Pawnbrokers (Divisional Auctioneers) Bill, 1943—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill has been brought in at the request of the Dublin pawnbrokers. It appears that, under a very old Act of the Irish Parliament of 1788, four auctioneers were appointed and it was not legal for them to sell outside their divisions. In practice, however, they had been doing so and, in one particular case, the sale of pledges had been carried on by one auctioneer outside his division for at least 70 years up to 1934. The office was then closed down and another premises taken in the same street in 1941. Shortly afterwards, an action was taken in the district courts. That action was not proceeded with, but the pawnbrokers say that their business would be very much affected if the auctioneers were compelled to confine themselves to their particular divisions, which are scarcely recognisable now. These divisions were arranged for police purposes in the time of Grattan's Parliament and they are very hard to define now. There seems to be no point in confining the auctioneers to these areas and, at the request of the pawnbrokers, who urged that their business would be seriously handicapped if they were compelled to comply with this old Act, I brought in this Bill. Some other Minister for Justice will probably overhaul the whole pawnbroking code—I hope it will not fall to my lot to do it, as it is a very difficult job—but, in the meantime, this Bill is brought in to wipe out what the pawnbrokers feel is a threat to their business.

I am surprised to hear the Minister say that the Bill was brought in at the request of a certain small body of people, presumably in their own interests and not in the interests of the general public. Whether rightly or wrongly, the members of this Party feel that the Bill has been brought in as a result of action taken about two years ago by a gentleman known as the City Swordbearer. That action went through the courts and was subsequently withdrawn as a result of some agreement which was supposed to have been arrived at between the contending parties and which was never announced to the public. Could the Minister say if that is a correct assumption?

Mr. Boland

The proceedings were not pressed. I believe that some arrangement was made between the parties and the case was dismissed.

The powers possessed by the City Swordbearer at the time have apparently been altered, and it is now suggested that some other individual should get these powers, without any inquiry as to whether the legislation in operation for such a lengthy period should be revised.

I listened to a discussion of this matter some time ago and a very strong case, in my opinion, was made for a public inquiry into the administration of the Act of 1788 and the powers at present possessed by pawnbrokers, as well as the powers possessed by the City Swordbearer, in Dublin and elsewhere. There is a very strong case for a public inquiry. If there was a good case, as I agree there was, for setting up a select committee to inquire into the operations of moneylenders, I feel that there is an equally strong case for setting up some kind of committee to inquire into the general administration of the 1788 Act and into the operations of pawnbrokers generally.

I am asked to press the Minister very strongly to postpone the further consideration of this Bill, which is brought in only for the purpose of conferring a privilege upon one, two or perhaps three individuals, with a view to giving serious consideration to the suggestion that a select committee consisting of members of both Houses should be set up to inquire into the general administration of the Act. Any Act passed by a Parliament in 1788 is certainly due for revision in some shape or form, and this Bill should not be pushed through the House without some consideration of the general question of the administration of such a very old Act.

Deputy Davin has approached this measure from the point of view of the pawnbrokers.

The Deputy commented on their position in relation to the Bill. I should like to approach it from a slightly different angle, namely, that of auctioneers. I cannot understand why there is some extraordinary difference between a pledge sold by a pawnbroker and the sale of ordinary goods which are put up for auction. I could agree with the Minister that this Act of 1788 is an anachronism, and that the Minister's seeking to give these divisional auctioneers powers to auction outside their own districts is all to the good. The Minister says he does not want to go into the question of the legislation affecting the pawnbroking business, and I think that he is probably quite right; but this is a question of the sale of pledges, and I cannot see that there is any difference between that and the sale of goods by ordinary auction.

I think the Minister ought to approach the matter from the point of view that it ought to be possible for an ordinary auctioneer to sell these pledges, in accordance with the wishes of the Minister and under Government safeguards. The Government in recent years have tried to tighten up the system with regard to the security that auctioneers give and the service that they render. I suggest to the Minister that this is an occasion on which the question of selling these pledges ought to be thrown open for the ordinary licensed auctioneers just as if this was a public auction. Why should unredeemed pledges be looked upon as being in a water-tight compartment so that only divisional auctioneers can sell those pledges? I say to the Minister that, if an ordinary licensed auctioneer is not fit to sell these pledges, he ought to bring in some safeguards and try to improve their education so that they can sell them.

Mr. Byrne

I should like to ask the Minister why he is dealing with this Act in a piecemeal way. It is an Act which for very many years has been due for overhauling. At present we have four divisional auctioneers in the city who have certain powers bestowed upon them. This Bill may result in a boycott of one or two or even three of these people and a monopoly for the selling of pawnbrokers' pledges being given to one auctioneer. If those who have such goods to sell want to sell them in one general auction room and if the other three auctioneers who have certain privileges and rights bestowed upon them are driven out of business, some compensation should be given to them for being driven out of a business in which they have been engaged for many years. This Bill as it stands opens the door to that. If the pawnbrokers think fit to sell only in one auction room or two auction rooms or three auction rooms, any auctioneer with whom they may have a difference in the past can be driven out of business. There is nothing in this Bill to provide compensation for such a man who, under the Act, is operating under a licence and doing business for pawnbrokers.

