Wednesday, 10 November 1971
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Colley: Some extraneous business not really relevant to the good running of this country, although I am tempted in the light of what has happened to propose a vote of thanks to Deputy Cosgrave on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, nevertheless——
Mr. Colley: I am waiting for a calming down as the Deputy may understand. If I may proceed, I was saying that Deputy O'Higgins had spoken about the timing of the introduction of the value-added tax and I spoke about the difference in circumstances between here and other countries and I particularly instanced the situation in Britain which is quite different from ours. Deputy O'Higgins made the point that, where highly inflationary conditions exist, the timing of tax changes is an important matter. I would agree with him on that. I would however, disagree with him when he states that 1st March next is unlikely to be a propitious time. Although it is true that prices have continued to rise this year, inflationary pressures are now less serious than they were last year and indeed it was this circumstance that chiefly contributed to enabling us to announce the reflationary measures which I announced on 27th October last.  It has been the experience of other countries, particularly Sweden and Germany that the changeover to value-added tax holds little risk to price stability when it is made at a time in which the economy is not overheated and particularly in view of the fact that, in our case, the actual rates of tax are not being increased. The same rates of tax are being applied as at present. I dealt earlier with the question of price increases which some Deputies seem to think are likely to be enormous as a result of this. The only thing I want to add to what I said on that is that some Deputies appear to be under the impression that VAT must be added item by item to each article in a shop.
Mr. Tully: I do not want to interrupt the Minister but, as I explained before the interruption, the Revenue Commissioners gave that advice to representatives of RGDATA who visited them seeking advice.
Mr. Colley: This may be. It relates to the kind of business a person is conducting but, as I said, the value-added tax at retail level is on a tax on turnover. Therefore, the shopkeeper can handle it as he handles turnover tax and the amount of tax will be precisely the same. As at present it is open to a shopkeeper to do either. There is certainly nothing in this Bill to compel a retailer to charge VAT item by item.
Mr. Colley: I repeat that there is nothing in this Bill to compel any retailer to do that.  A number of Deputies queried the position in regard to agriculture and the flat rate credit which is being provided for. I should like to explain that farmers and fishermen, other than farmers and fishermen who are engaged in certain specialised activities which amount to industrial activity—the general run of farmers and fishermen —need not register for VAT unless they elect to be fully accountable. They have a choice. But those who do not elect to be fully accountable will not have to pay tax on their sales or to make returns to the Revenue Commissioners. They will, of course, suffer tax on their purchases of inputs such as seeds and fertilisers which at present are not taxable but which, under the value-added system, will come within the tax net. The tax on such inputs has been estimated and expressed as a fraction of a farmer's sale. The farmer can add this fraction to the price of his own produce and in so doing the average farmer will be fully compensated for the tax which he has borne on his inputs. This addition will be facilitated by allowing to registered purchasers of farm produce a credit or refund based on these fractions. The addition to farm gate prices—3.85 per cent in the case of pigs and 2.68 per cent in the case of other farm produce—will thus not increase costs in the food industry because the price addition which the farmer makes will be deductible from the tax liability of the butcher or meat factory, as the case may be. The rate of tax on food sold in the shops will remain exactly the same as it is at present, that is 5.26 per cent, and the same amount of tax as is at present collected from the butcher or greengrocer will continue to be collected but from a somewhat different source. That is the real difference in this system. The amount of tax will be the same.
The sale of livestock by a mart will not involve the mart in any liability to tax and after the introduction of value-added tax trading can take place in precisely the same way as it does at present. Farmers and marts will sell as before but the price of livestock will be higher by the amount of the flat rate credit which registered purchasers—butchers, meat factories and  exporters—can claim from the Revenue Commissioners. The farmer or the mart need not inquire if the purchaser is registered. It is up to the purchaser, if he wishes to claim a credit, to ensure that the buyer's sheet or invoice, which is in use at present in marts, is signed by the mart and is retained as evidence for entitlement to credit.
