Pawnbrokers Bill, 1963— Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The introduction of this Bill was foreshadowed in the Programme of Law Reform published in 1962. The law regulating the trade of pawnbroking is contained basically in two statutes of Grattan's Parliament, and it is remarkable that, apart from some minor amendments, the law has remained untouched by the legislature for so long. The statutes of 1786 and 1788 were, in fact, the first attempt of the Irish legislature to regulate the trade of pawnbroking here. Before 1786 the usury laws then in force made it unlawful to charge more than 6 per cent per annum for the loan of money, however small the loan or great the trouble connected with it. No doubt this made it difficult, if not impracticable, to carry on the trade of pawnbroking for small loans in an open and lawful manner. The Act of 1786 made it lawful for pawnbrokers to charge from twenty five to thirty per cent per annum. This is evidenced in particular by section 17 of the Act, which provided that nothing in the Act "should extend or be construed to extend to any person who should lend money at the rate of six per cent per annum only." Hence any pawnbroker who was satisfied with six per cent—and it must be assumed that even then there were very few—escaped the restrictions of the statute altogether. This is still the law, but the case for repealing it without re-enactment in the present Bill will not, I feel, have to be argued very strongly to the House.

For the purpose of discussing the Bill now before us, I am prompted to assume that most Deputies will not be altogether unfamiliar with the intricacies of pawnbroking practice and procedure and that they will have little difficulty in understanding, for example, some of the peculiar terms used in the trade. I would even hope that some may, indeed, have experienced the excitement of tracing their pawn through the sale book in the hope that its sale might have produced an "overplus". I trust, however, that such Deputies will bear with me if, for the benefit of the less experienced Deputies, I summarise the principles involved in the regulation of the pawnbroking trade by statute.

There are, first of all, two classes of pawning, namely, those that come within the Pawnbroking Acts and those that do not. The Acts apply at present where the loan does not exceed £10, and the pawnee is a pawnbroker within the statutory definition. In all other cases the contract is governed by the general law. However, we are only concerned here with pawning within the scope of the Pawnbroking Acts.

The reasons for regulating smaller pawning transactions by statute may be stated briefly as follows:—

(1) to ensure that the pawner is given a ticket which will readily identify his property:

(2) to vest the right to redeem the pledge in the person producing the ticket:

(3) to enable the pawnbroker to make a specified charge for the ticket and, before releasing the goods on repayment of loan, to demand a maximum scale of interest in lieu of all other charges of handling, storing and insuring the pledge:

(4) to make it lawful for the pawnbroker to realise the sum lent together with the interest due by the sale of the pledge at the end of a specified period if the pledge is not redeemed:

(5) to oblige the pawnbroker to pay to the pawner on demand any surplus, termed overplus in the Acts, which the unredeemed pledge may have produced on sale, after deducting the amount of the loan and all lawful charges due; and

(6) to ensure that the sale of unredeemed pledges is effected through public auction.

The main purpose of the Bill before us is to have the statute law governing pawnbroking restated in a single modern statute. Opportunity is being taken, however, to effect a number of amendments designed chiefly to simplify the law and make it suitable to modern needs. A modest increase in pawnbroking charges is also being provided for to compensate for the substantial increases that have taken place over the years in the cost of conducting a pawnbroking business. I shall deal in more detail in a moment with a number of the more important amendments proposed in the Bill.

It may be held by some that pawnbroking is dying out and that nothing should be done to keep it alive. I do not accept this view. Pawnbrokers have provided a very useful service to the community in the past. It is true that the statistics available reveal a steady decline over recent years in the demand for the services offered by pawnbrokers—a decline which reflects the general improvement in the level of wages and employment and the expansion of credit facilities in other directions. Despite these improvements, however, I believe there will still be room for the special loan facilities provided by pawnbrokers. These facilities can be made all the more efficient and the interests of pawners better protected if the law governing pawnbroking is simplified and brought up to date, as the Bill proposes to do.

The first amendment to which I should like to refer is contained in section 3 of the Bill. As I have said, the existing statute law governs pawning transactions in which the loan does not exceed £10, and this limit has remained unchanged since 1788. Having regard to the changes in money values that have since taken place, the Government consider it desirable that all pawning transactions not exceeding £50 should be brought within the scope of the statute.

Part II of the Bill deals with the licensing of pawnbrokers. The present requirements of the law in regard to licensing are detailed in paragraphs 9, 10 and 11 of the explanatory memorandum. It will be clear to Deputies that many of these requirements have long since become obsolete and that it is desirable to abolish them in favour of more modern procedures. In addition, there is no reason for not applying uniform procedures to the Dublin and provincial pawnbrokers and abolishing the present differentiation. Section 8 of the Bill provides, therefore, that a pawnbroker should be required only to obtain a licence for each premises at which he carries on business. This licence will be renewable annually and will be granted by the Revenue Commissioners on payment of the appropriate duty to be fixed by the Minister for Finance in the Finance Act and on presentation of a certificate of suitability from the District Court for which provision is made in section 10.

In considering the grant or otherwise of a certificate of suitability, it is proposed that the District Court should have regard, amongst other things, to the character of the applicant, the suitability of his premises and the kind of business, if any, in which the applicant is already engaged. A right of appeal to the Circuit Court against refusal by the District Court to grant the certificate of suitability is also being provided.

