As regards Section 46, the Minister has mixed up in his own mind the provisions of that section with his intentions in respect of Part VI. He inadvertently misled the House when he stated that Part V was designed to provide for consultations amongst groups of industrialists, together with the members of the commission generally, for the purpose of reviewing the conditions of the industry in which they were interested so as to improve its general efficiency and rationalise it. There is no such power in Part V of this Bill. These powers and activities are provided for in Part VI, to which my amendment has no reference.
Look at Section 47. I deliberately allege that sub-section (4) of Section 47 is a blackmailing sub-section. We have no right in justice to give any Government Department, or any delegate of the State, the right to go into a man's establishment and say: "We think that such and such a thing is wrong; unless you submit to our view in that matter, we shall put the whole machinery of Section 47 in operation against you. But, if you submit, willingly or unwillingly, to our demands, as here set out, we shall postpone this whole question of inquiry for 12 months and, perhaps, for ever." That is common blackmail. What is a man to do who honestly believes that the proposals made to him by the chairman or his delegate are unsound? He will go to his board of directors and say: "These fools want us to do so and so. It is thoroughly unsound and utterly wrong but, if we refuse to do it, they have announced their intention of holding an inquiry under Section 47. This may cost us £7,000 or £8,000 but, if we resist their proposal, it may cost us our whole business, if they release the full fury of Part V against us; I think we had better pay the blackmail". Life in the community becomes utterly intolerable if the very State itself claims the right to use, and announces its intention of using, against ourselves the instrument of blackmail. "The commission, with the consent of the Minister, may, in the course of an inquiry"—mark the words; the thumbscrew has begun to grip—"adjourn the inquiry"—untwist the thumbscrew—"for a single period not exceeding 12 months if they are of opinion that the adjournment will lead to a sufficient improvement in the efficiency of the undertaking or industry which is the subject of the inquiry". In every jail in eastern Europe at this moment there are men under torture by the State because the evidence they are prepared to tender in an impending trial is not efficient for the purpose for which it is required, and in every one of those jails the jailer or his delegate is authorised to say to the prisoner: "We will adjourn this procedure for an indefinite period provided we are of opinion that the adjournment will lead to a sufficient improvement in the efficiency of the evidence that you intend to give on the matter which is the subject of the trial to take place to-morrow or the day after". That is the method whereby they got evidence for trials as a result of which such men at Petkoff were murdered. We call that blackmail and judicial murder. Many a man may be wiped out of existence in business by this procedure.
Sub-section (4) of Section 47 puts every individual in this State who invests his money in a protected industry in peril of that experience. But I have gone one step too far. I said "every individual." Not "every individual." The Minister for Agriculture is exempted if he goes canning, processing or disposing of vegetables. If he disposes of canned vegetables he is exempted from everything. Now, why? If every citizen of this State is subject to an inquisition of that kind why should the Minister for Agriculture be exempted? I do not know. It is the hallmark of the bureaucratic outlook that it wants to plan everybody— but you must not plan the bureaucrat. That would be the "Trahison des Clercs." The bureaucrat says: "Let me plan everybody else, but do not plan me." I have never yet met a planner in five continents who ever contemplated anyone planning him while he on the other hand was always filled with the fury of a missionary to plan his errant neighbours. Even the ardent members of our own Labour Party in this country dream dreams of planning everything in the silly pursuit of a prosperous proletariat raised to the level of a universal bourgeoisie. But let anybody propose to Deputy Martin O'Sullivan that I should plan him and the poor man would get a nervous breakdown—and he would be perfectly right. Can the members of this House imagine the feelings of an individual who has invested his capital in an industrial undertaking in this country: spent his years learning as he thinks how best to run it: proud of his own particular processes: contemplating those of his neighbours and saying to himself: "Well, I learned my trade. I know how to do it in my own way and good wine needs no bush. I do not have to waste money on advertising or anything else. People come to my door for my goods because I produce them the right way." He gets a postcard some morning to say that Moses is coming round to visit him—with Section 49 in his fist. In due course, Moses comes in and announces that he has made a report to the Minister, having conducted an inquiry at this man's residence or place where he carries on his business, and that the Minister now desires Moses to convey information to the victim, the bulrush, that he has made a direction in respect of the poor bulrush's business requiring the bulrush to make, in accordance with the Minister's direction, such changes in relation to the undertaking as appear to the Minister to be necessary to promote general efficiency, whether in respect of products, materials used, method of production, equipment, premises, management, methods of purchasing, selling, or marketing, recruitment, training, or employment of labour, costs of production, distribution, overhead expenses, capital structure, or otherwise. Have the members of this House ever heard such fantastic rubbish in their lives? Some tulip who was born in Rathmines, educated in Synge Street, who never travelled further afield than Kildare Street and Merrion Street, or maybe got as far as the Castle, is quite prepared to drop down into any man's business, North, South, East, or West, and say: "Now, look. You are a bit old-fashioned. I am from Merrion Street. I know it all."
