I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The purpose of the Bill is to confirm the Emergency Imposition of Duties (No. 95) Order made by the Executive Council on the 24th January, the effect of which was to remove the 5/- duty off British coal.
Imposition of Duties (Confirmation of Order) (No. 2) Bill, 1936—Second Stage.
Has the Minister no comment to make on the situation that has arisen as a result of that?
I do not think any comment is necessary.
I think comment is necessary, and I will just put one point to the Minister with a view to showing that it is. I want to submit to him that it is a point that requires to be more fully cleared up before this Bill gets a Second Reading and finally leaves this House. This time last year there was a tax of 5/- a ton on coal coming into this country. Over a normal year that tax of 5/- a ton would have brought in, approximately, £350,000 to the Minister for the Exchequer. The price charged to bellmen from, say, March of last year to November of last year, during the whole period of which there was this tax of 5/- on coal, was 36/-. The tax was taken off in the beginning of this year because of the burden which it was putting on the poorer classes of the community using coal. In February of this year the Controller of Prices fixed a price at which the importers of coal were to sell coal to bellmen in the City of Dublin. The price fixed has been running since.
I understand from statements that have been made to me by different people that there was some kind of reference in the broadcast recently that this fixed price would continue until October. As I have said, from March to November of last year, when this tax of 5/- would bring £350,000 to the Revenue, bellmen were being charged 36/- a ton. To-day, at the price fixed by the Controller of Prices and with the tax off, they are being charged 36/- a ton. In spite of all that, the Minister says that no point arises that requires explanation. I think that the Minister, in asking the House to confirm by an Act the Order which took the 5/- tax per ton off coal, should tell the House where that 5/- has gone which people who are buying coal are still paying. They are paying the same price for coal to-day as they paid last year when a tax was in operation that should bring in £350,000 to the Revenue. We want some explanation from the Minister as to where that £350,000 is to go this year.
The Minister for Finance is only accountable to the House for the expenditure of the taxation which he collects. He has no control over the proceeds of taxation remitted.
Does the Minister admit that the House is placed in a difficulty by him when he asks us to confirm an Order which took a tax of 5/- per ton off coal, and when the House is now aware that under an order made by the Controller of Prices people are to-day paying the same price for coal as when that 5/- tax was on? Does he admit that the House is in a difficulty when faced with that fact? I am sure there is no Deputy in the House who will not admit it. We want to know where that 5/- is going, and where the accumulated amount of £350,000 is going. If the Minister thinks that he is being put questions in connection with this Bill that he is not able to answer, then I suggest to him that he ought to withhold the further consideration of it until somebody comes into the House who is able to answer the questions that I am putting.
They do not arise on this Bill.
Does the Minister think that when he asks us to pass a Bill——
Does the Deputy want the 5/- put on again?
I want to know where the 5/- is that used to go to the Treasury. The Minister's own statements have indicated that if it continued to go to the Treasury the taxpayers of this country would be saved in another way. The 5/- is still being paid. Where is it going? We ought to know where that money is going when the Minister asks us to pass a Bill taking off that tax. I must leave it at that point for the moment. The Minister, apparently, is making no offer to drop discussion on the Bill until somebody can attend here who will tell us something about it. If somebody is not able to persuade the Minister to tell us where the money is going, we must wait until somebody attends who can tell us. At any rate, the position is that by an order of the Controller of Prices people in the City of Dublin to-day are paying the very same price for coal which they paid during the summer of last year when this tax was on.
By order of the Controller of Prices?
The Controller of Prices will say that he did not issue an order.
It does not make any difference.
Not to the people who are pinned to that particular price in their bills by the action of the Controller of Prices, but there are people who are paying excessive prices for things through the inaction of the Controller of Prices. Here is a case in which people are paying to-day, as a result of the action of the Controller of Prices, the very same price they paid for coal when there was a tax of 5/- per ton on it last year.
Was the Controller's action taken before the tax came off?
It was not. The Controller took a very inadequate action.
