Last night I called Deputy Ryan and he does not appear to be here tonight. Deputy O'Keeffe has 30 minutes.
Private Members' Business. - Retail Grocery Trade (Special Provisions) Bill, 1981: Second Stage (Resumed).
Fine Gael have laid before the Dáil a Bill to control the retail grocery trade. We recognise the existence of a problem in that area and are prepared to come up with a solution. The problem is simple. There were 17,000 retailers in this country in 1961 and there are less than 8,500 in 1981. The solution is also very simple. It is to control the expansion of the multiples who are wiping out the independents. This the Bill proposes to do.
According to the Minister, the Government admit that there is a problem, but refuse to accept the solution. Their answer is typical of Fianna Fáil. They propose to set up an inquiry. Since I came into this House in 1977, virtually every serious problem raised was met by this response from the Government of total indecision and total inaction. Their response to every problem of any consequence is to set up an inquiry. Occasionally they vary it and set up a commission, or a committee, or some such name. This passes for Government. It is their excuse for continued inaction. It is typical of the Government that their response is to set up an inquiry to look into this matter, to examine it in depth, and to advise them on the extent of the problem.
It is time to call a halt. It is time to point out clearly to the Government that this type of kicking for touch is no longer acceptable. Before I entered politics I was involved in community affairs. When a knotty problem arose and a decision was not being faced by the bosses of the body, the usual and favoured technique was to refer the matter to a sub-committee.
The Deputy never did that.
Having noticed Deputy Briscoe raising his eyebrows I was careful to point out that the bosses in community bodies referred the matter to a sub-committee. This is the ideal way to kill off a knotty problem. Send it into limbo. Refer it to a sub-committee. Since 1977 I have observed the continued use of that device. Again in response to this Bill the Government are trying the same technique.
It is not as if the Government did not admit there is a problem. They have to admit it because the figures speak for themselves. The number of independents who have been wiped out over the past two decades makes it clear that, by analogy with the legislation in the wildlife area, such independents will shortly have to be classified as a preserved species and special measures taken for them. While the Government admit that there is a problem, they are not prepared to take the necessary action to put an end to the problem. The Government must be indicted for what amounts to criminal inactivity.
The background to this Bill is very clear and was dealt with earlier in the debate. We have the record of the growth of the multiples. Five such multiples now control almost half of our retail grocery trade. This has not been done by selling goods to people on the moon or on Mars. It has been done within this small country and very largely the effect has been to wipe out the small men. Our object must be to ensure that the small number of independents who are left are protected from the type of unfair competition which can be, has been, and will be levelled against them by these multiples.
Some people may suggest this is Fine Gael shedding crocodile tears for the small man and that this is a beal bocht approach. It is quite the contrary. The control by the multiples here is far greater than it is in any other country in the EEC. The percentage of the retail grocery trade held by the multiples in Ireland is far greater than it is in any other country in Europe. What do the Government suggest by way of response? To set up another inquiry. That response would be laughable if the position were not so serious. In other countries where the concentration was far lower they acted very much earlier and more quickly. In Italy the figure was as low as 10 per cent when action was taken. In Belgium, France, West Germany, Holland and the UK steps have been taken. Our problem is far worse and we are faced with Government inaction. Refer it to a sub-committee. By the time the sub-committee report, on the odd chance that they will still be in office and the Government can pretend to take the next step, how many more independents will have gone out of business?
Can we not impress on the Government that the position is urgent, that the situation of many of our independents is at crisis point, and that the country as a whole will suffer unless measures are taken at this stage? It is not merely the families of the 8,500 independents and their employees who will suffer. Are we to end up with a small group of multiples controlling sales in any area where it is worthwhile having sales? They have gone a long way towards that at the moment because in Dublin, the area of the largest population, they control nearly three-quarters of the sales. In the remote corners of Beara, where we find a little village of 100 souls, the big ones will not rush down. Only that type of situation may be left to the local independents, but there will be very few pickings for the independents if they are ultimately confined to small areas such as Beara.