Can you picture the warrior going down to the Claremorris or the Castlebar Bacon Factory and telling them that he was born in the Coombe, right beside Donnelly's? He knows all about bacon. He has been smelling it since he was born. "That is not the right way to cure bacon. That is not the way they do it in the Coombe." Are we all going out of our minds? Of course, the Minister will reply: "This is an extravagant description of my intentions under this perfectly simple section. I do not intend to interfere where I do not do good". But, thanks be to God, unless this is passed, if anyone goes into Mr. Pierce's premises to teach him his business he can take a running kick at him and put him out and tell him to go home and to mind his own business. However, when this is passed, when the gentleman from Merrion Street with the cock in his hat tells Mr. Pierce in Wexford how to run his own business Mr. Pierce must bow down before him and be very respectful. Otherwise he will not get the benefit of sub-section (4) of Section 47, and I can tell you that when he is finished going through the wringer of Section 49 he will be a mild man. The denizen of Merrion Street with the cock in his hat will be like the Czar of Russia—anyone who vexes him, off with his head. Sometimes I found it hard to believe when I was reading through this Bill that it was conceivably possible that any responsible Minister would make such proposals. Look at Section 51. The Minister himself understands paragraph (a) to be a penalty which, of course, it is not. These are merely solicitous provisions empowering the Minister to make certain reservations for the protection of the industrialist himself. It is not until he gets down to sub-section (4) that there is talk about penalties. Under paragraph (a), if Moses comes down from Merrion Street and fails to flatten the poor bulrush completely and if it shows any prospect whatever of standing up out of the mire in which it is trampled, Section 51 begins to follow. The whole story is laid before the Oireachtas. That is in order to suggest to us here that if we think the Minister has acted with undue severity we can intervene. Once it is laid before the Oireachtas, if we want to do anything about it we will be told it is none of our business. The Minister has laid it before the Oireachtas and that is all about it. Now he is going down to throttle the boy below who vexes him. The first thing he does is to walk into the premises of a person in this country and because the person will not accept his advice—in fact, because he would not lick the feet of the cock-sparrow from Merrion Street —the Minister will not allow him to distribute his profits. Where are we going in this country?
You remember the days when the Taoiseach came in here with the black suit and the funereal air to introduce the Constitution. He was in his episcopal mood that day, more a bishop than a Taoiseach, and he was laying down the Constitutional foundations for this State, all closely related to the divine laws, and there were pious aphorisms about the sacred nature of the right to own private property antecedent to all positive law and the heads over on the Fianna Fáil Benches were all nodding with solemnity. It was blasphemy to sneeze while these solemn words were being uttered by the episcopal Taoiseach. But the flighty Tánaiste, when he gets on the wing, if you cross him, he will turn a key in the cash desk and woe betide you if you take out 6d. for a half-ounce of snuff. Not a penny you own shall remain within your dominion. He will take over the whole shooting match. Private property. Private property, my foot.
The further dispositions that he proposes to arrogate to himself of my property or some other fellow's property in this country are set out in (b), (c), (d) and (e). The only one amongst them that has anything to commend it is (e) and he has that already. He never was without it, but he has never used it. It is the only intelligent part of this section. It is the only device that he has never, in 15 years, employed.