On what date?
Some time in February.
This is a Press extract, dated 17th February, 1936, and it reads:—
"Dublin, Friday. —Having received formal complaints regarding the price charged by Dublin coal merchants for bellmen's coal the Controller of Prices has investigated the matter and satisfied himself that a reasonable maximum price to bellmen for this class of coal would be 36/- per ton, a reduction of 1/- per ton on the maximum price hitherto prevailing in Dublin. As a result of representations made by the Controller of Prices to the merchants concerned, they have agreed to reduce the price accordingly as from to-morrow. The Controller has been informed that the other members of the Dublin coal trade have also agreed to the reduction."
So much on the question of date.
Will the Deputy now tell the House what he thinks the price of coal is to-day?
Will the Minister tell the House why, when he asks us to pass a Bill taking the 5/- per ton off coal, he is doing it in circumstances under which the people are paying the same price to-day for coal that they paid last year when the tax was on?
Will the Deputy be good enough to tell the House what the price is to-day?
The price charged to bellmen to-day by coal importers is 36/- per ton. Does the Minister deny that?
What was it when the tax was on?
I have told the Minister that from March, 1935, to November, 1935, they paid 36/- per ton, but of that 36/- per ton, 5/- went to the Minister for Finance to relieve the taxpayers. The net point is, where is the 5/- per ton going that the people are now paying?
The question is that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
On a point of order. I should like to ask has the Minister nothing to say on this point?
It has been repeatedly pointed out that the Chair has no power to force or induce any Deputy to speak.
It is an outstanding point. Can we have at least half a minute's silence to allow the Minister, in the quiet of a silent House, to realise what the position is and make up his mind as to whether he cannot say something on it?
I am afraid the Standing Orders do not provide for it.
It would be better if we heard Deputy McGilligan on the matter first.
I only want to ask, where has the 5/- gone? Apparently it has gone to pay the Welsh miners. The Minister knows that that was part of the arrangement foreshadowed by the coal-cattle pact, but the Minister dare not say that, because he might be asked what thought he had for the people who produced the cattle here— the other side of the bargain. The net point has been put very forcibly by Deputy Mulcahy—where has the 5/- gone?
Bellmen's coal does not come from Wales, and the Deputy should know that.
I only used the Welsh miners as a sort of example.
A sort of red herring.
All miners in England, Scotland and Wales, and if there are any in Northern Ireland, got an increased wage when they threatened to strike. Our coal prices are based on giving them better conditions in the mines, and we are forced to pay to give them better conditions. Part of the 5/- has undoubtedly gone there, but how much?
Where has the 5/- gone? Now I ask for a count, so that the Minister may have leisure to consider that question while we are gathering a House.
Notice taken that 20 Deputies were not present. House counted and 20 Deputies being present,
I only rise to supplement the query: where has the 5/- gone?
Deputy Mulcahy has taken up 17 or 18 minutes of the time of the House with a series of irrelevant questions. The Deputy, I suppose, will not feel hurt if I refer to him as an old Parliamentary hand. I think he was one of the members of the Administration with Deputy McGilligan which helped to draft and to sponsor the Ministers and Secretaries Act in this House. While, of course, Deputy Mulcahy might be forgiven for not knowing what are the functions of other Departments of Government than the one with which he was associated, Deputy McGilligan can hardly make the same plea in regard to this particular matter. I indicated to the House that the Minister for Finance has no responsibility for the questions which Deputy Mulcahy raised. All I say is that this 5/- per ton ought to be in the pockets of the taxpayers. I do not know what purpose was behind Deputy Mulcahy's speech, except to endeavour to induce us to reimpose the 5/- duty.
Then they would be paying 10/- more.
The difficulty about the Deputy is that, like the crab, he sometimes proceeds obliquely. While he wanted to make it appear to the people outside that he is really concerned about their interests, I suggest that the real purpose behind the speech——
Is to know where the 5/- is going.