The changes proposed in licensing procedure will have the effect of abolishing the duty of £92 6s. 2d. which each pawnbroker carrying on business within the Dublin Metropolitan Police District is now obliged to pay each year to the local authority. This duty, which is in addition to the present excise duty of £7 10s. 0d. was originally imposed by a local Act of 1804 which applied the duty to defraying the charges of preserving the peace within the city of Dublin. There can be no case for continuing the payment of this duty to the local authority. Indeed it is noteworthy that its abolition was recommended as far back as 1868 in the report of a Commission of Inquiry into the pawnbroking laws. The loss of revenue to the local authorities will not be significant, £1,200 in the case of the Dublin Corporation and £92 6s. 2d. in the case of the Corporation of Dun Laoghaire.

The Government's proposals regarding pawnbroking charges are contained in Section 20 of and the Fifth Schedule to the Bill. They are discussed in relation to the existing lawful charges in detail in paragraph 25 of the Explanatory Memorandum. The Government have accepted the representations of the Irish Pawnbrokers' Association that the present lawful charges, which have remained unchanged since 1825, are now inadequate and should be increased to provide some compensation for the substantial increases that have since taken place in the costs of conducting a pawnbroking business.

In Northern Ireland rates of interest were increased in 1954. Up to then they had been identical with the rates allowed here. In the case of Britain, a slight increase was allowed in 1922 on the old 1872 rates. A further increase in British charges was granted in an Act of 1960, which, although reverting to pre-1922 interest rates, provided for the first time for a "valuation" charge of 2d. per five shillings, limited, however, to loans of £5 or under. Having considered the merits of raising the interest rates, as was done in Northern Ireland or of following the method adopted in Britain in 1960, the Government came to the conclusion that the introduction here of a "valuation" or "service" fee, would be the most appropriate method of meeting the higher costs of conducting pawnbroking business. A new fee, described as a valuation fee, of 2d. on each five shillings or part of five shillings of a loan is, therefore, being provided for in Part III of the Fifth Schedule. The fee will be chargeable only on loans not exceeding £10. In the case of loans over £10, special contracts will be allowed, which I shall deal with separately later on.

The proposals in regard to certain other lawful charges provide some modification of the present charges in favour of the pawner. The supplementary interest fee of ½d. on loans not exceeding 18/- is being abolished. At this point, I must apologise if Deputies have been misled by the information given in the explanatory memorandum concerning this particular fee. The fee chargeable is in fact a halfpenny for a loan of any amount not exceeding 18/- and not a halfpenny for each 2/- of such loan, as is stated in paragraph 25 (1) (b) of the memorandum. A standard charge of 2d. is being provided for pawn-tickets, and this will replace the existing charge of 1d. to 4d., according to the amount of the loan. The formula for the calculation of interest in respect of loan periods of less than a month after the first month is also being modified in favour of the pawner.

The proposals in the Bill will also amend the existing redemption period, that is to say, the period during which pledges remain redeemable and may not be disposed of by a pawnbroker. At present the period runs from six months to 12 months, according to the amount of the loan. The Government have accepted the representations of the Irish Pawnbrokers' Association that the present redemption period is too long and operates in many cases to the detriment of both the pawner and the pawnbroker. Since 1960, pawnbrokers in Britain are not required to keep pledges longer than six months. The proposal in section 21 of the Bill represents a compromise between the British provision and our existing law. While the redemption period is being reduced to six months generally, provision is being made for an extension not exceeding a further period of six months if interest due is paid within the original redemption period. Moreover, the more valuable pledges, that is to say, articles of gold, silver etc., are provided for specially and must be retained by the pawnbroker for a period of 12 months.

I now come to the question of the disposal of unredeemed pledges, in other words, pledges remaining unredeemed at the end of the redemption period. As I stated earlier, the law requires that all unredeemed pledges be sold by public auction. However, this is not being observed outside the Dublin area, for the reasons stated in paragraph 35 of the explanatory memorandum, which also sets out the obsolete nature of some of the provisions now governing the disposal of unredeemed pledges.

In Northern Ireland, the law was amended in 1954 and in effect unredeemed pledges now become the pawnbrokers' own property and may be disposed of as they think fit. In Britain, unredeemed pledges pawned for £2 or less become the pawnbroker's own property; but all other pledges must be sold by public auction, though pawnbrokers are free to select any auctioneer for this purpose.

It is considered that the pawners' interests would best be served by continuing the general requirement of having unredeemed pledges sold by auction through auctioneers specially nominated for the purpose by the Minister for Justice and this is proposed in Sections 29 and 30 of the Bill. However, in order to provide some relief to pawnbrokers from the rigorous requirements of the present law, at least in the case of the less important transactions, Section 29 includes a provision on the lines of the British provision excluding pledges pawned for £2 or under from the general requirement of sale by public auction. The relief will not, however, extend to pledges of gold, silver, etc., pawned for £2 or under, which will continue to be disposed of by public auction.

Section 15 of the Bill is an entirely new provision and meets very strong representations made by the Irish Pawnbrokers' Association that pawnbrokers here be allowed to enter into special contracts as they are in Britain. In Britain, the law allows a pawnbroker to make a special contract with a pawner where the loan exceeds £5, but he must deliver to the pawner a special pawn-ticket specifying the terms of the contract, a duplicate of which must be signed by the pawner at the same time. A special contract is within the provisions of the Pawnbrokers Acts, except in so far as the provisions are excluded by the terms of the special contract itself. The need for special contract arises, in the main, where large or very valuable articles are offered in pawn, such as furniture, cars, etc., involving special storing and insurance arrangements, which in turn warrant special terms. While the Association's representations have been accepted it is proposed that the provision for special contract will operate only where the loan exceeds £10.

