Consumer Information Bill, 1976: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No. 20:
In page 7, lines 11 to 15, to delete subsections (2) and (3) and to substitute the following subsections:
"(2) The office of Director shall be a position in the Civil Service and no person shall be appointed to the office unless the Civil Service Commissioners, within the meaning of the Civil Service Commissioners Act, 1956, after holding a competition under section 15 of that Act, have, under section 17 of that Act, selected him for appointment to the office.
(3) A person appointed to be the Director shall hold office for a period of five years but the Minister may, if he thinks fit, continue the appointment (including an appointment previously continued under this subsection) for such further period not exceeding five years as he considers appropriate.
(4) (a) The Director may be removed from office at any time by the Minister.
(b) If the Director is removed from office under this subsection, the Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas a statement of the reasons for the removal."
—(Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy).

Before lunch we were dealing with section 9 and the Minister's proposed amendment. I referred to the problems that might arise if the director were a public servant and it would appear from the amendment that that is the intention. While I would be slow to point the finger at the director as a civil servant, difficulties will arise if this new director is from the public service. I referred to the constraints that would be on him when dealing with State bodies. I listed some instances of State enterprises where he would find it difficult to act without having restraints put on his activities.

I was about to mention what happened in the case of a consumer council which was referred to on 30th October, 1977, in the Irish Independent by John Foley, Consumer Affairs Editor. In quoting one of those members he said:

Nobody knows we exist and the council is dying a slow death. Many of us are giving up in frustration.

That council did not have any teeth. They did not have any function to deal with the kernel of the problem with regard to Posts and Telegraphs, that is, the type of service given and the cost. These two areas are outside the duties of this council because they come directly under the aegis of the Minister.

I mentioned State bodies as monopolies—in the manufacturing sphere there are the Sugar Company, Bord na Móna and so on, or in the giving of a service, such as the ESB, CIE and so on. The Post Office Users' Council failed. I would like to draw attention to their activities and show why they were ineffective in protecting the consumer. The Post Office is a State body giving a service. What hope has the consumer if this new director is merely a cog in the wheel of State bureaucracy? When the Post Office send a bill they need not, and do not, give an itemised account under certain headings. This is the only area I know of where anybody may demand payment without giving an itemised account. We all know the difficulties that arise if we question the validity of a telephone bill. This is an area where I presume the director would have some function but because he is in the service, and human nature being what it is, I presume he would find it difficult to follow this through to its logical conclusion.

As we all know, the ESB arbitrarily cut off supply from a household. This is nothing short of what I would call commercial tyranny. At least they provide a meter and there is some redress in that the meter tells the truth. This power to cut off supplies——

The Deputy is going very wide of the amendment.

I am trying to establish the problems that will arise when the Director of Consumer Affairs, who is a public servant, is dealing with problems in State monopolies. Most monopolies in Ireland are State monopolies. Last week a Fianna Fáil Senator suggested in the Upper House that we create a further monopoly—a biscuit monopoly.

If the director is to be effective he must, first of all, be above suspicion. I want to reiterate that to my mind his civil service status is no reason why the finger of suspicion should point to him. According to this amendment he will be a civil servant and there is a grave danger that as he is part of the bureaucratic infrastructure of the State he will find it extremely difficult to act fairly on behalf of the consumer. While he might find it easy to act fairly he would probably find it difficult to act in the kind of practical manner that would result in some redress for an aggrieved party. Deputy O'Malley while in Opposition made a very strong case during the debate earlier this year for this approach. Presumably the pressures of office have been brought to bear on him because he now puts forward an amendment which is the opposite to what he was advocating then.

The section dealing with the appointment of a director does not specify the type of person to be appointed. I appreciate that it would be difficult to do this in drafting the Bill, but could we not amend section 9 in a way that would tell us something about the office of the director—for instance, what facilities will be made available to him to enable him to carry out his duties? We are told that he shall be independent in relation to the performance of his functions. That is a laudable objective, but we must be practical about it. A public servant, by reason of his being within the public service, would be restricted in anything he might do. It is important, too, that the office of the director carry with it a proper back-up service and, most important, that a budget be designed for the director. Otherwise, he will be ineffective and hamstrung. There is no mention of these matters in the Bill. While there are references to the functions to be performed, there is no information regarding the facilities that will be made available for this purpose. Without a budget the director would not be able to act freely. Rather, he would be looking over his shoulder at his colleagues within the civil service for guidance. That sort of situation would be totally unsatisfactory and would be of no benefit to aggrieved consumers.

I agree with the proposal that the appointment be made by the Civil Service Commission, but that need not necessarily mean that the person appointed shall be a civil servant. Indeed, I would urge strongly that the director be someone who is not a civil servant; but it may happen that on the basis of their interviews the commission may decide to appoint a person who is a public servant. In such event I would suggest that what would apply then would be the reverse of what is provided for in the Bill. I can appreciate that this would give rise to certain difficulties. A civil servant is a permanent official with certain pension and gratuity rights, but it should not be outside the bounds of possibility to arrange that in the event of a civil servant being appointed to this office there would be built-in guarantees with regard to these issues. I expect that the Parliamentary Secretary would be advised by her officials in the Department that an impossible situation would arise so far as they were concerned in the event of somebody from outside the public service being appointed and remaining outside the public service. Civil servants would probably think in terms of insurmountable difficulties in respect of grading and so on, but such difficulties should be capable of being overcome.

The appointment of a person from outside the public service would ensure that the director would not be subject to the restraints, imaginary or otherwise, that would be placed on an appointee from within the civil service. The person from outside would be in a position to act more independently and there would be the question also of the Minister having the right at any time to dismiss the director. Traditionally public servants are jealous of their status within the public service and I am sure that the chances would be nil of a stage being reached where a specific approach on the part of the director would draw the wrath of the Minister of the day. In any logical argument the balance would seem to indicate that the person appointed should be from outside the public service. Such a person would be able to react more quickly, not necessarily more favourably, to public reaction and to consumer interest and consumer demands be they unorganised or organised, if he were one of themselves. While the type of person to be appointed is of major significance, the office which he holds is more important still. No matter who is appointed, what status he is given or whether he reposes inside or outside the public service, unless he is given the wherewithal, which means adequate finance and personnel, he will not be in a position to act and carry out his functions on behalf of the consumer.

The Bill as originally drafted provided that the Minister was to nominate an officer of his own Department—that would be the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy—to be the director. Following considerable pressure from the former Deputy O'Malley, now Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, the proposed amendment which is now before the House was introduced by my predecessor, Deputy O'Toole's colleague. Under this amendment it is provided that a public competition will be held, that is a competition open to the whole country, in which civil servants and non-civil servants from every walk of life would be free to apply for the position of Director of Consumer Affairs when the position is advertised. However, it does provide that on appointment as Director of Consumer Affairs the person will then become a civil servant.

Under the Bill as drafted originally the director was to have been an officer of the Minister. This would mean in effect that, although it was the intention originally that he should be as independent as possible, he would in fact or in law derive his authority from the general direction which would be given to him by the Minister. However, at the discussion on Second Stage and after Deputy O'Malley's suggestion at the time, this amendment was brought in. Under the amendment the director will be the holder of a statutory post and will derive his authority from the powers which will be given to him under this Consumer Information Bill.

These two changes which are brought in in this amendment will ensure that the director himself will be independent. I think this is the main thing which concerns Deputy O'Toole. He seems to have doubts as to whether the person, whether he be a civil servant or not at the beginning, on his appointment as civil servant, would be able to perform his functions independently. He will be a civil servant but he will not be an officer of the Minister. Therefore his powers will be not those derived from the Minister and not directions given by the Minister to him as director, but powers which are being given to him under this Bill.

To whom is he responsible?

He will be responsible in the end to the Minister because the Minister may remove him from office if he feels that he has sufficient reason for removing him from office. However, on removing him from office, the Minister must present a statement to both Houses of the Oireachtas, to prove there is a reason.

Would that be after his dismissal?

After his dismissal, yes.

The Parliamentary Secretary has stated in one breath that he will not be responsible to the Minister.

I said that he would not derive his powers from the Minister, that he would not accept directions from the Minister. Any powers he will have will be given to him under the provisions of this Bill.

I appreciate the subtlety that this House is giving this new creation the powers to carry out certain functions but this House has not the power to dismiss this new creation. That rests with the Minister, and in that sense there is a contradiction here in that the Minister takes unto himself the power of dismissal while he does not have the power of appointment. I am not suggesting that because this person is a civil servant the finger of suspicion and compromise points to him. But, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, the traditional outlook of civil servants in this country is that they carry out their functions to the best of their ability under the political head of their respective Departments. It is strange that the Minister in this case, while he does not have the appointment of this creature, has the power to dismiss him. Even though this House sets up the machinery through which this person is appointed, this House subsequently in the case of dismissal is simply told that Mr. So-and-So was dismissed last Friday because of a, b, c and d. I do not know if even a, b, c and d are necessary.

Subsection (4) (b) of the amendment refers to "a statement of the reasons for the removal". There is something contradictory here, and with this diehard approach of this person having to be a civil servant we should take a fresh look at this whole area. We are breaking new ground here in this Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary says that other consumer Bills will follow and I would hate to think that the whole of our consumer legislation would be centralised in a Department or in the State structure. We are dealing here with matters which concern everybody. We are dealing with consumer information in this Bill. The provisions of this Bill would be much more appreciated by the consumer bodies and by the consumers in general if they could say: "Here we have a man speaking on our behalf, one of ourselves, outside the trammels of State bureaucracy, making our case for us." They would have confidence in this type of person and with him they would not be in a position to say: "Well, he failed because he was a civil servant."

I am speaking now on behalf of the civil servants. If anything goes wrong with this appointment, who is going to shoulder the blame? The public service, because he is one of them. It is a question of "them" and "us" and there are more of "us" than "them". I am not trying to make a political point here because we are all concerned that we get in this Bill the optimum advantage on behalf of the consumer. I do not believe that at any time it crossed anybody's mind in the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy that this person should be outside their ranks. The whole thinking is that he should be inside their ranks and anyone outside of that would be anathema to them. It is a kind of closed shop affair, not that it may result in any grave disadvantage to the consumer. I feel on balance that this person should be from outside. Not alone must he be independent but he must be seen to be independent.