The Bill may be a desirable one. Like Deputy Davin, I noticed that the Minister stated that he had introduced it at the request of a certain body of people. Did he consult the others? Did he consult the auctioneers who have certain rights? Did he consult the assistants in the auction rooms? If not, will he now consult with these people? He may have been misled into dealing with one side of the matter only without hearing the other side. There are four auction rooms and four sets of men dealing with this business. If any of them are to be driven out of business by this Bill, there ought to be some compensation provided for them. I put it to the Minister as a reasonable suggestion that if any people are driven out of business that they should get compensation and they have a right to be heard by the Minister. The City Swordbearer or the City Marshal is involved in the matter and has some rights. I think it is the City Marshal who has to render an account regularly to the municipality with regard to pawnbrokers' pledges as to the amount realised for them at public auctions. He has to notify the people whose goods were sold. If somebody puts in a pledge as security and it is sold at three or four times the amount given on the pledge the difference has to go to the person who pledged it. I think the Minister would be well advised before he proceeds any further to consult with the City Marshal and City Swordbearer, the law agent of the Dublin Corporation, the four divisional auctioneers concerned and their assistants.

The Minister told us what the licensed pawnbrokers and also the particular divisional auctioneers put before him. Might I try to put to him the point of view of the man who, fortunately, has so far managed not to have recourse to these gentlemen, and who is in complete ignorance of the purpose of this Bill or the intention behind it and who is as ignorant now as before the Minister stood up to explain it? Here is an Act which has been operating for almost 150 years with presumably reasonable satisfaction to all parties concerned. The Minister is now presumably taking a small portion of that Act and amending it. To my mind, at any rate, he has not given us any indication as to what the effect of this amendment will be on other provisions in the Act or as to how it will affect the position, as Deputy Byrne mentioned, of the four divisional auctioneers. The whole thing, so far as I am concerned, is quite unknown to me; I do not understand it at all. Like Deputy Byrne, in the course of my duties in the Dublin Corporation, I have learned something of the duties of the City Marshal and the City Swordbearer in connection with these divisional auctioneers. I take it the original idea was that they should receive no fees of office as such and that they were given this privilege in lieu of these fees of office. That, I believe, is the position, although I may be quite wrong there. Is this Bill likely materially to affect their position? More important than that I think is the question of why this change is being made. The Minister may have explained, but he did not explain in simple enough language for me what is the purpose behind it. Why make any change in the existing procedure at all, which, from the Long Title of the Bill, apparently requires that the present divisional auctioneers must sell in their own divisions? Now the Minister's intention apparently is that they may move into another division. I do not know what the effect will be, or what the intention is, but I think, before we are asked to proceed any further with this Bill, the Minister should try to give us a little more of the background which has caused the introduction of the Bill. Simply to come to the House and say that he is doing this at the request of the pawnbrokers I do not think is sufficient reason to ask us to legislate in this way.

In fact, is there any more in this Bill than to permit the divisional auctioneers to sell outside their own division? In fact, the divisions cannot now be ascertained because nobody knows where they are.

Mr. Boland

Yes, that is so.

If that is a fact, some speakers have been talking about something that is not in the Bill at all because, as far as I understand it, that is the only thing in it.

Mr. Boland

That is all. I think I mentioned this point when introducing, that the position that has obtained for the last 100 years is the position that I want to continue. I do not see how I am in any way interfering with anybody else's rights. These auctioneers have been selling pledges in this particular street for at least 70 years and, I am told, for 100 years. That right has been challenged after 100 years of practice. Whether they were legally entitled to do it or not, they were allowed to do it and I think it is only fair that they should be allowed to continue to do it. In regard to Deputy Davin's point about setting up a commission to inquire into the administration of the 1788 Act, I would certainly be prepared to consider that if it were put up to me but, in the meantime, I do not see why a state of affairs which has been allowed to exist for 70 years or 100 years should not be allowed to continue. It is hardly fair for somebody to come in at the end of that time and challenge their right. I think I am thoroughly justified in bringing in the Bill if for no other reason than that.

If any Deputy were to put himself in the position of people who have enjoyed that privilege for so many years he will, I am sure, feel that they would have a strong grievance now if that right were to be challenged. There are four auctioneers—the City Marshal, the City Swordbearer and two others who were appointed by the Lord Lieutenant, or, after him, by the Minister for Justice. I think the last appointment was made by my predecessor some years ago. Their rights are not interfered with. Pawnbrokers can send their pledges to any of the four they like. I can see no grievance there at all. I said at the beginning that there is need for consolidation of the Acts and undoubtedly there is but this is an interim arrangement which I think is called for because it is hardly fair to expose people to the risk of being challenged in their right to do a thing that they and their people before them have been doing for nearly a century.

Mr. Byrne

There is more in the Bill.

Mr. Boland

There is nothing more in the Bill.

