Will the House agree to take the remaining stage now?
Committee on Finance. - Bread (Regulation of Prices) Bill, 1936—Final Stages.
Has the Minister anything to say to the criticisms that were put forward on the Committee Stage?
There were two criticisms put forward. The first was the contention by Deputy McGilligan that owing to the lack of a definition of the word "bread" in the Bill it would be difficult, according to the Deputy, to operate the Bill. He considered it necessary to have a definition of bread. The Minister explained at considerable length that he considered such a definition was not necessary, and that the best way to proceed was by making Orders fixing the price or prices for different kinds of bread, and the Minister informed the House on that occasion that he had gone fully into the matter in the Department. I do not agree with Deputy McGilligan that it will be possible for the Minister to define some other commodity, such as confectionery and so on, as bread in any Order which he may make.
The other point was raised by Deputies O'Neill and McGilligan, and was to the effect that under a strict interpretation of Section 4, sub-section (1), a trader would commit an offence if he sold bread in units which were not exact multiples of a pound. The sub-section says:
The Minister may by any Bread (Price) Order prohibit the sale or offering for sale in the area to which such Order applies of bread of any kind to which such Order applies, unless such bread is sold or offered for sale either (1) in units of less than eight ounces in weight or (2) in units of one pound or multiples of one pound in weight. ...
The contention was that a trader would commit an offence if he sold bread in units which were not exact multiples of a pound, and it was actually stated that probably it would be regarded as an offence against the section if a trader gave a few ounces more in a loaf of bread, which would be offered for sale, we will say, as a 2-lb. loaf. The Minister promised to look into the matter. Since that we have consulted the draftsman and legal adviser in the Department, and their opinion is that a seller would comply with an Order made by the Minister under sub-section (1) of Section 4 if he purported to sell in units of a pound, even though the weight was not an exact multiple of a pound, and they are of opinion, as I would be, that we have to assume, in connection with the administration of this Act, that reasonable foresight and reasonable intelligence and common sense will be exercised to ensure that equity is maintained and that ridiculous prosecutions are not made. I do not think there would be any doubt whatever but that there would be no prosecution in a case where the loaf was a few ounces over the weight which it was purported to contain. These two points are not of very great importance, and in the opinion of the expert advisers in the Department the method laid down in the Bill is the best way in which to proceed. Accordingly, I think we should take the Bill as it stands.
A very important point was raised in the earlier discussions on this measure concerning the price of bread, and it is a remarkable thing that in a Bill introduced by the Minister, because he thinks the price of bread should be controlled, he has not been brought to earth at any stage as to what the price of bread should be. It was pointed out that people who are buying bread and flour, and that means almost every member of the community, as a result of the wheat policy alone, are paying £1,500,000 each year more for the stuff they consume than they would be paying if the Government's policy was not being pursued. In addition to that, the Commission that reported on the price of bread stated that the millers during the first quarter of the year 1934 made an unreasonable profit, that is, a profit beyond what would have been thought to be a reasonable profit—£32,000—in that quarter. When the Commission was reporting, the price of the 4-lb. loaf in Cork and Waterford was 10d., in Dublin 8½d., and in Limerick 8d. Since then the price of the 4-lb. loaf has gone up by 1½d., and in Cork by 1d. As a matter of fact, when the Commission was reporting, the price of bread in Cork was excessively high, but the bakers in Cork were then raising the price of bread. We want to know under these circumstances what the Minister for Industry and Commerce has in mind for the price of the 4-lb. loaf in Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Limerick. The Minister indicated that it had to be made by formula. On June 25th he was asked whether he had not time enough between then and the Committee Stage to figure out what the price of the 4-lb. loaf in Dublin should be, with the particulars available to him that went to make up the formula.
We are now asked to let the Bill go through, and to hand over these powers to the Minister. He rather indicated that he hoped he would not have to use them, that is that this was a piece of legislation to be appliedin terrorum but he has given no indication in the House, to the public or to the bakers what he considers the price of bread should be in the City of Dublin. However, in the City of Dublin we have the fact that when the millers were making that unreasonable profit of £32,000 in a quarter, on top of the cost to the people of the Government's wheat policy, the price of bread was 8½d. for the 4-lb. loaf but it has now gone up to 10d. It is in these circumstances that I say it is utter nonsense and really degrading to the intelligence of the House that the Minister should ask us to pass this Bill without telling either the public or the bakers what the price of the 4-lb loaf should be.
I do not think the Minister would be in a position to state definitely what the price of bread should be in Dublin. The Deputy knows that under the Bill the Minister has to consult the Millers' Advisory Committee and has probably to make further inquiries. The Bill is based on the recommendations of the report of the Prices Commission on bread and, according to that, it was stated the wholesale and retail prices charged for batch bread were unreasonably high in a number of cases. A formula was laid down in the report, and all I can promise the Deputy is that when the order is being made regard will be had to that formula. Of course, the Minister will have to make further inquiries, and to consult with the millers, so that it would be quite impossible for me here and now to say what the actual figure will be.
There you are. We had a long examination into this business and we had a report in existence for a long time, then discussions, and consideration of the whole question by the Department of Industry and Commerce, after which an elaborate Bill was brought in. Although the price of the 4-lb. loaf in Dublin was 8½d. when the Commission considered the price of bread too high, it is now 10d. The whole machinery of the Department of Industry and Commerce is not able to tell the unfortunate purchaser of bread what ought to be reasonably asked for the 4-lb. loaf.