As things stand in the amendment this person may be independent but to the ordinary man in the street he may not be seen to be so. This is one of the problems with our present approach to such matters as the appointment of the Director of Consumer Affairs. We should let a little bit of fresh air into the whole structure and see if it will work. Subsection (2) of the amendment states: "The office of Director shall be a position in the Civil Service ...". If that were left open it would let a little bit of fresh air into this section. If at the end of the day the person appointed turns out to be the best man or woman for the job and turns out to be in the civil service, fair enough, but it should not be written into the Bill that the person must be in the civil service.

It may well turn out that some time in the future a crusader on behalf of consumers generally may appear on the horizon and it might be seen to everybody that this is the person that is needed. We should not tie ourselves down in legislation which will last for years to come that this person must be a civil servant. We should not write that into the Bill. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to have another look at this between now and Report Stage or on Committee Stage in the Seanad to see if it is possible to get over some of the practical difficulties with which I know she is confronted. I have a feeling that in State Departments it is not possible to do something like this. If the Parliamentary Secretary can convince her officials that it might be possible with careful scrutiny to do this she will be going a very long way to satisfying the needs of the consumers and she might start a trend in the public structure that will lead to greater things.

Deputy O'Toole spoke about bringing fresh air into legislation. I feel this is what this amendment is about. If we left the section as it was originally in the Bill the Director of Consumer Affairs would virtually be under the Minister's thumb. The Minister, whatever Minister of the day he might be, could direct the director to carry out his duties in a particular manner or he could direct or not direct him to bring a case before the courts. Under this amendment one of the limitations on the director's freedom is that the Minister has the power to dismiss him. I am sorry that I may have misled the Deputy when I said that he will not have to consult the Oireachtas. In fact, he cannot remove the director from office without first presenting sufficient reason to both Houses of the Oireachtas for so doing. The second limitation is the Minister's power not to reappoint him.

I believe both of these things are very important because in the event of something going wrong somewhere and the wrong person being appointed to the office of director, which may become evident immediately after his appointment or it may be two or three years before this becomes evident, if the Minister did not have this power we would saddle the country with a person who was incapable of carrying out his duties, whether he had a personal problem or whether it was a bias, as the Deputy mentioned earlier. It is very important that the Minister's power in this be upheld. If the country was saddled with some person totally unsuitable the Act would become inoperable. I feel that the powers are necessary.

The Minister's powers are limited because if he thinks the director has to be dismissed he must present sufficient reasons to both Houses of the Oireachas for his dismissal. It may be well to remember that at present holders of statutory posts under this Department who are civil servants have not received and do not receive any instructions from the Minister as to how they should carry out their duties. These holders are the Controller of Patents, the Examiner of Restrictive Practices and the Registrar of Companies. While I feel that Deputy O'Toole has made a very reasonable case I do not honestly see that anything can be gained by deciding at this stage that the director should not become a civil servant. It is important to remember that the competition will be open to every member of the public, male and female, who wants to apply and, therefore, the widest possible range of candidates can and, I am sure, will apply when it comes up for appointment. The person may be from within the civil service and probably may not but I feel it is important on his appointment that he should become a civil servant.

I am very glad to see that this appointment is not to be a political one. It is a further example of the openness of the policies of the Government. Deputy O'Toole was very concerned about this person being a member of the civil service. We should bear in mind that we are not establishing a pressure group. We are establishing a body and a director who is to investigate and see that we are given the information necessary to understand what is happening in the trade description advertisements and various other factors which affect consumer information.

It is very important to have somebody who is clearly seen to have integrity and objectivity and to have an overriding reasonable approach because we must bear in mind the very conflicting and varied interests which are part of the whole consumer, producer and middleman scene. On the other hand, it is important to bear in mind that there is great scope for further development in the area of consumer representation. There is scope for development between the producers and the consumers. Basically the interests of the producer and the consumer are very much akin, but the changes which take place between the original production and the ultimate retail consumption can be very hard to distinguish and identify and can give great scope for misrepresentation, misunderstanding and misinformation.

Essentially in most producer situations as we find them, the cost of production can be fairly readily established and monitored. Basically the consumer is interested in fair practice and fair and reasonable costs. If the consumer can be informed properly and truly of the reasonable costs, the consumer will have the best deal he or she can get. Very frequently the inefficiencies arise in the various chains of distribution, and sometimes they are only inefficiencies in the system of distribution. At other times there may be a question of excessive margin taking. This is the area where the greatest concentration of effort will be required by the Director of Consumer Affairs.

On the point made about the civil service, we should look at what has been happening in recent years. As far as the work of the Department of Agriculture is concerned in the fruit and vegetable area, it is quite clear that standards have been improved tremendously over the past number of years. With painstaking and very difficult work by the staff carrying out the instructions of the personnel within that Department, there have been tremendous advances. Of course, there is scope for further considerable improvement; but this work has been done by people who can be clearly seen to be objective in their approach, and their objectivity was one of the key factors in their success with the consumers, retailers and producers. There is a need for diversification, if you like, and the further development of consumer bodies and organisations. It is to these organisations that consumers should look for the very strong pressure groups some people seem to be thinking of at this stage.

The question of monopolies was raised. Here again this amendment makes the director answerable to the Minister. This gives Deputies scope for seeking information from the Minister on the operation of the Bill in practice. I would hope, as Deputy O'Toole hopes, that the director will have considerable freedom of action and be given staff, finance and access to information to enable him to do a worthwhile job not only on behalf of the consumers but of all of us.

I should like to refer to a statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary concerning the removal from office by the Minister of the director for any given reason. She said the Minister must give reasons to this House prior to his removal from office. The subsection provides:

If the Director is removed from office under this subsection, the Minister shall cause to be laid, before each House of the Oireachtas a statement of the reasons for the removal.

There is nothing there to suggest the Minister must come in here and give reasons for the removal prior to his removal from office. I should like to have that clarified because, if there is nothing in the Bill which would suggest this is so, I should like to know what would happen in the event of this House deciding otherwise than what the Minister thinks. It could be rather awkward and I should like to have that matter cleared up.

I should also like further clarification. Would it be possible for the Parliamentary Secretary to elucidate what type of back-up service she has in mind for the new Director of Consumer Affairs and to what extent finance will be available for the carrying out of his functions?

The Deputy might raise those matters on the section. They do not arise on the amendment before the House at the moment.

We are talking of the office of the director and I am seeking to get further information on what this means.

The financing might arise appropriately on the section later on, but not on the amendment.

It may and it may not. There is no way in which it can arise on any subsequent amendments or sections. We are talking generally about the office of the director. I submit it might be appropriate for me to seek this information now. If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle can see any amendments further down which might be more appropriate, I will submit to his ruling.

What I am saying to the Deputy is that that type of information can be ascertained on the section when we come to the section, and not on the specific amendment before us now. I will give the Deputy an opportunity to raise those questions on the section before I put it.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. In that case I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up her comment on subsection (4) (b) concerning the removal from office by the Minister of the director.

The Minister is required under the Act to place before the House the reasons for which he feels it is necessary to dismiss the Director of Consumer Affairs from office. He is not, in fact, required to present a resolution to this effect to the House. Whoever the Opposition spokesman of the time might be if this were to arise—and it may never arise —it would be open to him to submit a resolution to the House which may be accepted by the Ceann Comhairle of the day. The statement made by the Minister may be debated in the House and criticisms of that statement may be made or extra information which may not have been in the statement may be required.

The point I am trying to ascertain is this. When is the Minister obliged under subsection (4) (b) to do this? Is it subsequent or prior to the removal of the director? If it is subsequent to his removal, the horse has bolted and, if I were here as spokesman, there would be no point in my putting down a resolution criticising the Minister. I may criticise him but it is wasting time. The man has now been removed from office. It is a question of when the Minister is obliged to come before the House with the reasons for the removal.

Subsections (4) (a) and (b) provide:

The Director may be removed from office at any time by the Minister.

If the Director is removed from office under this subsection, the Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas a statement of the reasons for the removal.

It seems to be up to the Minister. In most cases the dismissal would possibly take place first and a statement of the reasons for his removal would possibly be made on the same day. It would be highly undesirable, however, to give the reasons for dismissal if the main reason was that he was unsatisfactory in his job or there was some personal disability, such as alcoholism. It would not be practicable to have these discussed in the Oireachtas. If he were to develop an incapacitating disease it would not be proper to discuss this in Parliament in the interests of his family and himself. Deputy O'Toole will appreciate that.

I accept all that. What I am trying to ascertain is the timing of the Minister's statement. A while ago the Parliamentary Secretary stated it would be prior to removal from office. Now she uses the phrase "It seems". We are legislating and words relating to this kind of operation must be very definitive. We must be very sure of our steps. Words like that show the uncertainty that exists in section 9 (4) (b) which reads:

If the Director is removed from office under this subsection, the Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas a statement of the reasons for the removal.

Reading this as intelligently as I can, it seems to me—I can indulge in the luxury of using the word "seems" whereas the Parliamentary Secretary cannot afford that luxury—that the Minister will come in here and make a statement subsequent to the removal from office by him of the director. May I have that verified because, if that is so, discussing the removal subsequently or the reasons attendant on it do not make much sense?

Finally, as the Parliamentary Secretary has pointed out, the reasons for removing the individual from office may not be proper for discussion here at all. Now I can see instances where removal from office might take place for reasons other than the delicate ones implied in the Parliamentary Secretary's statement—in other words, reasons that could very well be discussed here, reasons which we, as public representatives, might be obliged to discuss publicly. If these reasons are to be discussed subsequent to removal by the Minister there is no great point in airing the matter at all except, perhaps, for personal satisfaction.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would be well advised to take a very sharp look at this section between now and Report Stage. Because of a debate by a sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges relating to accommodation, I was regrettably unable to be here for the initial discussion on this section. There are several worrying features here. Suppose, for example, an officer of this House was deemed to be unfit by the Minister for the Public Service to hold his job any longer, will the reasons for his removal be published in Iris Oifigiúil and will the reasons be discussed by this House? This is a very odd provision. I have tried to check through the 1956 Civil Service Regulation Act and I have been unable to find anything like this. One could table a Parliamentary Question to find out why the officer was removed, but appointing someone for five years and reappointing that individual for another five years is a very restrictive provision.