We are approaching a very dangerous situation. The problems associated with monopolies or near monopolies are such that we have been warned by the experiences in other countries. In the US many years ago problems arose when the price-fixing arrangements in a certain big industry were exposed. Now in the US they have a huge Government Department whose only job is to keep an eye out for monoplies, mergers, price-fixing and so on and they regularly bring companies to the courts in the interest of the consumer and the country in general. We do not have the resources to watch all the moves in our economy but we have the opportunity now to provide the controls to ensure that this concentration into the hands of the few is stopped before it goes too far. That is why we have laid this Bill before the House. As a constructive Opposition we are quite prepared to consider amendments put down by the Government. We know that the Government have the expertise of parliamentary draftsmen and civil servants who can point out possible anomalies and so on. We do not say that this is the perfect solution, but we are presenting this Bill to the House to provide a solution in general terms. We are prepared to discuss and consider Government amendments.
I have found the response of this Government discouraging, because under Standing Orders the opportunities for an Opposition to introduce legislation here are very limited. We, as the main Opposition party, are precluded by Standing Orders from introducing a further Bill here while this Bill is under consideration. We selected this Bill because, in view of the urgency of the situation it was needed. We have to accept that we cannot vote down the Government, who have a huge majority who can be marched down those lobbies to steamroll this Bill into oblivion, just like the independent retailers. However, that will only be temporary, because I have no doubt that the people who realise the seriousness of the situation and the need for action will know what to say to a Government who have the gall to face them in an election situation in the near future. When this Government have got their just deserts we will take the necessary steps to ensure that the absolutely urgent controls needed will be put into effect. It is not as if this Bill was revolutionary. Legislation in other European countries was studied to see how they dealt with similar problems. From looking at the approach in those countries we ultimately came up with what we felt was the best solution for us. I hesitate to use a hackneyed phrase, but it is an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
This Bill proposes to ensure that where the control is of more than 45 per cent of the market the necessary steps will be taken by the Minister to limit further control of the market. Are we in favour of that or not? If this Bill is voted down the people who vote it down are, in effect, saying "Let this unbridled expansion continue; let the share go up to 50 per cent, to 55 per cent and to 70 per cent". If that is the Government's approach they should come out and say that they are in favour of the multiples and that they want this country to be controlled almost completely by the multiples in so far as the retail grocery trade is concerned. That must be their reaction if we take their response to date to this Bill. We are not totally anti-multiple. There is a place for them here. Some of them are Irish, all of them employ people in Ireland and we do not propose to wipe them out. We are merely saying that there is room for both but that if the present concentration continues there will be no room for the independents other than in the remote regions.
This is not in the interests of the country. Looking at the history of monopolies and near monopolies in any industry in any country it is clear that those from the Government side who suggest that the consumer will lose out if this Bill is put through are talking through their hats. Monopolies specialise in giving the good deal for a very short hour of the day and as soon as the opposition has been eliminated the good deal is gone and the losses which may have been incurred in giving special bargains in the initial stages are more than made up and there is no one to compete with them in that situation. There is evidence that this is happening in some areas. When the competition is there the consumer does well but once the competition is wiped out then the monopolies will fix the price and it will not be fixed in the interests of the consumer. The god Mammon will be the only one to whom tribute will be paid. Whatever money can be squeezed out of the market will be taken and no one will be there to cry halt. The small man will be gone, consigned to the dustbin. Let it be clear that this is happening in a situation where a Government could take action. A Government which does not take action can only be classified as being the dustmen carrying away that dustbin.
There are other areas in regard to multiples that we must look at. In this Bill we provide a measure to deal with below cost selling. There is an effect on the independent retailer when somebody is selling below cost, and obviously he will not last very long while that continues. It may be suggested that the consumer will make hay while the sun shines, but that is not what happens. The experience is that the consumer does not gain in that situation. We are not dealing with the village shopkeeper selling over the counter. We are dealing with high-powered salesmen who employ all the professional techniques available and who will make sure that the customer who may be attracted into a shop by a particular bargain will leave that shop laden with goods on which high margins have been charged. It may be said we have a free will but human experience shows that our free will is restricted considerably when we are subjected to the kind of salesmanship that has been developed in this area in recent years, a salesmanship that involves bringing in psychologists to improve on the techniques. Should we not be a little worried about that kind of approach? I am not saying it should be stopped. All I am saying is that we should insist that the kind of competition provided by the independents during the years should be continued. I recall a guy coming to this country some years ago who was going to do everything so far as selling was concerned. I suppose the word "guy" is a rather apt word to use in the circumstances. He is gone but the independents who survived remain. Our aim must be to ensure that they remain in the future.
