commercialised by the farmer, he will get an exemption if he is within the ambit of Section 13 as it is. I have had repeated to me the various arguments about the flight from the countryside and the terrific evasion being practised and the costliness of this tax. The answer is that it is not costly to collect, but I feel inclined to take rather cynically observations with regard to a flight from the countryside because there is not a bigger exemption from taxes on dancing and cinemas and about the harm done by the evasion when they come from people who kept the tax on for 14 years. I was told in the Dáil that this was persecution of the countryside. It is a persecution which was conducted for 14 years, and, if I were to attend to the arguments about evasion, it would mean that one would have to have a very different view on such things as tariffs, because they undoubtedly give rise to a good deal of evasion, and, if I am to have regard to the evil effects of the corruption of youth which is caused, I do not know what we are to do with regard to places like Dundalk, where, I am told, everybody is educated to be a smuggler. We would have to put up an iron barrier around the northern area.
I ask Senators to accept this for the year as it stands. If next year it appears that the cinema proprietors— although here the argument shifts its ground—in the towns between 500 and 1,000 population are suffering, we can see what relief can be given to them on another occasion. The places between 500 and 1,000 population, if they are to be built into last year's argument and to be regarded as rural areas, or something attached to the rural areas, would include places like Manorhamilton, Moville, Kenmare, Portumna, Killaloe and Stradbally. I do not think anybody would consider these as places which give habitation to the particular type of community to whom I was asked to address myself last year.
My interest in the cinema business is very small. I took an interest in it when certain gentlemen came along to start a cinema with a few local people. I have nothing to be ashamed of in that respect because every organisation which has sprung up in my own district or county I supported all my life and will continue to do so. There is only one matter in respect of which I should like to ask the Minister to give way. The section speaks of "the last available census." The last available census published is the 1936 Census but there was a census taken in 1946.
Perhaps I can anticipate the Senator and say that, if I can get the results of the new census, I will apply it.
There are a number of towns on the border-line of 500. In the case of a particular town the census of 1891 showed a population of 689. In 1901, it was 652; in 1911, it had dropped to 583; and in 1936, it was 516. It is 13 years since that census was taken and on that basis a number of these small towns will automatically be removed from the entertainment tax. The tax is being demanded of them at present and I know well that the populations are not even 500. We are not doing any damage to the Minister's idea with regard to giving facilities to rural districts, but I am sure that, within 12 months, he will find that there is no sense in hoping that the cinema can possibly exist on the basis of 500 population and three miles radius. The statements I have made here are in accordance with the facts, and, even in the past three years, these cinemas have been losing money hand over fist. I am not putting forward a personal point of view, although I have lost and spent more money in my time than would build some of them.
Where did the Senator get it to lose?
I think the case made by the Minister, that this is an experiment, is sound commonsense. It is not possible to make a limit of this kind and no one, no matter how clever, could make an exact estimate as to how it would work out. The Minister has made it perfectly clear that he will watch the situation and see how it develops and that this limit is not regarded as anything permanent.
I do not like to see amusements taxed. I have not got the advantage of Senator Sweetman—he has been in a cinema four times, while I have been only once, in the last 12 months. Therefore, I am not directly interested in the question of taxation. The matter before us is really not so much a matter of taxation as a question of a proposal to see if it is feasible to avoid taxation in certain country areas. It is a principle which we in the towns should recognise and support. We do not know exactly how it will work out, but it is worth while trying and I am sure that it will require adjustment.
Senator McCrea, with whose argument I do not agree, seems to be under the impression that there is something to apologise for because you give information in connection with an industry or trade of which you have special knowledge through being connected with it. No such idea was ever heard of in this House. Senators on all sides are known to be interested in trades or professions, or Senators like Senators Hayes and Ó Buachalla have university knowledge, and they give that information and there is never any suggestion that they should apologise or explain. We know it is all given in good faith and, in fact, one of the reasons why Senators are here, rightly or wrongly, is that, as a result of their experience, they have specialised information. I do not see why Senator McCrea should apologise. It does not matter whether his business is a small or a large one. Even if he were Rank, or if Rank himself were in this House, it should not be necessary for him to give an explanation for making information available. Everyone would know where he got it.
