Pyramid Selling Bill, 1980: From the Seanad .

: The Minister for Industry, Commerce and Tourism to propose a date for the taking of the Seanad amendment.

: I move: "That the Seanad amendment be taken now".

Question put and agreed to.
Ordered: That the Seanad amendment be taken now.
The Dáil went into Committee to consider an amendment from the Seanad.

: I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 1:

Section 4: In subsection (2), page 4, between lines 40 and 41, the following added:

"(b) A deduction shall not be made under this subsection unless, after lodgment of the amount of the payment concerned in the District Court, that Court, upon application to it in that behalf by the recipient concerned, by order authorises the deduction.

(c) An application under paragraph (b) of this subsection shall be made within 21 days of the receipt by the recipient concerned of a notice in writing stating the intention of the participant concerned to return to the recipient the goods or article concerned.

(d) An order of the District Court in proceedings under this subsection shall make such provision as that Court thinks proper in relation to the payment to the parties concerned of the amount lodged in that Court under paragraph (b) of this subsection in the proceedings."

This amendment was made by the Seanad in response to a concern expressed by Opposition Senators. I expect that this House will have no problem in accepting it. However, since it is concerned with a rather technical point, I feel that I should give some explanation about the background and content. Both Houses were unanimous in their condemnation of pyramid selling schemes and it was agreed that not merely should the promotion of pyramid selling schemes be subjected to severe penalties on conviction for certain offences but that also they should be required to repay the price of any goods or articles they supplied to people who had been induced to participate in their schemes and who had returned the goods and requested subsequent repayment.

: Could the Minister please speak a little more slowly?

: Wait for one of the camps to leave—I am not sure which it is.

: In section 4, the promoters or participants who receive payment for goods or articles are referred to as recipients and the persons who made the payments are referred to as participants. Subsection 1 of section 4 says, in effect, that a participant is entitled to repayment of the price of any goods or any article he bought from a recipient. However, subsection 2 says the amount of the payment may be reduced to the same extent as the goods or articles may have reduced in value, due to the neglect of the participant.

Let us imagine that I am induced to make a payment to a promoter or participant in a scheme for goods or any articles. Subsection 1 says I am entitled to a refund of the price when I return the goods or article. However, subsection 2 says that if I neglected the goods or article in some way—for example, by leaving them out in the rain—and they were reduced in value in consequence, then the promoter or participant from whom I am claiming a refund can make a reduction proportionate to the damage caused by my neglect. The reason for this provision is that even though the promoters or participants from whom the refund is sought do not deserve sympathy, they are entitled to justice. Substantial penalties are provided for whatever offence they are found guilty of in a court of law. We consider it to be equitable that any reduction in the value of the goods returned which was caused by the neglect of the participants should be reflected by way of reduction in the refund. The victim is entitled to his money back but, if he neglects the goods in some way so as to reduce their value then he forfeits part of the refund due to him. It was urged in the Seanad and accepted—and this is what the amendment is about—that rather than leave it to the aggrieved party to prove his entitlement to a refund of payment for goods returned, he should simply have to give a written notice of his intention to return the goods or articles and claim a refund. If the recipient of the payment wants to challenge the claim and make a deduction from the repayment, the amendment says that he has 21 days in which to go to the District Court to ask it to approve a deduction. He has to lodge the amount of the payment in court. The amendment puts the onus on the recipient to justify the deduction. The amendment improves the Bill and I recommend it to the House.

: A Cheann Comhairle, I wish you every success in your appointment. I welcome the amendment. It closes a loophole which was in the Bill after its passage through this House. We owe a debt of gratitude both to Senator Molony and Senator FitzGerald for having spotted this loophole and also to the Minister for having accepted the amendment put down by Opposition Senators in the Upper House. There are people outside this House who look at times with a jaundiced eye on the second house of the Oireachtas. We, as practising politicians in this House, see the value of the second line of defence in the second House, where they scrutinise very closely the legislation going through. It is a foolproof and watertight system that we can accept amendments made by Seanad Éireann. As long as we have Senators like Senator Molony and Senator FitzGerald, and a receptive Minister who will accept logical, sensible amendments, the chances of legislation going through this House which would not stand up to the test of time and the test of the courts are very, very slim indeed.

The amendment is acceptable, worth-while and sensible. It precludes, in an extreme set of circumstances, a person who may be a criminal from having recourse to a court to recoup moneys to which he may or may not be entitled. This amendment prevents that from happening and I welcome it as a sensible and logical amendment.

: A Cheann Comhairle, I join Members of the House in congratulating you on your appointment. The Labour Party accept this amendment. We should like to put on record our appreciation of the fact that the Minister saw fit to accept it. The legislation is the better for it.

: A Cheann Comhairle, I should like to join with Deputy O'Toole and Deputy Quinn in congratulating you on your appointment and to wish you happiness and success during your period as Ceann Comhairle.

This is a good amendment. It is necessary for the protection of people that a sum of money should be lodged in court. Cases could arise in which people would apply for a refund and, in some instances, they would not have a genuine claim. In practice, this has been adopted in a number of courts and it will be to the benefit of all parties concerned.

Could the Minister tell us what the exact position will be? The major portion of these cases will be taken in the District Court. The district justice has jurisdiction in many of these cases, but a number of them may go before the Circuit Court under section 6. If they go before the Circuit Court, will people be able to apply to have them heard in the District Court?

: On the point which we are discussing in connection with the situation covered by this amendment, only the District Court is envisaged. The reference which the Deputy made to the Circuit Court under section 6 relates to certain other aspects, in particular the trial on indictment of certain offences under the Bill. The question of deciding on the amount of the deductions for the refund will be exclusively a matter for the District Court. I could not imagine very readily the value of any article concerned being greater than the new jurisdiction of the District Court. Even if it were, jurisdiction is still conferred by this amendment.

: Once changes are made in the District Court and the Circuit Court there will be no problem. It could happen that problems might arise under the present jurisdiction. I appreciate that we have the Police Property Act and a number of other Acts.

: Irrespective of the amount, as far as I recall the proposed new jurisdiction of the District Court is £2,000. It is very hard to imagine anything worth more than that being involved in pyramid selling which is usually confined to articles of substantially less value than that.

: Inflation takes its toll.

: We are in full agreement with this amendment proposed in the Seanad by Senator Molony and Senator Alexis FitzGerald. Our party are in full agreement with the Bill. It has been proved necessary. It was a difficult Bill to draft. It took many years to prepare it. It is a welcome addition to the Statute Book and we are in full agreement with it.

Question put and agreed to.
Amendment reported and agreed to.