The other aspect of below cost selling involves an absolute need on the part of any Government to inquire into the motivation and ultimate aim of the person selling at below cost — even where the techniques do not work and where losses are sustained for a few years. Do we honestly believe that somebody will come to this country and sell goods at a loss to Irish people? If we believe that we are living in cloud cuckoo land. There is a major firm that has come to this country, who are sustaining a loss but who have announced they will continue in this way until they have eliminated the opposition. What will happen then? Will they continue with this wonderful, charitable act for the rest of their existence here? Are we gullible enough to believe that a major multinational will come to this country for that purpose? They came here to make money. Perhaps they are taking a different road than the straight autobahn. They are going down a few side roads first, dealing with the local opposition and wiping out the independents. Once they have that job finished they will blaze down the autobahn, then they will collect in the money and make their profits. That is their approach. If that is the way they are allowed to operate in the commercial and legislative environment here, I suppose they cannot be blamed. It is not a moral issue. It is a legal issue and the legal responsibility rests with the Government to ensure that, while they can come here and operate, the necessary protections will be enacted to ensure that a monopoly is not created. It is the obligation of the Government to ensure that the threat to eliminate all the opposition is not carried out. Let these people compete fairly. It is true that there is on the Statute Book legislation which prohibits the advertising of below cost selling, yet below cost selling itself is not prohibited. That seems rather strange. It is our duty to ensure that at the end of the day we will still have the independents, thriving and alive and able to provide the competition they have given during the years.
The major firms do not really owe anything to this country. Perhaps I am doing them some injustice by saying that but I do not think that is their primary motivation. Some of them may fit into their plans an effort to do something for the country also but their primary motivation is to make money and if that involves importing goods rather than selling Irish goods they will do that.
Members of this House sat in shocked horror listening to a Minister announcing the importation of food last year to the value of £514 million. Let us see who is importing in this area and see if any pressures can be brought to bear to ensure that this does not happen again. Obviously we want Irish-produced goods sold here. I am convinced that people in the independent retail trade share that conviction. They have an interest and stake in the country. Probably most of them have sons and daughters who are looking for jobs and they realise the importance of selling Irish-produced goods. They have their roots in the soil of this country and I am convinced that as far as possible they try to sell Irish goods. That motivation does not exist to the same degree on the part of the multiples and that must be another reason for restraining their growth. Do we want a situation — apparently the Government do — of allowing this unbridled growth to continue for a number of years until three-quarters of the market is controlled by the multiples and then find that the vast majority of their goods are imported? What are the downstream effects of that at the moment? What about the factories producing native goods and who cannot sell to the multiples, who find that imported goods are taken in preference even where the price is competitive? What will be the effect on employment if that trend continues?
This Bill will help in that area. There are other steps to be taken. The multiples must be told quite clearly that they are welcome to trade here but that we expect them to use Irish goods where possible. They must be told that we insist on competition in the trade, that we believe a 45 per cent share of the market for the five multiples is sufficient. We must ensure that competition will continue by restricting that concentration to the figure mentioned. The multiples must be told that, even if this Government are not prepared to take action on this issue in the context of this Bill, very shortly there will be a Government in office who will take the necessary steps. So do not believe that the competition we will ensure will fade away. Fine Gael will do what the present Government obviously have no intention of doing.
When the independent trader has disappeared from the scene, only then will many people awaken to the seriousness of the situation obtaining. Indeed it is to be regretted that there has been such a mediocre attitude demonstrated by the Government to this Bill. It would appear that many Government Deputies, if not all of them, were instructed to take no interest in it and to remain out of the House while it was being discussed. It would appear also from the attitude of the Government, since elected to power, but more particularly in recent weeks, that they are the people who are benefiting from the multinationals taking over the grocery trade of this country.