These are the more important amendments proposed in the Bill and I hope that what I have said gives the House a fair outline of the scope of the measure. I also hope that the marginal notes inserted on the Bill itself and the detailed Explanatory Memorandum will be of assistance to Deputies. The Bill has been discussed with the Irish Pawnbrokers' Association and a number of minor amendments will be introduced at Committee Stage to meet representations made.

I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

Generally speaking, I think no one will object to this Bill. As the Minister has indicated, it is a considerable number of years since anyone had a look at the law regulating pawnbroking business and practice. The House will probably agree that the Bill is necessary, that it is worthwhile bringing it in, but my own feeling is that there are very many other aspects of the law reform programme which might have been given priority. For example, the proposals that exist in relation to the Wills Act would be a matter of considerably greater and more urgent importance than a Bill of this kind. However, I am mentioning that not as an objection to the Bill before us but simply as a reminder to the Minister that there are a number of matters in his Department still to be dealt with.

The Minister has indicated, quite correctly, that pawnbroking in this country is, to some extent at any rate, a dying business. I have not got the type of personal experience of which the Minister spoke in dealing with pawnbrokers but I certainly appreciate that for quite a considerable section of our people in the city of Dublin, pawnbrokers do provide an extremely useful service, and a useful service of a simple sort which enables poor people to raise a loan with a minimum amount of red tape and in the certainty that the article they are giving to the pawnbroker by way of pledge can be redeemed. It is, therefore, desirable that both from the point of view of the pawnbroker and the point of view of the pawner, legislation should be brought up to date.

Most of the matters which will arise on the discussion of this Bill are matters which are more appropriate to the Committee Stage. The House will have been interested to discover from the explanatory memorandum issued with the Bill that in relation to some functions, at any rate, the Minister is the successor of the Lord Lieutenant. I am rather disappointed, however, that in relation to those functions which are connected with the appointment of auctioneers to dispose of unredeemed pledges, the Minister did not take this opportunity to put out of the way of temptation the political patronage aspect of this matter.

I see no reason at all why the auctioneers to be appointed for the auctioning off of unredeemed pledges should not be appointed either by the Pawnbrokers' Association or by the Auctioneers' Association. There may have been some reason in the days of the Lord Lieutenant why it was felt necessary that he should have a hand in the appointment of auctioneers for this purpose. I do not see any reason for it today. The only purpose of preserving that power of appointment and vesting it in the Minister for Justice is the possibility of political patronage. The Minister will agree with me in this, that many people are cynical about political affairs and political life today because they suspect at times, I think quite wrongly, that there is too much political patronage in operation in this country. It is a great pity the Minister did not take the opportunity presented to him by the introduction of this Bill of dissociating himself from what I call the political patronage aspect of the appointment of these auctioneers.

At the time when it was considered necessary under the laws passed in the 1700s to appoint auctioneers for this purpose, the auctioneering business was not to any extent as well organised or as well regulated as it is today. There is now a governing body, the Auctioneers' Association. The auctioneering business is regulated by Act of Parliament. There is the requirement for auctioneers, before they can set up in the auctioneering business, that they will maintain a bond in the High Court. In those circumstances, the Legislature should have some confidence in the governing body of the Auctioneers' Association and should invite them to make these appointments. If that does not satisfy the Minister, there is in existence a Pawnbrokers' Association and I would suggest, as an alternative, that he might invite them to make the nomination or at least to make suggestions with regard to it.

The other matters I wish to raise are more detailed and would be more appropriate for Committee discussion but the Minister might be able to give his views on them. I cannot understand why in this Bill it is not possible to set out a definite commencing date on which the Act is to come into operation. It is set out in section 1 of the Bill that the Act will come into operation on such day as may be fixed by order of the Minister. Generally speaking, I do not think it is desirable that the operation of legislation passed by the Oireachtas should depend on ministerial order. It puts the Minister into a position to decide whether or not legislation passed by this House and passed by the Seanad will be operated at all.

I know that in some cases such as, for example, the recent Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, where complicated regulations of one kind or another have to be made, it is necessary to provide for the coming into operation of the Act by ministerial order. No one can say with any certainty when the necessary groundwork by way of making regulations, and so on, will be completed but in this Bill it does not seem to me to be at all necessary to have it depending on ministerial order.

I am not entirely clear either why, in the part of this Bill dealing with pledges which have been destroyed or damaged by fire, the total obligation placed on the pawnbroker in those circumstances is simply to pay half the amount lent on the article. It would seem to me appropriate that if a person pledges an article, he should get back the value of the article from the pawnbroker. Obviously allowance must be made for the amount which he has already received on loan, but I think the Minister will agree with me that when an article is pawned, it is unlikely that it is taken at its intrinsic value. There is provision in this Bill for a valuation to be made, but I am not at all clear as to whether it is to be taken as the market value or the intrinsic value of the article. It may be that the provision which the Minister has written into this Bill is the fairest method of dealing with it, but I should like him to have another look at it.

There are some provisions in Part IV of the bill which seem to place an undue burden on pawnbrokers. For example, under section 35 where they have been notified by the Garda of stolen property, they are required to "take all reasonable steps to detain any person offering or showing such property"—that is property which they think might fall within the description of stolen property which has been notified to them by the Garda. Subsection (3) of Section 35 provides that:

"A pawnbroker who fails to comply with a requirement of subsection (2) of this section shall be guilty of an offence." I do not know what is intended by the phrase: "shall take all reasonable steps to detain el" but it does seem to imply—

I suppose it would be governed by the relative physical proportions.

