A lot of the argument for the recommendation has been based upon what the solicitors' profession have said and what the chairman of the New Ireland Insurance Company has said. I want to say, right away, that I am not impressed by either of these. I met the deputation from the Incorporated Law Society. They are a very fine body of men. They play a very important function in the life of this country, and they are people who, undoubtedly, as a profession, have gained for themselves considerable repute, and it is a reputation that I would be the last person to take away from them. When they come into me to develop a case for a particular tax, I have to become a bit of a realist. Above all people, joining them with the other branch of the profession, they are people most expert in making a case, and everybody will make a better case, the more his personal interest is involved. I do not think I am saying anything that the solicitors' profession as a whole would repudiate when I say they were particularly anxious about sales of properties, and whether sales of properties were going to be impeded by the tax. As a matter of fact, one of the spokesmen on that occasion, said property sales had almost come to a standstill; yet, that was one of the arguments when you are on the defensive that you like to hear, because it was so ludicrous, it was easy to defeat. I was able to point out the duty taking fruits of the tax and what transfers had been in value. I was able to point out what our experts, the Revenue Commissioners, had forecast as the probable revenue from the tax in a later year. We have not in any year forecast a fall. Sales of property are still going on, and if you take £600,000—it is around that figure —revenue derived from this tax, it means there is property of £12,000,000 changing hands each year, and if the unit price is gone down, it must mean that the £600,000 has, not merely been retained, but is increasing, and that there are more individual sales, and it is on the individual sale the solicitors look to get a return.
When the solicitors made that case, they were entitled to make it and made it vigorously and in an efficient way. I do not think it is going to gain credence unless the solicitors are to be thought of as social reformers or as people completely altruistic. They were speaking on behalf of the profession and wanted to see sales continuing and were definitely relieved when they found they were going to be continued at the old rate. The forecast was borne out and in fact this year we estimate a slight increase in the fruits of the taxation. Property sales are not going down. The rather solid arguments the solicitors made have only been weakened by the completely exaggerated statements made as to property sales being brought to a standstill.
Regarding the statement of the Chairman of the New Ireland Assurance Company, I was interested to note that Senator Ó Buachalla quoted it only in part, though even that included a statement that the situation had improved during the year, that is during the year in relation to which the forecasts were that it would be disastrous, a complete disaster in regard to sales of property. There has not been any complete disaster. Even the statement proved that. I wish the Senator got the whole report. I think he would have found that profits had increased, that dividends were greater and that the chairman, at the end, as well as complaining about the property tax, had also gone on to say that the wear and tear allowances, which would cost the State this year £800,000, should be removed in accordance with what the industry put up. That meant he wanted £800,000 in regard to industry and would like to have, say, £480,000 remitted in relation to the purchase of property—all for the good of new Ireland, or The New Ireland.
Speaking of the auctioneers, they are people rather shy of bringing forward proposals. I met them also. They, too, were rather concerned about the sales of property and made a wonderful case, the first time I heard them, on the inflated values put on house property. When one of the people receiving the deputation with me suggested that that might be a reason for the auctioneers to remit part of their 5 per cent. and take, say, 4 or 4½, a sudden chill came in the room. It was pointed out that that would assist sales and that, even on the statement they were making, a 4½ per cent. return to auctioneers on the inflated value of property would have brought them in as much as 5 per cent. On a more reasonable return. They did not accept the argument. The auctioneers want us to remit the 5 per cent., the solicitors want their 3 per cent., the Chairman of New Ireland, although business is improving, wants £800,000 for industry, all to be provided so that everything can be merrier still than it is now in the garden. These are the outsiders.
The people most intimately connected with the tax are those now concerned in this proposal. I did not say this had been stated to be a revenue tax: I said that what was said was tantamount to an admission that it was a revenue tax. The Minister for Finance, asked what the purpose of the tax was, asked what was going to come from it, said—may I quote:—
"It is the vendor whose price is going to be reduced by the 5 per cent. Five per cent. instead of going into the vendor's pocket is going to go into the pocket of the Treasury."
