I support Deputy Hogan's excellent case. In proposing to oblige shopkeepers who improve their shop premises to pay the full load of rates from the moment of improvement, the Minister is kicking the small shopkeepers of Ireland in the stomach at a time when many of them are being forced to close down because of the immense competition in the retail trade which is financed to a large extent by foreign entrepreneurs. There is no justification for the Minister's conduct in coming to this Dáil with a Bill which he admits will harm small shopkeepers—a Bill which he has acknowledged is lacking in sympathy for and understanding of the problems of the small shopkeeper. The most he can say, in effect, is: "Give me this. Let me put down the small shopkeeper. I will think about giving him back some form of relief in the future." That is not enough. It is an insult to the small shopkeeper and it is an insult to this Parliament. It is totally unworthy of the Minister. He is not obliged to proceed with his predecessor's Bill. On his own admission he accepts that it is a faulty and unfair proposal to make. The honourable and proper thing for him to do would be to withdraw it. If he wants to see to it that the large wealthy investor pays full rates from the start on his building, or from the moment it is completed, he can do that in a measure even shorter than the one which we are asked to pass tonight.
We have to make a fundamental decision. Do we want the small shopkeeper to continue in our midst? Do we accept that the small shopkeeper has a contribution to make to our society? Are we in favour of the personal manner in which the retail trade was conducted in the past? Do we believe that the small shopkeeper is a person with roots in the community, loyal to the community in which he lives and who, because of that, can make a contribution to our society and our economy which we cannot expect from the runners-in who may be chasing profits in the retail trade but have their loyalties elsewhere?
Do we think it is preferable to encourage the small Irish shopkeeper, who has his roots in the community, rather than to facilitate people who, because of their vast capital resources, can move in from abroad and, because of the capital they have to invest, can make vast profits and, having made their profits, can export the profits and avoid paying tax on them? Profits earned from the money of the Irish consumer are leaving this country year in and year out and are not paying the proper share of Irish tax because of various tax agreements we have with other countries. The question is whether or not we want to continue to encourage that development, which may have its own contribution to make to our retail trade and to our economy, and facilitate it against the small shopkeeper who is, as the Minister should know even better than I, the mainstay of rural Ireland and of the towns in the provinces.
If small shops close in rural Ireland at the rate at which many have been forced to close in the past, serious damage will be done to the society and to the economy and the welfare of many rural communities. This is a problem also in many suburban centres where small shops are being put out of business because of the competition of the vast supermarket chains which have been moving in. These supermarkets may offer, or seem to offer, goods at more attractive prices than the small shopkeeper but, if they do, they do it by depriving people of other services they had in the past, such as personal attention. They certainly deprive the community of the kind of worthwhile employment and worthwhile social stability which you get in a community served by small, individual, independent shopkeepers rather than by large impersonal chains.
As a Parliament we have very properly provided incentives for Irish industrialists. We have provided and continue to provide incentives for Irish farmers. We have retraining grants for people in industry, so that if they become disemployed in one activity they can get training to equip them for another. We give tax concessions to industrialists and to exporters. In the past half century, shopkeepers and other sections of the community have enjoyed freedom from the full rates liability. Now, at a time when all other sections of the community are getting tax concessions and grants and assistance of one kind or another from the Government, we are proposing to victimise the small shopkeeper, the small factory owner, the small people who are deserving of more than the sympathy which the Minister has said he is prepared to give.
The Minister's sympathy is of little value if your bank balance has gone from credit to debit and if the bank manager sends for you and tells you he has to close down your business. The Minister's sympathy, offered in the Dáil on 22nd July, 1970, will not be of any assistance to those people when they are ruined. What we should be doing is endeavouring to assist these people. We should take particular care not to do them a harm which is not done to them under our existing legislation.
What is the reality facing many small shopkeepers at present? They are finding the going hard. Their only hope of survival is to modernise their premises. Very often this modernisation requires investment in tearing down an old shop front and putting up a new one. It is a rather negative form of investment. It does not create new wealth. Perhaps it entices people to come in and buy goods which they otherwise might not come in to buy. Because they do that, the rateable valuation of a small one-, two- or threeman shop may be raised by anything from £15 to £20 or £30. Under our existing legislation, the additional rates burden in the following year might be £7 10s or £15. The shopkeeper can weight that against the additional business he hopes to earn. The effect of this piece of legislation will be that, instead of paying £7 10s or £15 in additional rates, he will find himself paying £75 or £150 rates in the following year simply because he has improved his premises. In any case the increase will be big.