That is exactly the point to which I was coming. It does seem to imply that a pawnbroker will be required to use physical force to detain a person, and it may be that the pawnbroker will not be of a physique which would enable him to do that with any show of confidence, but if he does not make an effort, according to the Bill, he is committing an offence.

There is the same type of provision in sections 36 and 37. The marginal note to section 37 is: "Duty of pawnbroker in certain suspicious circumstances", and the section goes on to say what the suspicious circumstances are. Again, in subsection (2) it is provided that "the pawnbroker shall immediately report the circumstances to a member of the Garda Síochána at the nearest Garda Síochána station and shall take all reasonable steps to detain the person and seize the article or pawn-ticket and to deliver the person and the article or pawn-ticket as soon as practicable into the custody of a member of the Garda Síochána."

There again we have a situation in which the pawnbroker is required to take physical action to detain a person. I think that is a little hard on the pawnbroker. The Minister will appreciate that there is not any provision in legislation at the moment for paying compensation to people who go to the assistance of the Garda Síochána, or for paying compensation to people, such as pawnbrokers, who under this legislation have the onus placed on them of taking some physical action to implement the law. If they are hurt, or injured, or suffer loss or damage, in endeavouring to carry out this legislation, there is no provision in this Bill, or in any Act I know of, which would enable them to claim compensation for the loss, or damage, or injury which may be occasioned to them. I think the Minister would do well to look at those sections again.

Apart from those remarks, I do not think I have anything to say in regard to this Bill. It may be necessary to suggest some amendments on Committee Stage. The Minister indicated that he intends to introduce amendments on Committee Stage. A similar situation arose in connection with another Bill introduced by the Minister recently when he came into the House with the Bill and, on Second Reading, said that he proposed amending it this way or that way on Committee Stage. It would make it easier all round if the Minister would hold his fire until the amendments are ready and incorporated in the Bill. It would certainly make discussion here easier.

I suppose one could easily find oneself ruled out of order if one tried to trace any relevance between this pedestrian discussion and what is transpiring at the present moment in other parts of the country but, at the same time, there seems to be some association of ideas. Listening to Deputy O'Higgins, I was struck by his reference to the auctioning of unredeemed pledges, and by his reference to political patronage. Even in a matter of this kind, which is ideal on a day such as this for discussion in a House, in which attendance is sparse, there is an important undercurrent which concerns us all. However, it is unfortunate that political Parties had no claim on those pledges in years gone by or they might have benefited by inspection of pawnbrokers' registers.

They were generally given by promissory notes.

This legislation is timely. It is necessary to bring archaic laws into line with modern conditions. The Minister did not mention how many pawnshops are left in the country, but I imagine there must be very few.

Thirty-two: 14 in Dublin, ten in Cork, and eight elsewhere.

What would those figures have been like 20 years ago?

They have gone down very considerably.

Are there any in rural Ireland?

There are eight throughout the country.

It is obviously a measuring-stick, if you like, of the social progress that has been made in the past 40 years so far as the people are concerned. I should imagine the people who make most use of pawnshops nowadays are not the same kind of people as had perforce to make use of them in their heyday, but people who can be seen furtively entering very respectable jewellery shops, which do not display the three brass balls outside, in order to carry out the business of pledging goods of that kind. The pawnshops which formerly depended upon the tenement areas have been slowly disappearing for want of business. That is socially good, but, at the same time, I suppose it does not augur well for those engaged in the pawnbroking business, or those whom they employ. It strikes me the Minister is doing a good thing in trying to simplify and bring up to date the law in this matter. There was, I think, an official —I do not know if there is any reference to him in the Bill—associated with this business of pawnbroking called a City Marshal, if I am not mistaken.

He has been abolished in this regard.

Does he still exist?

He is still there but we are doing away with his pawnbroking functions.

I hope some other employment will be found for the gentleman. There is nothing very much one can say on this Bill unless one is a legal specialist. A lawyer can find food for discussion even in the simplest sentence. Unfortunately, I do not happen to be equipped with that kind of mentality. I simply want to say the Bill is timely and I wish it a speedy passage through the House.

I think it is agreed that this pawnbroking business is a dying business. As has just been said, it is a good thing to see that the use of this particular method of raising loans for short periods appears to be disappearing because of the much improved conditions of the people who previously had been taking advantage of it. I notice particularly the disappearance of one category, those who were thrown on the pawnbroker for immediate relief, that is, the type of person who, having pawned or pledged some item, goes to somebody else to borrow the amount of money necessary to redeem the pledge. In many cases it used to be somebody pawning his Sunday suit until wages day came around, taking it out for a day or two and then bringing it back again. It is good to see that it is now recognised that the improvement in the standard of living of our people and greater security in their employment has brought about that development which has had its reaction on the pawnbroking business as a whole.

There is one section of the Bill to which I should like the Minister to give some further thought. It has been slightly referred to by Deputy M. J. O'Higgins. The pawnbroker generally does not give the full value of the article sought to be pledged for a loan. In fact, I agree with Deputy M. J. O'Higgins that it is much lower than its value. We come to this part of the Bill which tries to regulate for the benefit of the person who has borrowed on that item pledged and is not able to redeem it. If the article is not redeemed within the period, it is then sold by auction and, according to the Act, the pawnbroker is supposed to keep the amount of money he lent, plus a reasonable amount of interest, and any surplus should go back to the original owner. But the trouble is that it is suggested—only when claimed by the owner. How is the owner to know? I think the pawnbroker should keep the name and address carefully on his books and the person who originally pledged the item should be notified. If then there is no response, the surplus should be handed to some Government Department or public custodian and kept by the State for a certain period of time. Many poor people may have left the country intending to come back after a certain period but have stayed away longer and consequently the article is lost to them. The same applies to the value of the pledged item which may be damaged or lost in fire. I think there should be some safeguard for those who are affected in that regard.