That is not the case. The director can be appointed for five years, a subsequent five years and a subsequent five years, and so on, until the Minister decides he does not want to reappoint him or the individual concerned wants to retire. It does not specifically tie the Minister or the director to ten years.

No, but in practice there is an obvious inference. I am not so sure that a trade union civil servant would agree to that kind of appointment. I am sure a principal officer or an assistant secretary would not agree to that kind of appointment and would look askance at it. I am not happy about this. It is a bit of a mishmash. There were discussions in the previous Administration between the civil service trade unions and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. There is an elaboration here of the process of appointment. Despite reservations by some people, I go along with the idea of appointment by the Civil Service Commission. There are two unnecessary restrictions in subsection (4) (a) and (b) which may prove detrimental in the long run. For example, at the end of 12 months it may become obvious that the director is the greatest disaster that ever hit us in terms of consumer information. Yet the period of appointment is for five years. Why not three? Why not ten? This is not the way in which people are appointed to State-sponsored bodies.

Why not have another look at this? I can understand how this has evolved. I remember long tortuous discussions between Deputy Haughey and Deputy Bruton, when he was Parliamentary Secretary, on the appointment of the director. I am aware of the discussions between the trade unions and Deputy Bruton prior to the Bill being debated last time, the unions making representations about the conditions of employment of the director and how they felt the matter should be handled and Deputy O'Malley, working at a tangent, had separate views when we debated this last April. Now we have the present proposal. I can sympathise with the Parliamentary Secretary's dilemma in trying to bring some finality to this matter. We have opened up some issues without which I think the senior advisers of the Department would feel better off.

Unfortunately, I cannot stay for the remainder of the debate as we have a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at 4.30 this afternoon. Probably, I shall be better off: these heaters have been the subject of a United States report on consumer safety and the report was not very flattering.

The Deputy is aware that the heating broke down—temporarily, I hope.

I appreciate that but I have a report on portable heaters from America which is quite frightening——

Apart from that, there is no other heat in the debate.

This is no reflection on the Irish manufacturers but these appliances have been the subject of some scarifying reports by American consumer agencies.

I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should review this matter and perhaps have a chat with the trade unions concerned because I do not think we want a situation where some outstanding individual employed, say, in private enterprise or in a State-sponsored body, in the public service, who might want to apply for this job and might have a passionate desire to make a national contribution as director of the division, might be deterred. When he looked at the conditions of employment he might be put off leaving some reasonably remunerative employment with far less onerous conditions to accept these conditions which I am not sure many public servants would wish to work under and which might be very inhibiting in bringing the director's work to full fruition.

From Deputy Desmond's remarks I understand he would want the appointment for an unlimited period.

That is the way public service appointments are usually made.

We would all agree that public service appointments which are normally made would be made from within the public service and therefore there would have been considerable experience of working with the individual who might be appointed, but where the appointment is being operated and an open competition being held we shall be depending on the opinion of an interview board of the Civil Service Commissioners. It is important, therefore, that a specified term of office be stated and in the event of the appointee proving satisfactory at the end of five years he could be appointed and, perhaps, at the end of another five years, reappointed again. Further, the present position of Examiner of Restrictive Practices is on the same basis. If a situation arose where the director would have to be dismissed by the Minister it is important to realise that it would only be a dismissal of the Director of Consumer Affairs; in fact he would have been appointed a civil servant on his appointment as Director of Consumer Affairs and would remain on as a civil servant after his dismissal as director.

As regards the very valid point raised by Deputy O'Toole, that the Minister would have dismissed a director when he would lay his statement of the reasons for the removal before the House, if a debate took place on the statement, I feel that what the House would be debating is not whether the director should have been removed but whether the Minister had acted properly in removing him and that what would be under discussion would be a check on an arbitrary decision of the Minister, whoever he might be.

Why not have a decision of the Government in regard to the dismissal? I know this has been debated before. The Minister, Deputy O'Malley, is a rather testy individual at the best of times and I should not like to fall into his bad books. It could reach the stage in personal relations between the director and the Minister where the Minister might say: "That is it. That is the end of four-and-a-half years; it is coming up to your fifth year and out you go." In the case of a major public service of this kind I should prefer to have a Government caveat and a provision whereby the Government, not a Minister, would dismiss the director.

In dealing with Deputy Desmond's comments on the five-year term of appointment, the Parliamentary Secretary gave what I regard as a very lame excuse, that because very little would be known about the new aspirant director it would be better to have a time limit on his appointment; in other words, it would be foolish to jump in at the deep end and appoint him on a permanent basis. All civil servants at some stage are individuals who present themselves for examination and are appointed on a permanent basis. This note of suspicion which has crept into the Parliamentary Secretary's assessment of the individual bears out what I have been saying. The excuse of not knowing him because it is now an open competition and that we must tread very wearily seems to me to imply that if this were a closed competition within the Civil Service we could make a permanent appointment with no time limit because we would know the people we were dealing with, "we" being the bureaucratic establishment within the public service. This is another aspect of what we have been discussing this afternoon.

Finally, this five-year term aspect with dismissal hanging over the head of the new appointee surely prejudices his independence, human nature being what it is. The 11th commandment to me is "Mind thyself", and if it is a question of this person acting on behalf of the consumer but knowing in doing so that it might be detrimental to his own position as director because of the view taken by his superior officer, the Minister, he might well scratch his head a few times before he acts, despite the fact that he knows and is convinced that action is necessary in a specific direction. We all know that he might find himself in a position of compromise because of that. I want a categorical assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that this five-year period is not because this competition is open to non-civil servants. If that is the Parliamentary Secretary's line of thinking she has been totally absorbed body and soul into her Department.

Deputy O'Toole has totally misrepresented what I said. Since Deputy O'Toole started speaking on the Bill this morning many suspicions have been cast on various people and on various appointments which could be made and on people who could be considered for this appointment, particularly on section 8 which was discussed before this. I wish to make as much progress as possible because I feel that the consumers throughout the country, the consumers' association, the manufacturers and the traders are anxious that this Bill be put through the Houses of the Oireachtas as quickly as possible. We have been here since 10.30 this morning and it is now 4.40 p.m. and we have only got as far as section 9. If Deputy O'Toole is anxious to voice his disagreement with amendment No. 20 we can put it to the vote.

Is amendment No. 20 agreed?

The Parliamentary Secretary is aware that we are not in a voting position in this House.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 not moved.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 7, subsection (5) (a), line 22, to delete "description" and to substitute "descriptions".

This amendment is to correct the text. More than one description can be involved so we are changing it from "description" to read "descriptions".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 7, subsection (5) (b), line 25, to delete "he" and to insert "the Minister requests him to carry out examinations or where the Director".

This amendment will enable the Minister to call for an investigation by the director of a practice without taking from the director's independence.

The request by the Minister will be at the Minister's discretion if he feels that a certain area should be investigated by the director. What happens if the director refuses to carry out this investigation? We are talking about the absolute freedom of choice of the director. Is the director at liberty to refuse to carry out an investigation into how many pints of milk are contained in a pound of butter or how many cornflakes are in a box and so on?

I just asked a question.

Is amendment No. 24 agreed?

Obviously subsequently it must be agreed because of conditions in the House, but if the director refuses to carry out the instruction of the Minister what happens? In practice, I presume because of the independence we are told the director has, he can do so. Does this jeopardise his chances of reappointment for a further five years?

The proper word here is request. I feel that the Minister of the day, certainly I would say a Fianna Fáil Minister, would not request the director to carry out an examination unless he was positive that the need was there, and I believe the same would prevail for another Minister.

Amendment agreed to.

As amendments Nos. 25 and 26 are related they can be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 7, subsection (5), after line 45, to insert the following paragraph:

"(g) to ensure that the provisions of any legislation providing for the protection of consumers that, in his opinion, should be brought to the attention of the public are brought to the attention of the public and for this purpose to publicise those provisions in such manner and to such extent as he thinks appropriate".

The purpose of this amendment is to place an obligation on the Director of Consumer Affairs to publicise the provisions of consumer protection legislation in this and other measures. As I said this morning, a Consumer Protection Bill will come immediately on the heels of this Bill and I hope to have it passed early in the next session. It is intended that the director should provide this information from time to time as necessary or in combination with other suitable reports or statements that he may have to make as time goes on. It is generally considered that the consumer movement has a large role to play in relation to consumer education and so on. The consumer education ad hoc committee which was set up in the Department, and which I hope will report by next March, will suggest the appropriate channels or the areas and means of consumer education and publicity for consumer laws, and the director's duties in this need not be widened to more than a general basic function.

Both amendments are very similar and Deputy O'Toole and myself are very anxious to ensure that any information about subsequent legislation will be generally known to the public. Very often legislation is put through the Houses of the Oireachtas and for various reasons the provisions of that legislation are not publicised enough. I believe that all on both sides of the House are anxious to ensure that consumer information and consumer legislation will be made available to all members of the public on a regular basis.

I endorse what has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary with regard to the similarity of the Minister's amendment and my amendment, except that the second part of my amendment concerns dissemination of information about consumer affairs generally. We are at one on the dissemination of information with regard to consumer protection legislation and regulations and laws concerning consumer affairs. The reason for my adding "and about consumer affairs generally" is not lost on the Parliamentary Secretary, I am sure, because this concerns a much broader field. We are talking about information and education in the broader sense. In the debate earlier this year this matter was discussed, but I must impress on the Parliamentary Secretary that the second part of my amendment is important.

The National Prices Commission have a limited function here in that they provide a certain amount of information, they investigate prices, they do in-depth investigations in some areas of the economy and in the production and the manufacture of some commodities, they do comparative assessments between this country, and other countries, and so on. I am talking about information through the office of the director. We are setting up an office with a director who shall be, I hope, speaking in the interests of the consumers and of the manufacturers and traders who provide an honest service. Unless that director is seen to be there on behalf of the consumer and on behalf of the manufacturer, unless that office disseminates information which is useful to the consumer above and beyond the basic information concerning legislation and the interpretation of legislation in layman's language, unless the director has the facilities to go beyond providing such information, he will be falling short of the expectations of consumers. The director should be in a position to give information on the price of any commodity and should be able to advise consumers at any time. Many consumers are being fooled by persuasive publicity campaigns which create the wrong impression. While this legislation will restrict this type of activity and protect the consumer, there will be loopholes in it. The person who finds the loopholes will be known to the Director of Consumer Affairs, who should be able to inform consumers of these loopholes.