Mr. Byrne

There is. If that is the intention, it is very simple, but there is more in the Bill.

Mr. Boland

I assure the Deputy that there is nothing in the Bill but to allow them to sell outside their own division.

Mr. Byrne

I would draw the Minister's attention to Section 2:—

"... it shall be lawful for a divisional auctioneer to have his public sale room in any division and to sell or dispose of forfeited pawns or pledges for pawnbrokers, or to cause the same to be sold, in any division."

Mr. Boland

That is right.

Mr. Byrne

He will go into another man's division, boycott the other man's division and drive him out of business. I want to know will the Minister compensate the man who is driven out of business as a result of a big auctioneering establishment being opened in any one area to sell pledges. The Minister is not providing for four; he is providing only for one and driving three others out.

Is the Deputy thinking of an auctioneers' pensions Bill now?

Mr. Boland

We are not providing for one; we are providing for four. Any of the four can sell outside his own division. That is perfectly clear from what the Deputy himself has read out. We are not interfering with the others, but we are not compelling the pawnbrokers to go to any individual. We are leaving them free to choose between any of the four and allowing any of the four to sell inside or outside his own division. That is all the Bill is doing.

Mr. Byrne

If they do not give them the pledges, do not they drive them out of business?

Mr. Boland

Is it fair to force people to give something to sell to someone in whom they may not have confidence?

Mr. Byrne

You are driving out three people and are making no provision for compensation. That is my point.

Is there any power given to the Minister under the terms of this Bill to take an existing power from one broker and give it to another?

Mr. Boland

No, none whatever, except what is there, that is, to allow them to sell outside their own division. The reason I brought that in—I thought Deputy Benson understood that—is because they enjoyed that right or, at least, it was their practice, for such a number of years that I considered it was a hardship on them when that right was challenged. I think any Deputy would feel the same.

I was asked to raise this matter on this Bill, not in the interests of any one individual who has the existing power or anyone looking for power under the Bill, but in the general public interest. I put it to the Minister very strongly, on behalf of this Party, that the time has arrived for some examination of the operations of the Act of 1788, and I would ask the Minister to say whether he will give sympathetic consideration to the suggestion that a select committee be set up for the purpose of inquiring into the administration of the Act of 1788, having regard to the general public interest only and not so far as it concerns pawnbrokers or their assistants.

General Mulcahy rose.

This looks like a second debate on Second Stage. The Minister has concluded. If the Deputy desires to put a question, he may do so.

I did not realise the Minister was replying. He rose to answer Deputy Linehan and then I did not care to interrupt him. What I have to say I can put in the form of a question, if you like, and then add one remark. Is it a fact that four divisional auctioneers were, in actual practice, working outside their own divisions and that they were challenged by the law, that then the law was resurrected and is now hanging over their heads; and that the Minister seeks to amend the law so as to give them by law what they had actually by practice?

Mr. Boland

I am trying to give them by law what they had in practice. It appears only one of these auctioneers was operating outside his divisional area but that had been going on, as I said, for a great number of years. I am simply trying to legalise what they have been doing.

I agree, as Deputy Davin has said, that the time has come for consideration of the whole pawnbroking system, but I think, in the meantime, that threat ought not to be hanging over the heads of people who have had that right for a great number of years. In regard to the public interest, I had views on the pawnbroking business myself—ignorant views. I did not know anything about it. I thought they were extortionists, and all that, but I got another view of the matter when I heard the other side of the story. I am told that they are really a very useful institution. I was given to understand that the public interest might be very much interfered with if they could not have their pledges sold by the people in whom they had the greatest confidence; that they should not be forced to send them to people in whom they might not have as much confidence as they have in others; that the result might be that the public interest—the interests of those who had pledges with them— would not be as well served. I thought that was a reasonable case.

Mr. Byrne

The Minister has said nothing about my point. If three families are driven out of business, will the Minister compensate them?

Mr. Boland

There is nobody being driven out. No one's rights are being taken away and no new privilege is being given to anybody. I am asking that people who have been allowed to sell for 70 years, should be allowed to continue in the enjoyment of that practice until another Bill is brought in and until Deputy Dockrell's point as to whether ordinary auctioneers might not be brought in and others are considered, but in the meantime, when people have been enjoying that right for so many years, it is only fair that they should be allowed to continue until a time comes when we will revise the whole system. I think that is very reasonable.

Is the Minister giving some undertaking on the general question?

Mr. Boland

I will consider that point about the committee. I will consider the whole question.

Sympathetically?

Mr. Boland

Yes. I will consider that.

Could the Minister say if at the present moment a pawnbroker is required to have his pledges sold by any divisional auctioneer or may he go to any one?

Mr. Boland

He may go to any one of the four.

There is no change in that?

Mr. Boland

No; he can give them to any one of the four that he wishes.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take the Committee Stage?

Mr. Boland

I would be prepared to take all stages now or to postpone it if the House wishes.

It cannot be amended.

Mr. Boland

I do not think it is capable of amendment.

Is there any objection to taking the Committee Stage now?

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 10th March.