Deputy M. J. O'Higgins mentioned another aspect, that is, the duty of the pawnbroker, when he is suspicious that the article pledged with him for a loan may have been stolen, regarding the precautions he must take. Again, I want to draw the Minister's attention to the difference between a person offering stolen property to a pawnbroker and to a jewellery firm who has displayed in its window a notice that it buys gold, and so forth. In the case of a known pawnbroker accepting goods which are later discovered to have been stolen, he is liable to very severe punishment and penalties, because he has to prove that when he bought these items, he was not suspicious of their having been stolen and gave full value for them. Where it can be proved that the value given was such that the purchaser must have known there was something wrong about the transaction, he could find himself in Mountjoy for having bought stolen property. He should have known by the price quoted by the person offering it that there was good ground for suspicion. As regards the pawnbroker, I think some new thought should be given to that part too, because it is known that over the years quite an amount of stolen property has been pledged with pawnbrokers but pledged by the person with full knowledge that he was not going to pay back the money but had got rid of the article which he had come by and which was not his own. Therefore, I would ask the Minister to give the matter some further thought.

Generally, I think the measure is non-contentious but certain amendments are due, but as time goes on, notwithstanding the fact that certain people will go out of business and be unemployed as a result, I hope to see the day when the need for pawnbroking transactions will have long been forgotten.

The Minister, as Deputy M. J. O'Higgins pointed out, has brought in this legislation at a time when, as the Minister assured us, there does not appear to be any great need for it, and at a time when, as far as we know, there is other legislation which could be of value to the community, were it introduced and passed through the House.

The existence of the pawnbroker's establishment and its continued existence, even though in reduced numbers, is, I think, a criticism of society, because while the Minister's general approach to the Bill seems to suggest that the pawnbroker's establishment was a useful outlet for the young blood in temporary financial difficulties, in fact the bulk of the people using these establishments still are unfortunate working-class mothers who are in serious need of absolute essentials. Therefore, I think the existence of the pawnbroker's establishment in a country at all is an implicit criticism of the society in which there is the need for that type of institution.

This makes it quite clear that the stop-gap charity organisations which are usually found in a society such as ours have not answered the needs of families in financial distress. You find the mother on the Monday or the Tuesday—this is my experience in my constituency—unable to pay the electric light bill or the bill for food or clothes for the children. She has to try to find the money by pawning essential goods—blankets and clothing or anything of that sort that might be taken by the pawnbroker.

This is not a criticism of pawnbrokers themselves, because as has been said, they provide a useful service, but a service which nobody should find himself in need of. The fact that there has been a drop in the number of such establishments in this country has been used here, as it has in England, as proof that there has developed a greater measure of affluence in our society and that because of that, there is less need for this sort of credit. However, certainly so far as we are concerned, while there has been a reduction—the Minister says the number has been reduced considerably—I do not think we should take too much credit or become too complacent because whatever may be true about other countries, it is true here that one of the ways in which we have reached this relative affluence is by the forced emigration of hundreds of thousands of people. Let them stay in the country and we will probably find there is still a great need for pawnbroking at the level at which it was 40 years ago. Like so many of the superficial improvements in our society, I think this one could be shown in its own way to be merely superficial.

Taking the general suggestion of the advance in affluence here, the disappearance of the pawnbroker should be taken together with the appearance in our society, over the past 20 years in particular, of hire-purchase transactions. Here we have a new type of pawnbroking, if you like to call it that. Here the person is still in serious need of ready money that he can lay his hands on quickly for the provision of necessaries or of articles which are now becoming necessaries. Therefore, I think it is premature for the Minister and Deputy Briscoe to claim that it is this emergence of our affluent society that has led to the virtual disappearance of the pawnbroker, because 80 per cent to 90 per cent of our people are still living on borrowed money—furnishing their houses on borrowed money, driving around in cars bought with borrowed money.

I mentioned that in my opening statement.

Therefore, there is still a very high content of that type of living in our society. It really amounts to this: while there has been a virtual disappearance of the small credit facilities the pawnbroker afforded, there are still tremendous credit facilities on which the average family can draw, has to draw on in order to live in moderate comfort in our type of society.

Still, I think it is wrong that so many families do find it necessary to use the pawnbroker's establishment. It is essentially a sordid substitute for social justice and our people should not be placed in this position. I think the Minister, in bringing in this type of legislation is tacitly accepting the continued existence of this kind of establishment in our society for some considerable time to come. If he were satisfied that there was to be a continued expansion in our economy, our affluence, then he would not find it necessary to confront the House at this time with this amendment to antiquated legislation.

There are a few points in the Bill itself about which I should like to question the Minister. Section 9 provides that a pawnbroker may transfer his licence to another person. If a pawnbroker is guilty of any offence, if he is convicted in the courts, is this a way in which he can transfer his business and continue to do business under the name of his wife, or son, or some other eligible person, and in that way invalidate the decision of the court that he should cease to be a pawnbroker?