The special simplified arrangements —simplified in practice though I agree that when one reads about them and does not understand them the arrangements for agriculture may not appear to be simplified, but they are in fact simplified as compared with the operation of the tax otherwise—were designed to ensure that farmers would be affected as little as possible by the tax. I considered various ways of dealing with this problem and I am convinced that the flat rate credit is the best and the simplest. I have carefully considered the NFA and the IAOS proposals for zero rating of agricultural inputs but I am afraid that these proposals would be impracticable: they would be complex and they would also be costly. Flat rate credit is the method which is most commonly adopted on the Continent and it seems to be working out quite well. The special flat rate credit for pig sales should be adequate, I think, and meets the point made by the NFA that inputs vary from one enterprise to another. The credit allowed in the case of pigs recognises the exceptionally high input rates which are common in pig production.
A point was raised by some Deputies in regard to the effect of the tax on buildings. Deputy Donegan alleged that the tax which is at present paid on buildings is going to be increased. Some other Deputy made the same claim. The present sales tax on certain materials amounts to about 3 per cent on average of the cost of a building. I think that figure was disputed so I should like to place on record the manner in which it is arrived at.
Under the present system certain building materials such as timber, glass, paint, sanitary fittings, heating materials and all decorating materials are liable to turnover and wholesale taxes. On the basis of a breakdown of  the prices of sample housing units as shown in figures supplied by the Department of Local Government it was calculated that these materials represented 20 per cent of the selling price of a house including the site. The incidence of the sales taxes combined on these items works out at about 15 per cent on tax exclusive of prices. Tax at the rate of 15 per cent on these materials is equivalent to 3 per cent of the full selling price. Working on the basis of 3 per cent of the average cost of a building, value-added tax will effectively be at the same rate as at present because 5.26 per cent—to be charged on only 60 per cent of the price of the building—works out at approximately 3 per cent, so it is designed to produce the same result as we have at present.
I mentioned, when introducing this Stage, and I want to mention again, that value-added tax will mean less tax on industrial and commercial buildings because registered firms will be able to claim credit for the prior stage tax which they have paid out. They are not able to do this under the present system. Secondhand buildings are not liable to value-added tax, unless the seller was entitled to a credit when he purchased the building. Rent will also be exempt but landlords may opt to register if they wish, which they might consider doing where the bulk of their tenants were themselves traders. Deputy Tully made a case about the complexity of the forms—quite an effective case if one did not know all the facts.
Mr. Colley: True, but they will learn very quickly what is involved. I admit the forms to be filled up for value-added tax are more complex than those at present in use for turnover and wholesale tax but I do not think they will be nearly as difficult for the ordinary trader as Deputy Tully seemed to suggest. The draft forms, which he was quoting from,  are attached to the explanatory memorandum and they are for the information of traders. They are designed to cover various combinations of circumstances, but the traders will not be using all portions of the form.
Mr. Colley: The point I am making is that the ordinary trader will only have to use a few of these and he will learn very quickly which part of the forms concerns him and which he can ignore. When Deputy Tully was making his case I was thinking about something which most traders do fairly frequently and that is make a lodgment in the bank. In order to do that they have to fill in a lodgment docket. I do not know whether most lodgment dockets are of the same kind as the ones with which I am familiar, but I know——
Mr. Colley: No, there are many more and the one I want to mention is one that sticks in my mind. On the lodgment form which I use there is one heading which says: “London cheques marked T.” To the best of my knowledge I do not think I have ever seen a London cheque marked T——
Mr. Colley: But the fact that that heading is on it does not create any difficulty for people who do not have to lodge London cheques marked T. I would suggest the same thing arises in the case of these forms. I do not think the traders concerned are going to be in any difficulty when they are dealing only with the things that concern them which will not of course be all of the headings involved.
Mr. Colley: The Revenue Commissioners will issue a guide which will explain, as simply as possible, the requirements for the traders, and as I mentioned earlier ready reckoners will also be issued to assist in the calculation of the tax. Small traders will not be required to register or to account for the tax and the limits for registration will generally be the same as those which apply to the turnover tax at present.
Deputy Dr. O'Connell made a point, and I think somebody else made the same point, which is based on a misreading either of the Bill or the White Paper. He seemed to be under the impression that we were treating pet foods and pet medicines favourably as against human foods and medicines. The fact is that pet foods and medicines are to be taxed at the rate of 16.37 per cent whereas, at present, they qualify for exemption for wholesale tax, and human foods and medicines, as well as feed and medicines required for agriculture, will qualify for the lower rate of 5.26 per cent.