No Irishman could be forgiven for sitting back and adopting the attitude we have seen in Government circles to the undercost selling by these major supermarkets. More and more people are coming to realise, even those who may benefit from this undercost selling in the shortterm — the consumer, the housewife who, when budgeting watches prices and shops where there is the greatest value to be had — that it is completely against their interests and of consumers generally that this undercost selling should be taking place. In many areas it has had the effect of eliminating the independent grocer so valuable to our way of life.
It is worth recalling the service rendered our citizens by the independent grocer in the small corner shop and let us not underestimate the value of keeping him in business. He provides a service at weekends that the major supermarkets do not. Indeed the lighted shop at the corner until fairly late at night is more valuable in reducing vandalism than most of us seem to realise. One could, perhaps, describe it as a form of policing. I would ask the Minister to ponder somewhat more on the value of this great service which the independent grocers have rendered over the years. Of course many of them have had to modernise their premises, keep step with progress, but they are now struggling completely against the tide, a tide flowing so fast against them, apparently with nobody caring how soon they go out of business. It is probably true to say that we are the only country in Europe in which no effort is being made now to protect the small trader.
There are many things with which a Government must contend these days.
One could be forgiven for excusing them in certain circumstances but this is a problem which has been gathering momentum as time goes on. Here I suppose greater damage has been done over the past six months than in any previous 12 months. Opportunities existed for these major firms, most of them foreign-owned, to come in and reap what benefits there were here at the expense of a certain section of the community which has rendered loyal service to our citizens.
It is to be regretted that we have seen such inactivity in Government circles in holding back the tide. What is happening is that the large supermarkets are coming in here and, as Deputy O'Keeffe outlined, in many instances are selling foreign-produced goods at the expense of Irish manufacturers. The fact that one of those foreign firms last year traded here at a loss of over £1.3 million, while the same firm trading in the United Kingdom could make a profit of £27 million, is a fair indication of what is happening, how they can sell their goods at under cost, eventually to eliminate the small traders or their competitors. Indeed it has not always been the small trader who has fallen. It appears now that the battle is on between the major firms to eliminate one another — the survival of the strongest, financially speaking. The firms that can last the longest and pour the greatest amount of subsidy into their Irish concerns are those that will survive. Of course this subsidy is provided by the population in the neighbouring island, the United Kingdom, because there they are well on the road to making massive profits and can afford to subsidise their Irish wing in order to eliminate their competitors, when the gates will be open to them to reap the rich harvest of the Irish consumer. But when that day arrives it will be too late. I believe even now we are late in introducing regulations to control this kind of activity. However, there is still time to save at least some of our small traders who are still fighting for their livelihood, for their very existence.
I do not know that any more need be said to convince people. It is a case that there are none so blind as those who do not want to see. It is now well known that 50 per cent of our grocery trade is in the hands of five major supermarkets. Most of those supermarkets are foreign owned. About two years ago the Minister's predecessor set up the Irish Goods Council. I am sure the members of this council are doing excellent work but they should be concerned about what has happened in this area. The major supermarkets are not very concerned about whether their goods are Irish or foreign manufactured. The foreign owned supermarkets who are operating here must sell the foreign manufactured article even though the same article is readily available here. This is because those foreign owned supermarkets who operate in the UK are committed to goods manufactured outside this country. It is as easy to shift whatever quantity of the particular items the Irish interests are able to sell as to deal with the Irish manufacturers.
The Minister said last week that at least one of the foreign operators said he was dealing, as far as possible, with Irish manufacturers and selling Irish products. Although he was doing that it was at his price the goods were supplied to his supermarket not the manufacturers' price. This operates unfairly against the small trader who is asked to subsidise the same item sold in supermarkets in Dublin and throughout the country. It is vital to our industries, particularly our food industry, that the independent sector is kept in business.