I should like to ask the reasons for the objection to an auctioneer as a pawnbroker, and indeed the problem in relation to bookmakers.Prima facie, I can see there is an objection to a pawnbroker having a bookmaker's establishment or a public house in the same building as the pawnbroking establishment, but is there any objection to his holding a licence for a public house or a bookmaker's licence in respect of different establishments?

In regard to the provision of a certificate for the removal of the onerous provisions under section 10, what has the Minister in mind, or is there any fixed sum in mind in regard to proof of a person's financial stability? The section says the person has to satisfy the court that he is financially stable. What roughly is the figure, or how does one satisfy the court that one is a person of financial stability?

There is another small point. Why has the Minister changed the age, in section 19, from 14 to 16, of a person who can pawn? How is a person in the business to tell that a person is either 14 or 16? Can the pawnbroker ask for a birth certificate, or what mechanism is to be employed to carry out this provision?

Is this the provision about employing a person?

This is pawning.

It is paragraph (a) of a long list of provisions. There is a further provision in regard to a person who is a habitual drunkard.

In subsection (3) of that section, there is a defence which states that where a pawnbroker is charged with taking a thing in pawn from a person under the age of 16, it shall be a good defence that he had no reason to know the person was under age.

Is that not like the child going into the cinema? Is there any point in it?

It is very difficult.

In regard to the subsection dealing with the person who appears to be intoxicated, what is the pawnbroker to do in that situation? The Minister knows well the trouble the Minister for Local Government has had in regard to the definition of a drunken driver. Is there any point putting in a provision of that kind where the pawnbroker might say "I did not think he was drunk" or "I smelled drink from him but el"? Is there any point putting in a section like this which would be very difficult for either side to prove in court, particularly if the person was not charged at the time he was alleged to be intoxicated?

In regard to the auctioneer, why is it the Minister must nominate an auctioneer for the sale of the pledged goods? Why is the alternative suggested by Deputy O'Higgins not acceptable to the Minister? In regard to the taking of stolen property, it always seems to me to be a very difficult matter from the point of view of the pawnbroker. How is he to show he did not know a certain object was stolen property? In regard to the list supplied by the Garda of stolen property or property fraudulently come by, would it be a defence for the pawnbroker to say that, since the object did not appear on the list, he could not have known it was stolen? For that reason, would he be free of a charge that he had received stolen goods?

In regard to section 37, I join with Deputy O'Higgins in asking what would be responsible steps for a pawnbroker to take in attempting to stop somebody who he believes is attempting to pawn something stolen. Would "reasonable steps" merely mean saying: "Stay there a moment; I will be back", while he goes out and rings up the Guards? Or would it mean saying: "You must not move until I get a Guard" and, if the person says: "I am going anyway", is he to throw himself at the person? Assuming the average pawnbroker probably would take the first choice——

He tries to cod him.

If that is so, I presume the case Deputy O'Higgins refers to of a man finding himself injured in attempting to prevent somebody from getting away would arise?

The trouble is that what the Minister says does not count; it is what is written in the Bill. The Bill has to be interpreted in the court.

I would not regard physical effort as being reasonable.

I accept the Minister means that, but he is not the person who will have to rule on that.

I imagine reasonable steps would be merely phoning the Guards. Whether that would be accepted by the courts I do not know.

I can look at the forms of the words, if necessary.

In regard to the Seventh Schedule to the Bill, where it states that the auctioneer should audibly declare the name of the pawnbroker as purchaser, could the Minister say if that is the present practice?

No, that is new.

This amending legislation is certainly overdue. The proposals in the Bill will bring the law relating to pawnbroking up to date and make a number of changes which have already been adverted to and which are necessary in view of the very considerable changes which have occurred since the two Acts under which pawnbrokers operate were enacted. Indeed, I suppose it is an interesting matter to reflect on that very few businesses are at present conducted under legislation passed in the pre-union Parliament known as Grattan's Parliament. Both of the Acts under which pawnbrokers operate now are nearly two hundred years in existence. Undoubtedly, many changes have occurred in the meantime in values and so on, as well as the changes in more recent times which have had an effect on the volume of business conducted by pawnbrokers. The changed pattern of life and the very substantial growth of hire-purchase have certainly absorbed some of the activities formerly undertaken by pawnbrokers. At the same time, pawnbrokers render a service and provide arrangements which satisfy the needs of certain categories in the community. Therefore, the law should be amended and the amendments proposed in this Bill go a considerable distance towards meeting present day needs.

I noted from the Minister's introductory speech that he had received representations and suggestions from the Pawnbrokers Association and that he proposed to incorporate these suggestions—or some of them, at any rate —in amendments for the Committee Stage. If I might suggest it, it would help if the Minister's amendments were circulated as soon as they are ready so that those of us who contemplate amendments may decide whether the amendments proposed by the Minister meet the views which have been expressed to us.

We shall do that.

The matters of importance in this measure have already been referred to. I agree with the views expressed here that any licenced auctioneer ought to be free to conduct a sale if he so desires. I think the wording of this section in the Bill is open to some objection, in so far as it may be the cause of embarrassment to the Minister that he should have the responsibility of selecting a particular auctioneer.

As I understand, the practice in the trade is that so far as Dublin is concerned there are only two auctioneers who conduct pawnbrokers' sales. I imagine it unlikely that, even though the opportunity is made available to auctioneers to apply for it, because of the peculiarities of the trade and the tradition that has grown up, any other auctioneer would be interested. At the same time, I believe it desirable that once auctioneers are licensed—and of course in this we have the fact that auctioneers operate only because they are licensed under the Auctioneers Acts and have satisfied the courts it should be open to them to engage in it before licences are issued to them. The changes and conditions laid down for pawnbrokers seem generally satisfactory. There are, however, certain matters in the Schedules as well as in some of the sections which probably require amendment.