In their manifesto Fianna Fáil undertook to produce a weekly survey of prices because they were not happy with the workings of the Prices Commission. So far, this information has not been produced. There has also been a delay in the publication of the report of the Prices Commission which is, we have been told, due to the illness of the chairman. Prices are being sanctioned by the Minister all the time but it may take six weeks for the new prices to be made known generally. This kind of information could be channelled through the director's office.

We are inundated with EEC directives on standards of which the ordinary consumer knows very little. Many Members of this House, including myself, are ignorant of many EEC directives. The director could undertake to inform the public of these directives.

Apart from these two functions, the director's efforts on behalf of consumers will be nil. The preventive and corrective aspects of the director's functions are important. The dissemination of information would be preventive and would surely obviate the necessity of instituting court proceedings against traders for misdemeanours. For example, if the director was able to alert consumers of dangerous or doubtful products, they would respect his warning and would not purchase such products.

The IIRS are concerned with the inspection and examination of products. Prior to Christmas there are many new toys on the market and some of them are found to be dangerous on inspection by the IIRS. I should like to know if the IIRS have any means of warning the public of dangerous products. A short time ago I read a newspaper article on an imported bicycle which was found to be dangerous, but many people may have missed that article. There should be close co-operation between the director and the IIRS. For instance, the IIRS should notify the Director of Consumer Affairs of the results of their examination of any product. On receiving information from the IIRS, the director would be in a position to warn the public. In the long run this would save the State money because it would reduce the number of proceedings instituted against traders and manufacturers for misdemeanours.

The director should also be able to supervise consumer education. I assume that the person appointed will be an expert in this field. I assume that he would also be in a position to educate consumers as to their rights, their obligations and so on. At present there is a guarantee system for certain products and the purchaser who signs that guarantee is actually signing away rights instead of establishing any basis in law for bringing a charge. In many cases people sign these because they are ignorant of what they mean.

As the Parliamentary Secretary is aware, the documentation presented contains very small print and people are asked to sign on the dotted line without having a clue as to what they are signing. That is caused by a lack of education. I see the director's office and the director as a means for the dissemination of education, of educating the public. I do not suggest that they simply put an advertisement in the national newspapers for one day. Generally speaking advertisements published by the State to alert the public—for example those issued by the National Health Council—are very dull when compared with those prepared by professionals engaged by big companies. In 1976 the amount of money spent here on advertising was in the region of £34 million.

The success of the efforts of the director to counteract some of the misleading advertisements will depend to a great extent on the resources made available to him. The amendment tabled by the Minister is too restrictive in that it deals specifically with dissemination of information with regard to legislation only. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to have another look at this with a view to broadening it so that the onus can be put on the director to ensure that information and details about commodities is issued by his office. That would do it a great deal of good. It would also be a link with the consumers because, ultimately, the director will depend on the public for information with regard to the sale of goods, the type of goods being sold and so on. He will have to depend on complaints being sent to his office. If he was in a position to give consumers information and establish educational programmes whereby consumers would be made more aware of their rights he would be establishing a further link with consumers.

This question of the dissemination of information down to the consumer is extremely important. In fact, it is probably one of the most important aspects of this legislation. Contrary to what Deputy O'Toole has said, I consider that the amendment proposed by the Minister which seeks to bring to the attention of the public the terms of this legislation must be read in the broadest sense. I regard his remarks as relating to the implementation of that amendment rather than being necessary as a separate amendment. I accept the point the Deputy made in this regard. It is important at this time because, as Deputy O'Toole has stated, we now have many EEC grading standards which include classes, sizes and descriptions of goods and commodities. At this stage the consumer is not aware of the reality of the legislation.

I should like to mention some examples. If one goes to a fruit and vegetable market one finds that under the legislation fruit and vegetables must be presented in accordance with class and size categories before being sold in the market. I hesitate to mention tomatoes as an example but I have had some experience with them over the years. They are sold in classes and sizes in the market under the legislation. They are sold at different prices for different classes and sizes but in the retail store one does not see the different sizes and classes on display at different prices. There must be a great temptation along the line to remix the sizes with a possibility of considerable financial gain. If the consumer is fully aware of the legislation which exists and the way in which it should be implemented then the consumer is more likely to get a fair and right price for the particular goods. A retailer should be required to sell only in accordance with the classes and grades which have been specified under the legislation for the producer.

A similar situation arises in relation to capacity as distinct from the size, weight or shape if one considers hair shampoos and washing-up liquids. Although legislation requires that they be in standard categories they are displayed in many stores in millimetres, fluid ounces or cc's. Even scientists are confused as to what exactly they are buying in this regard. Consequently, there is a need to ensure that the descriptions are carried through in the uniform way required by legislation. On the question of the country of origin, legislation currently requires that the country of origin be described. Very often stores introduce own brand packaging of a variety of things. One finds this in relation to beans in particular. Stores sell their own brand beans as distinct from some particular proprietary type of beans. The own brand may be a little cheaper or dearer but it is only right that consumers be given the packers' identity so that they can judge the situation properly. Some shirts, under legislation, must carry a label detailing the country of origin but yet one finds a shirt which it is believed was made in Hong Kong is sold here carrying the "Empire" brand name. If the consumers were made fully aware of these legislative requirements they would insist on getting the proper information conveyed to them at the retail store. I need hardly mention that the same thing has been quite common in recent times in relation to footwear. I believe that legislative requirements must be conveyed to the consumer and I fully support the Minister's provision by way of amendment, while understanding that the question of dissemination would be catered for under that amendment.

I agree that what Deputy Woods says is true but I would not fully accept his interpretation of the section. The Parliamentary Secretary said that I have a suspicious mind. This is too narrow in that it concerns dissemination of information with regard to legislation only. We must be specific in legislation. I will be quite happy if I can get an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that this can be interpreted to include something other than the dissemination of information with regard to legislation. If not, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to have a look at the second part of my amendment to see if it could be worked in to include information other than in regard to legislation.

Here we have a problem about the definition of the functions of the director regarding the dissemination of information. I believe his primary function is as an enforcement officer and, therefore, the information which he should be required to disseminate to the public should be information regarding this Bill and future legislation.

I have already explained that the whole area of consumer information, education and protection could not be given to the Director of Consumer Affairs. He will have a very full brief as his functions are specified at the moment. Deputy O'Toole is aware that there is a provision in the Bill whereby the Minister, if he feels at some time in the future that an extension of these functions would be advisable, can make such an extension.

The Consumer Education Committee which was set up in my Department will, I hope, report by March, 1978. They have instructions to examine the whole question of disseminating information on consumer affairs and the best means of conveying this information to the public. They will consider whether this should be done through the schools or through the media, using the press, television and so on. I know that the Deputy opposite is just as concerned as I am that this committee should report as soon as possible and that any action which they recommend will be taken. There are areas in consumer protection and information about which the public are ignorant in many cases. The Consumer Education Committee will suggest areas where information can be given to the public. All of us would realise that the best possible way to give this information is through our national media, through radio and television. The committee will examine the questions and will be reporting and I can assure the Deputy that whatever measures they suggest will be implemented.

Will the report be published?

I would hope that it would be.

Will it be published, then?

I would hope so. Deputy O'Toole mentioned that the enforcement of standards should be a matter for the Director of Consumer Affairs. This would place an enormous burden on the director. He will have a lot to do in enforcing the provisions of existing and future legislation. I realise that the IIRS perform a tremendous service in enforcing standards and examining various objects which are put on sale, toys and so on. I know that a very warm relationship exists between the IIRS and the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy and I would hope that this relationship will exist between the IIRS and the director, whoever he or she may be. As the legislation stands, it would be unwise to add to the functions of the director. If it becomes obvious in the future that other functions should be given to the director, if it is suggested that he is sitting around twiddling his thumbs waiting for work to come in, then the Minister can say that he feels certain other functions should be given to the director.

I am not particularly concerned about who disseminates the information as long as that information is given and disseminated. If as a result of the report of the Consumer Education Committee the Parliamentary Secretary is advised to look at other channels through which information might be given, that is fine with me. I am concerned only that adequate information should be given to the consumer.

I mentioned that this obligation might rest with the office of the director for two reasons. The first is a purely psychological point. I would envisage in years to come that organised consumer bodies would grow and become more effective in their approach and that they would become a strong lobby to ensure that they and their members get value for money. I expect that the director would be a man whose views would be respected. He would be the person by whom everything relating to consumer affairs would be regulated. He is the person to whom people would go. I would point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that I am not asking that the director would enforce directives of the EEC; all I have said is that he would give the public information regarding these directives and let them decide whether they want to go to court or take their complaints back to him. What I have asked is that his office would be such and would be given the resources to be able to advise the public at large as to directives.

Deputy Woods mentioned tomatoes. What grading is there for tomatoes at present? You have potatoes, all classes of vegetables and fruit. What is the grading? These are matters about which the public are ignorant. In many cases they are paying very high prices for grades which are below standard or below the standard of the price being paid. That is not enforcement. That is purely disseminating information. It is up to the person on the ground, if he feels strongly enough or is aggrieved, to seek redress from the director's office or elsewhere. If we are to build up this director, if he is to be advantageous to consumers and to work in their interests, we should give him responsibility for all aspects of consumer products, the workings of these areas, not necessarily to enforce them but at least to disseminate information. It will be his function to enforce them in so far as this Bill and its provisions are concerned. If the Parliamentary Secretary can give me an assurance that a system under which information will be disseminated will be brought into being as a result of the Report of the Consumer Education Committee, then I shall be quite happy. I hope we will have a chance of discussing the ways and means of doing this when the time comes.

