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.