A number of Deputies raised the question of the tax on newspapers and advertising. The concession in this regard, which I announced recently, reducing the rate of value-added tax to the 5.26 per cent rate will in effect remove the wholesale tax from newspaper sales. This will constitute a significant relief for both national and provincial papers. The cost to the Exchequer of this reduction in rate on newspapers and periodicals is well over £1 million. As an example of applying it in an individual case on newspaper sales of 1,000 copies per week retailing at 5p each the saving in tax will be about £200 a year.
 Although it is true that the value-added tax must, of its nature, apply to advertising, newspapers will be able to pass on the tax on advertising to registered advertisers, for example, manufacturers and most shopkeepers. These advertisers will be able to deduct, against their own tax liability, the amount so passed on. In these cases the tax on advertising will only be a transitory item; it will not be a charge on the profits of newspapers. It is only where the advertiser is not registered for the tax, and this would include a Government Department, a local authority, an auctioneer and of course a private individual, that we would have a departure from the present incidence of tax. It is very difficult to visualise that the volume of advertising by such unregistered persons would be of such an order that the tax on it would result in negativing the substantial saving resulting from the concession I have mentioned.
Perhaps I should also point out that the effect of an exemption for advertising would be that the tax on materials and equipment used by the newspapers for advertising could not be invoiced forward to a registered person and as it would not, therefore, rank for deduction against tax payable by such persons it would create a degree of double taxation on the products being advertised. If there were no value-added tax on newspapers there would be a practical difficulty in regard to the accounting by shopkeepers.
I want to make it clear that the importance of newspapers, particularly provincial newspapers, from both a social and an economic point of view is well recognised by me. Indeed, the employment involved in newspapers is a very important matter. The recognition by me of this importance is not anything new. As Minister for Industry and Commerce I removed price control from newspaper sales and subsequently removed price control from advertising in newspapers. The reasons I have outlined, of which I am very conscious, were the reasons which prompted me to recommend to the Government that the incidence of the tax on newspapers under the existing turnover and wholesale taxes should be substantially reduced  on this changeover to value-added tax.
Deputy Belton spoke about the number of rates of tax. If we leave aside the special rate for dances, which reflects the existing position where there is a special turnover tax rate of 10 per cent, there are three rates of VAT proposed. It is expected that in practice most traders will not have to deal with more than two rates—the 5.26 per cent rate and the 16.37 per cent rate. The third and highest rate of 30.26 per cent, which is applicable to such items as motorcars, radios, television sets and yachts will not apply as such at the retail level. The only people concerned in this third rate will be the manufacturers and importers of these items, and at these stages, 25 per cent will be built into the price. At all stages other than the manufacturing or importing stage only the rate of 5.26 per cent will apply.
Deputy Belton also asked a question about trade-in arrangements. I want to make it clear that the Bill provides for the continuation generally of the present practice in relation to trade-in sales. Briefly, it is proposed that tax will be payable only on the actual money consideration and not on the value of the article being traded in. The full price of the new article will not be chargeable. When the traded-in item is re-sold by the trader it will be taxable at 5.26 per cent, which is the rate appropriate to second-hand goods.
Deputy Belton had a query regarding tax on purchases by traders. He seemed to be under the impression that it would mean that tax would have to be paid in advance. All tax borne on a trader's purchases of stock will qualify for deduction under the credit system and, therefore, the new system does not mean that the tax will be paid in advance. If an article is broken or becomes obsolete, the trader will pay tax only on the amount, if any, which it realises when sold.
A number of Deputies referred to the level of tax on essential goods and one Deputy said our rate of tax is the highest in Europe. I want to put it on record that there is no foundation  for that statement. Regarding the rate of tax on food, we are lower than Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark and Norway. With regard to clothing, we have the lowest rate of tax in Europe, including the British purchase tax.
Deputy Gallagher and at least one other Deputy—perhaps it was Deputy Collins—raised the question of the intervals between payments of VAT due to the Revenue Commissioners. Deputy Gallagher made the point that builders' providers generally give four and a half to five months credit. I think the question arising here of the frequency at which payments should be made to the Revenue Commissioners is one that could be more appropriately dealt with on Committee Stage but, in the meantime, I should like to leave this thought with the House. A point of view has been expressed that if the effect of the proposals in this Bill were to be that the giving of credit in business generally were to be regulated and shortened, it could be very much to the benefit of business generally, provided that the effect operated all round. I am not putting that forward as an argument in favour of the Bill but I am suggesting Deputies might like to think about it before we go into the matter in greater detail on Committee Stage.
