Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 19 May 1943

Vol. 27 No. 24

Finance Bill, 1943—Committee.

Question proposed: "That Section 1 stand part of the Bill."

On this section, I should like to raise a question about which the Minister has heard from me before, that is, that he should consider the position of what I might call the derelict demesne owner, the person who is struggling to live on his demesne. He is over-housed, and of necessity he has to give very considerable employment. I think his is a case which is deserving of special consideration. He has got no surplus cash income out of which he can meet increased taxation. The only thing he can do is to shut up more and more of his house, and disemploy people who are doing very necessary work in the maintenance of the meagre amenities to which he is clinging. These men belong to a class—and I am not going to be snobbish about it—who are a civilising influence in the country. Nobody can deny that, in spite of their black record in the past. The Minister may reply that by giving special treatment to these people he would be opening the door to other people who are living more or less in the same way, but not in comparable economic circumstances, people who are living probably on a biggish cash income in places with not very much land attached to them, and who do not deserve very exceptional treatment.

I put this point to the Minister. In the case of the ordinary farmer his houses, offices and lands are valued under one heading. In the case of these unfortunate people the buildings are not valued as part of his farm because in the old days these people had very considerable incomes and maintained mansions, you might say—work which in no conceivable circumstances could be considered as part of the farm work. Now, however, circumstances have altered and I think there is a very strong case for allowing people of that kind who are undoubtedly farming a certain acreage, the upkeep or the repair of their houses and the upkeep of any gardens, the net cost of the gardens, of course, after deducting what they sell—as part of their farming operations.

The Minister is aware, I suppose, that these people get a very raw deal over the repairs allowance. Up to a few years ago, as is the case in England now, they were allowed to set off the cost of repairs of their houses, which in the case of old mansions, or derelict buildings which were in a bad state of repair, was very considerable. That is relief over and above the statutory allowances. Nothing of that sort is allowed here now. I suggest that these people are a very deserving class in the community and that their claim requires consideration. They are very poor, a new genteel poor. I would ask the Minister not to cling too rigidly to the official point of view of his advisers, but really to consider the human aspect of these cases which, I think, has never appealed so far to his Departmental advisers.

I pointed out before that the demesne owner can have the annual value reduced if he makes a case. I must say, and I have said it before, that my experience of the Revenue officials here is that whenever I had a case—even long before I bcame Minister or had any hope of becoming Minister—I always got a sympathetic hearing for any representations I put up to them. If Senator Sir John Keane will give me particulars of any case I will see that it is examined straight away.

I think the Minister will find that he would need to have an amendment of the law in order to do what I am asking.

I will look into the matter.

Perhaps the Minister would let me come and talk to himself and his advisers about it?

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 2 to 12, inclusive, put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 13 stand part of the Bill."

On this section, Senator Douglas put in an amendment. I presume the Minister has already dealt with that, and has declined to accept it?

That is right.

The recommendation is not being moved.

I did not consider that the Minister's explanation was satisfactory, but I am not pressing the point.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 14 to 21, inclusive, and the Title, put and agreed to.
Bill reported without recommendation.
Agreed to take Fourth Stage now.
Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Agreed that the Fifth Stage be taken now.
Question proposed: "That the Bill be returned to the Dáil."

On the question of a national Government, as we have heard how Seán O Ceallaigh, Winston Churchill and William Cosgrave regard the position, I think it might be as well to quote what Edmund Burke had to say about it. He defines it in this way:—

"Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain, as an agent or advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative Assembly of one nation with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.”

That, as I see it and as most of us on this side see it, is the idea of a national Government.

If my recollection is correct, I think I could quote Burke as having made a very strong defence of Party government. I think it was in his speech on American Independence.

On "Present Discontents".

He made a very strong defence of Party government there. I want to refer to one or two other matters which have arisen since I spoke. Senator O'Donovan suggested that the standard of living in England is much lower than it is here —that, in fact, it is approaching starvation level. That is not a fact.

I venture to say that the standard of living for the poor in England is higher than it is here. They have got more money and, although commodities are rationed, there is a more even and fair distribution. I will leave it at that.