I can give that assurance; the information will be disseminated.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 26 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 are related and can be taken together.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 7, subsection (6), lines 50 and 51, to delete "in relation to any matters to which the Acts or this Act relate" and to substitute "in respect of any matters to which the Acts or this Act or any other enactment making provision for the protection of consumers relates".

This will enable the Minister to extend by order, under section 9 (6), the scope of the director's functions to matters arising under other consumer protection legislation which cannot be specified here. In specific Bills, such as the Consumer Protection Bill or the Consumer Credit Bill, the additional functions will be set out explicitly; but the phrase now being inserted will cover the more generalised area of a situation of statutory order to be made or enacted—for example, a food labelling directive or another EEC directive that may arise from time to time. It is quite similar to Deputy O'Toole's amendment.

It deals with all future legislation in the form of directive or Act?

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 28 not moved.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 8, between lines 12 and 13, after subsection (9), to insert the following subsection:

"(10) (a) Whenever it appears to the Minister that the Director is temporarily unable to discharge his duties, the Minister may appoint a person to act in place of the Director during such inability or for such shorter period as the Minister thinks proper.

(b) A person appointed under paragraph (a) of this subsection shall have all the powers, rights and duties conferred on the Director by this Act and each reference in this Act to the Director shall be deemed to include a reference to such a person.".

This amendment is an essential provision in a case where the director may become unable to discharge his duties for one reason or another. There is a similar provision in the Restrictive Practices Act of 1972 in relation to the office of the Examiner of Restrictive Practices. The phrase "with good reason" after the word "Minister" in the first line was suggested on the former Committee Stage of this Bill as an additional safeguard but the Attorney General's office advised that this would be superfluous and would have no effect.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 8, between lines 12 and 13, after subsection (9), to insert the following subsection:

"(11) (a) The Director shall in each year make a report to the Minister in relation to the performance of his functions in the preceding year and the Minister shall, within one year of receipt by him of the report, cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

(b) The Director shall furnish to the Minister such information regarding the performance of his functions as the Minister may from time to time require.".

This amendment will have the effect of making it obligatory on the director to review annually the progress of his work and to provide any other information the Minister may require. It will ensure publication of such report in the Oireachtas within 12 months of its receipt by the Minister. The case made for the 12 months period is that Ministers, having received reports, for one reason or another may not be in a position to publish them within a meaningful time. Therefore, it is important to set out a specific period, as is done here, of 12 months.

I take it that the director shall in each year make a report to the Minister in relation to the performance of his functions in the preceding year and that the Minister shall within one year of receipt of the report cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. I take it that this report will be published and made available to the general public?

Yes, that would be the intention.

I take it that is implied in that subsection?

Amendment agreed to.
Section 9, as amended, agreed to.
Section 10 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 11 stand part of the Bill."

This section concerns advertising orders where a Minister finds it necessary or expedient to have further information provided by advertisers. Is the director involved here or is it purely a ministerial function? My limited knowledge of ministerial procedure in this Department would indicate to me that it is purely a ministerial function. For example, section 10 deals with marking orders, section 11 with advertising orders and section 12 with definition orders. I assume these are purely ministerial functions and that the director is not involved in any way. In that case I assume that the Minister would be acting on the advice of the director whose office would first have determined whether or not an advertisement was in compliance with the standards laid down and if an omission was noticed that the Minister would ask that it be rectified.

Under these three sections dealing with marking, advertising and definition orders, I hope the Minister will use his powers to ensure that, first of all, such orders are made and subsequently acted on.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 12 agreed to.

Amendment No. 31. Amendment No. 32 is an alternative and we may discuss both together.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 9, subsection (1), lines 25 and 26, to delete "give to any person so requesting, if the request is made within 18 months of the publication of the advertisement" and to substitute ", if the Director or an officer of the Minister or an officer of a council of a county or corporation of a county or other borough in whose functional area the publisher has a place of business so requests within 18 months of the publication of the advertisement, give to the Director or officer".

This section in its present form entitles any person, whether or not he has an interest in what is being advertised, to demand the name and address of the person who procured the advertisement. As such, it is too far-reaching. Representations have been made to me, and indeed to my predecessor, that it could also have serious implications for the confidential relationship existing between newspapers and those who advertise in them in relation to advertisements not in the course of trade or business. Accordingly it is considered that the power to seek the names and addresses of advertisers should be restricted to the persons designated. It would not be possible to limit this to business advertisements because information as to whether it was business or private would not be known in advance. But it will ensure that only officers enforcing the legislation can demand that information.

I agree basically with the sentiments expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary. We have a longstanding tradition in this and in many other countries in relation to publications in newspapers, periodicals and so on concerning box numbers and the confidentiality attached to them. As the section stood it would be drawing a coach and four through that long-established tradition. The time limit with which I am concerned and where I disagree slightly with the Minister's amendment is something that might be looked at. From discussing this matter with interested parties it appears to me that 18 months is an extraordinarily long time. It is a period that seems to have been pulled out of the air. The Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor did the same thing and at that time it seemed to me to be a rather strange period.

From the point of view of accounts, I am told that six months is the normal period for which files and documents are kept. There is also the added difficulty which concerns the keeping of files for 18 months and it is purely a physical problem. I was told a month ago by those concerned with an evening newspaper that for this year so far they had reached the figure of 500,000 for small advertisements. We have heard of butter and cheese mountains but we do not want to have paper mountains. I understand that the industry generally will run into trouble with insurance if they have to provide large storage facilities and keep files for such a long time. I realise that with modern technology it is possible to keep records of 500,000 small advertisements even in one's pocket, but there are high capital costs involved in such methods and in some parts of the industry they are doing things the traditional way. There is the danger that they will run into difficulty from the point of view of storage and insurance cover if they are obliged to keep records for 18 months.

I can see some reason in saying that they should keep the files forever but 18 months is a kind of arbitrary period that has been taken out of the air. It would be more appropriate to have a period of six months because this would coincide with the requirements of the people concerned in the matter of accounts. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give this matter serious consideration. I do not think it will cause any great difficulty. If a person does not inquire about a matter within six months I do not think he can claim that his complaint is urgent. I propose that the six months be substituted for the period of 18 months.

I am sure the Deputy is aware that many goods are on the shelves of shops for periods considerably longer than six months after the original advertisement. It is important that the period be 18 months for the simple reason that if goods were sold after six months they would have escaped the net. It is more logical to specify 18 months.

On the question regarding insurance coverage, there have been no representations to the Department since the Bill was published. This is a new point and is one that was not raised by consumers, manufacturers or traders in the many representations they made.

Have the Department sought the views of newspaper publishers on this aspect?

I can assure the Deputy we received many representations; we did not have to seek them.

I am asking the Parliamentary Secretary if she sought their views on this matter?

When the Bill was published comment was invited from all interested parties. These comments were submitted to the Department and were dealt with. So far as possible they were met and where compromise could be made that was incorporated in the amendments.

I was asked to comment on this aspect. I should like to quote from a letter received from the advertising manager of a Dublin newspaper, speaking on behalf of his colleagues in the Dublin newspaper industry. He said:

However, the time span of 18 months raises some serious difficulty. Details of advertisements are normally retained for six months and any extension of this time could create a serious storage problem. I feel our insurance would be very unhappy with the possibility of a paper mountain. Any queries re advertisements are raised very quickly after publication and a period of six months would seem to provide an ample safeguard.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary realises the problem here. I am not in a position to comment to what degree the problem of insurance is a factor except to say what I was told by people who are interested in this section of the Bill.

I appreciate the Parliamentary Secretary's problem with regard to six months. However, if the reason for allowing 18 months is to ensure that the maximum protection is given to the consumer, the obvious thing is to let the people concerned keep the files forever. In this way there will be absolute satisfaction for the consumer because ten years hence he can air his grievance.

While what the Parliamentary Secretary said may be true in some cases, I should like to know what proportion of commodities or goods would be affected. I would be prepared to hazard a guess that the vast bulk of what is sold in shops would be the subject of an inquiry within a period of six months. The Parliamentary Secretary would be in a better position to know what commodities would be in the shops for six months or longer. The reason given for the period of 18 months is rather weak because if that is followed to its logical conclusion the people concerned could be told to keep their records forever in order to give absolute protection to the consumer. Can the Parliamentary Secretary give me a definite reason for keeping the period of 18 months? Would it be possible to compromise on this matter? In country fashion could we split the difference and have 12 months?

We could do that.

That is, if the Parliamentary Secretary considers the six months' period is impossible and would militate against the consumer. We should be fair to both sides.

I suggest that the Deputy might do that on Report Stage. It would make it easier from the point of view of procedure.

To reduce it to 12 months?

I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary consider six months because there may be a strong possibility that six months would cover most of the problem created. I mentioned 12 months as a compromise if six months were not acceptable under any circumstances. The Parliamentary Secretary might try to find out what proportion of commodities could be dealt with if six months were substituted here. That would be preferable and newspaper and periodical publishers would be happy because they would not have to consider the storage problems or the increased insurance cover. They might pass these increases on to the consumer by increasing the price of newspapers and periodicals. In this way the Parliamentary Secretary might be doing a disservice to the consumer by insisting on 18 months.

I feel that 18 months is not unreasonable. What the Deputy said may be true, that is, that the vast majority of goods would be sold within six months and any action to be taken would be taken within that period. We are not concerned only with the vast majority of goods: in this legislation we want to include everything. The Deputy said that if six months are not acceptable we should scrap the 18 months and let them keep their files for ever so that a consumer in ten or 12 years' time can bring an action. In that case, it is important to remember that consumer protection must not only affect the consumer it must also be seen to be fair to the manufacturer and trader. To insist on a trader holding records forever would be most unreasonable. I am sure the Deputy agrees with that.

If Deputy O'Toole wants to press the matter, we could compromise on 12 months. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle suggested that we discuss this on Report Stage. I suggest that the best place to do that might be on Committee Stage in the Seanad. We emphasised this morning that we are anxious to get the Bill through as quickly as possible and rather than have a repeat of Committee Stage——

If both sides agree at this stage we can amend the amendment to delete "18 months" and insert "12 months"

It seems that the chances of getting six months inserted are nil and as half a loaf is better than no bread, I propose that we delete "18 months" and insert "12 months" and repeat that where "18 months" arises subsequently.