In Section 19, there is a provision that a pawnbroker shall not purchase or take in pawn or exchange the pawnticket issued by him or by another pawnbroker. I understand it is the unwritten code of the trade that a pawnbroker does not purchase the ticket of another pawnbroker. In Section 21, there is a provision that watches, say, up to £2 in value should be kept for six months. An expensive stainless steel watch need not be kept whereas a rolled gold or gilt watch must be kept. I understand from those with experience in the trade that a cheap watch, if kept for a long period, could deteriorate rapidly. That might require some amendment.

Under the old Acts, fees were determined and in this case I think fees should be determined so that a pawnbroker will know his liability. Possibly some portion of the fee might be paid by the public or those who pawn. There is a provision in Section 32 in regard to sales and it seems to me there may be some confusion between the system which operates here and that which operates in Britain. I understand the system here is that each pawnbroker has a complete sale: in Britain, the practice is to have a mixed sale and an auctioneer may have a sale from two or more pawnbrokers.

There has been a good deal of discussion on Section 35 and the section might require further consideration so that there will be no doubt about the responsibility of a pawnbroker and the extent to which he may be——

Shall we say "having regard to the age and physical fitness"?

I was going to say that.

Some of them are quite athletic.

Some of them are.

There was a time when the Fianna Fáil Party were using the pawnbroker's sign as part of their propaganda.

Let us keep this debate quiet.

Does anybody know the origin of the three brass balls?

No, but most people know the significance of them. In the Schedules, certain changes are suggested, including some regarding printing. I feel that the alterations may impose too great a burden on pawnbrokers. Formerly train tickets carried rather excessive provisions on the back and in some cases even sections of the Acts or references to them. Nowadays that seems to be done away with: the bye-laws are laid down and published at the principal stations or the head office and if anybody wants to refer to them, he can do so there. In the past certain requirements might have been necessary, but if the main points are written at the bottom of the ticket and a number put on each ticket, that should suffice.

A suggestion has been made that the name of the pawner and his address should appear on the ticket. Quite a number who do business with pawnbrokers, I understand, object to that and to any suggestion that their identity could be divulged. As the Third Schedule is drafted, it suggests a pawnbroker should have one type of ticket for loans up to £10 and another up to £2. I understand there is a difficulty in this, that it would mean two lots of tickets as well as two lists of numbers and day books. Those who are qualified to speak on it say the existing practice is the only workable one—to use consecutive numbers. Apparently, if an article is pawned and subsequently redeemed and re-pawned or re-pledged, the practice is to write out a new ticket; it does not merely mean changing the date and continuing the same ticket. Any other system, it is said, causes confusion and difficulty.

Regarding the Fifth Schedule, I note from the Minister's remarks that certain changes are proposed because I gather that there is some error in the way it is worded and that the interest may be excessive. It has been suggested to me in regard to the proviso in 2(b) that seven days grace should be provided instead of three and that it would be more satisfactory; and also that the idea of a half month is not workable and that in fact it would involve farthings. We have had enough discussion about farthings recently and the scarcity of that coin not to re-embark on it. The statutory declaration in Part 2 of the Sixth Schedule might also require changes, including the date, description and the amount as well as some of the wording of the Seventh Schedule which may not be necessary. Amendment is also desirable there. Subject to these remarks and to any discussion on the Committee Stage, the proposed changes should bring the law up to date.

I am happy to see that in general the Bill is welcome in principle to most Deputies. Most of the points that have been raised and most of the questions asked can be left over to the Committee Stage. In that regard I can without hesitation give an assurance that we shall endeavour to facilitate Deputies to the greatest possible extent in regard to amendments. I will not say that this legislation is two hundred years overdue but it is two hundred years since there has been any legislation in this country on this subject and in that context I think we would be justified in taking our time over this Bill. There will be no attempt on my part to rush it and I hope to be able to give Deputies plenty of time between the Committee Stage, for instance, and the Report Stage to consider whatever amendments I shall be putting down and to afford them an opportunity of putting down their own amendments.

Deputy Dr. Browne referred to the inferences to be drawn from the fact that the pawnbroking trade is still in existence and that we deem it necessary to legislate for its continuance and existence. I do not think we can make too much of this aspect of the Bill. I pointed out in my opening remarks that there has been a decline in the pawnbroking trade and in the number of pawnbroking businesses and that I felt that this decline was due to two major factors. On the one hand, I think it is due in some measure at least to the improved standard of living, better income levels and social services of one sort or another. It is also true, of course, that it is due to a large extent to the introduction in modern times of other forms of credit facilities of which hire-purchase is probably the most important. It would require investigation by a skilled sociologist to establish what the social implications of the decline in the pawnbroking trade really were. The fact is, however, that the number of pawnbrokers and the volume of business they do are declining.

It may be of interest to Deputies to know that the average amount of loans is somewhere between 17/- and 22/-and the average period of pawning is between four and six weeks. These figures, I must say, are Dublin figures exclusively but whether that is of any particular significance in regard to this question of the social implications of the falling off in pawnbroking or not, I do not know, but those are the figures we have. The average loan is about £1 and the average period of the loan is between four and six weeks. I understand also that about 75 per cent of pledges under £2 are redeemed, whereas only 25 per cent of pledges over £2 are redeemed. As I say, it would require the skill of a sociologist to decide exactly what the social implications of this development are. I think it must be admitted that to some extent it is due to an overall improvement in the wellbeing of our citizens.