I cannot understand why the Minister has not got that message and why the Irish Goods Council have not made it their business to get the message to him. Perhaps they have got the message to him but the Minister is being stubborn in this regard. We are the only country in Europe not taking measures to ensure that the small traders, the independent traders, are kept in business. Comparisons are always made with other European countries and with our nearest neighbour, the UK. We often hear references to France, Germany and Italy and what is happening in those countries. The Minister said the number of independent traders in those countries has reduced but he did not refer to the measures taken in them to ensure the independent trader does not disappear from the scene.
Goods which are used every day are bought in some of those major supermarkets at prices which are unfair to the small trader down the street simply because those supermarkets have used unfair practices and have had manufacturers supply the goods to them. I urge the Minister to take note of what is happening and to have some investigation carried out in relation to the matter. When there is undercost selling of an Irish product in any of those major supermarkets a full investigation should be carried out into the methods used to obtain these goods. Unfair practices are certainly used to have Irish manufacturers supply their goods to the major outlets, very often at the expense of the small traders.
The undercost selling is more glaring in my constituency than in other parts of the country. The first new town since the State was founded is being built in my constituency. Three new towns are being build in County Dublin. I should like to deal with the most advanced one, that of Tallaght. In a few years we hope to have a population of 130,000 people. The population has risen from about 3,500 ten years ago to almost 60,000 people now. An application was made a few days ago by a foreign firm for the building of the heart of this new town, the erection of 350,000 square feet of shopping area. These eight acres are being developed by a firm who have no interest in the country except that of making money. I doubt very much if this firm will see the contract through because I have checked on their record and there are many Irish firms who have a much better record in this type of development.
The Deputy can make his case without making charges against an identifiable firm. I am asking the Deputy not to name firms or individuals.
This eight acre development has gone to a firm with interests outside the country. There are two major supermarkets in that 350,000 square feet of shopping area. I have not had the opportunity of checking the plan application but I would expect that the two supermarkets cover an area within that total of about 200,000 square feet. No Irish industry has any say in the letting of that 200,000 square feet area and it is reasonable to forecast that no Irish firm will trade within that entire area in that major shopping development in the south-west Dublin area, which will have a large catchment area of the rest of County Dublin and of the city and also of the neighbouring counties. No Irish interest will have a say in how trading is conducted in that area, which comprises two supermarkets. It is shameful that the Government should have permitted such a situation to develop. This is not my first time to raise this matter. I have raised it before at county council level. I have fought to ensure that such a situation would not develop. There were three or four additional committee meetings for the purpose of discussing the matter but pressure was applied from certain quarters so that on the day of the vote certain councillors voted in a particular way. I am sorry to say that each of the Fianna Fáil councillors — and all of them were present except for one — voted for the contract to be given to a foreign firm.
The Deputy should not introduce county council matters into this debate.
What about the Deputy's majority on the council?
It is significant that the major shopping development, not only in the entire Dublin area but in the country, is being developed by a foreign firm who have full control in regard to the letting of the 200,000 square feet of supermarket and department stores area. I have no reason for doubting that the occupants of that area will be foreign interests and that, in addition, those foreign interests will be selling foreign goods and foreign-manufactured foodstuffs of a kind that are readily available here. This is a disgraceful situation.
Not very far from this development there is what could be described as the largest building in my constituency. This is a store that is used for the purpose of supplying major supermarkets. Day after day one sees trucks travelling between that store and the docks carrying foreign-produced goods. The Minister should be ashamed of allowing such a situation to continue. Today a colleague of the Minister's boasted about there being some reduction in the unemployment figures but as the day went on it was shown that he should have taken the matter more seriously because it was found that the figures had increased compared with the past or with any other year. In a situation in which we have the highest unemployment figures in the history of the State and when much of this unemployment can be attributed to the advent of the supermarkets and the superstores that have sprung up in our towns and cities, I wonder how a Minister, a Minister on whom rests a responsibility of taking measures to ensure that such a situation will not continue, can even sleep at night. He must realise what is happening just as people generally are beginning to realise what the real situation is. Even the housewife who is benefiting from below cost selling is beginning to realise what is happening.