This Bill will be another nail in the coffin of the small shopkeepers. It would be utterly unworthy behaviour for this House to give its approval to a measure of this kind merely because the Minister says: "My predecessor introduced this. I am in sympathy with the people it will harm. I promise to take a look at their problems and bring in another measure later on." As Deputy Hogan has very properly said, the thing is not to do the harm or not even to propose to do it, and to accept his amendment which I think is very reasonable, or to give an undertaking to consider an amendment which would meet the kind of problems which Deputy Hogan has very properly outlined.
My only criticism of Deputy Hogan's excellent amendment is that it is limited to premises which are owner-occupied. Of course, there are many lock-up shops in which there is no residential accommodation available. The owners of such shops should have facilities similar to that which Deputy Hogan suggests. It seems to me that if the Minister is looking for a ready and easy way to provide relief for the kind of people he should be assisting, he can do so by providing that the relief which has hitherto existed will continue to apply to persons with rateable valuations of £50 or less. Something of that kind would meet, in a fairly simple way, the problems of the small property owners who are deserving of a continuation of the reliefs which they and their fathers hitherto enjoyed.
Not only are the Government proposing to kick the small shopkeeper in this respect by providing this discouragement to improve his premises but, as we have been debating over the past few days, the Government also propose to increase the stamp duty on the sale of goodwill of shops from 1 to 3 per cent. Here, again, we have this deliberate effort, apparently, by the Government to do down the small man in our community. I believe this is unfair to the individuals involved and that it will do untold harm to the moral fibre of many of our communities. The small shopkeeper has enough to contend with as things stand, with the large international investment of capital in the retail trade, and with the development of mobile shops which are not paying an appropriate share of either rates or taxes. In that situation, to select for further punitive treatment those who have to carry the most and are least able to do it is a proposal totally unworthy of the Minister.
This Bill also proposes to deprive householders of new houses which do not qualify for the Government grant of the relief of rates which they previously enjoyed. All this is done because the Minister has argued—rightly, I think—that the wealthy should be asked to pay their full share of rates. With that argument nobody disagrees but we assert that, as it is right to ask the wealthy to pay what they can afford to pay, it is wrong to drag into the net people who are not in a position to pay. That is exactly what the Minister is doing. It is not good enough to say: "I shall take a second look at it. So long as you will give me this stick with which to beat the small man I shall promise to soften the blow but I must have the big stick before I am prepared to continue the concessions they enjoyed in the past or to give them any concession in the future."
The Minister said that the assistance offered by way of relief of rates was offered in the first instance and throughout the past 50 years because it was of assistance to the building trade, that it was a concession to the construction industry which does not need it at present because the industry is working at full output. Reconstruction and improvement which is the kind of thing we must encourage if our existing stock of property is to be maintained in good condition is done mainly by the small builder or contractor and he needs encouragement today as much as he did in the past. That encouragement to the small contractor will be withdrawn if the small employer is discouraged from reconstruction and improvement. That is what this Bill will certainly do, discourage people from reconstruction or improvement or building small additions to their property. It will, therefore, do very serious harm to small builders and contractors, and the group that the present Government have selected for further burdens in this year's Finance Bill because they are to be caught under new tax proposals and subjected to more rigorous tax impositions than those which previously applied to them.
When difficulties arise in the construction industry—and this has been the sorry cycle of events through the years and it is not likely to be cured for ever—the first people to suffer and suffer most grievously are the small builders and contractors. It is entirely wrong, therefore, that a Bill aimed at requiring the proper contribution from the wealthy and at removing benefits which were available for the big contractor should cause harm to the small contractor. That is certainly the effect of this Bill.
This is a wholly unworthy Bill. We are providing a disincentive to improvements and imposing a new burden on people who are not in a position to bear it. The way in which the Minister can mend his hand is to be magnanimous enough to say: "I shall meet the point the Opposition are making by providing that people with smaller properties will still enjoy this concession in future." He is allowing the concession to apply to people who live in small dwellings. Why not also allow it to apply to people who are trying very hard to make a living for themselves and their families in the small properties? That is all we ask. It is not a great deal. If the Minister has in mind providing some kind of concession for these people in future—I think he has —let him be big enough to do it now. Certainly, as Deputy Hogan said it will not do untold harm to our economy to allow that concession to continue for the small man for a year or two while the Minister takes another look at the situation.