Control of Prices Bill, 1932—Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed "That the Bill be now read a second time."

In speaking to this measure yesterday I drew the attention of the House to the lack of evidence that existed as to the necessity of the introduction of this Bill. The Minister in dealing with the Bill explained its provisions very fully but adduced, as far as I could gather from his speech, no justification for the measure that he had introduced into the House. We all know that it is very popular especially for any man connected with the House or for anybody in politics to shout "profiteering." It is a cry that appeals to the unthinking throughout the country. But if commercial people and the people generally of this State are to be dealt with by a drastic Bill such as that which the Minister has just introduced, to my mind it is only fair and reasonable that the Minister should inform the House of his reasons for the introduction of the Bill. Nobody for a moment will deny that it is a very far-reaching measure and that it means an imposition of a heavy nature by the public authority on private enterprise.

The Minister stated in the course of his speech that numerous complaints of high prices had been received and these complaints have been sent to the Minister, but the Minister added naïvely "that the information is such that I would like to have it investigated." Even the Minister cannot accept these statements, or the accuracy or truth of the complaints that have been sent to his Department from the various consumers who have been affected. If it were our complaints and if these complaints are justified surely the proper steps to have taken would be to see if unduly high prices had been charged by the commercial community before the introduction of this Bill. What we are in fact engaged in doing at the present moment is introducing a Bill to deal with so-called profiteering, but no evidence has been given to this House that this profiteering exists.

Now as one who has some experience in business I would like to point out to the Minister and I am sure that the Minister himself knows that there is a certain percentage of the purchasing public in this country most unreasonable in their demands. There is a certain percentage of the public judging their value on the principle of what I may term "Woolworth's Stores." No allowance for quality, no allowance for durability, no allowance for anything but price, and I can speak with actual experience and say that I have known members of the ordinary public being offered goods at pre-war prices and stating that the prices charged were excessively high and that the prices asked were too dear. Now it is upon evidence of this kind that we have had this measure introduced into the House. I know it will be, as is always the case, that the Labour Party always submits to anything that hits the commercial man. Although the Labour Party stands for the imposition of these things upon the commercial community of the country I do not think they are so free from blame that they could take up this attitude that this Bill is justified and that no complaints can be levied against the Labour section of the ordinary public. Now the Minister referred to these numerous complaints. I am credibly informed when the Commission was set up to examine and inquire into these things that a single consumer appeared before the commission to tender evidence of profiteering. I believe I am credibly informed in making that statement that not a single consumer came before the commission to tender evidence of profiteering and in Page 128 of the Report dealing with the causes of high prices it states "no doubt consumers are justified that the prices levied on groceries and provisions and the existence of high prices may be explained by other causes than the excessive profit taking of which we found little evidence, and it is upon a case like this that we have brought in a Bill to fix prices for the selling of commodities throughout the Irish Free State." What I want to ask the Minister is this, is the commercial community not entitled to the same fair and equitable treatment as any other portion of the community? Are they not entitled to receive equal justice with the Labour section of the community and is it because they are not strong enough from the voting point of view that they are to be dealt with in an entirely different manner from other sections of the general public?

If this Bill was necessary we want to hear from the Minister before this debate concludes some proof as to the necessity for the introduction of this Bill. Up to the moment he has given us no proof whatever and as I pointed out before the thing that makes me feel uneasy is this that this is only a preliminary canter to what is going to follow. We are aware that a Commission has been set up to deal with the licensing of shops and as I stated in my speech on yesterday judging by the personnel of that Commission it is an almost foregone conclusion that the licensing of shops will be held to be necessary by the findings of that Commission. If shops are to be licensed, if the prices for commodities sold are to be fixed by a controller for whom it would be quite impossible to be familiar with every phase of the commodities for which he has got fixed prices, what do you think the ultimate price of the commercial community will be.

It has been stated that the farmers of the community are unduly hit by the present existing economic conditions and I for one thoroughly agree with that statement but I want to point out the other side of the case and that is that the commercial community—the business community—are hit just as badly as the agricultural section of the community. I want to point out to this House that for every pound paid in rates and taxes the commercial community have got to find £2 in comparison with the ordinary man in the street. The exorbitant rents which we traders have to pay has been a complaint of many years standing. In addition to that we have the Dublin Poor Relief Act which presumably operates throughout the rest of the Free State in another guise and when they find money for poor relief and feeding the destitute they are certainly providing a very considerable sum of money that goes into the coffers of the State. On top of this the controller is to come in and fix prices upon commodities about which I have already stated he knows nothing whatever and there is no justification given by the Minister for introducing this Bill except to say that he has received certain complaints with regard to high prices throughout the country. Here in the very Report dealing with the Bill. I have pointed out that the Commission has found that it is not justified in finding that high prices of profiteering has been established as a result of their inquiry. Why the Bill? There is only portion of this Bill which is perhaps justifiable. That is the portion of the Bill dealing with the fixation of prices for protected commodities.

What I want to ask this House is this: Is it fair first to introduce this Bill and to make in addition a threat of charging £200,000 or £250,000 by way of licence duties to the ordinary 40,000 retailers in the Irish Free State who are in just as precarious a position under existing economic conditions as are the agricultural community. In fact I notice in one portion of the Report that it refers to the licensing of shops as a speedy means of putting out of business a certain number of inefficient businessmen. No definition has been given of the word inefficiency in the course of that Report. It would be very interesting to know from the Minister what in his opinion he considers an inefficient business man. I say throughout the country those engaged in the commercial community are unable to produce agricultural products at an economic price. I do not for a moment attempt to charge the agricultural community with inefficiency. I want to point out that the agricultural community have many advantages over the ordinary business man. The land in the first instance has been bought out at a huge sum of money for the agricultural community. There is a very large proportion of its rates and taxes paid through derating. There is in addition to that the Agricultural Credit Corporation which advances capital for various purposes and is there a single one of these advantages arising under the present economic system to any man engaged in business or commerce? Business men have been able to pay their 20/-in the £. They have been able to educate their families not at the expense of the State but at their own expense. They have been able to make just a fair livelihood, and the mere fact, as I referred to yesterday, that only something like 10,000 people are able to pay income tax out of 40,000 people is clear and positive proof that profiteering does not exist for where there is profiteering there is undoubtedly profit. If there were profits you could leave it to the Finance Department to find that those profits exist and to see that a fair share of them came into the coffers of the State. I do not wish to antagonise any section of the House in my criticism of this Bill. I do not wish to antagonise the Labour Party any more than any other section of the House. All I ask is a fair and equitable deal for the business community in any legislation that is passed. I assert without fear of contradiction that the Bill we are now passing through the House is a Bill not justified, a Bill that will not be productive of good results, a Bill that will be very harmful to the retailers of this country, who as I have already said, are just as entitled to fair play as any other section of the community. Now we all know that the circulation of money in this country was never worse.

We are faced here by this Bill fixing prices and we are facing this other thing, the licensing of shops, which will come from this Commission. Where are business men going to find the extra £200,000 or £250,000? I would like the Labour Party to answer that question. At the present time the business community are only finding working expenses, rates and taxes and general upkeep, with the greatest possible difficulty, and if you put any further burden on them you are going to put a great proportion of them out of business. Of course this report frankly confesses that the licensing of shops has that object and that object only for its purpose, but what I want to ask the Minister is this, if you put 10,000 business men out of business what is going to become of them? Where are they going to get a livelihood? Where are they going to provide for their children? They have no insurance stamps, they have no stamped cards to go to the Labour Exchange, and they are going to be absorbed. How? Anybody looking for a job at the present time knows, especially any man who has been in business for himself, that the chances of employment for a business man who is bankrupt and put out of his business are non-existent. Is the House going to pass this measure in the face of a state of affairs like that? I want to draw the attention of the House to other very important factors that go to the charging of high prices and to which no reference at all has been made. One of the commodities that is going to be valued by way of a fixation of prices is bread. Now did the Minister read the report dealing with the labour element in the production of bread? Will the Minister explain if he thinks it is fair to fix prices for the commercial end of the business and to leave the labour end go free? Will the Minister explain to this House how it is in the city of Dublin that the weekly product of the Irish bakers on an average is twelve sacks of flour per week, that in Belfast it is twenty-four, that in Liverpool it is twenty-seven, that in Manchester it is thirty-eight, and that the hours of labour are 48 in Great Britain and 46 in the Irish Free State? Now if bread is manufactured at the rate of 38 sacks in Great Britain, and there are 12 sacks manufactured in the Irish Free State does the Minister honestly not think that that end of the question is entitled to his most careful consideration in the framing of legislation in this Bill? We all know that to-day in many instances labour is getting something like 300 per cent. over pre-war by way of wages and any man engaged in business knows that the maximum average charge is 100 per cent. over pre-war, and that in a great many instances trade is so bad that a large percentage of commodities is actually sold at pre-war prices. This is the section of the community that has been called profiteers. Let us have fair play and fair treatment of the question.

I ask the Minister to refute any statement I have made in the course of this debate. I do not wish to exaggerate the position in any way. I deny that profiteering exists. I rely upon this report that has dealt with the whole question, which establishes that fact in portion of the report, and I also want to remind the Minister that similar legislation has been introduced in other countries, and that after it was in operation for a very short period of time they were exceedingly glad to get rid of it and wipe it off the Statute Book. I think this House ought to profit by the experience of other countries. I suggest that no useful purpose is going to be served by passing this measure through the House, and I say you are going to inflict very severe hardship upon a very deserving section of the community.

While appreciating the fact that dealing with a subject of this kind presents very considerable difficulties my complaint about this Bill is that it does not go far enough. I regret that on reading the Bill and hearing it explained I see in it a very obvious hesitancy to take any strong measures, and I complain, I think with some reason, that there are altogether too many avenues of escape for the person who has been proved to be guilty of an offence under the provisions of the Bill. Take the provision by which the controller gives twenty-one days' notice to somebody whom he proves to have been charging excessive prices, to mend his ways. It is clear that in the case of some commodities the whole supply that would be the subject of excessive charges would have been exhausted in that time, and that at the end of that time there does not appear to be any remedy except to begin all over again. That period should be shortened, and there is in my opinion no case for making that period any longer than, say, seven days. I cannot see any justification whatever for a provision in the Bill by which the employer—the owner of the concern—has a good defence in law as regards profiteering, if he can show that the offence has been committed by an assistant. In the licensing business the owner of the licensed business is responsible for a breach of the law, even if it has occurred without his knowledge and that breach is due to negligence on the part of his assistant. I regret that much of the good which would accrue as a result of a measure of this kind cannot be obtained if certain amendments are not inserted in the Bill before it leaves this House.

The whole burden of Deputy Byrne's speech is that there has been no profiteering. If that is so the Bill is not going to do any harm. It would be altogether an inoffensive piece of legislation, and I cannot see any substance in his complaint in that direction. While he has made that case he has not taken up any specific instance or given us any details to substantiate this statement. I propose to do something in that direction. I am a member of a board of assistance and recently we were considering a contract for the supply of prime beef, beef that should pass the doctor's inspection, for a small hospital in West Cork. The number of patients normally in that hospital would be from a dozen to twenty, and we accepted a tender for prime beef at 3d. per lb., to supply twelve or fifteen patients in the local hospital. I want it to be clear that the tender was not for supplies to the County Home where there would be 300 or 400 persons. It was for the supply of beef for twelve or fifteen persons. Meat was being sold in that town over the counter at something like three times that price and in connection with beef, mutton and bacon, one having any shred of common sense has only to relate the retail price that the producer of such commodities obtains in the open market to what is being charged over the counters to find ample and complete evidence of profiteering.