There is a penalty section, sub-section (4), and that sends you back to Sections 8, 9 and 10. Wait until you hear what will happen to you if you vex the cock-sparrow from Merrion Street. You will be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £10 for each day after the date of such first-mentioned conviction on which the act remains unperformed by you or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months. But that is not all. Under Section 8, if you commit an offence by vexing the cock-sparrow, you are liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £500 together with a fine of £10 for every day in respect of which the court finds that you are committing a continuing offence or, at the court's discretion, 12 months' imprisonment or 12 months' imprisonment and such fine together. If the cock-sparrow is really vexed and proceeds against you by way of indictment, you are liable to a fine of £5,000 for vexing him, together with a fine of £50 for every day that you go on vexing him and, if that does not cure you, to 10 years' penal servitude.
There is nobody in this country who will be able to show his nose, shortly, to a cock-sparrow from Merrion Street. Remember, the only crime for which the victim is being penalised is that he is running his business in the way in which he thinks it ought to be run and that he continues to think that he knows more about his own business than Moses or the cock-sparrow. Ten years' penal servitude, £5,000 fine and £50 a day until he comes out and says: "Whereas I was blind, now I see. All my lifetime of study of my own business was an illusion, a mistake. Moses and the cock-sparrow know all about it. I knew nothing."
It reminds me so much of the trials in Moscow: "We have spent a lifetime under the Bolshevik rule. For the last five years we believed we were doing Lenin's will but whereas we were blind, now we see. We are ignorant, treacherous, vile, corrupt, stinking, loathsome, debased, traitors and we implore the court to extend the mercy to us of penal servitude for life although we know we deserve immediate execution."
I can picture Mr. Philip Pierce saying: "I am 40 years in the agricultural implement trade. I have laboured under the shameful, degrading, scandalous, vile and treasonable illusion that I knew how to make a plough. I now cheerfully admit that Moses and the cock-sparrow are the men who know how to make a plough. I humbly apologise for ever pretending that I knew how to make a plough and I do solemnly undertake that hereafter I will make the plough in whatever way Moses and the cock-sparrow tell me and then I will humbly crave of them that, instead of sending me to jail for ten years' penal servitude and fining me £5,000, they will content themselves with locking me up just for 12 months and the £500 fine."
Have we all gone stark, staring mad? Of course, the usual reply will be made: "We do not intend ever to do the like of that." But why should we give them power to do it? What rights have we to give any Minister, any public servant, however scrupulous, however careful, however trustworthy, the power to come to me or to Philip Pierce or to any man engaged in trade or industry in this country and treat him in the way you would not treat a ticket-of-leave man released from Maryborough jail?
Why should a Bill of this kind be disfigured by a travesty of legislation such as is incorporated in Part V? We have the same thing in the Public Health Act, where there is this accursed Part III, which fixes the Lord God Almighty with notice that He slipped up when He was instituting the family and that Dr. Ryan, the Minister for Health, is going to put Him right. The rest of that Act is virtually noncontentious. Everyone was anxious to weigh-in and help in every way they could to make it more effective and to assist in its operation. Now we have this Bill, eight parts of which, although they may give rise to controversy in regard to minor details, in principle would be agreed on virtually all sides of the House, and we are invited to enter into an acrimonious tangle and wrangle about the codology contained in Part V. God only knows why. I suggest to the Minister that he should take out Part V, which seems to me to stand quite apart from the rest of the Bill, and to bring it in as a separate Bill and let us discuss it on its merits divorced from the mass of non-controversial matter that is in this Bill. I suggest to him that if he seriously proposes that there should be a constructive discussion on price control, the only means of doing it is to remove Part V, and let us discuss the balance of the Bill on its merits.
So far as price control is concerned, I have said repeatedly to the Minister for Industry and Commerce over the last 15 years that under a system founded on tariffs you will have corruption, overcharging, the exploitation of consumers and growing inefficiency. That is true in this country and in every other country in the world where a system of high tariffs has been instituted. There is no such thing as price control which will defeat the tariff racketeer when he wants to exploit the consuming public which he is supposed to serve. It is the nature of the tariff racketeer to rob the consumers who are delivered over into his clutches. Even in times of scarcity, as I have repeatedly pointed out to this House, it is utterly impossible to extend an effective system of price control to the generality of merchandise in general distribution. The only possible way in which you can effect control of prices is to pick out certain essential commodities such as bread, utility clothing for the child, the man and the woman, milk, meat, and other essentials—the fewer the better—and, if necessary, have the distribution of these things taken over completely by a central authority. Have them distributed through the authorised agents of that authority in the various centres of consumption. Take them out of the ordinary trade channels completely.