In these circumstances I would appeal to the Minister before it is too late to take action, to take any measure possible to ensure that the independent trader remains with us. It will be only after these traders have disappeared from the scene that some people will realise the value of the service they provided. It will be only then, also, that many an Irish worker will realise the benefit that these traders were to them. For some it will be only when they are asked for money to improve the roads from these major stores to the docks that realisation will dawn.
There is another matter that I should like the Minister to take up with the Minister for Finance in regard to the small, independent grocer, who, proportionately, is perhaps the biggest ratepayer in the country. Not only is he hounded for rates by the local authorities but he is being hounded at a time of the year when he needs the greatest amount of stock in his premises. The same applies in respect of his being asked for tax. Therefore, I am asking the Minister to consult with the Minister for Finance in regard to the time of the year that these rates and taxes must be paid by the small trader. This may seem a small point but it is not small so far as many of these traders are concerned.
I should like the Minister to take a little time off and to visit some of these supermarkets in this city or elsewhere and to take note of the goods on the shelves and of how many items are displayed at under cost, but particularly how many items are displayed with a foreign label and then check if the same article is not available from Irish manufacturers and carry out some investigation as to why the Irish-made items are not available in the shop. I think he would then be convinced that the major supermarkets have not come to this country for the consumers' benefit but for their own. The sooner he realises that and takes some action the better it will be for the country as a whole.
The Deputy who has just spoken knows that the Minister has asked a sub-committee of the Restrictive Practices Commission to examine very closely, in fact to have a full scale inquiry into all aspects of the supply and distribution of grocery goods. It was rather strange that the Deputy never once referred to the Bill for which presumably he was speaking. I was rather surprised that even when Deputy O'Keeffe was speaking he dealt very little with what was in the Bill. Perhaps this is deliberate. I do not know if Deputy McMahon studied his own Bill but I am convinced that if most of our shopkeepers were to study the Bill and its implications very carefully they would not support it as it is most restrictive in its objectives.
Certain things should be said in reply to statements by Deputy McMahon in regard to the shopping centre in Tallaght. First, there were no applications from Irish companies to tender for that shopping centre with the exception of one company that did not even put in a plan -they just offered to build the centre and there was no detailed plan. Secondly, as Dublin Corporation considered the shopping centre application it is important to state that out of the 45 members on the corporation Fianna Fáil have 12 and on the county council, of which Deputy McMahon is a member, the Fine Gael majority is very secure. Out of 36 members we have only about ten or 12, very few members. It is no use for Deputy O'Toole to be crying about Fianna Fáil councillors walking into county council or corporation lobbies to vote for shopping centres and endeavouring to blame the Government for this. They are the elected members of the planning authority.
I sympathise with small shopkeepers who have to compete with the big supermarkets. I am anxious that the full scale inquiry into below cost selling will come to fruition and that their report will not be too long delayed. Their investigation should be very thorough. I know that many small shops have actually prospered where big supermarkets opened, particuarly big shopping centres. In places like Crumlin when the shopping centre opened many small shops in the surrounding area prospered. Others have opened up and changed hands and more prosperous types of shop in the grocery trade and otherwise have opened there simply because people flock there. We are also living in the time of the motor car when people want shopping centres.
I do not know if the Opposition's intention in the Bill is to stamp out shopping centres — I hope not, because many of these big combines are keeping Irish manufacturers in business. I know of one English company — not the one in the grocery trade — which opened about a year ago in Mary Street, Dublin, which buys in the region of £15 million of Irish goods for export to their other stores in the UK and Europe. That was the 1979 figure. Many Irish people are in employment and benefit very much because of these companies. I am aware that there are other big combines which are foreign owned but which buy substantial quantities of Irish food.
Regarding figures cited last week for the huge imports of food, one may take it that the figures quoted were somewhat selective. Included in them were figures for imports of fruit, bananas, pineapples, oranges, raisins and sultanas.
These were replies to parliamentary questions.
Yes, but we must be very careful when talking about imported goods in dealing with this kind of Bill. We must ensure that we do not throw the baby out with the water. I should be very surprised if Deputy O'Toole, if elected to Government and appointed Minister for Industry and Commerce, would reintroduce this Bill in identical form. I think he would have a re-think about it on closer study and on the basis of advice he would no doubt receive.