One does agree that a reasonable profit is necessary. Business could not be carried on otherwise and there is, of course, always the honourable exception. A number of honest people who only require a fair profit are in business and one must also take into consideration the fact that people in business have to meet such things as bad debts, establishment charges, costs of staffs and things like that, but, in the case of meat, the people in the business employ scarcely any staff. One or two individuals carry on the business and there can be no case made for the altogether too big discrepancy between the retail charges for such commodities and the price which is paid for a beast when purchased at the markets or fairs. I do not propose to give any further instances but, in regard to the items I have mentioned, if there were no other case, action of this kind would be justified and I hope that the Minister, when giving us this Bill finally, will remedy the defects and put an instrument into the hands of the public that will arm them against what is going on in this connection all over the country.

I rise to support the Bill because I think it is a necessary part of the policy of a Government in a State where, due, perhaps, to excessive tariffs in various directions, there is an imminent danger of a rise in price corresponding to the amount of the tariff. I think that there is an absolute necessity for the Government to guard against what every consumer claims is a very heavy charge by the middleman for the commodities which he distributes. That may be due to the fact that there is a very large number of middlemen—far more than is necessary. There are far more distributors, in proportion to the population, than there are producers. There are too many distributors and too few producers, and, due probably to the overhead charges which these numerous distributors have to bear, they probably make it up by putting it on to their profits. It is possible that such things as bad debts, mentioned by the last speaker, may have a good deal to do with it, but I feel that this Bill is a necessary part of the policy which the Government would have to undertake if they are to keep down the very serious danger to the community of increasing the cost of living.

The agricultural community have been mentioned by Deputy J.J. Byrne, and I have no hesitation in saying that, at the present moment, they are not able to pay the various sums mentioned by him—land annuities or rates. There is a very big falling off in the payment of both, and I cannot attribute that to any other cause than the fact that they have to pay a very large sum in outgoings for their requirements. It is utterly impossible for the agricultural community to carry on their work of production, if the costs of their requirements are to be as they are, at the present stage, without any control. Reference has been made by Deputy Byrne to the fact that there has been no evidence given by the consumer. I am not surprised at that because the consumer is absolutely unorganised. There is no movement short of the co-operative bring before the Government the grievances which many of them have to bear and evidence is not wanting when we know that profits are often 100 per cent. In the case of potatoes, in the case of butter, in the case of meat—undoubtedly, meat is an instance of a commodity in which huge profiteering is going on——

Would the Deputy say that there is 100 per cent profit on butter?

Not altogether.

I thought not. Is there 10 per cent?

Yes, and a considerable amount more. In the city of Cork there is an organisation now which has brought down the price of meat by over 4d. a lb. and they are paying the farmer a generous price for his animals. It has been my experience, as a member of more than one hospital committee and board of public assistance, that contract prices show a very marked difference from ordinary retail prices, and that when a contractor is also a retailer, he will contract for the various boards of assistance, hospitals and other public bodies, and even hotels, and will give a very considerable reduction.

I feel that it is certainly a wise act on the part of the State to step in and protect the general body of the community who have neither the organisation nor other means of protecting themselves from undoubted gross overcharging. Wherever an effort has been made to bring consumers together or to bring any particular section of the community together, there has been an immediate and marked reduction of the price which they have had to pay for their bulked orders when those orders are bought in bulk. There is one undoubted fact which, I think, cannot be denied on any side of the House, and that is, the innumerable persons who are engaged in distribution—and there is a marked tendency to increase the number. There is a tendency not to engage in manual labour and it is looked upon as a very desirable thing to open a shop whether or not a person has the skill to carry on that work. The desire is there and I think it would be a very good thing for the State to step in and endeavour to control prices where the consumers' interests are at stake.

Then there is the case of the poor. We had a demonstration yesterday which shows that unemployment is increasing and that poverty is increasing and I am getting evidence of it from my own constituency. I have every sympathy with those men. It is the poor who have to give the highest prices and it is the poor who get probably least value. They probably get an inferior article at a very much higher price. Where they pay ready money they are an undoubted advantage to the country. I feel that in protecting their interests the State is doing something of undoubted value which will avert what would be a national disaster, because, where the cost of living is increasing as it is, the people to suffer will be the poor, and I welcome the Bill as a means of curtailing that.

Reference has been made to bread. In whatever direction the fault lies— whether it is the fault of the distributor or the worker—I believe it is a matter in respect of which it is the bounden duty of the State to investigate, and, if possible, to control prices. It is the staff of life and under no circumstances can the State turn a deaf ear to the appeal of the worker or disregard the growing tendency to increase the price of that article.

I mentioned four articles, butter, potatoes, meat and bread. The cost of clothing is another article that will have to be vigorously controlled. If manufacturers are to get a fair price for the cloth it is the duty of the State to see that that price is not exceeded, whether in the manufacture of the cloth, or on the finished articles, as well as on boots. The general public, which is not able to protect itself, unless by the formation of co-operative societies, should be protected by the State. If the objects of the Bill are so good, and if the effects likely to accrue so desirable, I have no hesitation in supporting it. Even Deputy Byrne, who is usually a vigorous speaker, made, I think, more or less of an apologia for the distributor. I think the Deputy was not able to make a very strong case there, as behind his mind lay the fact that there was the necessity of protecting those on the other side. Whatever my previous criticism of the Government may have been, I have no hesitation whatever about supporting this Bill.

I oppose this Bill because I believe the main, if not the sole, object of it is to humbug people who are feeling the pinch at the present time. and to humbug people like Deputy Brasier, who want to be humbugged. It is impossible for a Bill of this sort to have any real effect in bringing about a reduction of prices, or in preventing what is called profiteering. If the Bill had any purpose that might be successful, and if it is the intention of the Government— as much of their policy would seem to indicate—to increase in every direction the power of the State; to bring everything under State control, well, this Bill will give them a large new field of activity. It will give them power over business and individuals, and power to exercise coercion through new channels; and power perhaps to conscript political support. If that is the object of the Bill then I am sure it will serve its purpose.

If the purpose of the Government, as the speeches of some Ministers would indicate, is to go on to the collective State then they will get an excuse out of this Bill, because it will absolutely fail to bring any benefit whatever to the consumers. It is possible for the Government to use that as an argument for starting the State factories that some Deputies talked about, and starting the State shops which ought to follow from the State factories. If they do that, as happened in Australia and other places, they will be able for a time to benefit consumers by charging them again in their capacity as taxpayers. I do not know whether that is one of the objects behind the Bill, but if not then I say it has been introduced in a spirit of complete cynicism, exactly in the same spirit as the election pledges that were given concerning the reduction of £2,000,000 in taxation and other things. It is done simply to deceive a foolish and gullible people who were looking for relief, who need relief, and who are willing to swallow any sort of promise given them.

There are circumstances in which a Bill of this type might do something. If in some period of very special emergency there was some sudden shortage of supplies, or something of that nature certain benefits could be got by controlling prices. During the European War we had control of prices but the object then was not to reduce prices. Nothing was further from the desire of the British Government at the time than to reduce prices. The sole policy was to raise prices to a position where wages would go up continually and get the stimulus to inflation. The purpose of controlling prices was simply to regulate the increase in prices. If there was a system of rationing a Bill such as this would probably be a necessary complement, but we are not in a position where rationing is required, or where we need take the very special measures that would be necessary to get a fair distribution of goods. I think in any normal circumstances nothing can be done for the consumer by this sort of machinery. That is pretty generally the view of those who have had any experience of this sort of control, and of those who have studied the matter.

The Bill is divided roughly into two main divisions. One division deals with the wholesale and the retail trade and the other with manufacturers. In his Second Reading speech I think the Minister scarcely attempted to justify the part of the Bill that deals with the distributors, whether wholesale or retail. He rested his defence of the Bill practically on the part that deals with manufacturers. If there was anything at all to be said for the Bill— and I think there is practically nothing to be said for it—it would be in respect to the part that deals with manufacturers. The idea that profiteering can be dealt with, or needs to be dealt with by State intervention, is really a fatuous idea, as—except, for instance, in respect to medicants or alcoholic liquor—anybody can start a shop. No licence or permission is required, and if there are high profits to be made in any sort of shop over any prolonged period, then there are plenty of people who will come in in an attempt to get a share of the spoils. There can be no real control of prices except on the basis of competition that profits will bring. People are not at all confined to the enterprise of private individuals. Combinations of people can distribute goods if big profits are being made out of such distribution. Some Deputies referred to the fact that recently there have been certain combinations of people engaged in distribution and that the cost, which was simply phenomenal, fell on the primary product and was not followed immediately by a reduction in the prices charged by retailers. There is always a lag in these things, and that lag gives an opportunity to new groups of people to come into trade and to bring about an adjustment in retail prices.

Everybody in town or country has a choice of shops. A person in a town can go from one to another shop. A person in the country may not travel from one shop to another, but he will have what we have noticed, the travelling shops coming to his door. You are not going to have combination amongst all the people engaged in travelling around the country with goods to get prices which give abnormally high returns. You may have a lag sometimes when the price of the primary product falls. You will always have that before retail prices fall to a corresponding degree. You have these things automatically regulated, and you cannot get them better regulated by any sort of Governmental action. If profits are high or if there are undue profits, there will always be someone to come in to share in the gold mine. These big profits cannot continue except for a week or two, or for a month or two. If prices are not due to undue profits but due to bad organisation or distribution you will find that that cannot be dealt with by this Bill. In practice, it will not be possible for the Government to deal with that position by this Bill.

If in some districts there are a dozen shops where there is only trade for one shop, and if that is what is keeping the prices up, it will be found in practice that you cannot use the powers in this Bill to drive eleven of those shopkeepers out of trade. If you were to do that you would have difficulties which the Government could not face—the difficulties of bankruptcies, the difficulties of unemployment, the difficulties of drastic wage reductions. If it were the intention to reorganise distribution by forcing prices down regardless of whether or not distributors were making profits, I say that after a very short trial the powers would fall—would necessarily fall—into disuse. Not only will it not be found possible by means of any powers in this Bill to bring prices down below the levels to which they will be brought by competition, but I believe that actually the putting into operation of a Bill such as this will tend to have, in some very minor degree I admit, the very sort of effects that price control had during the War. I believe that it will raise the average level of prices. Shopkeepers will have to fight the representatives of the Controller or the representatives of the Commission, they will have to meet together and make their case and put up their representations, and that organisation, for the purpose of making representations with the object of protesting against regulations or orders that are issued and for getting modifications of them, will very easily lead to the formation of far closer rings than exist at present. One of the things that this will do is that where you have free competition, where you have no organisation amongst traders, you will force them to form unions or societies and to stand together and to a certain extent get regulation by them that did not exist before. Every time and at every point, while the Bill is being put into operation, it will be impossible to consider only the case of the thoroughly efficient distributor. No matter what the intentions may be, you will have to consider—the human factors will lead to a consideration of—the less efficient distributor and prices will always have to be fixed at the average price at which the retailer can manage to sell his goods, and there will be a tendency for all shopkeepers to put their prices up to the fixed price.

The scheme, so far as these countries were concerned, was invented and put into operation for the purpose of regulating the calculated increase in prices. I do not believe that it can be used to reduce prices. Whatever the intentions of the Government may be, if the powers are used they will produce combinations and lead to an increase in the average prices rather than to a reduction of the average. The Bill will cost something —it depends on the amount of activity that it is intended shall take place under it.