In answer to Senator McCrea, we expect the revised census recently taken will produce certain results. Possibly the report will be to hand within a month. At any rate, the latest report will be the one applied and that will give some relief. I would ask Senators to consider that, if this section is passed, it means an exemption for all entertainment in these areas. That is something considerable, given to the rural population for the time being. I am aware of the danger which may be inherent in this, that of satellite places being built which would enable people to overcome the tax. We will keep a watchful eye on that. It is possible that harm may be done during the year. There is, however, a safeguard in respect of one matter. If there is an attempt to set up dance halls just outside the limiting area, these places will have to be licensed, and we know the District Courts are accused of being very rigid—more rigid than some people think they should be—when they are investigating the conditions of these halls. Therefore, as far as dance halls are concerned, I do not think we will have the type that Senator McCrea is afraid of. The same point does not apply to the cinema, but the cinema is a much more formidable effort and I do not think anyone is likely, merely having a year in which to get in some quick money, to involve himself in such great expenditure. There are regulations with regard to fire and other things there also, and the accumulation of all these will keep many of these satellite places from springing up. The position will come under constant watch and we will make provision against it next year, if necessary. I would ask that the experiment be allowed to go on for this year.
I am satisfied that the position has been ventilated here and, accordingly, I ask leave to withdraw the recommendation.
Could the Minister give any idea to the House and the country as to when we might expect an end to petrol rationing in general?
It is virtually ended.
We accept that, but when will registration and all the paraphernalia of coupons be discontinued?
As far as Government Departments are concerned, I understand that the staffs dealing with petrol have been drastically reduced. If not, I will certainly take the tip and look into it. As far as coupons are concerned, I understand that the garages, in the main, do not ask for coupons any more—and that is what is generally intended.
I move recommendation No. 3:—
In subsection (1), line 24, to delete the words "two pounds".
I think I can do no better than quote an extract from the statement made by Deputy Blowick, who is now a Minister, when these provisions were first enacted in 1947. The Deputy then stated, as given in column 1556 of the Dáil Report for 6th November, 1947:—
"A tax of 5 per cent. is being imposed on the purchase of house property so far as Irish nationals are concerned. I do not know why such a step was decided upon. No one takes exception to the 25 per cent tax on purchases made by aliens. But take the case of a young married person here in Dublin, who was looking forward to the day when he would own his own house or at least have his own house to go into. On a house costing at the present time £2,000, a loan is available of say £1,600. That means that the person concerned has to scrape up £400."
He says that the most thrifty people cannot scrape up that £400 deposit. Deputy Blowick at that time proceeded to put forward what seemed to him then many valid reasons against the imposition of this tax. The particular circumstances of the time when this emergency duty was imposed brought about the necessity for the tax then. Since then, I think it is safe to say that every tax has been removed—the tax on beer and on cinemas, and so forth. This Bill makes provision for reducing the income-tax which was then increased. We have still provided, however, for the continuation of an imposition on those people whom we are most anxious to help and to cater for—the type of person who is anxious to acquire a house for himself. We are putting a burden of £2 10s. 0d. per £50 or part of £50 on the person who now proposes to purchase a house for his own occupation. A reasonable case was made when this matter was first introduced. There was grave danger of inflation and people were anxious to put their money into house property or land in general, as a safeguard. The Minister has assured us that we have emerged from that state of affairs. Therefore, it is only reasonable that we should ask him to remit this form of taxation now. I was influenced in putting down this amendment by the statement the Minister made last week when replying to the Second Reading of this Bill. He said he was not prepared to remit the taxation wholly. This recommendation proposes to go part of the way and I am not asking the Minister to make a total remission. I was prepared to ask the House at least to go so far as to give a reasonable reduction and encouragement to such people.
Let us examine the position in relation to persons who are anxious to acquire houses for their own occupation. We are making provision in this Bill, as a result of taxation, to give to a person in the City of Dublin a sum of no less than £275 of a free grant, provided that that person proposes to erect a house for his own occupation. Advertisements can be seen every day in our local and daily newspapers to the effect that sites are available, that contractors have plans and are prepared to build houses and that those houses will conform in every detail with the regulations and that there is available a free Government grant of £275. On the other hand we have provisions whereby a person who, for reasons of convenience or otherwise, proposes to purchase a house that is already erected or has been erected for a considerable number of years will have to pay a levy of £2 10s. 0d. per £50 of the purchase money. There is no reason in such a suggestion. On the one hand we are making available a free grant of £275 of money raised under this Bill to assist one type of person to acquire for himself or herself a residence and on the other hand we are implementing another section whereby we are extracting from another type of person a sum of from £100 to £200, whatever the cost may be, according to the purchase money, because they propose to purchase a house for their own residence. I quite agree that it was advisable, when this proposal was first put forward, to continue it and I would be prepared to support a suggestion that the 25 per cent. might be further increased——
It is not worth anything from a tax point of view.