He said that formerly it was going to the Exchequer. After all, the Deputy is very like a punter who has backed the wrong horse. He backed the wrong horse in regard to this coal duty.
At least he knows where his 5/- has gone.
The people are still paying it.
That depends on whether the Deputy went straight home after the races or not. I am afraid that in this case the Deputies who have been asking where the 5/- has gone, instead of cutting their losses, have been drowning their sorrows. Otherwise they would know what has happened to the 5/-.
As one person who did not drown his sorrows, will you tell me where it has gone?
Looking at the Deputy's lugubrious countenance, I am prepared to admit that he never drowned his sorrow. It is still alive and with him—sorrow because he happens to be in the Opposition. But the Deputy, at any rate, ought to know——
Where the 5/- has gone.
——that it is not the function of the Minister for Finance or the Department of Finance to fix prices or to interfere——
Or even to know anything about the 5/-.
——in the ordinary conduct of commerce as between merchants and their customers in the Saorstát. As I said, the job of the Minister for Finance is to be responsible to the House for the collection of the taxes which the House decides should be imposed, and for the due and proper expenditure of them. My functions end at that. I have come to the House and asked it to confirm an emergency order made by the Executive Council, remitting the Customs duty of 5/- per ton which was imposed on British coal. The only question the House has to consider is whether it will or will not remit that duty. No other question that has been raised in this debate is relevant. The Opposition, if they wish, can divide against this Bill, and can vote for the reimposition of the duty of 5/- per ton upon coal, but, if they do, I hope that in the course of the coming elections, we will not hear them on the hustings protesting against the burden of taxation.
We shall have to ask the people if they know where the 5/- is gone.
I am sure they will be able to tell the Deputy. The Deputy has made many foolish statements recently in regard to economic conditions in the Saorstát. One which he made the other day—I can quite conceive that the Deputy now can laugh at his own mistake——
What is the Minister laughing at?
You are not one of our mistakes, so we can laugh at you.
I suppose not, and you are not likely ever to be responsible for any of my mistakes. I can take them all on my own shoulders, and I hope that, if, by any chance, the electorate do visit them upon me, as they did upon you, I shall take my fate and their verdict with a little more philosophical resignation——
Listen—what about the 5/-?
——than you have managed to manifest during your brief career in opposition.
Apart from the fact that you do not know about the 5/-, is there any reason why you should not know?
Lots of reasons.
Tell us one, apart from the obvious one.
The one and sufficient reason that should weigh with the House is that it is not the function of the Minister for Finance to know that.
The Minister said a few minutes ago that we all ought to know.
In our individual capacity as private citizens, we ought to know that coal is cheaper now than it was.
We know it ought to be.
The Minister ought to get a chance to make his statement.
We are still looking for the dollar.
It is not to make a statement, but to find the 5/-.
I do not think an Opposition pledged to the monarchical principle like the Opposition opposite ought ever to have any difficulty in finding a crown, if they are looking for it seriously, as they pretend to be in this case. Again, I say that the only question that is relevant in this debate is whether or not this 5/- per ton Customs duty on British coal is going to be remitted. We are asking the House to confirm this remission. The Opposition can make their choice in the matter. They can either decide that they will agree with the Government that it ought to be remitted or decide that it ought not to be remitted, that the 5/- should still be collected and come into the Exchequer, and, of course, naturally, that coal users will bear the additional burden thereby imposed. That is the one thing that has to be decided in this debate, and all the other questions that have been raised by Deputy Mulcahy are, in my view, absolutely irrelevant. I am perfectly certain that people outside this House who take often a more intelligent interest in it than those inside will appreciate that point, and will realise that Deputy Mulcahy is a person who has had experience of Ministerial functions and duties and responsibilities, and will say that, after all, he ought to have known better than to raise so irrelevant an issue in this debate.
At this stage, would it be in order to inquire of the Minister where has the 5/- gone?
Or does he know anybody who could tell us?
Would the Minister take notice that he will be expected to have some information then?