That was 1947. I did not believe that would be the result and for that reason I protested. I believed that in the then conditions, when the vendors had the whip hand, they would impose this tax on the purchasers and the purchasers in some way or other would have to cover it by getting the accommodation, and they would be fleeced a little more. I start from that point. The amazing thing in this debate is that the arguments coming from the side of the House in favour of the removal of this have been coercively in favour of retaining it. There is no better argument than that of Senator Quirke. He said in the old days that there was difficulty in regard to houses, inflated prices, a great scarcity of house property, and prices soaring. At the moment he says that certain houses are unsold. It seems to me, to add to the possible superfluity of houses, that building materials are plentiful and that there ought to be a recrudescence in house building. In those circumstances, all that situation is changed.
Senator Dockrell has said that the best part of the debating society argument is whether there is or is not a purchaser's market. I think there is, certainly more so than in 1947. In those circumstances, who is likely to pay? Senator Quirke puts it, even at the worst, that the purchaser has to pay 2½ per cent. and the vendor 2½ per cent. I do not think it is even as bad as that. I think that at the moment there is a bit of a purchaser's market and that the vendors are probably being asked to pay the whole difference. The only case that could be argued at this stage is as to whether the vendor is being mulcted too heavily. With regard to that—when one makes a general statement, exceptions can be made to it—in general I do not think this community will be terribly worried about the vendors of house property. They did really well during the war and they dug in.
The President of the country, when he was Minister for Finance, came in with a threat of new legislation at one time with regard to taxes, on the ground that he found people making money out of the exigencies of the needy. If any people were doing that, it was those engaged in house building and as a class I would find it very hard to persuade myself to give them any remission at this point. I think we have a lot to get back from them that they made from the needy elements of the community during the war years. That general statement does not apply to each individual who might be thought of. People now in the position of owners of property, who want to sell it, will be hit, but the Minister for Finance has to take the whole general situation and in the circumstances I have no heart about giving away £480,000 to the vendors of house property.
I was amazed to hear someone say that money was scarce now. I do not find money scarce. I look at the bank returns, seeing the amount of increased credit being given, and consider also the amount of money being pumped into circulation through all the capital development the present Government engaged in in 1948, increased in 1949 and which we hope will be increased still further this year. I do not see how anyone could say that money is scarce. In fact, it is because money is plentiful that there is a little bit of danger about this tax. It may be that certain people will get money so easily into their hands that they may be paying something above the price at which the house would be sold if they were able to stick out a little longer. It is not a question of money being more scarce, but of people being more price conscious, particularly with regard to house property when they look back over the bad years of the war when they were scandalously treated by the house vendors of those days.
As far as the argument goes with regard to a drastic change in such a short time, people who use that argument ought to remember that circumstances have changed very drastically in two years. The situation in 1947— in which there was a great scarcity of all houses and of certain houses in particular, with the terrible need there was and the pressure on people to get some sort of accommodation—played into the hands of people with houses to sell.
An argument that was used in 1947 appropriate to those circumstances would be futile as an argument in present circumstances where there has been such a complete change. I have no doubt about it, no one could argue otherwise, the price of houses has come down. That is due to a variety of circumstances and there are fluctuations still going on; there are ups and downs and nobody can say with certitude that the property market is in a settled state.
I have the feeling that if this tax were remitted at the moment and the duty diminished the vendors might seize on that as an excuse for an increase in prices once more and that is a development which I do not want to take place. Although this may press hard on certain people, I intend to keep it for this year.
I want to join the company who are against taxes. I am against this tax and against every tax. The ideal I have is to leave every individual in the community with more money in his pocket to jingle and to spend as he proposes instead of the State taking it from him to spend. There are certain things, of course, for which the State must take money—housekeeping expenses. I cannot carry out the ideal I really have because pressure is put on me from every side, from my own supporters in the Government and from the Opposition, to increase State intervention in certain developments, and as far as that goes more and more of the people's income must be taken to be spent in what I feel in the end is a wasteful way instead of leaving it to the people themselves to spend. I would like to see this tax remitted but I would not give it high priority. Allowances were mentioned and I would like to bring subsistence allowances into greater consonance with the value of money. I would give that matter priority, and while I would put this tax close to it, I would certainly not give it a high rank.
The best argument for this tax and against the recommendation has been made by those who support the recommendation and are opposed to the tax, while Senator Dockrell made the best argument against the tax. I would like to discuss the matter with him later. With his knowledge, more precise knowledge and better information than any other member of the House has, notwithstanding that, he says he will vote against the recommendation. That should commend it.