There will be certain political down and outs who will get employment out of it.

A Deputy

You should know all about that.

There are going to be extra charges on the community. There are going to be increases in taxation. The very charges that may be put on the retailers as a result of contesting the decisions of these authorities and in preparing their cases for them—all these sort of extra charges that are going to be borne directly by the State and to be forced on the retailers will have to be borne by the consumer.

With regard to the part of the Bill dealing with manufacturers, I think that in all probability it will be quite as ineffective, so far as giving any benefit to the customer is concerned, as the other parts of the Bill. If you are dealing with combinations of manufacturers, it will not be easy at all to reduce the prices. It will be found that it will be provable that a particular manufacturer is making no undue profits. It will be provable that he is just able to earn interest on the capital invested and to keep his hands employed, and it will not be possible to say that if A and B are making an identical article that A is to sell it at one price and B at another. Those dealing with the one commodity will have to be allowed to sell it at the one price, and that will be the price that will allow the least efficient of these manufacturers to carry on. There will be all sorts of camouflage and it will not be possible to ascertain exactly all the cost or all the profits and it may be taken that in 99 cases out of 100 there will be no possibility in dealing with any group of manufacturers of reducing the prices charged. If you are dealing with a monopoly where there is one individual firm operating, there will be very considerable difficulties, although perhaps not as much as in the case of a group. There will be many ways and means available for the manufacturer to swell his charges and at the same time avoid penalization for these overcharges. If there is a case where a single manufacturer, who has been given a monopoly by a tariff, is making undue profits, it should not be dealt with in this way. It should be dealt with by an adjustment of the tariff. It should be dealt with by a consideration of the tariff in all its bearings and either by dividing the commodity into classes and varying the amount of the tariff in that way, or by a time limit, or by whatever method examination would show to be necessary.

If any regulation is necessary to deal with the prices of manufactured commodities, it is only a condemnation of the methods adopted by the Government in the imposition of tariffs. If the tariffs were imposed in the way in which they ought to be imposed, no such necessity would arise and I think that the way to deal with any profiteering that may arise in protected industries is to adjust the tariffs. If you have very considerable interference with manufacturers in this Bill in the protected industries, you will not get the increases in production that are required. The country is going to have to bear the burdens which the tariff will impose and will not get the benefits in the way of increased employment that might come from the tariffs. I believe that the Bill is entirely worthless. It is introduced, I am satisfied, with no real conviction as to its necessity and with no real belief in its efficacy. It is generally the case that a lot of people who have not considered the matter and felt the pinch talked about profiteering and believed that profiteering was something that could easily be cured by Governmental action whereas profiteering can only be cured by commercial action. If there is prolonged and serious profiteering it is certain to be cured by commercial action. A lot of people of various kinds and in various places in the country became possessed of the idea that it was very easy to distribute and to make big profits out of distribution. We had co-operative stores established and people who established them, in many cases, were not long in finding out that distribution was not the easy and highly profitable thing they thought it was. If there were these enormous profits in distribution or in profiteering to talk about this would be the best action to be taken to check it and if necessary to kill it by any suitable way in which it could be killed. If the Government set out to do it they are only going to create a much greater evil, and in the long run, and, perhaps immediately, to leave the consumer much worse off than he was before.

I was rather amazed at Deputy Blythe attempting to defend the successful gombeen men in the country. This Bill has been called for, not politically, but by the supporters of every Party in this House. There is no doubt about it that scandalous profiteering has been going on. Farmers' produce has been sold at three times what it was purchased for not alone here in Dublin, but throughout the country. The unfortunate people are not getting fair play in any sense in this respect. Deputy Blythe has attempted to draw red herrings across the trail. He said, first of all, this Bill increases the power of the State. Anybody who sat in this House, for the last few years, and remembers the Bills introduced, and passed by Deputy Blythe and the Executive Council of which he was a member, would come to the conclusion that a further increase in the power of the State could only be done by establishing a dictatorship and Deputy Blythe and his Government were near doing that. Then he told us that this Bill was intended to find jobs for political hangers-on and "down-and-outs." I have seen some of Deputy Blythe's "down-and-outs" for whom jobs were created working in my county. Talk of that kind comes well from Deputy Blythe. Anybody in this Dáil who remembers the last Pensions Act passed two months before the general election must surely smile when he hears Deputy Blythe's allusion to jobs for "down-and-outs." If all the people who got pensions in Monaghan from June 1927 to September, 1927, were brought together I would be surprised if the number was not enough to sweep, not alone the British Army, but the whole of us into the sea.

But to get back to this Bill. The last Government in February, 1926, appointed a tribunal to consider prices. That tribunal was set up at great cost to the State. They held 54 public sittings, 24 private sittings, and they examined 379 witnesses. All these witnesses from different parts of the country came to Dublin to give evidence and had their expenses paid for out of the public purse. We find that the first statement the Commission made was that a permanent tribunal should be set up to control prices. They said further "We have satisfied ourselves that in certain areas consumers have to pay high prices for particular articles of food, bread, meat and milk and that an excessive margin of profit is secured." That tribunal reported in 1927 and from 1927 to 1932, the unfortunate consumers were left without redress and the profiteers were left to gather an increased margin of profit. This Tribunal was set up at great cost to the State. Surely to goodness it was not set up without some definite information being in the hands of the Executive Council that profiteering was going on. Public money was expended in preparing this report but no action was taken by the Executive Council. The unfortunate people continued to be fleeced from 1927 to 1932 and no action whatever was taken.

Of course I realise that the gombeen man pays up fairly well to the election fund; and he can afford it. If he makes a profit of £300 or £400 extra for five years because of the failure of the Executive Council to act on the report of the Tribunal set up by themselves then he can afford to contribute fairly decently towards the election fund when the time comes, and no doubt he does so. Take the price of bread! Is there any Deputy who will say that the price of bread, in the last six or seven years, has any relation whatever to the price of flour.

What about the price of milk?

Deputy O'Leary is a competent judge of the price of milk himself.

I think Deputy Corry has more experience and I should be glad if he would give us his experience in the last two years.

Deputies had better address the Chair and exchange compliments through the Chair.

Deputy O'Leary is anxious to get particulars about milk. Last summer the farmers in Cork received 7½d. a gallon for milk which was afterwards sold at 1/4 a gallon.

Did not the Deputy try to distribute milk in Cobh? I am now asking him, for the information of the House, to give us particulars as to what price he sold to the distributors in Dublin and Cork.

Deputy Corry is in possession on the control of Prices Bill.

I shall be delighted to give Deputy O'Leary all the information I have in my power.

Not on this occasion. This is a Control of Prices Bill.

Yes, but this relates to the control of prices. I am most anxious to give all the information in my power. The price of milk in a particular town in my constituency was under the control of a milk ring for a considerable period. The price quoted there for that period was 2/- per gallon. The people succeeded in having it reduced to 1/4 per gallon and it could be sold at 1/4 at a very good profit to the producer. I do not know the price of milk here in Dublin but I am sure there are Deputies here who could give us first hand information on that point. I am sure that on the benches opposite, Deputy Mrs. Collins-O'Driscoll could give the price paid by the consumer and Deputy O'Leary the price paid to the producer and they would come very close to the mark.

Would the Deputy tell the House——

I will give the Deputy a turn after me. I am sure that what he says would be the strongest case made for this Bill.

Would the Deputy tell the House why he ran away from the distribution of milk in Cobh?

Because like Deputy O'Leary, I was not able to look after it myself. I always speak the truth. You can take any other article produced in the same line. I can take an article about which we had a very considerable agitation at every election, and something that was definitely used during the last election against Fianna Fáil. I take the price of stout, which concerns everybody. I believe you are all anxious about it. All farmer Deputies in the House will remember that from 1918 to 1922 the price paid to the farmer for barley was something round about 52/- per barrel. The price of stout at that time was the very same as it is to-day. The duty on stout was also the same as it is to-day. Last year the price of barley was 14/6 per barrel, showing a difference of 37/6 as compared with 1922, which was not passed on to the consumer. There is one specific article. I have made it out in pints, myself, and I find that the brewer could afford to reduce the price of stout by 2½d per pint and have the same profit as in 1920. I am not making any statements here that have not been very well borne out by the Food Prices Tribunal. They state, for instance, that the net profit on Guinness's stout went as high as 33.8 per cent. When you compare that profit with the price the producer gets for his barley I think that a case can be made out not alone for this Bill but a case can also be made out for placing a lot of oily-faced gentlemen in jail. The only complaint I find with the Bill is that it does not go far enough. I know of shopkeepers who come in to start in towns, and they are considered most unsuccessful if, after two years in a little shop, they are not able to get a house by the seaside and a motor car to take them to town every day— successful hucksters. They would be considered most unsuccessful if they could not do that. I think Deputy Anthony could bear me out in some of these facts if he likes to do so.

Deputy Blythe said that there was no case for the Bill. A case was made for the Bill in 1927 before the Tribunal set up by the late Executive Council, but no steps were taken by the late Executive Council from 1927 to 1932 though that Tribunal was paid for out of the public purse. Then Deputy Blythe made another case. He said that the Bill would raise the level of prices. Was it in order to raise the level of prices for the shopkeepers that he set up his Tribunal? I think there is nothing wanted so much at the present day as a Tribunal to see that unfortunate consumers are not fleeced, as undoubtedly they have been fleeced. It is about time it ended. I would urge on the Minister that he is not going far enough in this Bill. I think there should be a definite system of fines and a definite system of jail without fines for individuals who are found guilty of gross profiteering, that is after they have received one warning.

I think this profiteering is carried on to a scandalous extent by some shopkeepers. I must say that it is only some shopkeepers who go in for it, but undoubtedly they are there. I, for one, would take these gentlemen who batten on the poverty of the poor and place them where they should be put—inside the four walls of a jail. It is the only place for them. I am very glad the Minister has introduced the Bill, and I hope that he will remember that even fines are not sufficient punishment for these gentlemen. I suggest that after a warning has been given, in the case of a second offence at any rate, an offender should be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of any period from a month to twelve months. I see some of these gentlemen who come into town very lean, who start operations very lean, and who grow big corporations in four months as a result of the prices they charge the poor. You would find that these corporations would go down very quickly if they got a spell inside a jail. I am sure it would do them all good. I confidently recommend it to the Minister as a cure for profiteering.

In discussing this Bill we should remember that this is not the first attempt that has been made to control prices. I think it was in the fourth century that one of the earliest attempts was made by the Emperor Diocletian. Following on bad prices consequent on a bad harvest an attempt was made to regulate the price of practically everything. Women's ordinary clothes, the clothes which they wore when they attended special functions, the price of food, the price of ducks, workmen's wages— all were regulated, but the attempt at control was a failure. I do not propose to make an historical survey of Price Control Bills, but we can all remember what happened during the late European war when a price was fixed for rabbits. The price of rabbits was considered too high. A price was fixed for them and the rabbits disappeared.

They went on the run.

