This is the second week in which Members of this House are participating in a debate on this Prices and Incomes (Temporary Provisions) Bill, 1970. I want to express in the strongest possible terms my serious objection to this Bill. We have had an undertaking from the Minister and from other members of the Government that this measure is purely a temporary one. We have been told that this Bill will be suspended as soon as the economic position of the country has been corrected.
There are two provisions in this Bill to which I take serious exception. Section 4 of the Bill mentions the prohibition of certain actions by trade unions. Section 4 reads:
—(1) If a trade union initiates, takes part in, encourages or persuades others to take part in or assists a strike to which this section applies, it shall be guilty of an offence.
Further on we see in this section that if the funds of trade unions are used to assist or encourage members in a strike the trade unions shall be guilty of an offence. I address a question to the thousands of trade unionists in this country and ask them is the trade union movement aware of this provision and are they taking a measure of this kind lying down? Are we taking too much for granted in this country? Are those who are associated with the trade union movement now reaching a stage where they are so self-confident that they are inclined to forget what has been responsible for giving them the small measure of freedom which they have and which has taken them out of the gloom and slavery of our workers from 1913 to 1923? There are thousands of workers in this country who know quite well the value and importance of the trade union movement and how essential it is. I cannot understand why, since the Minister for Finance and the Government announced the provisions of this Bill, there has not been more vehement reaction from the trade union movement. There has not been much reaction yet. The Members of this House have had a memorandum submitted to them by the ITGWU. This was an intelligent memorandum. I ask the trade union movement is that sufficient protest to make having regard to the terms and serious provisions in this emergency legislation. A trade union may feel justified, having regard to the reckless manner in which the Government have allowed the cost of living to soar, and having regard to other circumstances which may crop up in industry and which may warrant serious attention, in taking strike action. We find, under section 4 of this Bill that a trade union, which is the voice of the organised worker, the safeguard of such worker, and the movement on which the worker's future and the future of his family depends for their very existence is committing an offence if they take the only action which is available and effective on behalf of their members. Fianna Fáil say there is an economic crisis. May I ask the Minister is not the real purpose of trade union funds to assist their members in fighting for their rights and also in fighting to overcome injustice. It is quite well known that the main purpose for which the trade union movement was founded was to raise the workers of this country.
The trade union movement has been criticised very severely. Can anybody say that the trade union movement has taken any drastic action that was not warranted? Before strike action is taken, there are usually negotiations between the shop stewards or branch secretaries and the management and, where these talks or negotiations break down, it is the duty of the trade union to protect its members from serious financial loss. Furthermore, through the machinery of the Labour Court, the claims and considerations of management and trade unions are considered. Let me pay tribute here to the work done by Mr. Dermot McDermott in his section of the Labour Court where many problems have satisfactory been solved.
We find here that, in the event of a submission to the Labour Court on which the Court may decide that substantial increases in wages or improvement of conditions of employment are called for, this decision may not be put into effect by the management or by the employers concerned. What, then, is left open to the trade union to do? Must the workers concerned continue to suffer from the injustice, be it a curtailment of staff; a suggested redundancy; a claim for a substantial increase in pay due to increases in the price of food or of the necessities of life; an unfair and unsympathetic rent system under which workers will be obliged to pay increases in rent or the very high cost of building for which the Government must be charged with full responsibility? The Minister has not made clear what the trade union is to do in such eventualities. Is it completely to disregard the views and feelings of its members or is it to take positive action on behalf of the interests of its members?
Under section 4, it will be an offence for a trade union to encourage, promote or even suggest strike action. That provision seeks to weaken trade unionism. I cannot understand why we are not hearing more about this provision which seeks to handcuff and blindfold the trade union movement in this country. In conscience, I cannot subscribe to this thinking. Most of us are aware of the teaching of Pope Leo XIII in Return Novarum and we are aware of the document Quadragesimo Anno issued by a more recent Pope in which we are advised on the subject of the right of workers to organise. Clearly, the trade union has authority, according to these documents, to speak on behalf of the workers. Furthermore, we see that the workers has the right, in honesty and according to his conscience, to strike if he so thinks fit. This emergency Bill seeks to render impossible the functions of a trade union.
