The basis of Senator McGlinchey's amendments quite accords with what I have said and does not cut across the fundamental decision that was made in 1970. Senator McGlinchey recognises in the first two amendments that we are now living in a period of serious economic difficulty and, therefore, we must minimise whatever further impost is made under the Health Contributions Act. He wants to substitute 1977 for 1974 in the first amendment and substitute 1978 for 1975 in the second amendment. The effect of those two amendments is to recognise the reality of the present economic situation. It does not in any way take from the principle which is written into the 1970 Health Act but it recognises that the time, 1st January, 1975, is not opportune to bring in an 80 per cent increase in headage taxation as far as the disadvantaged people who will be taxed by this increase are concerned.
That is, basically, what these two amendments are about. It is a recognition of the fact that the scheme of health contributions must continue under the 1970 Act but this is the wrong time, having regard to our present economic difficulties, to introduce a measure of this kind. It shows that we have a Government totally lacking in reality, totally out of touch. Apparently, they do not realise what they are doing in this case. They are taking a burden from the Exchequer— which draws generally from all the people right across the board—and imposing that burden to an 80 per cent increased extent on the category who are affected most by present economic and financial circumstances, those who should have their position improved generally and more particularly under the administration of the health services.
If the Government and, in particular, the Minister for Health, were being practical instead of announcing widespread, comprehensive health changes, providing a free health service for all the wealthy people, they would be concentrating on doing what they can do under the 1970 Act to improve the existing services. They could provide better dental services but above all else they could widen the range of the general medical services to include half of the people now being taxed in this measure, the people in the lower segment of the middle-income group who are just out of the general medical services area. These are the people who need help and who are fully entitled to medical cards, free health and medical services.
Instead of helping these people, people with chronic illnesses, people who require regular medical attention, people who require dental and other services that are not available to this category the Minister is concerned about conning the Labour Party Conference into adopting a resolution for a comprehensive health service that will benefit the wealthier people in our community. Those people are fully satisfied with the operation of the voluntary health scheme and by way of an extension of that scheme, and its development, they would secure all the benefits they would require adequate to their station in life. This is why I feel very strongly about the form of taxation we have increased by 80 per cent in this measure, and to which Senator McGlinchey has rightly put down these amendments, to mitigate the effect of any such increase for three years. That form of taxation in this day and age is profoundly unjust by reason of the economic circumstances in which these people find themselves.
One other point to which I should like to refer—the Minister took me up wrongly in his reply—relates to the removal of the rates element in regard to health. I feel very strongly that however regressive rates may be as a form of taxation this form of headage taxation is far more regressive. There is certainly nothing progressive or socially just in taking the rate charges in regard to health off office blocks, administration buildings, bank buildings, large factories, and off large properties, removing the liability and the obligation to pay rates from all of those people in the multi-millionaire category and giving them the very same facilities in regard to the removal of rates in relation to health as the people in the smaller ratepaying categories. If that can be defended then I do not know what can be defended.
The Minister for Health stopped referring to the issue I raised and went back to our de-rating and housing programmes. That has nothing to do with it. I am certain that the committee established by the Minister—or have they been established yet?—or that he proposes to establish to review taxation and to review financing in regard to the health services, will recommend one thing very strongly—I have a certain authority on this—that there be some adjustment in the system of removing health charges from the rating system as it is at present, which applies right across the board in regard to financing the health services and which the Government will dearly regret.
On the Minister's own figures it is evident that this is one of the main reasons he finds himself in the position where he is at the moment, that he has removed a very fruitful source of revenue for health purposes that was being paid by the wealthier element in our community who could well afford to pay it. This was all because of an ill-judged pre-election promise and all because he finds himself in a straitjacket into which he jumped so promptly after the election without looking into the serious consequences involved in following that ill-judged election promise the whole way home.
When you have a situation where a rates contribution which amounted to £36 million to Health alone in 1972-73 and would probably be around £60 million today is going to be removed in about two years' time. I feel that this is outrageous. I would say on an assessment of that figure that half the contribution comes from the categories I am talking about, the really wealthy ratepayers who discharge rates and who should be discharging rates with regard to health services for the less well-off sections of our community. This is the matter which I am certain will be recommended by whatever committee the Minister establishes because it is so obvious and so completely sensible that it cannot be denied that the way to have gone about the abolition of the rates in regard to health charges, if it was socially desirable to do it, was to put a ceiling on it, for instance, a ceiling of under £60 valuation, a ceiling such as you have in the present middle-income category and one which would exclude from paying rates in respect of health all the people in the middle and the lower income categories.