To come down to some of the points in this Bill, there is no definition of what a contract is. I do not know what the Minister has in his mind, but apparently both contracts in the retail trade and in the wholesale trade are going to come under review. I think the Minister will have to specify what he means by a contract. The next matter I wish to direct the attention of the Minister to is the provision in Section 18 with regard to an investigation before the Commission. Apparently there is no machinery for allowing trade associations to be represented. I would respectfully submit to the Minister that where there are trade associations the quickest and the easiest way of getting on, if the trade associations are prepared to take up the matter and deal with it for their members, would be to have it placed in their hands. No doubt the Minister will consider that point. A reading of sub-section (2) of Section 19 gives the impression that the Press are going to be excluded from these trials or investigations. Well, it might conceivably be considered advisable, at certain sittings, that these should be held in private, but surely that could be brought about by some sort of resolution leaving the ordinary sittings of the Commission open to the Press.

There is another matter I wish to bring to the Minister's attention. Apparently contracts are expressly excluded from Part 4. Later in the Bill, under Section 1 of Section 38, it is mentioned that "nothing in Part 3 or Part 5 of this Act shall affect such contracts or any of the terms thereof." Why is a contract excluded from Part 4? Another matter I would like to bring to the notice of the House is the position the Controller is in. Apparently the Controller in certain cases can make a price certificate on the report of an inspector. I have no doubt that the Price Controller will be an experienced person. He would want to be. At the same time, without in the slightest suggesting that he might have any bias, it would be possible for him to make a mistake, and therefore I think that the price should be fixed in the name of the Commission so that persons would be enabled to appeal to the Commission if they thought they were aggrieved by the price certificate of the Controller. I do not know whether the Minister thinks that in certain special instances—I do not suggest that this should be encouraged— if a manifest injustice should be done either to an individual or an association there should not be the right of a further appeal.

There is another matter I desire to call attention to, and it is that "any notice or certificate required ... to be served on any person may be served by delivering it to such person or by leaving it with a person over sixteen years of age at the premises where such first-mentioned person carries on business, or by sending it by registered post to such first-mentioned person at such premises." Does that mean it will be a good defence to a charge under this Bill to say that the price having been fixed no notice was served on this particular person. I do not know whether there is very much in that or how far prices will be fixed in consultation with the trade concerned over an area. Certainly if this Bill is to have any chance of success, where every other Act of the kind has failed, it would appear as if the very closest attention ought to be given to the machinery for working it.

There probably is a reason for the introduction of this Bill, but there is just the possibility that it may have very serious repercussions. It is extraordinarily difficult to say what is a fair profit. Adam Smith in his "Wealth of Nations," dealing with prices, stated, I think, that it was generally understood throughout the world that businesses in which there was a small turnover were allowed a larger share of profits than businesses in which there was a considerable turnover. He also stated, I think, that as regards business of a very unpleasant nature, such as butchering and other business of that description, that it was customary that the profit in the case of these was larger than is usually charged in other trades.

The danger I see in this Bill is this: We have throughout the country a considerable number of small shopkeepers, people who are just managing to make a fairly decent living out of shopkeeping. Their turnover is small. To enable them to secure a fairly decent livelihood as a result of their trading they have to charge probably a shade more on articles they sell than would be charged by the larger stores. It is possible that the effect of this Bill will be to drive these people entirely out of business. Take the case of chemists. It is a standing joke all over the country that chemists' profits are really beyond what are reasonable. Probably the reason given by Adam Smith would account for that: That no one goes to a chemist unless necessity compels him, with the result that his turnover is small, consequently his profits have to be larger than if he were doing a big business. If as the result of the operation of this measure the chemist is limited to a comparatively small profit, then I am afraid you will have very few chemists' shops in the country.

A considerable number of small shopkeepers probably will be driven out of business, with the result that business will be concentrated amongst a smaller number of the larger establishments. Of course that may be very desirable. Some Deputies a moment ago mentioned the fact that perhaps the Bill would have the effect of driving a considerable number of traders out of business because they will not be able to compete with the larger houses. I think some Deputies stated that co-operative societies could be established. I know something about business. This may seem strange, but often and often I have seen the individual trader beat the co-operative stores in price. I know plenty of cases, in which individual shopkeepers were able to cut the price charged in the co-operative stores, and I think it is the experience generally of people throughout the country that the co-operative stores have not been a success. I suppose what is everybody's business is nobody's business. There is hardly a town in which the keen, local shopkeeper cannot beat the co-operative prices. I think that this talk of profiteering is greatly exaggerated. Here and there excessive prices have been charged. Amongst the shopkeepers, as amongst other classes, there are unscrupulous people and these people occasionally overcharge the public. But I think there was no reason at all for the outcry which was raised. There is not a street in the city of Dublin in which you will not find a dozen people carrying on the same class of trade. If shopkeeper No. 1 is charging too much, shopkeeper No. 2 is there to cut him and shopkeeper No. 3 is there to cut him, in turn. So far as I know, there is no combination amongst these people to keep up prices. There is competition and, while competition is the life of trade, it is also the protection of the consumer. Shopkeepers are keen enough to realise that if they charge a fair price they will do a better business. From time to time shopkeepers advertise goods at certain cut prices, so that the consumer is fairly adequately protected. If this Bill is going to save the community from the unscrupulous shopkeeper, it will serve a good purpose and I welcome it. I intend to vote for it, but I can see a danger if it is carried to excess. If the provisions of the Bill are carried out to the extreme point, there is a danger that a considerable number of people at present making a living in Ireland will be driven out of it.

There is another aspect of the matter to which I should like to direct attention. We often hear the complaint that there are too many officials in this country. It is just possible that we are going to add to these officials. Some Deputy said that the Bill would be used to provide jobs for political hangers-on. I do not think that will be so, but it is just possible that we will add to the number of officials. Then, certain cranky, vindictive people will keep sending complaints to the Commission because they have a grievance against a certain shopkeeper or shopkeepers. In that way a good many people who are endeavouring to make a fair and honest living will be constantly harried and worried. There is another danger. A number of people are being carried on credit. What is going to happen if shopkeepers shut down credit—if, as a result of the operations of this measure, shopkeepers are driven into the position that they can no longer give credit? The results will be very serious. In the end, of course, it may be good for the country. I think there is too much credit given in Ireland, and that it would be far better for the customers of the shops if less credit were given. That is one of the causes of extravagant living. But it has helped in bad times many a person to carry on who would otherwise have gone under. If many shopkeepers are forced to close down credit as a result of the operation of this measure, it will be a serious matter. These are all potential dangers, and I hope that those who will be charged with the administration of the Act will take cognisance of them. If not properly administered, the Act might be a cause of grave danger.

I am supporting this Bill, and I welcome it as a serious effort and genuine endeavour on the part of the Minister for Industry and Commerce to protect the citizens against exploitation by way of profiteering. At the same time, I wonder if the Minister has the full support of his own Party for this measure. I am impelled to ask that question by the two lines of thought disclosed by the speeches of Deputy Corry and Deputy Goulding. We heard Deputy Corry talk of the scandalous profiteering which is going on. The Minister, in his opening statement—he had, I presume, given a good deal of thought and examination to the matter and he should know his subject—was rather dubious as to whether or not there was profiteering in any shape or form in the Free State. Deputy Corry tells us that there has been scandalous profiteering. That is an advance upon what the Minister suggested.

The primary cost of the farmers' produce has been mentioned. In any system of costing we must allow for the expense of distribution. If we take any article of commerce, we will find that the primary costs are relatively small when we take the final cost into consideration. The cost across the counter may appear to be altogether out of proportion to the primary cost of the commodity. So long as the farmer and the ordinary producer remain what they are, we must have somebody to distribute their goods. Any tyro in economics will admit that. We have not yet reached the stage in this civilisation of ours when the producer is his own distributor. Deputy Corry was allowed to introduce matters which I considered extraneous but, of course, the Ceann Comhairle is the better judge of that. He spoke of the cost to the State of pensions, and accused the last Government of distributing a lot of money, by way of pensions, to their hangers-on in Monaghan and elsewhere. I draw the attention of Deputy Corry and other Deputies to the fact that we have on the Order Paper to-day another Pensions Bill. I shall not say anything about the merits or de-merits of the measure, but when this Bill becomes law it will add very considerably, indeed, to the national outlay by way of payments to persons whom Deputy Corry thinks should not receive these emoluments. It is that kind of confused thinking and absurd reasoning that has led many people in the State astray as regards the ultimate results of measures of the type we are now discussing.

The fact has been stressed that a Prices Commission was set up some years ago. That Commission cost a good deal of money, and I am not aware that all the witnesses who gave evidence before that Commission had to come to Dublin. So far as my recollection serves, there was a certain itinerary laid down for that Commission. The Commission sat in the City of Cork. Evidence was given before that Commission in the City of Cork. The amount of apathy that was displayed in connection with it was rather disapointing to me and to many others who felt that there was a popular clamour for that Commission. There was a reluctance to give evidence before the Commission in Cork. I understand that the Commission were in session for at least one hour before any witness came to give evidence. I hope that the same apathy will not be manifested in connection with this Bill.

A question has been raised as to the relation of the price of flour to the price of bread. Here again we have evidence of loose thinking; no regard at all to the facts. Although I am supporting this measure, I think we will want to be clear as to its purpose. We ought to be clear, for instance, as to the relationship that flour bears to the loaf. Deputy Corry should know that those engaged in the bakery trade have to buy in advance. It is not because the price of flour falls by so many pounds or shillings per sack in the month of January, say, that the baker can immediately reduce the price of his loaf and give the advantage of the reduction in the price of flour to the consumer. The same thing applies to nearly every other commodity with which the ordinary merchant has to deal.

There is, of course, another phase to this question of the control of prices to which I am sure the Minister has given attention, or to which his attention has been directed, namely, the very large number of shops in the Free State. We have, I believe, more shops per thousand of the population than any other country in Europe. That results certainly in competition, which appears to be very dear to the mind of Deputy Good. But does the consumer get any advantage from that kind of competition? In some cities, at any rate, experience goes to show that after a good deal of competition, from which, of course, we must conclude that the consumer at least got some benefit, it has resulted after a time in the formation of rings. Rings may be placed in two categories. We may have a ring composed of a number of small distributors who agree not to sell certain commodities below a certain fixed price. Then there is the other type of ring on a larger scale, with still greater ramifications, known as the combine. One of the difficulties I see facing the Minister is in the matter of these large combines, highly capitalised organisations as they are; how the Minister will be able to deal with that class of combination. I take it that the general purpose of the Bill is to keep prices at a reasonable level, the word reasonable to be translated in an equitable way; that is to say, having first computed the primary cost, that a fixed rate of profit should be allowed to the distributors. In that rate of profit, whether he be a large or a small shopkeeper, some allowance should be made to the shopkeeper who gives any kind of reasonable employment.

The small shopkeeper, who has no paid employees, but only his own service or the services of his family, can hardly expect as great a profit as a larger shopkeeper, say, in O'Connell Street, Dublin, or Patrick Street, Cork. I feel, therefore, that the Minister's path is beset with a number of difficulties, but he will have behind him, I have no doubt, in his endeavour to secure that the poorer classes particularly will not be overcharged—I think that is the word he used himself —the very best elements in this country.

Personally I am very glad that the Minister has introduced the measure because on former occasions when discussing the Finance Bill and other measures in this House, the Labour Party have been particularly active and have frequently stressed the importance of having a measure of this kind introduced. Personally, I have not departed from that line of thought and of action and I welcome the measure because of what I have suggested. I feel that the Minister, as I have said, will have a fairly difficult task, but I have confidence that he will be able to surmount the difficulties.