Mr. Colley: We will be dealing with this quite soon. Anyway, this Dáil will run a few years yet and the Deputy can relax. I do not think the Deputy was too worried, but there were a few people behind him who were not too happy at the thought that there might be an election. However, that is irrelevant. I think I have dealt with the major points that were raised. Perhaps there are some items of detail that were raised and which I have not dealt with, but perhaps it would be more appropriate to deal with them on Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House for a Second Reading.
Mr. O'Higgins: The Minister may be aware that I sought permission to move a late Second Reading amendment?  I wanted to move that the Second Reading be refused until such time as an adequate system of price surveillance and control was introduced to ensure that the new tax would not result in price increases. Would the Minister accept it as moved now?
Brady, Philip A.
Burke, Patrick J.
Connolly, Gerard C.
de Valera, Vivion.
Fitzpatrick, Tom (Dublin Central).
|Gogan, Richard P.
Healy, Augustine A.
Hillery, Patrick J.
Kitt, Michael F.
Lalor, Patrick J.
Loughnane, William A
Clinton, Mark A.
Conlan, John F.
Cooney, Patrick M.
Cosgrave, Liam. Hogan O'Higgins, Brigid.
Jones, Denis F.
Murphy, Michael P.
O'Connell, John F.
Dockrell, Henry P.
Dockrell, Maurice E.
Donegan, Patrick S.
Enright, Thomas W.
Esmonde, Sir Anthony C.
Fitzpatrick, Tom (Cavan).
Flanagan, Oliver J.
Harte, Patrick D.
Hogan, Patrick. O'Hara, Thomas.
O'Higgins, Thomas F.
O'Sullivan, John L.
Mr. Colley: I dealt with the reason for having it on that date already. It was 1st January and has been postponed till 1st March. If it has to be in by 1st March, the Bill must be enacted not later than about the first week in December, 1971. Various trade associations have strongly represented to us that there must be an interval of at least three months between the date of enactment and the commencement of the tax. This period is required to carry out such preparatory work as setting up and testing computer programmes, arranging for the printing of special documents such as account books, invoices, price tags and so on, and for training staff and working out new pricing arrangements.
Mr. Colley: Thank you, Deputy. It is true that some of this work may be, and can be, carried out in advance of the enactment of the legislation, but since neither the statutory regulations which will contain the detailed working provisions, nor the official guide to the tax which I mentioned in the course of the debate, can be published until the law is enacted, the bulk of the preparatory work must be fitted in the period between the date on which those documents become available and the commencement date of the tax. The regulations and official guides will be published and made available to traders within a matter of days of the legislation being enacted.
Mr. O'Higgins: This is a very important measure, involving a radically new approach to taxation. It is utterly unreasonable to expect—the main Opposition has a responsibility outside this House in relation to a whole lot of people who are going to be affected —the Committee Stage of this Bill could be taken next week.
Mr. Tully: In a jocose manner earlier, I mentioned to the Minister that he would not get it in for next year. Quite honestly, I think the Minister must appreciate the fact that if he is talking about introducing it on 1st March next, he surely is living in what a member of his party in this House used to say was cloud-cuckoo land. There is no hope in the world of getting  it through this House, as it is anyway, before the end of this session, nor is there any hope of trying to persuade unfortunate people, who at present have not got a clue as to what it is all about, how to work it and to set up their accounting system in such a way that they can work it with effect from 1st March next, and the Minister might as well face up to that. It would be more reasonable if he did leave quite a good time before amendments come in, and let us take it as it should be, because apparently this was done before with the turnover tax. It was rushed in and apparently it has now been discovered that it is not working so well, because the Minister was moaning about the number of people who were able to avoid it. This is more complicated and the Minister must face up to the fact that it is just not possible.