The trade union has a duty to its members. I am surprised that ICTU did not, as a protest against this measure, ordain a black standstill day in this country in order to drive home to all of us the significance of the provisions of this Bill which is an effort by Fianna Fáil to paralyse the activities of the trade union movement here. It is not too late yet for those who have official responsibility in the trade union movement to take action which will ensure that every adult in this country will realise what Fianna Fáil seek to do in their own interests and against the interests of the worker who seeks justice or who seeks his rights. I am not one to tell the trade union movement what they should or should not do: they know best themselves their own business. I say to the Minister for Finance, however, that he is no person to introduce legislation such as that contained in the Bill before us.
I do not accept the word of the Minister for Finance that this can prove merely a temporary measure. This measure can operate so long as Fianna Fáil want it to operate. There can be an economic emergency for as long as Fianna Fáil want an economic emergency to exist. They have created scares and emergencies when it suited them to do so—scares and emergencies for which, often, there was no foundation.
That is why I feel this is a dangerous Bill to have on the Statute Book. It is a Bill to make way for which all other legislation has been put aside, this being given primary consideration. It is a bad piece of legislation, evilly disposed, introduced with bad motives, one which provokes the highest possible suspicion. It is a distasteful piece of legislation.
I had been hoping that the debate on this disastrous Bill would have provided an opportunity for a high degree of protest from the Fianna Fáil side of the House. We seem to have reached the stage at which even the Deputies within Fianna Fáil who are affiliated to trade unions are standing idly by and allowing the Bill to come into the House and to be passed through it with their support and their votes. I want to challenge those Fianna Fáil Deputies who claim to represent various trade unions to display any sincerity or loyalty they have to the members of the unions with which they are associated and their determination to fight for the rights of the workers within those trade unions. I challenge them to go into the division lobbies and to vote for a Bill which contains a provision making it an offence for a trade union to fight for the rights and the interests of its members. I protest with all my feeble poers of eloquence against this Bill. It is wrong and I do not like it.
I have seen many horrible Bills introduced here in the past 27 or 28 years. There was the Criminal Justice Bill and the infamous Marts Bill. There were various other types of legislation throughout the years but I do not think there ever has been a Bill which aroused my suspicions and my fears more than this one. I do not think there was a Bill introduced here in the past 27 or 28 years to which I have taken such serious exception, particularly to the provisions clearly set out in section 4 prohibiting certain actions by trade unions. It is a bad provision and it is the duty of the press and of television and radio to make this provision known and understood by working class people throughout the country.
Another section to which I take grave exception is section 22:
(1) If in any respect any difficulty arises in bringing into operation or giving full effect to any provision of this Act, the Minister for Finance may by order do anything which appears to be necessary or expedient for bringing that provision into operation and giving full effect thereto.
This establishes a very dangerous precedent in this country. We have the name of being a democracy. We have the name of having a free Parliament in which there is supposed to be free expression of opinion. We expect that all legislation enacted by that democratic parliament will be in accordance with our democratic principles. I ask Fianna Fáil, and the Minister for Finance in particular, if they are satisfied that section 22 is in accordance with democratic principles. It is a section in which for the first time steps are being taken to have legislation by ministerial order. This is highly dangerous. It is a highly dangerous authority to vest in any Minister for Finance.
It can be argued that the present Minister for Finance would not make orders which would seriously affect the rights of the working class people. It is to be expected that the present Minister would use intelligent judgement in the making of orders under this section. However, it must be appreciated that this provision will be on the Statute Book and that orders could be made under it, by an irresponsible Minister for Finance. God knows, in recent times there have been shuffling, reshuffling, appointment and reappointment of Minister to and fro, and it is not outside the bounds of possibility that there may be appointed an utterly irresponsible Minister for Finance who would take advantage of section 22 and proceed to make orders with complete disregard for the rights of the working class. In such a case, all this House can do is take it and like it.
We must assume that whichever orders are made by whichever Minister for Finance will get the full backing of the Fianna Fáil Party. We have had ample evidence of that in the past few weeks. The danger I see in this provision is that it gives freedom to the Minister for Finance, it gives him a blank cheque, to legislate independently of this House. The purpose of Parliament when legislating is to give serious thought and consideration to every section and every subsection of a Bill presented for examination by Deputies. If we are to adopt a new procedure of legislation by order, I want to warn this House as seriously as I can that it is a dangerous and inadvisable step for a democratic Parliament to take. Deputies on all sides of the House should realise that.