With Deputy Murphy, who has already spoken for the Labour Party, I welcome this Bill. I do not believe, of course, that it will do everything that ought to be done in connection with ensuring a fair price to the consumer, but I do, nevertheless, believe that it represents an honest and a greater step than has yet been taken to bring prices down to a reasonable level. Deputy Blythe indulged in a rather extravagant attack on the whole Bill and, of course, disgraced his speech by saying that the primary purpose of the Bill was to provide jobs for the political down-and-outs. I would imagine that on the latter subject Deputy Blythe would have kept silent in any case. It was quite clear from listening to his speech that it was more than an attack upon the Bill. It was one long apology on the part of Deputy Blythe for the late Government for having done nothing whatever to endeavour to curb the greed and rapacity on the part of certain shopkeepers who, at all times, are willing to exploit the miseries and batten on the sufferings of the poor. It is quite clear that had Deputy Blythe's Government continued in office they would have taken the view-point that Deputy J. J. Byrne expressed in his speech last night. Leave traders' profits alone, keep cutting wages, is the philosophy that Deputy Byrne preached to the House last night.

The one portion of Deputy Blythe's speech with which one can agree is his reference to the multiplicity of shops. There is little doubt that economically our system of production and distribution is lobsided. We have, perhaps, too many people engaged in distribution and too few people in production.

The multiplicity of shops inevitably produces a certain abnormal expenditure in the matter of distribution, which, in turn, shows no fair relation to the cost of production. This Bill will not remove that deficiency. That deficiency can only be removed by a licensing of shops; but a mere licensing of shops which permitted unrestricted profiteering would not help to reduce the disparity between the cost of production and the cost of distribution. In any case, this Bill does in some measure go a distance towards bringing within reasonable compass the distribution costs which at present take such a heavy toll out of the price of retail commodities.

While I welcome the Bill, there are many defects in it. Deputy Goulding's conscience was very generous with his head. His speech consisted of an attack upon the Bill, prefaced by a declaration that he proposed to vote for the measure. How the Deputy can vote for it after pointing out and actually digging the pitfalls in the Bill is something that I do not pretend to understand now. There is a sort of mock innocence betrayed in Deputy Goulding's speech and also in Deputy Byrne's speech last night. Their statements were simply a sweeping defence of the honesty of traders. While I am not prepared to say, and the Labour Party has never said, that the trading community, the shopkeeping community as a whole, can be branded as dishonest—I do not believe they are— nevertheless, I believe there are within that community people who are not above exploiting the sufferings of the poor if it enables them to get rich quicker than they ought ordinarily to get rich.

There are many defects in the approach made to the problem by this Bill. The one that seems to me to be more prominent than any other is the supposition that there are uniform prices charged for commodities. There seems to be an implication that it is the uniform price that is too high, whereas it very frequently happens that the complaint of the purchasing community is not against the uniform price of the commodity, but rather against isolated and individual instances of profiteering.

Mr. Byrne

That is the correct term —isolated.

That circumstance does not seem to be provided for adequately in the Bill. The complaints that most people hear are complaints by individuals that certain shopkeepers are exploiting this consumer or that consumer or perhaps exploiting a whole series of consumers where the circumstances are conducive to that exploitation. The machinery laid down in this Bill for dealing with that type of complaint could, in my opinion, be considerably strengthened. What is the procedure to be adopted? The person is to make the complaint to the Controller of Prices, and an inspector is to investigate the complaint. If he is satisfied it is well founded he is to communicate a certain notification to the person overcharging. One of the things which is to be done in the notice is that the shopkeeper is to be told that he must give an undertaking within twenty-one days to charge a reasonable price in future. Why should a shopkeeper found guilty of profiteering be given twenty-one days within which to consider whether he will charge a reasonable price? If it is a case of profiteering——

If it is ascertained by the Controller of Prices that it is a case of profiteering, why should a trader be permitted to continue exploiting the sufferings of the people for twenty-one days? I suggest the Minister ought to divide the twenty-one days by seven, or even by twenty-one, and the Controller should serve a peremptory notice on these people to the effect that, having been found guilty of profiteering, they must immediately give an undertaking to charge a reasonable price. There is no case whatever for permitting them to continue to charge an excessive price for twenty-one days. The suggestion in the Bill amounts to giving them twenty-one days' notice and that seems to me to be particularly ineffective.

Profiteering is an indefensible evil and the method of punishment of the individual shopkeeper who exploits the community is not sufficiently drastic in this Bill. I would be quite willing to suggest that on a first offence a person should be peremptorily told that he must undertake to charge a reasonable price, and on a second offence he ought to be dealt with very severely, not merely by means of a fine or imprisonment, because both can often be ineffective, but by a definite obligation on the part of the defaulting shopkeeper to exhibit in a prominent place in his window an indication that he is on a black list for charging excessive prices. I suppose we will be told that that will be novel, and there is no precedent for it. But who wants to deal with shopkeepers, who charge absurdedly high prices, on the basis of precedent or the avoidance of novelty? People found guilty of profiteering should be dealt with, not in a timorous manner, but in the vigorous manner wisely suggested by Deputy Corry.

Mr. Byrne

What would the Deputy do with the baker who utilises 12 sacks per man per week while across the Channel other bakers utilise 38? Is that profiteering?

Every time Deputy Byrne talks upon matters that Deputy Byrne is not quite qualified to talk on, the truth of the saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing becomes more apparent to me than ever.

Mr. Byrne

What would the Deputy do in such a case as I have cited?

Deputy Byrne puts it to me: Why does somebody in this country utilise so much when somebody in another country utilises so much more?

Mr. Byrne

Three times the amount.

An equally interesting query would be: Why do people want ham and eggs for breakfast and meat for dinner in this country when people in China can live on a bowl of rice? That would appear to be the trend of Deputy Byrne's argument. Deputy Blythe's case was that there is no need for this Bill. Deputy McGilligan was Minister for Industry and Commerce when the Food Prices Commission was appointed. That Commission consisted of such persons as Senator Brown, Deputy Shaw—

Mr. Byrne

Who did not serve.

—the late Deputy Bryan Cooper, Professor Busteed and Deputy Martin Roddy. After a long examination of the whole problem the Commission furnished a very lengthy report. This is portion of the report:

The outstanding impression left on our minds is the need for continuous investigation and supervision of prices.

This Commission was not representative of the Fianna Fáil or the Labour Party. The Commission was presided over by Senator Brown, and the outstanding impression left on their minds was the need for continuous investigation and supervision. We have that testimony from a group of people who were not, when that report was written, concerned with making a flowery and shallow show to the public for election purposes. I claim that this Bill is justified by that particular portion of the report. Then, almost as if they knew that Deputy Byrne was going to speak, they go on to say:

Excessive profit-taking is, in some instances, the cause of unduly wide margins between the price received by the producer or importer and the price paid by the consumer, though it is not the sole cause.

It appears that there were, and that there are cases of excessive profit taking. It is admitted by that report that there were such cases. What is the objection to the passing of an Act of Parliament to curb the rapacity of those people engaged in this excessive profit taking? There is one suggestion I would like to make to the Minister and that is that there should be an obligation on shopkeepers, in relation to prices or any other commodity, to exhibit price lists in their shops so that the consumer going in— whether that consumer happens to be a cash or a credit consumer—may know in advance what price he is going to be charged for certain commodities.

Might I suggest also as a necessary part of this Bill that shopkeepers should be required to give a receipt for any commodity sold over, say, the figure of 2/6. That would furnish conclusive evidence that a transaction took place. It would furnish conclusive evidence of the price paid for a particular commodity, and I think it might occasionally bring a blush of shame to the cheeks to some of our shopkeepers who want to charge fancy prices because they have no record left of that transaction except the record that is left on the mind of the person who has been fleeced by their avarice.

The Bill deals with fuel, clothing, and food. While the Minister has power to extend the schedule I think he might well have added at the outset drink. That is one of the commodities to which this Bill might apply. And not merely intoxicating drink, but all non-intoxicating drink. There is quite a considerable agitation for years on that subject, and it seems to me to be one of the matters that at least ought to get investigation. I would suggest to the Minister that he might consider that at a later stage of the Bill.

This profiteering presses most on the credit customer. Yesterday a deputation of the unemployed in the city or a deputation representing the unemployed saw the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, and called attention to the evils of the food ticket. I do not want to debate the merits of that question now, but I do want to say this, that glaring cases were quoted of the fancy prices which these unfortunate people, compelled to exist on food tickets, were charged by the shopkeeprs in certain areas. These people have a vivid recollection of the extent to which they are exploited. They are people who cannot afford to be exploited. There was abundant evidence yesterday from these people that if they had ready cash they could buy at better prices than the price at which they were buying under the food ticket. Now, in those particular instances ready cash was assured to the traders, because it came along later in the form of a draft from the local authority. You have instances such as that where advantage is taken of the consumer by the shopkeepers, and these people had no remedy. But now they have a remedy under the present Bill.

On the whole the Bill is to be commended. It will do something to make the dishonest trader line up with the honest trader. I am glad to say that the majority of the people engaged in the retail trade are honest people. I only regret that Deputy Byrne and others who spoke on the same lines did not draw a distinction between the honest and the dishonest trader. One is rather tempted to gather from Deputy Byrne's and Deputy Blythe's remarks that it does not matter what the character of the trader is. They want to protect them all without giving adequate protection to the consumer. It seems to me that both Deputies regard the passage of this Bill as something which they do not like, because during their ten years in office they made no such effort to protect the interests of the consumer.

I confess at the outset that I approach this Bill with an open mind. There was a reason undoubtedly on behalf of the people of country districts especially for a demand for some inquiry into the prices prevailing. I do not think that any of the speeches to which I have listened have convinced me one way or another as to whether this Bill is going to mend matters or whether perhaps it might not make matters worse. I was interested in learning that there were some 44,000 shopkeepers or retailers in the Saorstát. This would provide, I think, a shop for every sixty or seventy of the population. That would give a very extremely small section of people to every shop. It seems hard to know how a shop is going to exist on a clientele of perhaps sixty or seventy people. If we consider this aspect of the question, the number of shops and the number served by each, we must be convinced that this State is over-shopped. Possibly the remedy may be found not in this Bill but in a Bill lessening the number of shops, but I do not think that this is a matter that should be brought about by legislation.

We have had recently in the country attempts made by people themselves to cut down the prices charged by certain shops. The people succeeded in successfully cutting down the prices charged. I believe that it is mainly by combination amongst the people themselves that anything tending to reduce prices can be brought about. Deputy Corry confined himself mainly to retailers of agricultural produce. These would be in the main the sort of cases to which I would like to refer.

