Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Restrictive Practices.

18.

asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if the Restrictive Practice Commission propose to hold an inquiry into the operation of Articles 2 and 3 of the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order, 1973 as requested by the examiner.

19.

asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if, at present, two separate inquiries are being conducted at official level into the operation of the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order, 1973 and the amendment; if these inquiries are connected; if it is his intention to have them co-related; and if the results will be published.

20.

asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order, 1973 as amended is being operated at present.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle I propose to take Questions Nos. 18, 19 and 20 together.

The examiner of restrictive practices has carried out an investigation into the operation of Articles 2 and 3 of the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order, 1973, as amended, and has recommended to the Restrictive Practices Commission that they carry out a special review of the operation of these articles. The commission has decided to carry out the special review and if, after publication of their intention to do so, there is a demand for a public inquiry, would be prepared to carry out the special review by means of a public inquiry.

The order as amended is in operation. The examiner has made it clear that the onus is on each supplier to comply with the Orders and, in particular, to prepare a written statement of terms and conditions which in the opinion of the supplier comply with the orders and to furnish a copy to him.

There is at present no inquiry being conducted at official level into the operation of the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order, 1973, but I understand that the commission will publish in the near future notice of their intention to hold the special review.

The Minister was asked in one of my questions if two separate inquiries were in operation but in his reply he did not indicate that there is an inquiry in progress by an English firm of consultants engaged by the National Prices Commission who have communicated with members of the distributive trade here. I am surprised that in his reply the Minister did not advert to this fact. Why was it considered necessary to undertake two separate inquiries at public expense within the Minister's Department?

The direction of the Deputy's query was not immediately apparent when he made reference, in his second question, to the fact that two separate inquiries were being conducted. In my brief I have no information of the sort of inquiry the Deputy mentioned. Therefore, since there is literally nothing before me, there is nothing I can usefully say now. I would be perfectly happy to co-operate with Deputy Lalor in giving him the information he wants but it is not before me. Perhaps the word "inquiry" may not have been understood in the context of the Deputy's question because, if the National Prices Commission employed consultants, that would not be an inquiry in the sense of the word, as understood, but I shall try to sort out the Deputy's difficulty.

Question No. 21.

My question is addressed to the Minister. The previous question referred to the National Prices Commission. All right, maybe there is not an association of ideas as seen by the Department of Industry and Commerce, but there is no doubt —and this is why I asked the Minister to find out why—that two separate inquiries were being carried on, one having been requested——

Have we not had that question already, Deputy?

There are three questions here and I am drawing attention to the fact that I have not had a reply to one. I wonder if it would be possible to have Question No. 19— in view of the fact that it is not being replied to today—included on tomorrow's Order Paper, with your permission, Sir?

I wonder if I can help the Deputy. Question No. 19 reads:

To ask the Minister for Industry and Commerce if, at present, two separate inquiries are being conducted at official level into the operation of the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order, 1973, and the amendment;...

The last paragraph of the answer that I read out said:

There is at present no inquiry being conducted at official level into the operation of the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order, 1973, but I understand that the commission will publish in the near future notice of their intention to hold the special review.

I submit it may be that we are not giving the information the Deputy wants. I will try to help him but, in terms of the question asked, I submit that that last paragraph is an answer.

We shall have to move on from this question.

I had understood up to now—in view of the fact that the State is paying quite an amount of money for it—the National Prices Commission were an official body and that if they were arranging to have an investigation carried out, that would be what I would term an investigation at official level. If, on the other hand, the Minister is disowning the National Prices Commission, as being unofficial, I will accept his reply. Therefore, I would ask the Minister is he not aware, or has he not been informed by the National Prices Commission, that they are at present investigating the operation of the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order? Is he not aware that an English firm of consultants have been here for some time and are coming again?

Deputy, we have had all this before.

In addition, is the Minister not aware that the National Association of Independent Retailers have been refused audience by him to have the matter discussed?

I think the matters raised by the Deputy have been answered in the last paragraph of my reply to the last question. In the light of that reply, if he wants to formulate another question, he has time to do so before the Dáil rises and we will answer him as fully and as frankly as possible.

This is not clear to me, from all of the exchanges. Are there two inquiries going on?

No, there are not two inquiries. In fact, at present there is no inquiry going on.