That may be so. I think we were also told on the last occasion in the Finance Bill that that was not worth an awful amount to the Exchequer. Neither is this proposal— nor could it be worth a great deal. But if we are going to come to the point that we must examine every proposal not on its merits but on what it is going to yield to the Exchequer, we are approaching the subject from a wrong angle. There is no doubt but that in the times we are living in we should encourage and open up every avenue to every person in this State to enable him to become the owner of his own house and land. In that way we might be doing more to overcome the dangers that threaten Europe than if we were taking other steps. However, we are putting a taxation on thrift in this respect.
Take the case of a young married couple. They first set out to acquire a house. When they find a house up for sale and decide to take it they must first pay auctioneer's fees and legal expenses. Having done that they have to make a contribution of no less a sum than 5 per cent. to the Central Fund—for the privilege of being thrifty in the first place and of having had the courage to set up in this country of theirs a house for themselves. I think that sufficient has been said. The Minister should consult his colleague, the Minister for Lands in regard to what he and his other colleagues said in this respect in 1947, and he will then be convinced that a case has been made. The majority of people in this country who set out to purchase their homes are not in a position to put down cash. They generally purchase by raising a loan through one of the various building societies. That in itself should be sufficient to encourage the Minister to accept this recommendation. As I said at the outset, the Minister was so definite, when replying to the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, that he would not be prepared to remit the whole tax that I was prepared to put this recommendation to the House. I hope the House will accept it as being a most reasonable suggestion.
I find myself to some extent in agreement with Senator Hawkins on this subject. There is a lot to be said for the case he made and particularly for encouraging young people starting life to possess property and to be the owners of at least some goods in their own country. That makes for stability. I understood from the Minister last week that at some time or another he would consider the removal of this tax. It is desirable that he should, as soon as possible, remit the tax, let us say, on the first couple of thousand pounds' worth of property a person possessed or wanted to possess.
Everybody knows that in the country districts the position is that the old man wants to hold on to what he has. If he goes to a solicitor and is told that the solicitor is going to charge so much and that the State will want another £100 or £150 out of it, there can be no doubt but that that is a deterrent to his handing over the property to his son, and a deterrent to production in the country. This tax was brought in some years ago. In view of the desirability of establishing a greater distribution of ownership in this country the Minister should consider how he could levy some other tax and remove this at some time. If he cannot remove it in whole perhaps he could remove it on small establishments or small property such as dwelling-houses or farms under a certain value. The enormous benefits that would thereby accrue in rural Ireland would be well worth a reduction of this tax and I would, therefore, ask the Minister to consider the points made by Senator Hawkins. I consider it to be in the national interest that they should receive full consideration by the Minister.
I would like to ask the Minister on this section about the tax of 25 per cent on non-nationals. It seems to be quite a popular tax but a few people who come under this tax might be relieved.
We are dealing now with the recommendation, Senator.
This is another example of the practice which has grown up of people who originally put on taxes objecting to their continuance. This was originally put on at a time when house property was running very high and when I met deputations this year—and I met quite a number over this point—I asked them for the benefit of their advice. I asked the people interested in the passing of property of this type as to the reduction in the selling value of house property and even those who were most indignant about the tax and inclined to exaggerate the difficulties it was causing said that house property had fallen in value to about half. One deputation from the Incorporated Law Society said that a house that fetched £5,000 a few years ago was going for £2,500 now. In those circumstances I feel that I can more easily hold on to this tax than if values were as high as they were.