The Irish Goods Council have had consultations with the multiples regarding sale of Irish goods and these multiples have promised to display Irish goods prominently in their stores. One of the earlier stores to open in Dublin displays signs: "These goods are Irish made." I wish more of our stores would do so.
I should like to deal with some points in the Bill itself and say why we on this side of the House will oppose it. Its main object is to ensure that no group of enterprises between three and five in number should have a market share in excess of 45 per cent and no one enterprise should have more than 20 per cent share of the retail grocery market in any one year. Whoever is replying will have an opportunity of disagreeing with the arguments we put forward. It is also proposed that the Minister should use his powers under section 11 of the Mergers, Take-overs and Monopolies (Control) Act, 1978 to break up an enterprise whose market share exceeds 20 per cent in any year; that all retail grocery outlets whose area exceeds 5,000 square feet should be licensed and that all outlets owned by an enterprise which has a market share of 5 per cent irrespective of size should be licensed and that below cost selling should be prohibited.
I understand that in general the Bill must be regarded as very radical in its objects with certain serious implications for both retailers and consumers. In so far as retailers are concerned, their ability to expand and develop to meet consumer demand would be seriously impaired. This could affect adversely their competitiveness by interfering with their ability to increase throughput and thereby effect cost savings. While the controls would affect adversely the multiples in the main, they would also apply in relation to the independent sector. Given the market share figures in sections 2 and 5, there is no doubt that the greatest impact would be on the multiple chains. As regards the consumer end of it, and in particular the consumer in the provinces, it would appear that the proposals would have a significant impact on this area. These consumers generally do not appear to have benefited to the same extent nor have they had as great an opportunity as the consumer in our main cities who has had the benefit of the advantage of large units. I am stating these points in order that the Deputies opposite may have the technical reasons why we cannot go along with this.
(Cavan-Monaghan): If the Deputy is not careful we will send for Deputy Ryan.
I think he is stopped somewhere at Heathrow on an Air France plane, according to this evening's paper.
He objected very strongly the last night here to Deputies reading their speeches. I take it that Deputy Briscoe wrote all this in the hour he spent there writing.
I am trying to be helpful to the proposers of the Bill and I am looking for the indulgence to some extent of the Deputies on the other side to make a studied and sound case for them to argue.
So long as the Deputy does not read his speech. Otherwise he will incur the ire of the Chair and of Deputy Richie Ryan.
Let me take the Bill section by section. We will scrap definitions. I have more or less dealt with section 2, which provides for the regulation of the retail grocery trade. It states that:
2.—(1) No three or more enterprises (not exceeding five) shall have more than a forty-five per cent control or share (including through the acquisition of other retail outlets or the extension of existing retail outlets) in the retail grocery market in any year.
(2) Without prejudice to subsection (1) an enterprise shall not have more than a twenty per cent share or control in the retail grocery market in any year.
For the purpose of determining the positions of enterprises in the market the section also provides that monthly turnover figures should be lodged with the Minister by each enterprise but that this requirement may be waived by the Minister if he believes that the section will not apply. In determining the market share the Minister will have regard to figures published by the CSO and the effect of the aggregate market share provision would be that immediate action would have to be taken in relation to Quinnsworth, Dunnes Stores, Superquinn——
The Deputy should not name firms or individuals in his speech.
——many of these big multiples whose aggregate market share is probably at the level of 45 per cent at least. It would seem that action could not be taken at this stage against an individual enterprise as it is not believed that any enterprise has a market share approaching 20 per cent. It is not clear from the Bill how the provision in section 2 (1) can be implemented, assuming that there is an aggregate of 45 per cent market share in existence.