I am sorry to say that I cannot agree with my colleague, Deputy Byrne, that there are no instances of profiteering amongst shopkeepers in this country, nor can I agree with other Deputies that shopkeepers are notorious, generally, for profiteering. I should rather accept the standard of honesty embodying retailers, generally, that was spoken of by Deputy Norton when he said that there were only isolated instances of profiteering. I think that is a rather true definition of the state of affairs. There are only isolated instances of profiteering. Then I should say that the case against the Bill is rather emphasised. Because if you take an ordinary street, and if there are only isolated instances of profiteering, you will probably find that there is in that street only one profiteer. What is the remedy for profiteering? Leave the profiteers severely alone. Deputy Norton said that the punishment in the Bill was not severe enough for the profiteer. I agree. My punishment for the profiteer would be the punishment we heard alluded to very often, recently, in this State, the punishment of boycotting. We hear a lot of "boycott this" and "boycott that," but we hear nothing about boycotting the man who deliberately attempts to wrong his fellow countrymen, and he is the man whom the word "boycott" should be directed to. I say that is the cure for profiteering, if profiteering exists, and I believe Deputy Norton has put the case very fairly when he said that there were only isolated instances. I believe the instances of profiteering amongst retailers are very few. There are what would appear to be instances of profiteering amongst retailers who are forced to trade on a credit system. Deputy Norton alluded shortly to that in his reference to the ticket system of relief in Dublin, but it is to the ordinary credit system I would like to allude. There are shopkeepers whose main customers are credit customers, paying perhaps every three months, six months or twelve months; many of them not paying at all; and it is because of the bad debts and the interest on capital that the retailer trading in that way is compelled to charge, possibly, a greater price for his goods than the cash trader charges, and Deputy Norton, referring to Labour in his speech, said that, perhaps, the workers were the people who were mainly victimised. I rather deny that. I believe the worker is in the main the cash buyer in this State, and the cash buyer ought to be and should be the person who runs the least risk of profiteering, because the whole market is open to him, the whole extent of the traders, except the isolated instances of profiteering referred to by Deputy Norton.

I believe that any attempt to control prices by legislation must fail. We have had the instance of the Tribunal of Prices. Now, I said a moment ago that there is on an average one shop for every 65 people in this State, and when we eliminate the man's own family the average clientele of a shop in this State would be perhaps 50 to 60 people, many of them relatives, and the rest friends of the shopkeeper, and it is because of the loyalty of friends and relatives of retailers in this State that certain smaller retailers have been able to exist. It is because of the loyalty of friends and relatives of retailers that the Tribunal on Prices was not able to get evidence of profiteering when they inquired into this matter three or four years ago, and the same circumstances will prevail no matter what Bill the Minister brings in, and no matter what legislation we produce. The public will not come to give evidence. Deputy Anthony said in Cork it took an hour to provide one witness. The same conditions prevailed in Limerick. We had an outcry about profiteering, and what happened when an inquiry was held? Not, I should say, one per cent. of the community—I am exaggerating when I say one per cent.—came to give evidence on behalf of the consumer, but we had lots of evidence on behalf of the retailers. Why was the lack of interest? Why this failure at that time when prices were higher than they are now? Why the lack of evidence on behalf of the consumer?

Mr. Brodrick

No case.

I do not agree with that. It was mainly because the clientele of the various shops were friends and relatives, men and women who will never be induced to give evidence in that respect. Every one of us who lives in the country knows that most of the shopkeepers, large and small, in this State, have originally come from the land, as I might say. The farming class has produced the greatest number of retailers in this State. Take any ordinary sized town, such as Limerick and Cork—Deputy Anthony would not like to hear me refer to Cork as an ordinary sized town —and take the ordinary shopkeeper there. He is born, and bred perhaps, in the country, with a number of intimate friends and relatives doing business with him, and it would be very difficult to get some of those friends and relatives to cease trading with this man. It was because of that fact that there was a reluctance to give any evidence on behalf of the consumer at the previous Committee that was set up to inquire into this.

I very much fear that there will be lack of complaints under this Bill when it is brought into operation. If there has been a demand for some attempt to control prices in the State there has been a greater demand by the people of the State for another thing, to reduce the number of officials and inspectors in this State. We heard it said down the country often: "There are too many inspectors. There is an inspector for this and a controller for that." There is, and there are too many inspectors, too much control over the individual everywhere, I really believe. If State control of every single business is to be increased we will shortly have arrived at the position when not only will there be one shopkeeper for every 65 or 70 people in the State but there will be one official or one inspector for a lower number than 65 or 70 people in the State. We will be overrun with officials of every description. The people are, I might say, damned from officialdom in this State. I think the Deputies on the opposite benches will agree to that. If you hear one complaint more than another down the country it is that there are too many officials, too much interference by Departments and Governments and everybody else with the ordinary trader, and even with the ordinary farmer. The people do not want any more of it. It will not succeed.

I said when I started to speak that I approached this with an open mind. I have not heard any speech on it that would convince me one way or another. My own impression is that the Bill will not succeed for the reason I have stated, that there will be reluctance to make any complaints. We have had no two members even behind the Government agreeing to this measure. Deputy Corry said he was confining himself to the truth. Possibly he was; there is a tax on yarns. Deputy Norton spoke definitely opposite to his colleague. "I do not agree with my colleague," Deputy Byrne said. No two on this side of the House agreed on it. With a measure on which no two agree its prospects are doubtful. I am quite convinced that the prospects of success of this Bill are very doubtful. I hesitate to vote against it and I am reluctant to vote for it. I find myself, in common language, between the devil and the deep sea. I believe, on the whole, the arguments against the Bill have been greater than the arguments for it, and my present intention is to vote against the Bill unless at a later stage in the debate someone makes a greater case for it than has been already made.

Before the Ministers disappear I just want to say a word about this Bill. This Bill is a fraud. There is an old and respected practice in China of saving the face, and the Labour Party seems to have taken a lesson from that quarter. We are at present engaged in saving the face of the Labour Party. The Labour Party, who themselves have been explaining that in this country and every other country tariffs mean increased cost for the consumer, tariffs mean a rise in the cost of living to the poor, tariffs mean a transfer of taxation from the rich to the poor—that is the Party which for the last six months has helped Fianna Fáil to put a tariff on everything. Now I am one of those who would have been glad to give Fianna Fáil's economic policy a fair chance, subject to the reservation that they should not make the task of the farmer absolutely impossible by taxing the raw materials of his industry. The Labour Party has consistently helped Fianna Fáil to put a tax on Indian meal, put a tariff on galvanised iron, on all farming implements, artificial manures. In fact, every single thing the farmer uses in the struggle he is making to make ends meet has been tariffed, and tariffed with the assistance of the Labour Party, and it is to save the face of the Labour Party that this Bill is being introduced. It is to enable Deputies Murphy and Norton and the other Labour Deputies to go down the country and say: "You were told the tariffs would raise the cost of living— look at this beautiful Bill we have— that is how we are going to prevent the cost of living going up. If anyone tries to raise it we will use the Bill." But they forget that the Minister for Industry and Commerce always introduces a little reservation when he is asked if this tariff will not increase the cost of a particular commodity; he always says it will not increase the cost of a commodity provided that some unforeseen circumstance does not arise, such as an increase in the cost of raw material. That is the bland argument that the Minister for Industry and Commerce usually puts forward whenever he is challenged with the fact that a commodity which he has tariffed has gone up in price to the consumer.

I must say the Minister has not the reputation of having a very soft heart, but it is a source of satisfaction to me to realise that his anxiety for the feelings of the Labour Party has been such that—on a foundation laid by the Cumann na nGaedheal Party when they were engaged in a little eye-washing, when they were setting up Commissions (for the purpose of eye-washing) on profiteering—on the foundation made by them he has raised this noble edifice to protect the consumers who are going to be mulcted by the tariff policy of the Fianna Fáil Government; that tariff policy which I say has been put into operation with the assistance of the Labour Party in this country. I am not going into this Bill in detail, but I think it is interesting to note that the versatile Deputy Corry entered the lists with his lance couched for anyone who would suggest that this Bill was not necessary, but when he was asked why it was that he went out of the milk distributing business, when he started a little profiteering business of his own in Cork, he did not answer. The Minister tosses his head. I am not surprised he tosses his head at Deputy Corry's arguments, but it would be well for him to remember that Deputy Corry is the only member of his own bench who had the effrontery of supporting him. The only other Fianna Fáil member who got up told him what I have told him, that this is eye-wash. It is a fraud. I may have to refer to other items of eye-wash—at a later date in this House—eye-wash for the benefit of the Labour Party. I want to draw the attention of members like Deputy Bennett who still has doubts as to the virtues of this Bill.

I do not believe a bit of it.

I always believe all Deputies in what they say. I am sometimes too credulous. There is a provision in this Bill that any individual can make a complaint under the terms provided in the Bill to the Commission, under Part 4, Section 27, alleging that there was sold or offered for sale to him at unreasonably high price a scheduled commodity. Whereupon the trader who has had the privilege of this public spirited individual's trade is put upon his proof to convince the Commission of a series of facts before he can be acquitted of the charge made. He must prove that he used due diligence to prevent the commission of the acts alleged to constitute the offence. He must prove that the act alleged to constitute the said offence was not committed by him personally or that the act was done without his consent, connivance or wilful support.

Any irresponsible nuisance can file a complaint with this Commission; and take a case of this kind, suppose milk is a scheduled article and a price per gallon is fixed, any irresponsible lunatic can go in and purchase a half pint of milk which will be charged at a certain price; if that price be multiplied out into gallons it may prove that the price charged for a half-pint of milk at a gallon rate is above whatever the scheduled price is provided for by the Commission. I do not for a single moment suggest that the trader would be convicted at all. The Commission would hear his case and probably acquit him of any such charge, but observe that the trader must go to all the expense of appearing before the Commission and establishing his case— he is in that danger. Oh, the Minister says, no, but, unfortunately, under the provisions of this Bill that danger is ever present.

I do not think the Deputy gave the Bill very close study.

The Minister may take it I have given the Bill all the study it deserves. I well know what the purpose of this Bill is. I have described it already, it is a fraud and it will never operate effectively. It is simply a sop to the Labour Party, but if it were to operate, and I am now trying to convince Deputy Bennett who is of two minds, I want to show him as fraudulent and as absurd as it may be there are dangers in it, and if it is to be put into operation it could be used as an instrument of prosecution for perfectly honest towns-people; furthermore, this Bill is being passed for the purpose of suggesting that the commercial community of this country consists to a considerable degree of people who are battling with the poor and needy—that implication is false, and any person who has any practical experience of commercial transactions either in a wholesale or in a retail, knows perfectly well that though any incompetent fool may attempt to profiteer for a short time, the ordinary effective competition of efficient and sensible business men next door to him will soon put an end to it and a much more effective and far less expensive end than this Bill will ever do.

There is another thing and it is a danger which the Deputy himself thought of. We have a Housing Commission set up recently at the expense of £2,000 a year, £1,000 for the Chairman and £500 a year for each member. We are going to have another Commission set up here and we are going to have all the officials and all the inspectors trotting around inquiring into our business and poking their noses into things which do not concern them, and we will pay for the privilege of having them. As Deputy Bennett said a while ago, if there is one thing you hear at every meeting which you attend in the country it is "What do we want with all the officials?" It was the one thing which Fianna Fáil always concerned themselves with, and we heard them say that they would not be long in office when they would put an end to all those inspectors and economise in public money.

Here is another fertile egg, and when this one is hatched it is not two chickens that will come out of it, but 200, and every hanger-on of the Fianna Fáil Party will be rallying around the door of the Minister for Industry and Commerce to see if he cannot lend a hand to throttle the profiteers who are battening on the poor, and the unfortunate poor, and the taxpayers of this country will have another load put on their backs in order that a certain gang of discontented gentlemen may get jobs and that their silence may be purchased. That is the danger. These are the considerations that ought to weigh with Deputy Bennett when he is in doubt as to whether the Bill should pass or not. Let him forget that his own Party did a bit of eye-washing in their day and that they had their price of admission and that they discovered a mare's nest. Ministers frequently do, and, when it becomes necessary to forget particular things, Ministers seem to do strange things. Deputies sometimes do strange things when they come into this House. What they say in Galway or Donegal very often bears little resemblance to what they say or do here in Dáil Eireann. Let Deputy Bennett forget his past, or the past of his Party, in respect of price fixing, in any case, and let him honestly come out and say that the ordinary operation of trade is, to his knowledge, to my knowledge, and to the knowledge of every reasonable man, the most effective way of controlling prices, and that the ordinary operation of a healthy public opinion will prevent any people or any body of persons from profiteering at the expense of the poor.