By agreement we are deleting "18 months" and inserting "12 months".

Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 32 not moved.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 9, subsection (1), line 27, after "agent" to add "This section shall not apply to box number advertisements in newspapers, magazines or periodicals.".

I appreciate that this Bill is concerned with consumer information and that the information which might be sought from the publisher of a newspaper or a periodical might be of interest to a consumer. As box numbers have a long tradition of confidentiality here, it would be unwise to insist on disclosure of information under a box number. I do not know exactly to what degree this amendment would affect the volume of information that would come from newspapers but my natural reaction to the disclosure of information under a box number was that it should not be given. This is also the reaction of most people.

Very personal and delicate items can be advertised under a box number. One very delicate area is where a person may be seeking new employment. A man may not want his present employer to know he is seeking employment elsewhere. If this information were to leak out, it could cause a great deal of embarrassment and prejudice his chances of getting employment. I am not talking about a person who goes behind his present employer's back. He may be in a position where he need not give information as to his intentions because he may be employed on a month's notice either way. In such a case, until he secures employment through a box number, he would not have to tell his current employer.

There are other times when it would be favourable for this information to be made available. For example, we all know of cases where goods have been inherited and sold piecemeal by one member of a family without the knowledge of the co-owners. If administration had not been taken out the goods would not be available for distribution later because they had been sold. I am talking now of furniture and other items which could be of substantial value.

I appreciate that there are cases for and against, but with the tradition of confidentiality of box number advertisements, the balance is in favour of non-disclosure. If the Parliamentary Secretary does that it would be a step in the right direction.

The object of Deputy O'Toole's amendment, an amendment that is similar to one tabled originally by the Minister, is to prevent busybodies from prying into the private business of private advertisers who advertise through the medium of box numbers. The points the Deputy has made would seem to justify the inclusion of the amendment. However, having accepted amendment No. 31 I do not consider this amendment to be necessary. We have just agreed that the information inserted in advertisements will be available to full-time officers and because these officers will not be in a position to disclose the information, the confidentiality of the private individual is being protected.

This amendment was tabled prior to amendment 31, having been put down as an amendment to section 13. As it stood, section 13 would have given to anyone the right to ascertain the identity of someone who had placed an advertisement. There is a case to be made on both sides for amendment No. 33, but in the light of amendment No. 31 having been accepted I shall withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

As amendment No. 35 is consequential on amendment No. 34, they may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 9, after line 27, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) A person to whom information is given pursuant to a request under subsection (1) of this section shall not give the information to another person other than for the purposes of this Act."

This amendment is designed to ensure that information as to the name and address of an advertiser cannot be released or used in any improper way by enforcement officers who may obtain the information within the terms of subsection (1). Amendment No. 35 is necessitated as a consequence of subsection (2) which was inserted by the previous amendment.

In regard to amendment No. 34, I agree fully with the concept of confidentiality, of allowing the information to be available only to the authorised officers mentioned in the section. I assume that in practice there will be some system whereby such information when required for use elsewhere will be passed on through authorised channels.

I presume, too, that where litigation or legal proceedings are pending or resulting from this information, the subsection will not prevent the process from going ahead.

That is correct.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 9, subsection (2), line 28, after "subsection (1)" to insert "or (2)".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 13, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 9, subsection (1), line 30, after "retail" to insert "by weight (other than food packed for such sale by its manufacturer or producer or by the person who supplied it for such sale)".

The effect of this amendment will be to relieve a person who does not have or does not use a weighing scales from the obligation to provide one for customers. They would have been required to do this under the terms of the section as drafted. For example in the case of small shops or kiosks selling, as an incidental, food which is all prepacked it is not considered justified to impose the burden of providing scales. The weights and measures service check pre-packed goods already for accuracy of weight.

The amendment will have the effect of exempting from the requirements of section 14 those firms which sell only goods that have been prepacked by manufacturers, producers or other packers or suppliers or, indeed, those who sell by numbers. It will not exempt retailers who may do their own packing or their own weighing and who, ordinarily, should have scales available.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 9, subsection (1), line 35, after "place" to insert "(being food which that person has bought or is buying or about to buy)".

This amendment is designed to ensure that only bona fide purchasers are provided for.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 9, after line 39, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) A person who contravenes subsection (1) of this section shall be guilty of an offence.".

The purpose of this amendment is to fulfil an omission in the existing draft. Without such provision no offence would arise and, consequently, no action would be possible.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 14, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 39, 40 and 41 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 9, subsection (1), line 40, before "prevent" to insert ", without reasonable cause,".

The Dublin Chamber of Commerce have represented that this provision as drafted could create problems for city-centre shopkeepers who have had to take special precautions to keep out undesirables. The provision was inserted originally on the basis of representations from consumer interests who found that bona fide price surveys were inhibited by unco-operative shop owners and managers who would not permit visitors to collect such data. However, there is the difficulty expressed by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and, accordingly, this amendment has been devised to ensure that a shopkeeper who may refuse access to undesirables will not be automatically in breach of the Act if he can establish a reasonable basis for refusing admission to his premises.

Amendment No. 40 will allow proprietors of premises to exclude or eject undesirables without committing an offence provided that a price list is displayed on the premises in such a way that it does not necessitate entrance to the premises in order to be read or be seen. In the case of goods that may not appear on a price list, the visitor retains the right of entry. The shopkeeper can exclude that right by displaying on the price list the prices of all the products he sells.

The point raised in regard to amendment No. 39 is acceptable having regard to the times in which we live and to the difficulties that have arisen concerning access to premises by undesirable persons. In such circumstances shopowners must have some protection.

In regard to amendment No. 40 I suggest that we are breaking new ground because up to now, so far as I am aware, a person had not the right to enter a premises in order to take a note of prices. I do not know whether he had any protection in law but in the recent past in this city we had an example of a person entering a shop for the purpose of checking prices and being ejected unceremoniously. Had that person taken the matter further I do not know whether any existing Act would have given him legal protection, but I understand that there is nothing on the Statute Books that would have allowed him access to the premises.

This amendment will regularise that situation and will give the consumer an opportunity of checking prices and, consequently, of getting the best bargain. In addition, it allows the competitor to do likewise and, perhaps, to come back and adjust his prices. The amendment is worth while and, therefore most acceptable. I would like to have the Parliamentary Secretary's comments on amendment No. 41 because, as she knows, difficulties arise here. Are they covered by amendment No. 39?

Are establishments licensed under the Licensing Acts included under amendment No. 39?

I will withdraw amendment No. 41 if they are included in amendment No. 39.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 9, subsection (1), line 46, to delete "(b) reading any prices displayed as aforesaid." and to substitute:

"(b) reading any prices displayed as aforesaid, if the prices of the goods are not displayed (whether outside the place or elsewhere) so as to be capable of being read by the person while at or near the place without entering the place.".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 41 not moved.
Section 15, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 9, lines 49 and 50, and page 10, lines 1 to 3, to delete subsection (1) and to substitute the following subsection:

"16.—(1) In this section `authorised officer' means—

(a) a whole-time officer of the Minister authorised in writing by the Minister, or

(b) a whole-time officer of the council of a county or corporation of a county or other borough authorised in writing by the council or corporation in relation to its functional area,

to exercise, for the purpose of the Acts and this Act, the powers conferred by this section.".

This amendment alters the definition of "authorised officer" to ensure that only full-time officers are empowered. Normally all authorised officers of the Minister or of a local authority would be full-time officers and are intended by the Bill to be so. There may, however, be a slight risk of an official also being a trader in competition with another trader or other traders whom he would be inspecting, or being a member of the consumer movement appointed on a part-time or casual basis. This amendment would preclude that possibility. At a very early stage it is intended to consider removing the reference to local authority officers so that no local authority officers other than in Dublin or Dún Laoghaire— and these also may be subsumed— can be appointed. This is with the aim of having a single, centralised service.

We have officers at the moment on weights and measures around the country and I understand that in all places except Dublin and Cork they are ex-members of the Garda. What is the position with these officers? Will they be absorbed into the office of the director and will they come under the aegis of the director? That in the same light concerns price inspectors. Will they be absorbed into this body and will they come under the aegis of the Director of Consumer Affairs? Will they become authorised officers and will we have a complete reshuffle of the present approach to weights and measures and to price inspections?

They come under the aegis of the Minister. The Deputy said that the weights and measures inspectors are former members of the Garda. I think most of them would be present members of the Garda.

Will they come under the aegis of the Minister?

They will come under the aegis of the Minister rather than that of the director.

Is the director under the aegis of the Minister?

Will there be a change in our present set-up with regard to weights and measures and/or price inspection? In other words, with the enactment of this Bill and the creation of this new post of director, will there be a clean sweep in our approach to consumer affairs? Will we have new authorised officers, as has been mentioned? Who will they be? Will the present established approach be discontinued, or what has the Parliamentary Secretary in mind?

The present approach I envisage would not be discontinued as the Deputy suggests. It would be incorporated in the Bill, and they would be officers of the director under the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 16, as amended agreed to.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 10, after line 49, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) When considering what penalty (if any) under subsection (1) of this section is appropriate to an offence, the Court may take into consideration any advertisement published by or on behalf of the person convicted of the offence and correcting any misleading advertising, or any false or misleading description, statement or indication to which the offence relates.".

The purpose of this amendment is to provide that if a trader has voluntarily made an effort by corrective advertising to make amends for any faults or misleading descriptions, the court may take that into account in its judgment on the case. It is not considered useful or appropriate to provide power to require corrective advertising to be published because this may be done in such an inappropriate way or so long after the event as to be useless, and there could be many cases where it might not be possible for the correction to have any sanction or any effect.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary not consider that the maximum fine on summary conviction is rather small in current values of money, inflation and so on? Would she not think that it might be even doubled to £1,000? With the present value of money and inflation it is accepted that £1,000 is a penalty applicable to a minor offence. It would make sense if this figure was increased and the subsection was so amended.

It would make a lot of sense if what the Deputy suggests were possible, but I understand from the Attorney General's office that £500 is the maximum penalty which can be imposed in the District Court on summary conviction. Therefore it is not a matter for us.