There is one other matter that I do think the Government ought to consider—perhaps it might do it before the election, as part of its election programme—and that is an analysis of this slogan of "Freedom from want". It ought to be examined objectively. We have had no survey of our conditions of poverty. I think it is essential that we should know the conditions under which the poor, the more necessitous section of our people, are living; and secondly, we should have some knowledge as to the extent to which the maximum production we can expect from our resources will provide a reasonable standard of living for all classes. Those are matters which need to be examined objectively. We cannot simply go along with a large number of our people living in dire poverty. I do not think I am overstating the case when I say that they are living in dire poverty, and, although the Minister may say that our resources are not adequate, I think we ought to know the facts. That should be our approach to the principle of the Atlantic Charter— freedom from want.

Both the Minister and Senator O Buachalla suggested that if I know all those things which are going on I ought to come out into the open. Undoubtedly, there is very considerable discontent among business sections owing to the way those quotas and licences are working. I am asked why I do not give the facts. First of all, I am not in a position to give specific facts, but I think I am within my rights, as a member of this House, in referring in general terms to that feeling of discontent. I do not think it can be said that, if a member of Parliament is not in a position to give full, specific facts, he should not say anything at all. I do not think that is a fair criterion to apply. One businessman said to me the other day:

"If all that went on were known in the country the Government would be blown sky-high."

Those were his words. The difficulty is that, if I went to any business friend of mine and said: "Will you allow me to use your name either in an approach to the Government or in this House?" he would say: "Certainly not; I cannot possibly run that risk. I am dependent upon the Government for licences and for the exercise of their discretion to allow me to carry on my business." I am afraid that is the position all through the country to-day—less and less people can afford to be independent. The head of a business, the individual himself, is in a position to be independent, but he cannot afford to jeopardise his business. I am afraid that is the way with a great many people, and I think the remedy is to go much slower with this business of licences and quotas, and consider the question of publishing the licences that are given.

I do not want to delay the Seanad; I merely want to say that we listened with amusement and with charitable appreciation to the little election speech made by the Minister. I am not going into details; I think he almost answered himself. He had to stop the quotations because they were not going quite so well. He tells us that Mr. Churchill, a man of enormous experience, is so apperceptive to experience that, 20 odd years after the last war, he has changed the point of view which he expressed in his book, World Crisis. The type of argument which the Minister puts up is rather silly; it presumes we are not living in a world of contingency. We can state a general principle but we may vary it when it comes to particular circumstances. For instance, we have heard a good deal of opposition to this self-aggrandisement of State activity. I hope I have not been as eloquent or long-winded as most other people. In that abnormal and unhealthy condition which we call total war, what is completely wrong for the State to do under normal conditions, may not only be permissible but necessary. It is necessary in these peculiar circumstances for the State to ration and to interfere, and even to direct lines of production which, to my mind, would be intolerable and completely against justice in times of peace. The Minister tells us the Government is blamed for the potato shortage. I am not going to develop the point as to whether the Government may be blamed, but the Minister has not proved it. The Government has interfered in an enormous number of things.

One of the reasons for the shortage of potatoes is that there is a shortage of artificial manures. The Government has diverted manures to certain purposes, with the result that we are now short of potatoes. The Government has also interfered to make one form of production profitable, and this has had a negative effect in another way. That kind of argument is inadequate and rather silly, but there is one thing which I think is ominous—it is the assumption that a country can be governed on the argument that if you want to get justice you can only do it by making appeals to the Government. "We have not heard any complaints," they say. When the people around the streets stop me and try to get money from me, I sometimes give it, or, more often, refuse it. I am always conscious that these people are not in want. They have a natural genius for cadging, and, therefore, are never likely to be in want. But I could not argue that everyone was comfortably off, and that there were no bad cases, simply because these people do not cadge. Somehow or other, we all come up here with the idea that our business is to cadge from the Government and to try to get as much as possible for the greatest number of constituents. If you are trying to govern on those terms, you are going to destroy the conception of democracy.