The retail trade is not designed and is not competent to effect distribution with that degree of rigid control and equitable division of available supplies that ought to characterise the distribution of essentials in times of scarcity. Having provided effective control—and the operative word is "effective"—of essential commodities, let the others rip. It is a complete illusion to imagine that when you let the others rip it means a steady ascending spiral in the matter of prices. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What will happen is that at first you will have a wild upsurge in prices, but when that upsurge will have passed the point of peak demand some of the cute boys who have been hoarding will get their fingers burned. The next time that supplies of a commodity come on the market, instead of watching the consumer they will be watching one another. They will say they got their fingers burned the last time and were left to hold the baby. They will resolve to unload it this time before the fellow across the street does so. In that way, a fair price will obtain, not, of course, the same as if there was a surplus. The salutary principle of competition will function but not in the identical way in which it functions when there is an abundant supply. In its own particular way that would be infinitely more effective than the attempt to control prices when you do not control supplies and the channels of distribution. I admit at once that it does not impose a sufficient check to keep down the price of essentials because the desire and the need of the consumer are so great that the hoarder can hoard in safety, knowing that hunger and cold will eventually drive the consumer in nolens volens. When a commodity ceases to belong to the category of absolute essentials, the tendency of the hoarder is first to force the price beyond the capacity of the most ardent consumer to pay, but, having once burnt his fingers, it is not competition in the ordinary sense of the word that proceeds to operate but a very special form of anxiety not to get left holding the baby.
What is the use of my trying to explain that to the Minister for Industry and Commerce? I have been for 25 years in the distributive trade. I have seen it function in great cities and small towns, in rural communities and in great urban communities, and many of the things I have tried to tell this House I know by instinct. I do not believe the Minister ever in his life stood for a day behind a shop counter. I do not believe that a single officer in his Department ever had a day's practical experience in the distributive trade, wholesale or retail, and yet they cheerfully undertake the burden of controlling the profit margin on every item in the retail trade in this country.
Do Deputies know that, outside the drapery and boot trade, there never was a price fixed by the Department yet which did not concede to the distributor a margin of profit far in excess of anything that he was allowed by the ordinary operation of competition before the war? If one were to go to any experienced distributor and ask him to make out the costings for the distribution of Indian meal, I would undertake to demonstrate to the House on paper that he must have a profit of 1/1½d. on it. A former member of the House, Deputy Hickey, was a great man at making out the cost of living. He could prove to anybody that a man, his wife and three children must starve if the head of the family had less than £6 a week, despite the fact that at that time you had seven-eighths of the population living on £3 a week. The point is that you can prove anything on paper. I sold Indian meal in this country for 20 years at a retail profit of 3d. per cwt. It did not matter whether the cost of the meal went down to 4/- a cwt. or up to 15/- per cwt., my retail profit was 3d. per cwt., and my wholesale profit was 1¼ per cent. I had to pay the miller in seven days although some of my customers did not pay me for seven months. If I had not the Indian meal for my customers they would not come into my shop to buy other things from me. They must bring their cart to the place where there is Indian meal and when they bought Indian meal there they bought everything else.
Ninety per cent. of the sugar sold in this country was sold with no profit at all; 90 per cent. of the sugar sold across the grocer's counter was sold for cost. It was not sold for love of the people's lovely blue eyes, but because if you did not charge the lowest price for sugar the customers bought their tea elsewhere. Up to a point you could recover the loss on sugar by putting it on to tea, but, like everything else, if you shoved on too much, the people began to say: "So-and-so's tea is getting very black. There is much better tea to be had up the street" and you were mighty careful to put the "tip" back into it.
When the Minister and his advisers, with the best intentions, called his trade consultants in to find what would be a fair margin of profit, they made out the case on paper that you could not distribute Indian meal at much less than 1/- per cwt. and as they went down the stairs they were breaking their hearts laughing, every one of them knowing that in 40 years no man ever got more than 3d. I make as much profit now on one bag of Indian meal as I made on four or five normally.