Take a £5,000 house. When the previous Minister for Finance put on the tax it was another £250. The purchaser paid £5,250. In fact he paid a great deal more because the auctioneers who were very keen on getting this tax off claimed 5 per cent. and the solicitors who were very keen on getting the tax off claimed another 5 per cent. If they agreed to take half I could agree to take less. In the case of that £5,000 house running at £2,500 the purchaser pays £2,625 which is a big relief. Of course if it were 1 per cent. he would only pay £2,525. I was told also—in fact it was one of the heavy contentions I had to meet—that house purchase transactions had been brought almost to a standstill since the imposition of this tax of 5 per cent. The revenue from the 5 per cent. tax has been £600,000. It is easy to calculate that the value of the property that changed hands during the year was £12,000,000 so it cannot be said that house property transactions are at a standstill. Those are the circumstances that make me strong on keeping on the tax. People ask me to consider some other tax in place of it to bring £40,000 or £50,000. I do not know what would be said if I dropped a tax bringing in £600,000 and try to get it back some other way. There would be an amendment to every section. I am going to hold on to this tax for some years. Incidentally, I did not say that it should not be discussed on its merits; I said that the 25 per cent. tax was not worth much as of late so few properties passed to foreigners that the yield was negligible.
What was the yield of the 25 per cent. tax last year?
We are looking to get £40,000 this year and I doubt if we will get it. It is of no value from the point of view of getting revenue and Senators will understand that it could not be increased to yield the amount of money I am looking for. After all the remissions of taxation have been given and it must be admitted that there is more money in the citizens' hands at the moment as a result of these remissions and that is why it is necessary to ask that this be continued.
Would not the £12,000,000 include transfers from father to son?
It includes any movement that is quoted in the original 1947 Act. I have not got the figures to hand at the moment, but I have also statistics of the number of transactions and while they are somewhat down there is no very great reduction in them, nothing certainly to lead to the conclusion that the transfer of house property has been brought to a standstill.
The Minister is not in the mood to accept this recommendation. While he has put before the House that the sum from this taxation is in the region of £600,000 we would like to have more definite information as to the various categories under which this sum has been raised.
That is the 5 per cent. tax.
The particular section of the people in whom I, and I am sure many Senators on the other side of the House, are interested are those people who wish to purchase a house of reasonable size and standard for their own occupation, something in the region of £2,000 at present values. We find that if a person purchases a house for £2,000 he has no less than £100 to pay to the Central Fund together with what the Minister has already put before us—solicitors' and auctioneers' fees. While a case may be made in the case of a transfer of property of greater value than £2,000, I hold that the Minister has not made a case for the retention of taxation on property valued up to £2,000. It has another serious consequence, as Senator Burke pointed out. The farmers in rural Ireland are of a very conservative nature and when they are making over their holding to a son, whether for the purpose of getting the old-age pension or otherwise, and are informed that together with paying the ordinary fees for the transfer they are obliged to contribute no less than 5 per cent. to the Central Fund, in their wisdom they will immediately calculate that if they had to pay £100 to the Central Fund on a £2,000 transaction they had better not transfer for the purpose of getting the old-age pension. That will prolong the existing position and debar the son from getting married, taking over the holding and working it as it should be worked. No matter from what angle we approach this we find that it can have nothing but a bad national effect.
As I said at the outset, I am not so much interested in the transfer of property of large value, but I would press upon the Minister at this stage to remit this tax in the case of property up to the value of £2,000 or £2,500. I do not wish to repeat myself but, after all, we make provision for lending money up to £900 to people who are prepared to purchase a house for themselves. The State is also prepared to make a free grant of £275. Take that generosity on one hand, while on the other hand people who are prepared to take the same obligations but who want to purchase a house which is already occupied out of their own earnings or with money borrowed from a society which they must pay back, must pay a tax of 5 per cent. I think the Seanad should press upon the Minister at least to give some small concession in this case.
It is perfectly obvious to Senator Hawkins and to me that no Minister for Finance is ever going to come into a Second House and withdraw a tax yielding £600,000. I have a certain amount of sympathy with the last arguments made by Senator Hawkins. Of course it is not the recommendation which he has asked us to vote upon but it would have been liable to get my support if that had been the form of his recommendation. I think that his position has been made difficult by the fact that the Party of which he is a member brought in a tax which was unpopular, which hit the small as well as the big, and his successor finding that it yielded £600,000 is not prepared to give it up.
I would suggest that between now and next Budget the Minister should examine this problem and see whether what he is doing in the matter of amusements and entertainment could not be applied to a certain type of house. There is undoubtedly a considerable amount of bitterness amongst younger people getting married who simply cannot get a house to rent at anything relating to their income. They manage by borrowings or out of savings to get enough together to make a deposit on a £2,000 or £3,000 house and then they find they have to pay a tax of 5 per cent. which used to be 1 per cent. I have heard many bitter comments from people of this type who had been supporters of Fianna Fáil and were horrified to find that that Government imposed the tax originally, and from people who are supporters of the present Government and find it hard to understand why it is being continued.
