I do not wish to delay the House but I should like to make one point which I think is of some substance. The proposal in the 14-point plan which, as the Minister has told us and we remember very well, is to reduce the local rates by transferring in a four year period the burden of health charges from local rates to the Central Exchequer, was an extraordinarily misdirected one. The cost this year is —£12.7 million. The cost next year and successive years will be at least that and with inflation running as high as at present and the continuing improvement in health services, which inevitably grow ever more expensive, the cost in future years will clearly be even more. I feel it not unreasonable to say that four years from now the annual cost of this proposal will be in the region of £55 million or perhaps £60 million. That is a very large sum of money. It is worthwhile considering what the benefit to the ratepayer will be.
All of us know that of all forms of taxation, the most unpopular and in many respects the most burdensome is that of local rates. There are people of course, who can afford to pay them but there are many others who can not. I am thinking particularly of retired people, widows perhaps living in large and heavily rated houses on very small incomes who find themselves with these very heavy burdens in rates to meet.
The result of all this very large expenditure which the present Government have undertaken is to leave these people essentially no better off. I know the Minister will tell us that but for this proposal they would be even worse off this year. Nevertheless he must agree that essentially retired people and widows, the rate-paying public in general, are no better off this year than they were last year: the burden of rates on them is just as heavy. There is a saving in some cases of perhaps three pence in the £. In other cases there is no difference and in others there may be one penny or so in the £ extra to pay. But, essentially, this extraordinarily expensive scheme, which will cost in the region of £60 million a year in another four years, will at the end of all this time and as a result of all this enormous expenditure leave the rate-paying public, the ordinary private householder, in the position he was in in the financial year 1972-73. This seems to me to be a classic instance of a totally misdirected, extravagantly and foolishly planned scheme.
As has already been pointed out, the then Fianna Fáil Government at a late period in the election proposed a different scheme. I would put it to the Minister and to Senators generally that our scheme was a far better one. Under it, all the burden on the private householder would have been lifted and the eventual cost to the Exchequer would have been no higher, I suspect perhaps even lower, than under the proposal in this Bill.
The Minister was asked in the Dáil a week or so ago what proportion of all rates came from private hereditaments as opposed to factories, licensed premises and business premises of all kinds. He sought to evade the issue by saying "the great bulk". I am not an expert on semantics and I do not know what "great bulk" means, but to me, and I suspect to most people, when someone says the great bulk of something is in question this would suggest 70, 80 or 90 per cent. When the Minister was pressed he admitted that on one way of estimating the thing 49.56 per cent of all rates were collected from private householders and on another more favourable way of estimating it, 53 per cent. Fifty-three per cent he stated was the bulk, but this does not seem to be so.
We have the situation that almost half the total remission of rates in this Bill and in successive measures of the kind during the next three years will go to the businessmen, owners of factories, large blocks of flats,et cetera, and will not go to the ordinary private householder. This extraordinarily expensive scheme is entirely misdirected and the money could be spent more profitably either as we proposed by completely freeing the ordinary private citizen from rates or by further improving social services or such schemes.