There are many other objectionable provisions in this Bill. Sections 4 and 22 are sections to which I take strong and serious objection. We are told that the moment the financial and economic position is corrected the provisions of this Bill, known as a Temporary Provisions Bill, will cease to be implemented. When does the Minister for Finance propose or hope to have the economic position corrected? Is it not true that, for many years past, the main plank of the Fianna Fáil Party at every general election and every by-election was that they would take practical steps to rectify any defects in our present structure?
There always appears to be a balance of payments problem. There always appears to be some kind of crisis. Now we have the crisis known as the inflation crisis which they alone through their actions, through their stupid decisions, through their incompetence, their lack of co-operation, their lack of consideration for the public and their lack of proper economic planning—and we have had none—brought about. Is it not true that there appears to be an extraordinary air of prosperity in the country? In many cases families have two or three motor cars. We have singing publichouses and saloons with ballad sessions and they are full to the doors. We see all this. Years ago at the various church gates there were donkeys and carts and ponies and traps. Now there are the high horse power motorcars. Perhaps these things are good. We do not wish to deny our people these things. No one has ever said, and perhaps no one will ever say, that our people should be denied these rights, but there are two sides to every story.
As well as what appears to be an air of extraordinary prosperity in parts of the country, there is also a high degree of concealed, hidden poverty. While we have high spending and high living and a limited selective few living in the lap of luxury, we also have the lonely sections of the community, the invalids, the sick, the aged, the unemployed, the mentally retarded. We have those sections of the community in the midst of that great spending and prosperity and they appear to be completely forgotten and neglected.
It is correct to say that in this country there are very wealth people, very rich people, very well-to-do people, people who "got rich quick", people who became well-off overnight. It is also true to say that the gap between the rich and the poor is becoming wider and wider. Those of us in rural Ireland who are associated with charitable organisations such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other charitable and voluntary movements, whose purpose it is to aid the lonely, the sick and the forgotten, know quite well that we have today a vast amount of concealed, hidden poverty which should be dealt with and which is no credit to the apparent prosperity suggested by the high horse power cars and the ballad-singing lounge bars.
I have often pondered on the sadness and loneliness and depression which must overcome the numerous poor people who, because they possess a certain amount of self-pride—thank God in Ireland today there is in some of our people a certain amount of self-pride—do not make known to local authorities, to Deputies or to councillors the circumstances in which they live. Members of all parties who know there are various pockets of that kind of distress and poverty and loneliness should not be backward in speaking for those people who cannot speak for themselves. They are unable to stand up at council level or in our Parliament to speak for themselves. They seem to be the forgotten and lonely poor of this country.
One would imagine that, after the greatest part of 50 years of native Government—and Fianna Fáil Governments were continuosly in office since 1932 with the exception of two brief breaks, one of two years and the other of two-and-a-half years—loneliness, poverty and distress would have been eliminated, but they have not. It must be borne in mind in speaking of inflation that at the moment our national debt is over £1,000 million and we will shortly reach a service figure of £100 million per year interest on our national debt. Is not that an extraordinary state of affairs? There we see the results of a Fianna Fáil administration, one might say continuously since 1932, except for the two brief periods in which there was a ray of sunshine from the point of view of achieving an economic recovery—the two periods of inter-Party Government.
In addition to the £100 million per year interest on our national debt of £1,000 million we find that our local rates are approaching the figure of£50 million per year. If one adds that £50 million to the £100 million interest on our national debt and the £1,000 million national debt one finds that there is very little return for such a vast sum of money. In spite of all that, our trade figures are not very encouraging. They have undergone very serious deterioration. Our merchandise import excess was over £100 million in 1968 and over £150 million in 1969. Today it is over £200 million. That is an extraordinary financial position for a country such as ours, coupled with a further economic disablement—the fact that our balance of payments current account depreciated from £15 million credit in 1967 to a £60 million deficit in 1969. That was an extraordinary change from credit to debt. That is worthy of very serious note when one talks about how we stand financially and how this Government are paying their way, how this Government are planning and handling, distributing and administering the money of this country, money which the people entrusted to them to handle wisely and spend prudently. It is worthy of note that in 1967, less than three years ago we had £15 million credit and now for 1969-70 we have a deficit of almost £60 million. What happened? Is it not bad management? Is it not irresponsibility? Is it not bad planning? Is it not imprudent spending? Surely we must take a very serious view of figures like that?