The system by which the transfer of certain properties bore a tax of 5 per cent. may not be a good one. Certain transfers of property are unavoidable. No effort has been made and I do not think any system could be found of separating speculators from the gamblers. I do not think to-day we have the type of speculation in property which took place some years ago, but I am not for a moment agreeing that the 5 per cent. stopped it. It was undoubtedly a considerable check but other factors influenced the situation even more. My main point, however, is to ask the Minister to see if in some way he could ease the situation of a person bona fide buying a house as a dwelling whereby he would come in under a lower tax. You might impose conditions in such cases that the higher tax would be payable if the person did not reside in the house or if it was not occupied within a certain period. Even the present prices of houses are too high in relation to the average incomes of younger people getting married. That, of course, is a social problem but it is one which I think is very much related to the Minister for Finance also. I would take this opportunity of urging the Minister to consider the position of the smaller house.
I would not have intervened in the debate at all but for the fact that Senator Douglas implied that the Fianna Fáil Government introduced this stamp duty and that its supporters were now running away from it and want to have it withdrawn in the present circumstances. I want to emphasise as strongly as possible, and I speak with an experience of the situation as it then was, that the circumstances are now entirely different from what they were when that tax was imposed. At that time speculation in houses in the City and County of Dublin was rife. The people dealing in them had no other interest in the property except to sell at a profit on a rising market which resulted in a vicious circle and this 5 per cent. tax was the first brake put on the speculators. I do not claim that it was the sole reason in stopping the speculation but I do claim it was the major reason and the first break that was put on what was becoming a very vicious state of affairs in Dublin.
Might I also say that the price of houses to-day is undoubtedly a very severe strain on people who want to get a house for their own occupation. The State realises that and has given very liberal grants but they only apply to houses that are being built. The dice is, therefore, loaded against the person who wishes to buy a house which has already been erected because that person is liable for the stamp duty. There are some who would answer that these people could build houses and that there is every inducement for them to do so. They will, in this way, get a house in six or nine months and in these circumstances would have to wait a little longer for it than if they were buying a house that was already there.
In the one case you have the position that they will get a considerable State grant to compensate them for the delay but in that regard there is the fact that most people are not able to read plans and visualise from them what the type of house is going to be. Most young married couples prefer to see the house in existence. There is very little use in telling them that a room is going to be of certain measurements. They prefer to see the room and know exactly what it will look like when furnished. That is a matter which should be considered. I have no sympathy for the person who can afford to pay £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000 for a house even if it is for his own occupation but I am very interested in the type of person who is in a position to pay between £1,500 and £2,000 for a house and I think that in that case some scheme could be devised whereby that person would get the subsidy on a house already erected even if they limited the space area to 1,250 square feet. In the cases of such houses transferred to the persons requiring them for occupation the duty on that transfer should be dropped. This would be a welcome change to the evils which might result in the Minister continuing to collect the tax and it would only mean a slight drop in the income of £600,000 a year. It would be comparatively small, I think, and would ease the situation very much, particularly for those young people about whom we hear so much. I emphasise that there is the aspect that these persons prefer to see a house actually in existence, because of their inability, which, as they are laymen, is quite understandable—I am not a doctor and do not understand a prescription—to visualise what a house will be like from plans placed before them by the architect.
Most of the Senators who have spoken have referred to houses costing from £1,750 upwards. I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to the type of houses which are found to a great extent in rural areas, that is, houses valued from about £700 to £1,200, the small type of house.
Might I point out to the Senator that the recommendation was put forward to deal with houses up to £2,000 and not houses over that amount?
I would certainly prefer the remission to be in respect of houses costing less than £2,000, and not over it, and I entirely agree with Senator Hawkins in that respect. If the Minister, however, is not prepared to agree to that suggestion, I suggest that he should consider people who buy houses valued at less than £1,200, that is, people with small incomes. The point has been made by some people that those who can afford to pay from £1,200 to £2,000, although not very wealthy, are fairly well off. I would appeal on behalf of the people who cannot afford to pay more than £1,200 and who want to purchase a house valued at anything from £700 to £1,200. These are people with small incomes, who would, in most cases, have to borrow practically all the money, and, in cases of this kind, this tax is a hardship. I appeal to the Minister to consider such people, and I suggest that if he gave a remission in respect of them, he would not lose a very large amount of revenue in a year.