While I am dealing with Deputy Dr. Browne, may I also mention a point he raised about section 19? He queried whether, indeed, there was any value in putting the sort of thing we have in section 19 into a piece of legislation. I think there is. First of all, we would all agree that it is desirable, for instance, that a person who is intoxicated should not be going around pawning things. To some extent, we must try to protect him from himself.

I want to suggest to the Deputy and others that we do gain something by putting these provisions into this Bill. The pawnbrokers as such are a reputable body of law-abiding citizens. They will take seriously the fact that if they do not carry out the provisions of this section, they are committing an offence and I do not think they will lightly disregard them. I agree with Deputy Dr. Browne that if they disregard them, it will probably be difficult to bring a prosecution but it would be possible in some circumstances to do so. But, more important than that, the fact that these provisions are in the law governing the exercise of the particular trade, will undoubtedly have the effect of ensuring that the pawnbrokers as a body adhere to what the legislature is providing in this regard.

Quite a number of Deputies have commented on the question of the pawnbroker being expected to take reasonable steps to detain any person who offers him stolen property. As Deputy Cosgrave knows, some of the pawnbrokers are quite energetic people. Some of them follow very energetic pursuits.

Possibly. I do not think we should have any regard to their physical prowess in this matter. My own view of the meaning of this subsection is that the words "reasonable steps to detain" simply cover what is done at the moment. The pawnbroker endeavours in one way or another to detain the person on his premises while he contacts the Garda Síochána. Any question of physical restraint is completely out as far as I would interpret the section, but, as Deputy O'Higgins quite rightly points out, what I say here in the Dáil as to the meaning of this or any other piece of legislation does not count.

That, of course, is one of the faults of the common law system which we have. It is not possible for the court to take into account what the Legislature meant when it was passing any piece of legislation. The courts do not have the slightest regard to what the Minister said or to what his intention was or what the House meant when it was passing a piece of legislation. As Deputies know, on the Continent things are different. There the courts can look at what was said when the piece of legislation was going through Parliament and can also have regard to the writings and comments of jurists and learned commentators of one type or another.

We do not have that in this country and it is quite true that the courts when they come to interpret this subsection will not be the slightest bit concerned with what I have said in regard to it. Some day we will be able to change that but it would be a pretty revolutionary change. It is one from which I think considerable advantages would flow but there is not much point in talking about that in relation to this piece of legislation because the courts will just take the words at their face value and interpret them on that.

As I say, I do not intend that there should be any element of physical restraint involved in regard to the "reasonable steps" referred to in subsection (2) and we will look at the subsection again and see whether or not some other form of words might be substituted which would convey more exactly what I, and I think most Deputies, intend in this regard.

Mention was made by a number of Deputies of the question of the Minister for Justice, for the time being, appointing auctioneers. In my view, it is important that the Minister should retain the power to appoint these auctioneers. I cannot see how anybody could ever regard there being any danger of political embarrassment or scandal of any sort arising from appointments of this nature. I do not think any auctioneer would regard the appointment as of sufficient importance or remunerative potential to go to any great lengths to procure one. It is important that some authority should have control over the type of person to be appointed because here the Minister is standing, as it were, in the place of the general public and he is the protector to an extent of the general public. It is desirable that some authority—and the Minister for Justice is probably the most appropriate authority—should satisfy himself that auctioneers for this purpose should be reputable and suitable, that their premises should be suitable, and so on. I cannot readily think of any other authority to whom we could entrust these appointments but if anybody likes to suggest somebody else, we could consider it. Certainly, it should be somebody other than the pawnbrokers themselves. There is always the risk, minimal though it may be, of collusion between a particular pawnbroker and an auctioneer.

Deputy O'Higgins asks, on a point of principle, why the Bill could not incorporate in it the date on which it would come into operation. There is no great reason except convenience. When the Bill comes into operation, it will necessitate the printing of a number of new forms, pawntickets and so on. The idea is that when the Bill is passed, we shall give the pawnbrokers a period of time in which to get themselves ready for this operation. We shall bring the act into operation, by Order, when the pawnbrokers have had an opportunity of preparing these new forms, etc.

Deputy Briscoe raised the question of notice being given to a pawner by the pawnbroker when he is proposing to dispose of pledges by auction. That sort of system is in operation at the moment but it is a bit of a farce. As Deputy Cosgrave rightly pointed out, a lot of people, when they go to pawn an article, do not want to give their address and indeed in many cases they do not want to give their own name. Very often, pawnbrokers are given fictitious names and addresses, and we have a situation where the pawnbroker is put to the trouble and expense of sending out those notices—in a large proportion of cases to fictitious names and addresses. It is not real protection for the pawner and it is something that with an easy conscience we can do away with, particularly having regard to the provisions we have inserted in the Seventh Schedule governing the auctioning of pledges.

Deputies have asked me specific questions and raised particular points. I hope they will forgive me if we leave them over to the Committee Stage because we can discuss them very fully and freely then. If, as a result of any explanations I may give on the Committee Stage, Deputies still feel they would wish to amend particular parts of the Bill, I shall undertake very gladly to give sufficient time between Committee and Report stages for any such amendments to be put down.

I want to thank the Deputies who have contributed to the debate for the welcome they have given the Bill in principle. I hope it will be given a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 3rd March, 1964.