The Government, when it legislated that one condition would apply to companies before 1934, and another to those after 1934, had one justification, that the provisions they made with regard to those of 1934 were required in justice for the promotion of the common good and the provisions made for those after 1934 were innate in the condition of justice and the promotion of the common good as well. Instead of that, everybody after 1934, by the mere fact of being after 1934, received certain privileges, and those before 1934, who wanted to get these privileges had to come to make an appeal to the Minister. That conception of government is a thing I cannot sit down under. The Government must make a general law. It may vary it in relation to varying circumstances, but to make a general law and then to say we must assume that it is just unless people are knocking at the door complaining is really a negation of government. Senator Mrs. Concannon seemed gravely concerned by the fact that a large part of taxation is raised out of what have been called our vices.

I did not use the word "vices".

I think it was used in the course of the discussion, but let us use the word "weaknesses". If our people have weaknesses, you may make a delectation of weaknesses. I do not see why the Government should not make weaknesses pay rather than virtue. Virtue gets so little reward in this life that a little relaxation of taxation would be a minor compensation. But let me console Senator Mrs. Concannon by pointing out that there are some weaknesses that are not made to pay. I do not think she regards marriage as a weakness, although she must regard other things as weaknesses. I can give you a case of two people, both having £220 a year. For the weakness of getting married the State piles on an annual tax of £36, that is about 15/- per week. That is an old form of taxation, and most people have to pay for their weaknesses of drinking and smoking. For the weakness of marriage, the Government is determined that the people should pay and pay at that rate. I proved last year that that was the position and I do not think the Minister has given any thought to it since. The Minister is always full of pious speeches and good intentions. In fact, I think that if he really believes what he says and if his heart is bleeding— his perfect and beautiful heart—he might have made this one little change. If I might wind up with an outrageous story—it reminded me of the remark made by a certain English cleric about his hierarchical superior. He said he was "all bleeding heart and no bloody head." I am afraid that when the Minister comes here, his bleeding heart is not enormously manifest.

The Minister to conclude.

I want to say a word on Senator Sir John Keane's remarks about things which were alleged to have happened in the dark. I am particularly concerned because my Department has some responsibility for the issue of licences, and I would be very happy if he knows of any case or has heard of any case where licences were improperly issued, if he would give me the facts and I would have them examined and exposed. It is not fair, I think, to me or any other Department—I would suggest to Senator Sir John Keane— to come in here after hearing rumours and to make charges about licences and quotas with the suggestion that if they were known the Government would be flung out. Anybody in a responsible position who has any information about malpractices, whether they be members of the Government or officers of the Government who are responsible, is bound, I think, in duty and in honour to come to somebody in authority and give him as much information as he can, so that an effort may be made by the Minister or the officials to clear the matter up. I am particularly interested in it because the Revenue Department has the job of collecting taxes and taxes are imposed for certain good reasons; licences are issued to enable people to get in supplies, and if these licences are improperly issued I would like to know whoever is responsible. I think it would be a great help to the Government as a whole, and the country as a whole, that we should know of any case—so far as we can get the information—where malpractices are occurring in any Department. I want to make such an appeal that if there is ground for any such allegation, I demand to know about it because I would like to have it examined.

Does the Minister say "improperly issued?"

They can be improperly withheld.

It has been the case that when you wanted a certain article of a certain type you found that it was not made here in the exact type you wanted. When you made your application for a licence to import it, it was sent on to the manufacturer of that generic class, and he then decided it and recommended that the licence should not be issued. He could not give what was wanted, only what he thought good enough himself.

I think that if Senator Fitzgerald has any cases like that in mind, he can raise them with the Minister responsible, and the Minister can give him an answer. He has, perhaps, good reason for that, but to suggest that there are malpractices of a wide order——

I did not say that.

"Strange things happening in the dark"—that was the suggestion—things which would get the Government thrown out of office if the public knew of them. That is a serious statement and further information should be given. I beg anybody with information of that kind to come forward with it. If there is any suggestion of malpractice, whether by members of the Government or officials of the Government, it should be brought out in public, dragged into the light of day and answers made to be given. That is my appeal, because it is not fair to the Government that people should be allowed to get away with statements of the type made to Senator Sir John Keane. They should be asked for the honour of the country, and the Government, to give instances if they know of them.

The Minister has quoted me wrongly. I did not suggest corruption. It is the methods implicit in this tariff system which are entirely under Government control and discretion. I can tell the Minister straight away that I never heard any suggestion about an official acting improperly. It is part of the system which is bad.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 9.15 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 20th, 1943.