I promised in Dáil Eireann that I would consider for next year an extension of the graduation of the tax. There is a graduated tax, the tax being low up to £1,000, and I promised to consider extending it beyond £1,000, but I certainly cannot do it this year. I have not got any statistics to enable me to reply in regard to the amount of money that would be lost in connection with houses between £1,000 and £2,000, but last year the suggestion was made to me that the 5 per cent. should be made to apply only to estates of £3,000 and over. The calculation then was that it would cost about £220,000. As I say, I have not got the figure relating to the lower amounts. In connection with what Senator Hearne said, I am sure he is aware of the provision in the 1947 Act under which a certain number of people could form a friendly society and, having got grants, could transfer the property to members. In that respect, the old rate applies and the new rate of 5 per cent. does not apply, so there is a loophole there for people to avail of.
Senator Hearne has said that this tax, when applied, aimed at a particular matter and he claims that it was a major factor in reducing the price of houses. If that is so, it was an accident. The Minister for Finance, when introducing this in 1947, said, in reply to a question of mine, that the object of the tax was not to cheapen houses—it was to get money from the vendors of houses, and would not cheapen houses. At a later stage, he made this statement:—
"I did not say in the Budget statement, or at any time since or before, that this was going to have the effect of reducing the price of houses."
It was not his aim. I am quoting from my own speech of 23rd June at column 1311 of the Dáil Debates, wherein appears in quotes that statement of the Minister. In the main, I find definite agreement amongst those with whom I have discussed this matter that the reduction in the price of houses has been due to a particular matter which was so very much and so severely commented upon both here and in Dáil Eireann, that is, the restriction by banks of the credit they were giving to certain people. Whether that was a good or a bad move, whether it was good as done in the extensive way in which it was done, it did have the effect of reducing the price of house property. I sometimes become amused when I think of all the annoyance caused because I mount on the shoulders of the young married couple who are looking for a house and find myself there in company with the solicitor, the auctioneer, the architect and the house builder.
Not the architects. If they build their own houses, they will not have to pay this rate.
The other three, at any rate. If I take anything by way of this 5 per cent., I channel it down to give remissions to the taxpayers generally, whereas the other three parties contribute only very indirectly to any remission—it is only through what I can get from them in relation to their incomes that any little remission goes to the taxpayers generally. I can get the matter of different types of houses considered as against next year, but with so many claims being made for increases—there are claims being made that the whole income-tax code should be readjusted to bring it more in consonance with the present value of money, claims to have the single man's, the married man's and the children's allowances raised and these are claims to which I lend a sympathetic ear—and with these having priority, as I think, I do not think there is much hope of getting rid of this tax within three or four years, although it may be brought down in its scope to some degree.
In view of the general support which the recommendation has got from the House, regardless of what the Minister has stated, he must reconsider the position before he brings another Finance Bill before us next year. I do not wish to hold up the passing of the Bill any further, except to refer to the suggestion made by Senator Douglas, that it is not easy to understand why persons who supported the imposition of a tax at one stage should be so anxious now to have it removed. Senator Hearne has already answered that point—the circumstances have entirely changed and the condition of affairs which existed when the emergency Budget was introduced does not now exist. The Minister said that when the former Minister was introducing the section he reminded the House that it would not have the effect of reducing the price of houses. That is so, but it did have one effect, and I am quite satisfied that it was intended to have that effect; that is, it stopped the prices of houses soaring. We have the position now that people know the value of a house and there are not so many people prepared to enter into the speculative market to buy houses for exchange almost weekly.
They took good advice about not buying last year.
Just as the main section of the community took the advice. Whether it was good or bad for the nation as a whole is another question.
They took it, anyway.
Tá an ceart agat.
The Minister stated here that a sum of about £300,000 has been extracted from the type of person for whom I am pleading; that is, the person who is purchasing a house valued at about £2,000. These are the figures the Minister has given.
I said that if I kept it to the £3,000 and over it would be costing £200,000 or £220,000.
The total figure was £620,000, I think, so we can take it roughly that £300,000 is being extracted from this type of people whom we are encouraging to get married, to settle down, to purchase a home of their own and build up here the new Republic— and we are still putting on a tax of £300,000 on them. The future that is held out, as the Minister pointed out, is that he will not be in a position for three or four years to remit this taxation on such people. Then we are making such generous facilities available to people to acquire houses for their occupation in another field. I do not wish to divide the House on this matter, as I think that, regardless as to the side on which members sit, they are as much in support of this as I am. I trust the Minister will reconsider the matter before next year—if he is still there.