If you believe that there is profiteering in milk, at the expense of the poor, let the facts be ventilated. Let the public know the facts and the force of public opinion will do more to bring an end to it than any such Bill as this. Public opinion in this country is quite prepared to undertake work of that kind, and if it was more engaged, in putting an end to abuses of that kind than in others, to which perhaps, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will not permit me to refer now, the Government would be very much better employed than in promoting Bills of this kind. There are circumstances, I believe, in which public opinion should be informed and in which public opinion should be marshalled, where men such as Rank and Co. attempt to corner the flour trade in this country, or in cases where a milk ring deliberately attempts to hold up the poor, and deprive them of what they are entitled to. The proper weapon with which to put an end to that is to marshal public opinion, to publish the facts and to call on public opinion to operate. It will operate, and operate effectively, and it will operate without all the dangers and without all the expenses of a measure of this kind. I have no hesitation in saying that the truth of the position is that the Minister knows these things as well as I do, but he has to produce a little eye-wash; he has to save the faces of the Labour Party, and he produces this fraud to us.

Deputy Dillon says that the alternative to this Bill is to publish the facts. What facts? Where are we going to get the facts? What has this Bill been introduced for? What is the function of the Commission to be established under this Bill but to get the facts and to publish them? Is the Deputy going to vote against it? If he does, there will be no machinery in this State by which the facts can be secured. Let him think that over for a bit.

I would not bother to answer that point.

We have had a few foolish and one or two sensible speeches concerning this Bill. Sitting here listening to them, I have been trying to find out what exactly is the attitude of Deputies opposite in relation to it. I think the suggestion which was made that their main trouble in relation to it is that they themselves did not introduce it, is fairly correct. Deputy J.J. Byrne quoted at great length from the Report of the Food Prices Tribunal. That Report was published in—could the Deputy give me the date?

Mr. Byrne

1926.

Yes, 1926. It was the Report of a Tribunal established by the Government which he supported, and issued in 1926, and it emphasised the need for continuous investigation of prices. It referred to the fact that some evidence of excessive profit-taking was brought to its notice. It made a number of recommendations by which the ordinary purchasing public might be protected against profiteering tendencies on the part of distributors, and it was published in 1926, and no action was taken on the Report. Deputy J.J. Byrne, who is studying the Report now, reading it in great detail, and analysing the significance of every word in it, might have done that five or six years ago when he was in a position to influence the Government in power at that time to get action taken on the Report. This Government has been only six months in power and it has produced this Bill, because it is convinced that this Bill is necessary. We have been told that there is no profiteering. Deputy J.J. Byrne, who, earlier to-day, was waving the Communistic or Bolshevist emblem and demanding State maintenance for all the unemployed in Clontarf, later came into the House and took on his broad shoulders responsibility for every shopkeeper in Ireland. "There is not a dishonest man amongst them——"

Mr. Byrne

I never said any such thing.

"There is not a single one of them would dream of putting an extra halfpenny on to an article——"

Mr. Byrne

I defy the Minister to quote a single passage from my speech justifying that statement.

Does the Deputy admit that there may be dishonest shopkeepers?

Mr. Byrne

Certainly.

Will he admit that there may be two?

Mr. Byrne

Certainly.

Will he admit that there may be twenty?

Mr. Byrne

Ah, go ahead!

I do not know whether I can say that there is evidence of profiteering or not.

Mr. Byrne

Hear, hear. That is the point.

That is quite the point. There has been a considerable——

Mr. Byrne

Your own admission.

—— number of complaints that profiteering is taking place. There have been denials— possibly an equal number—that profiteering is taking place. We do not know if there is any general tendency on the part of shopkeepers to profiteer or to avail of the exceptional circumstances created by the imposition of tariffs or the temporary scar-city of a particular commodity to get excessive prices, but we want to find out. I think that it is the function and duty of the Government to find out, and it is because the Government heretofore had no means by which complaints of that kind could be investigated that this Bill has been introduced. This Bill gives a means of investigation of these complaints, and I say that any consumer, any purchaser in the country who is of opinion that he is being charged an unreasonably high price for some article of common necessity, has a right to look to the Government to have his allegation investigated, and, if his allegation is found to be correct, has a right to insist that he should be refunded the amount of overcharge and that some punishment should be meted out to the offender. If, as a result of the investigations of the Commission to be established by this Bill, it is clearly shown that there is no profiteering, who should be more pleased with that fact than the shopkeepers of the country?

And the taxpayers.

If the investigation is carried out, and if it proves clearly that there has been no general tendency towards excessive profit taking, are the shopkeepers not gaining by the publication of that report?

And the taxpayers are paying for it.

For what?

For the report to be delivered under this Bill.

And I think that the taxpayers' money would be well spent in investigating the general question of price levels in this country and individual cases of profiteering.

They would get a shock.

When introducing the Bill I mentioned that I was convinced no useful purpose would be served by a periodic price examination such as the late Government indulged in. The setting up of a commission to carry out a spasmodic investigation of prices of a particular commodity in an area at long intervals is of no value whatever. It is a waste of money, and Deputy Byrne knows that quite well. The report of the Tribunal from which the Deputy quoted cost a considerable amount of money, and that report was quite valueless in the sense of action being taken.

Mr. Byrne

The setting up of a body to deal with what does not exist is of no value.

Yes, if we were to assume that up to 6 o'clock this evening every shopkeeper in the country never attempted to charge an excessive price. We have to face the fact that the possibility might arise and if it should there should be machinery to investigate the complaint. That is the case, particularly in a country in which a protective policy is in operation. We have been told that the purpose of the Bill is to disguise the fact that the cost of living has gone up in consequence of tariffs. Day after day Deputies ignore public documents and continue to talk nonsense in order to discredit the Government. Deputies should read the Trade Journals that were sent to them by post last week. If they will look at the cost of living index figure they will see that between May and September the cost of living in the Free State fell more proportionately than in any other six months in the past ten years. That is the fact. I stated yesterday that ugly facts kill beautiful theories.

Is agricultural produce included in the index?

I am talking about the index. Deputies tried to quibble about it. We have been told that the cost of living has increased with tariffs. I say deliberately that the available information, as a result of a careful investigation made by the Statistics Branch of my Department, shows that the cost of living in this State has fallen and fallen substantially since this Government came into office.

Are agricultural commodities included in the commodities used in order to arrive at the index figure?

Of course, they are.

They did not rise, I can assure the Minister.

It is the fact that the cost of living has fallen.

The Minister knows that it is merely an absurdity to say that the cost of tariffed articles has not risen considerably.

In the case of a number of tariffed articles a fall in prices has taken place. If the Deputies want facts they can be produced.

Prices of farming produce, we agree, have fallen as a result of tariffs on both sides.

Deputy Blythe advanced the extraordinary theory which, on analysis, proves to be the same theory as that of Deputy Byrne. Deputy Byrne says there is no profiteering, but Deputy Blythe says that if there is profiteering the means proposed in this Bill are not the means to deal with it; that we should allow ordinary commercial action to settle it. I think Deputy Dillon advanced the same theory. If there is any substance in that theory, there should be less profiteering in this country than in any country in the world, because, as Deputy Bennett and Deputy Norton pointed out, there are more shops here per head of the population than in any other country in Europe. If competition, for instance, and a large number of distributors has the effect of preventing unduly high prices, this should be the cheapest country to live in and there should be less profiteering than anywhere else. Is not that the fact?

Mr. Byrne

Certainly not.

Obviously the danger of profiteering is not going to be removed by a multiplicity of shops.

Mr. Byrne

Other factors come into the matter.

Deputy Byrne must see the fallacy of Deputy Blythe's argument. I am using the argument Deputy Blythe used, that if profiteering took place it would be corrected by additional people opening shops. If that is the case we should have no profiteering in comparison with other countries, because we have a larger number of people operating shops in proportion to the size of the country than any other country in Europe. Consequently there should be more competition and less danger of profiteering if what Deputy Blythe said was a fact. Deputy Blythe and other Deputies spoke about the hardships that might be imposed on shopkeepers by this Bill. Again let me say that a shopkeeper who does not profiteer need not be worried about the Bill.

Mr. Byrne

Is not this Bill part and parcel of a general scheme to deal with the whole question? Is not the question of licensing and the taxation of shops to follow this Bill?

I do not know.

Mr. Byrne

Are you not setting up a Commission to deal with that?

We have established a Commission owing to a proposal that was submitted to us by organisations which claim to speak on behalf of the shopkeepers of the Free State. It was the organised shopkeepers of the Free State that asked for the establishment of the Commission, and it was established at their request to examine particular questions that want examination.

Mr. Byrne

Why will the Minister exaggerate? Is it not only a small section of shopkeepers in the west want it?

The Deputy should ask Deputy O'Neill, who is on the benches of the Party opposite. I think he is a worthy member of the organisation.

Mr. Byrne

Is there anyone connected with Dublin City on it?

I have stated that a shopkeeper who does not take the risk of charging an unreasonably high price need be worried about this Bill. I think there is a lot of truth in the contention of certain Deputies that this Bill is unduly lenient to the profiteering shopkeeper.

Hear, hear!

We watered it down deliberately, if I might say so, in order to prevent any danger of hardship being inflicted in mistake on an honest trader who is merely earning a reasonable profit. What is the procedure? Deputy Dillon, of course, refers to the possibility of a trader selling in excess of the price fixed by the Prices Order, and of having to deal with some nuisance who sent in a complaint and appeared in person before the Commission. Quite obviously the Deputy did not read the Bill, because when a price fixing order is made in relation to any scheduled commodity, it is not then the village nuisance will be dealing with the shopkeeper who charges in excess of the prices, but a member of the local Civic Guard. The shopkeeper will not have to appear before the Commission in Dublin, but before a local magistrate. It is only in relation to a commodity in respect to which a price fixing order has not been made that the question of complaint and investigation by the controller arises. In the case of any such commodity where a purchaser alleges he was charged an unreasonably high price he can complain to the controller, who may refuse to investigate the complaint on the ground that it was frivolous. It is reasonable to assume that a large number of complaints which will reach the controller will be frivolous, or will be of such a nature that they cannot be properly investigated.

Mr. Byrne

I quite agree with the Minister now.

If the controller is satisfied that the complaint is one which should be investigated he will have it investigated, and if the result is such that the shopkeeper was in fact charging an unreasonably high price he notifies the shopkeeper to that effect. According to the Bill the shopkeeper has 21 days in which to reform, within which he will undertake in writing not to charge an unreasonably high price again, and to refund to the person overcharged the amount of the overcharge. If the shopkeeper does that the matter ends. If he does not, but persists in maintaining the same unreasonably high charges for the same commodity, a certificate is issued, and here is where, as Deputy Dillon suggested, we are endeavouring to bring the force of public opinion into the matter. A copy of the certificate is served on the shopkeeper and the public are notified by a notice published in newspapers circulating in the district, that, in the opinion of the organisation established by the Government, the prices charged by the particular shopkeeper for specific articles are unreasonably high. If, following the publication of that certificate, the shopkeeper persists in charging that unreasonably high price he becomes liable to prosecution and punishment, and only then.

