I move that the Committee disagree with the Seanad in amendment No. 3:—
Before sub-section (2), a new sub-section inserted as follows:—
(2) No one shall be required by virtue of paragraph (e) of sub-section (1) of this section to answer any question or to give any evidence tending to criminate himself or in respect of either of which he would be entitled to claim privilege (as being a matter of confidence between him and his legal adviser) in the High Court.
This is a particularly stupid amendment which I cannot under any circumstances accept. Apart from the fact that it is badly drafted, put in the wrong place, and entirely unnecessary, if it was of any effect at all, it would be completely detrimental to the enforcement of Price Orders under this Bill.
There are two parts in this amendment. About the privilege of communication between a person and his legal adviser, as I explained to the Seanad on the highest legal authority, that privilege attaching to confidential documents passing between a lawyer and his client is so deeply entrenched in law that it could not possibly be removed by implication and there is consequently no necessity at all for a safeguard of that sort in this Bill. But that is not what was being aimed at here: the aim was somewhat different. There is this suggestion that a person should not be asked to answer a question or give evidence tending to criminate himself. Personally, I believe that the Senator who moved that amendment saw a somewhat similar provision in the Office Premises Bill which had gone through the House shortly before and thought that it should be here without recognising that the functions and powers of an inspector under that Bill, as under the Factories Bill, are completely different to the functions and powers of the inspector here.
In this case an inspector does nothing except report to the Minister on the results of his inquiries or investigation. Anything that may happen after that is on the Minister's decision. Nevertheless an attempt was made to justify the amendment on a different ground. Let me make clear what is involved. Under the Prices Bill, 1957, provision was made that an inspector could ask a trader who was offering for sale goods for which a Price Order had been made, what price he was charging for the goods. That is what it is intended to prevent here. If I understand the arguments of the Seanad at all, it is to prevent an inspector, in a case where a Minister has made an Order fixing the maximum price of some goods, having the right to ask the trader offering those goods for sale what price he is charging for them. If you make a provision like that in the Bill, you make the whole thing nugatory.
I am not, as you know, strong on the efficacy of price control but I am not going to make myself responsible for a Bill which will make it farcical. This Bill makes it possible to introduce price control in time of scarcity, when there is a danger of profiteering and, if these provisions are to be enforced, an inspector must have the right to go in and ask a trader what price he is charging. The purpose of this amendment would be to deprive him of that power, at least to give the trader an opportunity of pleading a sort of fifth amendment and to say, "I will not answer that question because it would incriminate me". It would be a stupid provision to have in the Bill. This amendment would not achieve its object, if that is what is intended, because the amendment is put into the wrong paragraph, and certainly it would be quite contrary to all established precedents in that regard.
In other legislation passed by this House giving power to a Minister to fix prices, we also provided for the possibility of an inspector carrying out an investigation as to the prices actually charged. That applies only where a maximum price order has been made. There can be other inquiries carried out by an inspector under this Bill and I contemplate that, normally, his powers would be used when a committee has been set up and is seeking information upon which to base a recommendation to the Minister. In that case the inspector will try to get the information that the committee is seeking. But, in the particular case contemplated in this amendment, a maximum price order will have been made and it will be the duty of the Minister to enforce the order and the duty of the inspector to get him the information to allow him to take proceedings where justified. I could not undertake to accept the amendment. I do not think it is desirable. If that is what is intended, and I think it is, it is something that we should oppose. I think it was something thought up by a sea lawyer, who saw a provision in one Bill and thought it should be in the other.