Last year, when I raised the point about this transition fund, the Minister stated it was being continued to the 31st March, 1949, and the reason for doing so was that the greater part of the fund had already been earmarked or allocated. If that is so, I take it there is very little of the fund available for further development work.
Has the Senator the quotation? I do not think I said that, or that I could have said it, as it is wrong.
This fund was first introduced to make available to local authorities grants from a particular fund in order to encourage them to undertake works of a development nature, particularly in regard to housing. At that time the grant to a local authority for the erection of a house was two-thirds of £350, together with an advance made out of the Transition Development Fund in order that the rent of that house might be something within the reach of the incoming occupants. Since then we have had an increase in the loan charges to local authorities. The Minister has said here and in the other House that there would be no increase in the loan charges for housing and that they would still remain at 2½ per cent., but that for other works the loan charges would be 3½ per cent. and that an arrangement would be come to as between the Department of Local Government and the local authorities to make good the difference between 2½ and 3½ on the loan charges for housing development. What has happened? Something in the nature of co-ordination of the original grant of two-thirds of £350 and the Transition Fund has been come to. The greatest amount now that a local authority may receive out of the Transition Fund is a sum of £400.
Prior to the coming into office of the present Government, the position was that the local authority received from the Central Fund a free grant of two-thirds, plus the contribution from the Transition Fund in relation to the cost of the house. Now it is stabilised at £400. Therefore, regardless of the fact that labour charges have increased, that the cost of building sites has increased, and that the cost of general housing development work has increased, there is no compensation to the local authority for the increase in the rate of interest or to compensate them for the increased cost of materials and of labour. From the Minister's statement the last night, I thought there was something like £1,000,000 available now in this fund. If that is not so, I suggest that more money should be made available. While we are pressing local authorities to make all haste with this question, we are placing on them and on the ratepayers a burden they are not in a position to bear.
I would like to see, at some stage, an examination into this whole question of the conditions under which local authorities are compelled to erect houses for certain types of people. There is no doubt that, in many cases, they are erecting houses at a charge on the ratepayers in general, for people who, in many cases, are in as good a position to pay the economic rent as those people who are paying the rates to enable that subsidy to be given. On the other hand, if this Transition Fund is to expire, in accordance with the terms of this Bill, on 31st March, 1950, what provision is going to be made to give to the local authorities grants in accordance with what is being given even at the present time, for houses or for development work in general that will not be completed, or for which grants will not have been made available out of this fund at that time? As regard costings, the Minister and local authorities generally are in much the same position that they were in at this time last year. Local authorities do not know exactly what they may expect to get from the Department of Local Government in relation to work that they are carrying out in various centres.
As regards housing schemes, it is very hard for local authorities to get loans from the Department of Finance or the Department of Local Government. In Ennis we have had a scheme of housing in hand for the past 18 months——
That is a matter for local authorities. I provide certain moneys and I am then finished with the matter.
I wish somebody would deal with the money question.
It is going out far too fast. I have nothing to do with distribution. I am astonished to hear that I stated last year that the fund was almost exhausted. Originally, the fund amounted to £5,000,000 and on the 1st of April, 1949, the balance still available was £3,500,000 roughtly. There were certain commitments since and it is expected that issues from it in the present year will amount to £1? million. I expect to have something short of £2,500,000 in the fund at the close of the year. There is quite an amount of money there, and it requires a great deal of care to see that it will not go out too fast. I stated the rate of interest last year and that, as far as housing is concerned, the difference between 2½ and 3½ per cent. would be met by increased subsidy. That has been done. I stated that in Dáil Eireann on May 4th, and I challenged contradiction on it several times. If I challenge contradiction again I do not want general contradiction, but should like an example to be brought to my notice, that the promise I made was not carried out. I questioned such statements on many occasions when interrogated, and the answer was always the same.
The position has been regularised and the money given at the old rate. I should like to say that the view I expressed last year, and which has been fulfilled during this year, is one that I would not express so readily again. It is not possible to continue to finance housing at 2½ per cent. when money cannot be got at that rate. I would rather do so by direct subsidy than have the pretence that people are being given such money at a time when it is impossible for the State or local authority to get money at that rate by way of popular issue. As far as the promise that I made last year is concerned, I believe it was fulfilled and I should like an example if the negative is put to me.