Would the Minister explain why a shopkeeper who has been found guilty of profiteering should not be punished but given an opportunity to give an undertaking within the twenty-one days that he will not overcharge again?

We can argue that on the Committee Stage. I have explained that we deliberately modified that section so as to prevent any possibility of injustice arising, or of hardship being inflicted undeservedly upon a shopkeeper who was not in fact guilty of profiteering.

These are, I think, the main points that have been advanced. I am quite certain that there is no Deputy in this House who is not satisfied that we should have a continuous investigation into the manufacturer's price in the case of protected commodities. There is nobody in this House who has arisen to say that, in his opinion, such an investigation should not be made. In fact, from the discussion previously made on this subject, I think it will be admitted that every Deputy in this House would like to see such an investigation take place if only to establish the fact that such a procedure was not necessary. I think they will admit that if we are going to have any valuable examination into this question of prices and overcharging, we must have a continuous investigation. A body equipped with the powers of the High Court could demand evidence and carry out its investigations continuously for a long period, and I think that it will be admitted that if the legislation establishing that authority is to be of any real value, there must be power for the Minister for Industry and Commerce or for some authority other than the investigating authority to fix prices.

I do not anticipate that many cases will arise—if in fact any will arise—in which it will be found necessary to resort to this power. I believe that long before that stage has arisen they will have succeeded, by mobilising public opinion or by private representations to the guilty parties, in having any such tendency to excessive profit-taking corrected. We have been told that during the European War the attempt at price-fixing was not a success. That question has to be considered in relation to the circumstances of the time and what was attempted by the price fixing in the War. I deny, however, that our experience or the experience of other countries at that time is any sure guide to action in the present day. During the course of that European War we had rapidly rising prices, and the attempt at fixing prices was made during that period. To-day, instead of rising prices, we have falling prices. I say that the experience of price control obtained during such a period cannot be applied to such a situation as we have here at the moment. It may be that this attempt to fix prices will not be as effective as we hope, but nevertheless, I think it will do good, and at any rate, it certainly should not be condemned until it has been tried.

Has it not been tried in other countries and failed?

Yes, it has—in New South Wales.

Can a person charge below the fixed price?

Yes, and if a price-fixing order were made in relation to a particular article, and if it could be sold at a lower price we would see it advertised in the Press that it could be obtained below the fixed price. The circumstances are altogether different from those that obtained during the European War.

Is there any danger if there is a system of price control that it will set the price for the particular article?

I do not think so, and I have already explained the reason why I do not think so. During the war years that was the case undoubtedly. During that period, when a maximum price was fixed, that also became the minimum price; but they were years during which prices were rising and, in addition, they were also years of shortage. These are two essential points of difference. Now, instead of prices rising, they are tending downwards, and it certainly is not shortage that the world is suffering from. Instead of a shortage, the world is suffering from over-production, if anything. I do not anticipate that any of the bad results attendant on the price-fixing attempts of the War years will come from price fixing attempts at present; that is, if it should be necessary to resort to price-fixing at all. But I do not anticipate that we ever will have to use these powers, because the knowledge that the powers are there will so enforce the powers of the Commission to obtain these things that the results will be obtained by representation or publicity if necessary.

A suggestion was made that we should require shopkeepers to publish price lists of the goods they are offering for sale. I gave that suggestion very considerable consideration and, as Deputies know who read the report of a former Prices Commission, that body also deal with the matter. At first sight there are obvious difficulties. First of all, there is the fact that there are various qualities in articles of the same description and it would be practically impossible to distinguish between all the various qualities and put them publicly in the window or outside the door of the shop. Secondly, shopkeepers engage in the sale of articles of common necessity such as those scheduled in the Bill as well as in a great variety of articles which they practically could not enumerate. There is another difficulty, perhaps peculiar to this country. There is the desire which the average Irish farmer or the average Irish rural dweller has to make a bargain. He goes into a shop and he asks what is the price of the particular article he wishes to buy, and if it is 1/6 or 2/6 he tries to beat down the price and the shopkeeper, in anticipation of this, generally puts on 2d. or 3d. in advance in order to be able to come down a little, and his customer goes away quite satisfied. If we were to compel that shopkeeper to publish that list of prices, it is inevitable that he would include 2d. or 3d., or a certain percentage, to take off for the benefit of his customer, and in some cases he might get away with more than he should. Consequently there is a likelihood that by compelling them to publish price lists in that way, we would encourage rather than discourage excessive price-taking.

Would the Minister consider getting traders generally through the country to mark their goods in plain figures? I think he knows that there is a practice where there are secret marks on the goods offered for sale and the purchaser is absolutely at the mercy of the retailer in that case.

I have been considering that, and I am endeavouring to bring in an amendment in the Committee Stage which will enable an order to be made requiring that to be done and the goods to be marked in plain figures upon the recommendation of the Committee after investigation. There are some difficulties in framing an amendment of precisely the form I want, but I hope they will be overcome.

Deputy Norton asked why was not drink included amongst the articles to be investigated. In so far as drink is a food it is included. We include in the schedule articles which are necessaries—food, clothing, fuel, etc.— and the Executive Council is given power under Section 3 to add to the list by Order if the occasion should arise. I do not think there are any other points.

Does tea come under the head of food?

I would say so.

But tea is a luxury. The Minister for Finance said that tea was a luxury.

Jelly is a luxury, but it is also a food. There are any number of articles called luxuries. A silk hat is an article of clothing, but it is also a luxury.

In which you indulged at Ottawa.

Not with pleasure.

Did the Minister discover that at Ottawa?

It was suggested by Deputy Blythe, and I was surprised to hear the suggestion also coming from Deputy Dillon, that one of the purposes of this Bill was to make some more jobs. There are some people with such warped and spavined minds that they cannot think of anything being done honestly, or that it could be evident that some people, occasionally, do public acts for honest motives. I may assure those Deputies who are filled with this suspicion of which they have no proof, that it will not be necessary to appoint any additional officials on the passage of this Bill. Some suggestion was made that this Bill was the first step in some nefarious scheme to turn this State into a collective State and to deprive people in established industries of their livelihood. That is not so.

I submit to the Dáil that it is good for the State to have power to make investigation, and nobody should object to that investigation, and least of all those against whom admittedly vague and general charges of profiteering are directed at the present time. I am quite certain the majority of shopkeepers and manufacturers and wholesalers will welcome the introduction of this Bill and will be only too glad to have the circumstances of their business investigated.

I should like to ask the Minister how he intends to administer this Act in some respects. For instance, what is to be the standard of the article? A man may not be charged for profiteering if he sells an inferior article which is an imitation of the dearer article. The price of boots, at the moment, is not much more than when the heavy tariff was imposed, but that is because they are selling an inferior article. In the same way in regard to beef and mutton, if a man sells a seven-year-old cow as the best beef he can sell it at a lower price, and he will not be charged with profiteering. If any steps were to be taken against him investigation would be required.

The Deputy is referring to prices being fixed by Ministerial order; that will be only in the last resort. Long before that stage the Commission will be endeavouring by private representation to the parties, or public action of one kind or another, to induce the parties to avoid further profiteering. If they found that there was no way except to fix prices, then it is for the Commission to recommend the particular manner in which the Order should be made and the difficulty to which he referred would be met.

Could the Commission admit the Press?

Undoubtedly that is within their discretion.

Question—"That the Bill be now read a second time"—put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 74; Níl, 48.

  • Aiken, Frank.
  • Allen, Denis.
  • Anthony, Richard.
  • Bartley, Gerald.
  • Beegan, Patrick.
  • Boland, Gerald.
  • Boland, Patrick.
  • Bourke, Daniel.
  • Brady, Seán.
  • Brasier, Brooke.
  • Breen, Daniel.
  • Briscoe, Robert.
  • De Valera, Eamon.
  • Everett, James.
  • Flinn, Hugo V.
  • Flynn, John.
  • Flynn, Stephen.
  • Fogarty, Andrew.
  • Geoghegan, James.
  • Gibbons, Seán.
  • Gormley, Francis.
  • Gorry, Patrick Joseph.
  • Goulding, John.
  • Harris, Thomas.
  • Hayes, Seán.
  • Humphreys, Francis.
  • Jordan, Stephen.
  • Kelly, James Patrick.
  • Kennedy, Michael Joseph.
  • Keyes, Raphael Patrick.
  • Kilroy, Michael.
  • Kissane, Eamonn.
  • Lemass, Seán F.
  • Little, Patrick John.
  • Lynch, James B.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • MacEntee, Seán.
  • Browne, William Frazer.
  • Carty, Frank.
  • Clery, Mícheál.
  • Coburn, James.
  • Colbert, James.
  • Cooney, Eamonn.
  • Corish, Richard.
  • Corry, Martin John.
  • Crowley, Fred. Hugh.
  • Curran, Patrick Joseph.
  • Davin, William.
  • Derrig, Thomas.
  • Maguire, Ben.
  • Maguire, Conor Alexander.
  • Moane, Edward.
  • Moore, Séamus.
  • Morrissey, Daniel.
  • Moylan, Seán.
  • Murphy, Patrick Stephen.
  • Murphy, Timothy Joseph.
  • Norton, William.
  • O'Grady, Seán.
  • O'Hanlon, John F.
  • O'Kelly, Seán Thomas.
  • O'Reilly, Matthew.
  • O'Rourke, Daniel.
  • Powell, Thomas P.
  • Rice, Edward.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Ryan, Robert.
  • Sexton, Martin.
  • Sheehy, Timothy.
  • Sheridan, Michael.
  • Smith, Patrick.
  • Traynor, Oscar.
  • Walsh, Richard.
  • Ward, Francis C. (Dr.).

Níl

  • Alton, Ernest Henry.
  • Beckett, James Walter.
  • Blythe, Ernest.
  • Bourke, Séamus A.
  • Broderick, William Jos.
  • Brodrick, Seán.
  • Burke, Patrick.
  • Byrne, John Joseph.
  • Collins-O'Driscoll, Mrs. Margt.
  • Conlon, Martin.
  • Cosgrave, William T.
  • Craig, Sir James.
  • Davis, Michael.
  • Dockrell, Henry Morgan.
  • Doherty, Eugene.
  • Doyle, Peadar Seán.
  • Duggan, Edmund John.
  • Esmonde, Osmond Grattan.
  • Finlay, Thomas A.
  • Fitzgerald, Desmond.
  • Fitzgerald-Kenney, James.
  • Good, John.
  • Gorey, Denis John.
  • Hennessy, Thomas.
  • Hennigan, John.
  • Keogh, Myles.
  • Kiersey, John.
  • McDonogh, Fred.
  • Minch, Sydney B.
  • Mongan, Joseph W.
  • Mulcahy, Richard.
  • Murphy, James Edward.
  • Nally, Martin.
  • O'Brien, Eugene P.
  • O'Connor, Batt.
  • O'Hara, Patrick.
  • O'Leary, Daniel.
  • O'Mahony, The.
  • O'Neill, Eamonn.
  • O'Reilly, John Joseph.
  • O'Sullivan, Gearóid.
  • O'Sullivan, John Marcus.
  • Reidy, James.
  • Reynolds, Mrs. Mary.
  • Roddy, Martin.
  • Thrift, William Edward.
  • Vaughan, Daniel.
  • Wolfe, Jasper Travers.
Tellers:—Tá: Deputies G. Boland and Allen; Níl: Deputies Duggan and Doyle.
Question declared carried.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, October 27, 1932.