I apologise for my ignorance.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 10, after line 49, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) (a) Where a court imposes a fine or affirms or varies a fine imposed by another court for an offence referred to in subsection (1) of this section, it may, at its discretion, on the application (made before the time of such imposition or affirmation) of any person who was summoned as a witness on behalf of the prosecution in the proceedings in which the fine was imposed and who suffered personal injury, loss or damage resulting, wholly or partly, from the offence provide by order for the payment of the amount of the fine or of a specified part of it as compensation in respect of the injury, loss or damage to the person making the application.

(b) An application shall not lie under paragraph (a) of this subsection in respect of any personal injury, loss or damage if proceedings claiming damages for the injury, loss or damage have been instituted in any court.

(c) Where the whole or part of a fine imposed under this section is paid to a person pursuant to this subsection and the person is awarded damages by a court in respect of the personal injury, loss or damage to which the payment relates, the payment shall be deemed to be in satisfaction of so much damages as is equal to the amount of the payment."

Many of the observations on the Bill which have been received have laid emphasis on the lack of any provision in the Bill for the payment of compensation to those who have suffered as a result of faults or misleading trade descriptions or advertising. The omission of any such provision was initially intended for the reason that claims for compensation, even when arising out of criminal cases, are a matter for civil suit. Additionally it was felt that large numbers of claims could be involved in any case, and that a degree of "cashing in" could follow when a criminal case was being heard in the District Court which could easily become clogged with a multiplicity of frivolous claims and be diverted from their main function of arbitrating on the criminal cases.

On the other hand, it is accepted that persons with genuine grounds for claiming compensation are dissuaded from proceeding civilly because of the complexity, the cost or, indeed, the risk involved, and the loss very often not being commensurate with the burden involved. Accordingly it is considered that the Bill would be weakened significantly if it were not possible to include in it some provision for compensation. The number of genuine claimants is likely to be small and the individual amounts involved are not likely to be great, since they would be limited, in any event, by the amount of the maximum fine possible, that is £500 on summary conviction. However, any fine imposed may be used at the discretion of the court for the purposes of paying compensation to only such persons as have been called as witnesses for the prosecution and who have proven claims. All other claimants would have to sue civilly.

This is an area where many people have shown concern and have reacted accordingly. We are talking here on behalf of consumers and have spent much time, on the part of the civil service, in having this Bill drafted and, on the part of the House, in discussing it. We are now on Committee Stage and at the end of all this we are left in the position whereby the aggrieved person, the damaged party, the consumer, will not in the normal way be entitled to compensation.

We are dealing with law in the criminal code. The aggrieved party, having been damaged as a result of purchasing a commodity, can bring the vendor to court. The court fines that vendor and that is the end of the matter unless the purchaser pursues the matter further and takes a civil action. I see no reason why the person who gets a conviction in the criminal code cannot automatically be entitled to some redress as is now given as a result of civil action. In regard to the question of civil redress in criminal cases the legal profession would throw up their hands in horror at the idea of any crossing of demarcation lines. I am quite sure the Parliamentary Secretary would agree that if she had her way she would devise some rather simple way whereby such clients would be entitled to compensation. Her amendment goes some way towards ensuring that that possibility is there. The NCAC recommended that civil redress be given in criminal cases. It would compensate victims who otherwise would not take a civil action.

The vast majority of cases would be concerned with small amounts. If I buy something which costs £5, £10 or £15 which turns out to be a dud and I find out I have been conned there is no way I would bring a civil action because of the smallness of the claim. It would cost me three or four times the cost of the article in legal expenses. I can bring a criminal action, have the vendor fined and I can feel that I have saved somebody else from the same fate. But that is no good to me, even though I have been damaged by this.

With regard to the argument that stopping claimants from taking a civil action would mean some reduction in the burden of the courts, this is another aspect of the matter: you might have the courts cluttered up with small actions.

There are three other Acts which have similar provisions, the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974, section 8 (4) (c) (ii), the Road Traffic Act, 1961, section 57, and the Factories Act, 1955, section 103 (2). While the Parliamentary Secretary has stated that the amendment goes some way towards meeting the demand I feel we could have gone further. The watertight demarcation lines which seem to be erected between civil and criminal legalities is beyond me. Once liability has been accepted, once a person has been fined for committing an offence, I do not see the logic in coming along in the next breath and saying "Sorry, the law says you cannot be compensated". This sounds absolutely ridiculous to me.

The only way out of it is to ensure that the fine imposed includes an element of compensation. If the aggrieved person decides that the blame is sufficient to warrant a civil action and having gone through the criminal code and won his case he then decides to take a civil action, what is the position with regard to the consequences of this action? If that person is successful and is given compensation and if the grievance has arisen because of damage done through purchasing some article, the same article having been bought by 700, 800 or 1,000 people throughout the country, where does this thing end? Have the 700, 800 or 1,000 other people similarly damaged the right to pursue the case? Have they to go through a criminal action? If they have, may they then go through a civil action? If in theory the same damage has been caused may they get the same compensation as a result of their civil action?

This does not make very much sense to me because it would result in the vendor, the manufacturer or the trader being put out of business overnight. I presume what happens in practice is that a settlement is reached for all the aggrieved parties. There could be thousands of people affected by this. How would the Parliamentary Secretary deal with that under her amendment if there were hundreds of people damaged by the use of some commodity purchased? There may be one case proved but there could be 700 cases pending. Is there any way that this attitude of criminal versus civil can be broken down and a victim can get redress in the form of compensation having gone through a criminal action without having to retrace his steps and go through a civil action?

Deputy O'Toole asked if the amount allowed under the law in the District Court and the amount of compensation is exhausted, what is the position then? As we know, the person cannot take another criminal case. It will have to be a civil case if a huge number of people are involved or affected. Once the amount of money allowed for compensation purposes is exhausted, it must be a civil case. I imagine the burden of proof would be considerably easier once it had been proved in the criminal case that the advertiser was at fault, and therefore the people protected by it would have an easier case in a subsequent civil case.

The Deputy has made very logical points. They are very similar to those made by the Minister when he was in Opposition. All of us realise it is important to have the maximum compensation possible, or the maximum civil redress possible under this Bill. We have gone to the limit of what we are allowed to do constitutionally. It boils down to this. If we go any further, the Bill may be regarded as unconstitutional.

I should like to refer to a case which was decided in the High Court on 7th July, 1977. This case took place after the previous debate on the Committee Stage of this Bill. It is the Cullen of Wexford case in which Mr. Justice Hamilton ruled that, under the Road Traffic Act, 1961, section 57 (1) and (2) were invalid having regard to the provisions of the Constitution. The judge was satisfied at that time that the punishment provided for in section 56 (3) was not of itself sufficient to exclude the offence from the category of minor offences. Section 57 (1) of the Act, however, purported to increase the penalty the court could inflict to such an extent that, in his opinion, it would not permit an offence under section 56 to be regarded as a minor offence properly triable by a district justice.

That decision had a tremendous bearing—and I know Deputy O'Toole will agree—on how far we can go in the provisions of this Bill dealing with compensation. The National Consumer Advisory Council in their report recommended that a provision such as the Deputy suggested should be in the Bill. We have considered this point exhaustively. The Minister was emphatic about it when he was in Opposition. If I remember rightly the amendment was carried on a division in the Dáil at that time. The Minister and I feel just as strongly about it now as we felt then but, under the Constitution, we have gone as far as we can possibly go.

This is a serious drawback and that is putting it very mildly. We have been talking about consumer information and protection, and discussing the status of the director, what he might and might not do, his resources, and so on. At the end of the day, what we are talking about really is the degree of redress to which the individual is entitled. It would seem from what has been said that the consumer is left in a very poor state in that he has literally no redress except in a very limited number of cases. Because of the nature of the claims which will come before the court, in many instances we will have a multiplicity of claims and a number of people—and that number could be from ten to 10,000—will be affected because of the nature of these provisions.

We are talking about damage resulting from misleading advertisements and the use of a commodity resulting in many people being affected. It is a very substantial drawback at the end of the day that this is so. I am sure on the basis of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said there is no way out. There is an old saying: "Where there is a will there is a way." I am not suggesting the Parliamentary Secretary is not willing to give the maximum protection and redress to the consumers. I would ask her to go again to the Attorney General's office to see if there is any loophole he can find, before he closes it, which would allow this kind of compensation to be made available.

To my mind, some of the arguments in the previous debate did not hold water. One was that it would reduce the revenue to the State. The amount of revenue vis-à-vis the volume of revenue in the State coffers would be very small. Secondly, it is revenue which is not there at the moment. We are talking about a new source of revenue. Therefore that argument does not hold water. I am disappointed that the Parliamentary Secretary has not found some way out and I should like to know if it is possible, even in the distant future, to hope that this problem might be overcome. Is there any way in which we can ensure an aggrieved party taking a criminal action can get civil redress?

I can assure the Deputy we looked for loopholes but there are no loopholes. We have been to the Attorney General's office on many occasions. The Minister and I were particularly anxious to have this provision included in the Bill. As I said before, we have gone as far as is constitutionally possible. Some people who may be aggrieved may have their cases strengthened considerably under the Consumer Protection Bill which I hope will be coming in soon. As it stands at the moment, there is no way we can go any further.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 17, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 10, subsection (1), line 50, before "this Act" to insert "the Acts involving a trade description or under"

This provision in the Bill empowers the Minister or a local authority to prosecute offences under the Act. Dublin Corporation have pointed out to us that that would still leave them without power to proceed as a body under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887. They need this power particularly in relation to quantity indications because there is no specific offence of short weight in the Weights and Measures Acts. Short weight packs, therefore, have to be prosecuted as carrying a false trade description.

It is possible for the corporation to take such proceedings only by having their weights and measures inspector act as a common informer, as it were. This creates difficulties because relevant legislation does not authorise payment of any costs except directly by the corporation. They cannot, therefore, indemnify him against loss should he lose the case. The proposed provision will empower the corporation and, indeed, any other local authority to prosecute a case of a false trade description.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 18, as amended, agreed to.
Section 19 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 11, lines 25 and 26, to delete "prove its truth" and to substitute "establish that on the balance of probabilities the indication is true".