Dr. O'Donovan: The Revenue Commissioners may think they are God Almighty in this country, and they do, but there is no reason why this House should underwrite their “god almightiness”. This is the kind of behaviour that goes on. If the Government want to turn this country over to the civil servants they can do it but they will not do it without protest. The Minister pretends to be a reasonable man and, on occasion, talks like a reasonable man. This is not an ordinary Bill. This is a disgusting piece of legislation. We have a turnover tax and a wholesale tax and now, within a few years, in the interests of the Revenue Commissioners the Minister is going to turn turtle and make the people who operate it—and I take it that most of them operate it honestly—do extra work for which they will get no remuneration. They will have to collect additional tax.
Dr. O'Donovan: ——there should be a worthwhile period between the Second Reading of this Bill and the Committee Stage. This is a complicated measure. We got it only a few weeks ago. The Revenue Commissioners may have plenty to time because they do not have to earn their living otherwise. Deputies in this House who represent the people have to earn their living otherwise. It is disgusting that this type of thing should be done. There is no real reason for it. No one would be believed for one bloody minute that the pretence that we are going into the Common Market is the real reason. The whole thing is offensive to ordinary human decency. The Minister is too easily manipulated by the Civil Service. I have often spoken in this House about the way the Revenue Commissioners behave. They are the autocrats.
Mr. Colley: I appreciate that this is an important Bill but I would ask Deputies also to appreciate that the White Paper which was issued quite some months ago—I think in March of this year—outlined in very great detail the provisions of this Bill. There have been some changes since then which were announced publicly and to which I drew attention in introducing this Bill. The Bill itself has been circulated for about three weeks, I think. I suggested that Committee Stage should be ordered for this day week and the Whips could discuss it. In view of what Deputy O'Higgins said about taking Committee Stage a month from now I withdraw that suggestion and suggest that it be ordered for Tuesday week.
Dr. O'Donovan: There is supposed to be reason in everything but the manner in which financial legislation is put through this House is not reasonable. I have worked as hard as anybody else on it. We cannot give our whole time to this kind of thing. We have to attend to other matters. The Revenue Commissioners can give their whole time to it. They are trying to dictate to this House as to what we will do.
Mr. Colley: Tuesday fortnight is very much longer and this precludes the Whips from agreeing to anything other than after that date. When I suggest Tuesday week this means that it could go later than that, and it does not preclude the Whips from agreeing to something.
Mr. Colley: If we agree on Tuesday week it cannot be taken before that. The Whips can discuss it and try to reach agreement on the date on which it will be taken. I have no doubt that the Whips could reach agreement. We always can. If we adopt Deputy Tully's suggestion the Whips are precluded from reaching agreement on anything earlier than that.
Mr. Tully: There are only three sitting days between what the Minister is suggesting and what I am suggesting, but there is a week in which amendments can be prepared. I am quite sure that Fine Gael are in the same position as we are. There will be quite a number of amendments. I do not think it is reasonable that we should be asked to discuss it in that short time. It will mean amendments coming back on Report Stage and amendments in the Seanad. The Minister will not gain anything by it. If we agree to let the Whips discuss it the Minister can say to his Whip that Tuesday week is the date he wants. If he does not mean that why does he not agree to the other week?
Mr. Colley: Deputy O'Higgins suggested a month. I could argue the other way. What I am suggesting is that a reasonable time before which it cannot be taken is Tuesday week. Let the Whips discuss it and reach an agreement which our ordering it for Tuesday week will not preclude them from reaching.
Dr. O'Donovan: I do not know whether the Whips are under instructions from their parties on this matter. This is a most serious piece of legislation and, in my opinion, there is no real need for it because the turnover tax is the same as the value-added tax.
Mr. Colley: This legislation is not being rushed through. I gave the details before. There has been plenty of time. I am willing to give a reasonable amount of time after this but I must have regard to the requirements of the Revenue Commissioners and, in particular, of the traders who will have to implement this.
Mr. Colley: I have explained to the House that the representations they have made suggest that they will require  about three months after the date of the enactment of the legislation. I want to give them that opportunity and I want to be reasonable with the parties opposite.
Mr. Tully: So long as the Minister does not come in and say that, even though the Whips were not agreed on that date, we will have it on Wednesday week. That will cause trouble again and I can assure the Minister that there will be a vote on that.
Mr. Colley: I would hope that the Whips would reach agreement. The Deputy will appreciate that if the Whip of another party went in and simply said: “No, no, no”, that would not be trying to reach agreement. From past experience I have no doubt that the Whips will be able to reach agreement.
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