We must also take a very serious view of the alarming state of industrial relations. There seems to have been no effort made by Fianna Fáil to bring workers and employers together in an atmosphere of commonsense, of give and take, having regard to the economic position of the country. We had a Minister for Labour who did nothing about industrial relations; we had a Minister for Finance who knew the economic disaster into which this country was falling and who did nothing about it; we had a Taoiseach in charge of all who did nothing about it. We had various Ministers all interested in Departments other than their own, all quarrelling amoung themselves, jockeying for power and authority, all waiting to see if the Taoiseach would rise up and there were three or four of them waiting to bounce into his seat. They were not interested in industrial relations. They were not interested in the question of a harmonious relationship between worker and employer. They were not interested in the working out of a voluntary formula, in the interests of the country, whereby we could be described as having some degree of industrial relations.
Is it not correct to say—I have yet to hear it denied—that our industrial relations, according to figures from the International Labour Office, are the very worst in Europe, that we are losing more manhours through strikes than any other country in Europe? Can anyone say that we have not won the strike championships over Britain, that we have not beaten France in the strike championships? Here we are trying to get into the EEC—I do not propose to deal with our application now, another opportunity will arise— but is it not a fact that a country must at least show that it has some economic standard? We are anxious to co-operate with the rest of Europe. Have we an impressive economic record? Is it not correct to say that a Bill of this kind is not an impressive certificate for the rest of Europe? Is it not also correct that if we are discredited and shamed it is due to the incompetence of Fianna Fáil? We have the trophy for the greatest strike record in all Europe. Shame on the Department of Labour for inactivity and disinterest and shame on every voter that files into the division lobbies for Fianna Fáil with such a record of loss of time, loss of production, loss of man activity, all due to the fact that we are Europe's best country for strikes.
We have bad industrial relations, the greatest strike record in Europe, our national debt is beyond our wildest dreams, the servicing of it beyond our most vivid imagination, and there is still a greater crisis to come. Inflation has been allowed to go unchecked by Fianna Fáil, because with the jockeying for power and office among themselves they took no notice of the country and they allowed everything to run amok like a boat on the high seas without a skipper, going with the tide, going with the highest waves and as the wind changes it changes its course. That was how it was with the economic position of this country. There was no guide, no leadership, no planning, no stability. All these crises have taken place, deliberately manufactured and imposed upon us by Fianna Fáil, but the greatest crisis of all is yet to come.
I want to warn this House that a very serious situation is prevailing at the moment. As this is the first day on which the banks have opened to the public after the many months of lockout—I shall not use the word "strike" because it was not a strike—we find that numerous people who have money on deposit in our Irish banks are now going to transfer their savings to the British banks, to the American banks or to the Northern Ireland banks. Of course, the American banks remained open while our own banks were closed and by so doing they helped business and, consequently, they did business. Is it not a serious matter for the economy of the country that some hundreds of thousands of pounds, be they savings, investments or otherwise, will now be transferred to banks outside the country?
Our people have become fed-up with the lock-outs and strikes in our banking system. The stage has been reached where there is no confidence in the banks. The people of this country have not been able to withdraw their own money. The result of all this is that their investments will now go abroad. Now that we can see this crisis arising, will the next crisis not be brought about by the devaluation of the £? When speaking on prices and incomes we must take into consideration the valuation of the £. The value of the £ has diminished as a result of the activities of Fianna Fáil. Now that the bank crisis is over, the view has been aired and aired considerably that devaluation may be considered by the Government. In connection with the provisions of this temporary Bill, what is to be the position of people whose incomes, whose investments and whose savings are limited if the Government, as they are free to do, decide to devalue the £? They can devalue up to 10 per cent as was done in France without consultation with anybody.
This may be all right for those of us who concentrate all our energies on helping the poor but, as the late President Kennedy said, the country which cannot look after its poor, cannot for too long, protect and safeguard its rich. No country can survive on its poor. This devaluation is sure to come and it will have serious and detrimental consequences for many of our people.
The Minister for Finance has been cute enough to avoid all references to devaluation. Having regard to the figures I have quoted, how is the Minister to rectify the present economic situation because, if the trade union movement have any common sense or intelligence, they will ignore the provisions of this Bill? There is no worker or workers' trade union who will subject themselves to such provisions in view of the living costs that are forced upon them.
I want the Minister for Finance to tell us openly if he has not the question of devaluation of the £ under consideration. As I have said, he can devalue without any consultation or without any regard to this House. We have all read and studied the facts in relation to the reduction in the valuation of money in France and other places and we are only too well aware that there is nothing to prevent our Minister for Finance from devaluing to the extent of 10 per cent.