As it stands in the Bill, this section places the onus of proof on the defendant in the case of virtually all matters which could be complained of under the Bill where the truth of any indication given is an issue. This section was included in response to the National Consumers Advisory Council recommendation that advertisers should be able to prove the validity of claims made. Opposition to the provision in the Bill, however, has been widespread. It was not found possible to find a suitable form of words which would limit the section to claims, statements about results to be expected, and so on. The effect of the amendment therefore is to require defendants to prove the validity of statements on the balance of probabilities rather than beyond all reasonable doubt. This is the civil basis of discharge of onus. The section will be used only for claims and statements of a kind where it would be reasonable to expect the maker of the claim or statement to be in possession of substantiation or justification. It will not be used for other kinds of prosecution. It could be argued also that the section could uncover product formulations or trade secrets. Discretion will be used to ensure that no trader will be prosecuted and forced to such disclosure unless all efforts by inspectors or the director beforehand fail to find a reasonable basis for the claim or the statement.

It is possible for a situation to arise in which a person may produce a product beyond the capacity of anybody else from the point of view of analysing its contents, components or make-up. If court proceedings ensued would that person be obliged to disclose the contents, components or make-up of the product?

That person would not be so obliged.

The onus of proof would be on the prosecution?

The person would have to disclose to the director or to an officer of the director.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 20, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 21 and 22 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 23 stand part of the Bill."

This is a provision designed specifically to exclude banks licensed under the Central Bank Act, 1971, from the provisions of this Bill. I am opposed to the section because I believe banks licensed under the 1971 Act ought to come under the provisions of the Bill. I understand the associated banks have, through their standing committee, recently taken certain steps pending the introduction of this Bill. Circulars were issued stating specifically that, pending the introduction of the Consumer Information Bill, they proposed to take action under headings (a), (b), (c), (d) and so on, and they are prepared to give information to the consumer now which heretofore they did not give. From what I know of the circular they are going far beyond the requirements that would normally be made by this Bill.

There are other institutions besides the associated banks, such as merchant banks and lending institutions, and I am more concerned with their operations than I am with the operations of the associated banks. The information these people give seems to put it mildly, to omit a great deal. It is rather sensational in production and it tends to induce people into entering into contracts where the repayments eventually become impossible and people find themselves in dire trouble. If the whole information were given prior to entering into a contract people would probably never enter into such a contract at all. I do not regard licensing by the Central Bank as a good and sufficient reason for excluding these institutions. Banks in general, and the associated banks in particular, give the correct information and far be it from me to castigate these. Even though there is cut-throat competition between them they do a good job. And they do inform the public. While there are omissions those omissions do not affect the consumer to the extent that he is led into entering a contract involving him ultimately in heavy repayments. Any bank manager will advise a prospective client about what he is doing and even though all the information may not be presented on paper, the client will nevertheless be well advised.

There is another side to the coin. On receipt of a bank statement a person normally does not know what rate of interest is being charged on overdrafts for instance. I understand from the circular that this information will now be given on statements from the associated banks plus information with regard to term loans, personal loans and so on. The current rates of interest will be displayed in branch offices. That is something to be welcomed and I am sure the associated banks would not worry one iota if they were included in the provisions of this Bill.

There are exceptions at which we might look with a more jaundiced eye. The exorbitant rates of interest extracted from consumers of some financial institutions are something which should be looked into. It would seem that the Central Bank, having granted a licence to these people to operate, plays no further part of any kind in the operations of these institutions and anything the institutions do thereafter is beyond the capabilities of the Central Bank to control or even to comment on.

They are not in a position to interfere in the day-to-day running of these institutions. They are solely concerned, I understand, with licensing and their responsibility for their activities ends there. They are concerned with the solvency of the bank but what happens between the licensing of the bank and its becoming insolvent, as the case may be, is anybody's business. In some cases the consumer is the victim of exploitation—not in all cases or in many cases, but in a small number. The problem here is that these are the people who push their wares more than the people going through the normal channels and applying the going rate of interest. It is the person who is really exploiting, obviously making the most money, who is in a position to advertise loudest and longest and by doing so get more clients. It is a vicious circle.

We were talking earlier about used cars being excluded in certain categories. Many of these financial institutions, strangely, rely heavily on the trade in used cars to keep themselves solvent. In many cases they are lending money which results in very shady deals where descriptions are false and so on. On behalf of the consumer we are here dealing with an area where, apart from the house, the contents of the house are concerned. Having built the house, the big investment in the house is possibly the kitchen in that you have very expensive electrical gadgetry there, cookers, washing machines, refrigerators, deep freezers and so on, all large money items. In many cases, people pay off the cost of those items on HP or deferred payment terms and in many cases the same people are being exploited by financial institutions which lend money at exorbitant rates in excess of the going rate.

I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider the decision to allow section 23 to stay in the Bill because while 95 per cent, possibly 99 per cent of our financial institutions would not worry at coming under the provisions of the Bill, you would bring in that 1 per cent that are exploiters. Even in the days of the Bible, money lenders were looked on with a jaundiced eye. Most of them are reputable, I think; they treat clients fairly, but there are a few who do not and their exclusion from the Bill is detrimental to the interest of the consumer.

The question of all banks coming within the scope of this legislation has been raised. The licensed banks are governed by the Central Bank Act, 1971, and if the powers therein need to be amended or extended that can be done as the need arises. The advertising of our other banks, savings, credit or financial institutions come under this Bill. There is no express intention that any class of bank should be free of the general requirement that trade information which they issue to the public should be true. In the case of those banks which are subject to the specialised supervision of the Central Bank we feel it should be left to the Central Bank, which is the expert in this matter, to see that they behave correctly. I believe the Central Bank will do that. All other banks come under this Bill but forthcoming legislation on consumer credit will go further towards what the Deputy has in mind in this area.

I have strongly felt that as an interim measure, pending the updating of our consumer credit legislation in particular, it would have been very wise to include the banks even those covered by the Central Bank Act of 1971, under the general umbrella of this Bill. Earlier today we pointed out that in regard to houses and motor vehicles, dealings in the nature of private sales, the scope of the Bill has not been made broad enough. Likewise, I am sceptical that the simplistic exclusion of banks licensed under the 1971 Central Bank Act meets the exigencies of the situations that can arise regarding consumer information. I do not want to re-open any old wounds concerning consumer information in relation to banks licensed under the 1971 Act, but it is not unknown that at least one bank, licensed under that Act went into liquidation fairly rapidly and the Government, for their own political reasons which we very much still dispute, had to find £2.3 million in order to overcome the obvious deficiencies in the information which that bank made available to investors. In that instance it seemed that the licensing and so-called supervision arangements of the Central Bank under the 1971 Act were quite deficient.

I remember participating in the debate when the 1971 Act went through this House and at that time the main preoccupation of the House was to ensure that where banks were established and obtained licences their overall solvency would be ensured. That was the most important criterion, that their liquidity would be guarded in the public interest by the Central Bank. But even between licensed banks of a reputable public nature, in many instances there is cut-throat competition to secure customers, to secure favoured treatment by major investors. These banks offer deals to such customers or prospective customers and to large sections of the community—witness the extent to which banks offer services to students now in terms of the possibility of opening a cheque book account and so on. There is need on a consumer basis to ensure that these banks come under the general aegis of this Bill. One certainly finds that in other European countries, and particularly in American countries, legislation of this nature does not hold the banking services in such an exalted and sacrosanct exclusion situation as we find them held in this Bill.

The services provided by the credit card firms, for instance, would come under the general auspices of this Bill; and if they were operating in a shady manner they would be hammered under this Bill. I accept that as being quite valid. I presume that licensed moneylenders and financial trading firms would come under this Bill also. I see no reason for this exclusion of the banks. I suspect that when the Government of the day originally drafted this Bill they had enough on their plate trying to get through a general Consumer Information Bill without getting embroiled with the Governor of the Central Bank. In a situation where consumers have a multitude of relationships with banks, whether in regards to term loans, special services, bridging loans or ordinary overdraft accommodation, and where many industrial firms have complicated financial arrangements with the licensed banks, the consumer is very often in a position of considerable disadvantage. The banks have made enormous profits in the past few years; and it has been proved, except perhaps with one notable exception in the past 12 months, that the banks are not too easy to take to court if one feels one has been duped by an arrangement. The opposition to this section by Deputy O'Toole is reasonably well-founded.

I would be less hostile to the exclusion if, for example, we had managed to have updated prior to now the Hire Purchase Act of 1950. Good work was done by the previous Minister for Local Government in relation to building societies and so on. Credit unions, for example, operate in an entirely reputable manner, but updated legislation is needed. There are other areas where banks, with their multifarious investments in a wide range of industrial, commercial and personal services, need greater supervision. I am very sceptical about the capacity of the Central Bank to monitor on behalf of consumers the services provided by the banks. The Central Bank is not regarded as having a major function in regard to the day-to-day conflicts that can arise between a customer and a bank, and is analysing what they might regard as being fair in terms of advertisements and so on. I recall that not so long ago one of these licensed banks advertised in America a very handsome rate of interest tax free. A lot of Irish-Americans and other individuals trying to make a few bob quickly investigated this advertisement and got their fingers burnt. Had this legislation been there that kind of advertisement could have been brought into question immediately. I know that the Minister for Finance is responsible for Central Bank legislation. I suspect that when the Bill was originally being drafted it finished up on the table of the Department of Finance, and probably a curt note was sent back to the Department of Industry and Commerce telling them to mind their own business in relation to banking operations.

This exclusion was not argued very effectively when the Bill was before us previously. Admittedly, at that stage we did not get down to a detailed Committee Stage to find out what precisely was in the mind of the Government's predecessors in regard to the exclusion. We can only surmise as I have been doing. Certain operations of the banks could be brought under this Bill. I am not suggesting a global supervision, but certain trading operations of the licensed banks could be included in the scope of the Bill. I imagine that, if one went to the Governor of the Central Bank between now and Report Stage and asked him to point out any segments of the operations of the licensed banks which the Director of Consumer Information could usefully supervise, one might get a sympathetic hearing. I do not see the staff of the Central Bank being able to control on behalf of the consumer the various offers from licensed banks to their customers in relation to different facets of accommodation. Even in the past 12 months this has become of greater importance.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.