There is one important aspect that concerns the Transition Fund and the drain on it caused by the cost of houses. One of the most important factors in the cost of housing at present, both in Dublin and in rural districts, is an aspect that I referred to last year, the decline in productivity. Since then there has been published a report of a British Commission of Inquiry appointed by the Minister for Health there. Figures that I gave tentatively last year from personal observation are borne out by the report. The decline in productivity in this country is nothing new. The same thing has occurred in England. The decline is so great, as between 1938 and 1948, that it means an additional burden on the cost of housing that, in my opinion, should not be there. Many reasons are given for that decline in productivity. The report I refer to, it may be taken, was not a biased one, in the sense that it would make difficulties for the Government that appointed it. The commission had largely a labour bias in personnel, and we may take it that it would not be biased against trade unions.
The fact is that the decline in productivity is one of the greatest problems facing the building industry. It is facing members of the Oireachtas and others interested in the provision of houses so as to end the cancer of the slums. I always held that three things were necessary to deal with the housing problem, men, money and material. No doubt the resources of the State are sufficient as far as money goes. Ministers of Finance, both in this Government and in the former Government, stated emphatically that money would be no barrier to the provision of houses. Supplies of materials are now practically back to the pre-war position. There is no real shortage of materials except minor things. As far as one can find out from the figures available there is now as big a labour force of tradesmen and builders' labourers in Ireland as in 1938. The decline in productivity and reduction of output has been very great, and will continue unless something is done about it. I submit that it is a social problem. The provision of houses is socially desirable, apart altogether from the employment aspect. All concerned, master builders and trade unionists, will have to give very careful consideration to declining output, as it is a problem which has grown very much in the last few years.
Referring to the decline in production, I am aware that labourers' cottages which were built in 1914 for £85 or £90 inveriably cost £1,200 now. There has been a greater increase in the cost of building than in the cost of any other goods. It might be desirable if the whole question of production could be investigated by some commission, so that it might be possible to let houses with a State subsidy to workmen at rents within their ability to pay.
I was amazed at a recent meeting of our own council to discover that the lowest tender submitted for labourers' cottages was £2,000.
I am afraid that hardly enters into the subject matter under discussion.
I submit that it does.
I submit that it is somewhat similar to what the previous speaker has said.
I am afraid I was mistaken in letting the discussion develop so widely. The Senator may proceed.
Just imagine—a sum of £2,000 was the lowest tender submitted for a labourer's cottage.
Was that a mistake?
No, not in the slightest.
I hope you did not accept it.
The tender was not accepted. However, if that is the position, it goes to show that it is very necessary to inquire into the whole matter and that it is impossible to ask people to subsidise or to erect houses.
I want to compliment the Minister at this stage on Section 18 —which relates to bequests to charitable institutions—and to the amendment of Section 2 of the Finance Act of 1894. I consider that Section 18 is a desirable provision in this Bill. I am sure that the State loses something in making that concession but, anyhow, it is a recognition by the State that it is desirable to have that concession incorporated in our laws. Much misgivings were caused in the past in regard to that matter. I was interested in charitable societies some years ago. The then Minister for Finance wanted to claim tax from a local charitable society. I am very glad that now a Minister for Finance has seen his way to incorporate this new section in this Bill and it is well that it should go on record that there is some appreciation of his action in this respect. We all expect the Minister for Finance to make concessions in this respect and in that respect and, when he does so in a specific case, we ought to show some appreciation of his action.
Question agreed to.
No. 4, as on the Order Paper, will be taken now.
When will No. 2 be taken? I understood that it would be taken after No. 1.
The Minister in charge of No. 2 is in the Dáil at the moment.
Is there any indication as to when No. 2 will be taken?
I am afraid that it will not be until after tea. It looks as if the Minister will not be available for some time.
I should like to get this point clear. We are passing over No. 2 and we are taking No. 3 on the Order Paper. Does that mean that when No. 3 is disposed of we are going to take No. 4, because I understand that the Minister who is in charge of No. 3 is also in charge of No. 4?
If it is convenient to the Seanad, I should be glad if the House would take Nos. 3 and 4 and then to revert to No. 2.
Very well, but I think that the order of business should be conducted from the other side of the House and not from this side of the House.