Section 3 provides the remedy for a case where an individual enterprise has in excess of 20 per cent of the market. It does not deal with the situation where there is an aggregate share in excess of 45 per cent. Section 2 (1), therefore, provides that a certain situation should not exist but the Bill does not provide a remedy for such a situation. It may be envisaged that the situation can be dealt with by way of the licensing regime proposed under section 4, but even here the Minister is not empowered to refuse to grant a licence except where an offence under that section has been committed. Another possibility which arises under the licensing regime is that the licence granted to outlets operated by the enterprise whose aggregate turnover exceeds the 45 per cent threshold should contain conditions compliance with which would cause a reduction in turnover of the outlet concerned and thereby reduce the aggregate share to below 45 per cent. If this is what is envisaged its implementation would pose numerous difficulties and probably would involve blatant discrimination against certain enterprises and perhaps problems of a constitutional nature, additionally imposing artificial limits on the trading capacity of enterprises. This would seem to be very much in restraint of competition.
Has the Deputy read the Mergers, Takeovers and Monopolies Act sections 11 and 13? He will find it all there including the power by the Minister to ask a company to divest itself——
Deputies should try to stay with the Bill before the House.
Certain companies can divest themselves, possibly more easily in a manufacturing sphere than in a retail sphere, where sales can go up to a certain level by increasing the number of outlets and also where one is directly concerned with employment. What is that, Sir?
The Chair has said nothing yet, Deputy.
He is looking at me in a very studied way.
The Deputy is not convincing me one iota.
I hope I am giving the Deputy something to discuss on the Bill. With the greatest respect, not one of the speeches from your side tonight dealt with the Bill which you have introduced.
The Deputy should speak through the Chair.
Deputy O'Toole has introduced it and it is only fair that he should when he is replying have an opportunity to disagree with the arguments being put forward as to why this side cannot accept the Bill. I am concerned as much as the Deputy is about the anxiety of the small retailers, small grocers and other types of small shopkeepers generally.
Amend the Bill.
(Cavan-Monaghan): Deputy Briscoe may be concerned but the balance of power must be in favour of the multiple stores.
Deputy Briscoe is entitled to make his own speech.
(Cavan-Monaghan): We are helping him. He would never get on without that.
He does not need any help at the moment.
This Bill throughout is extremely restrictive. This is the point I made at the outset. I feel that grocers studying it very carefully and having the technicalities of it explained to them will have difficulty in understanding this Bill because. God knows, it was difficult enough for Members of this House to understand it. One has to be a lawyer these days to understand what a Bill is about. Usually we get a brief explaining what a Bill is all about.
That is an oversight on my part. I am sorry.
That is all right. It might be useful to have an explanatory memorandum as we have when we issue a Bill. Section 3 states:
3.—(1) Where the share or control of the retail grocery market of an enterprise exceeds the percentage amount specified in subsection (2) of section 2, the Minister shall either——
(a) by order require that enterprise to divide or sell its retail outlets in a manner as if that enterprise was a monopoly to which section 11 of the Act of 1978 applies, and the provisions of that section and sections 12 and 13 of that Act shall apply; or
(b) exercise his powers under section 4 in respect of licences of that enterprise's retail outlets.
(2) In the exercise of his powers under subsection (1), the Minister may take into account the percentage amount specified in subsection (1) of section 2.
Section 4 states:
(1) Subject to the subsequent provisions of this section, every retail outlet (which includes grocery sales) whose area exceeds 5,000 sq. feet shall require to be licensed.
(2) The person deemed to be in charge of the retail outlet shall, for the purposes of subsection (1), be the applicant to which this section relates and the Minister shall, on the application in writing of that person therefor, grant to such person a licence (referred to in this Act as "a retail grocery trading licence"), in such form and specifying such matters as the Minister may determine, authorising the person to engage in retail grocery trading.
Every single grocer will have to conform.
That is a misinterpretation.
(Cavan-Monaghan): Only if the area of his shop exceeds 5,000 square feet.
I accept that.
Section 4(3) states:
(3) An application for a retail grocery trading licence shall be made to the Minister not less than 30 days before the first day on which it is intended to engage in retail grocery trading, save where the application relates to an outlet already trading on the passing of this Act.
What about the man who has applied for planning permission? Must he apply for his licence before getting planning permission for his shop?
(Cavan-Monaghan): The Deputy should put down an amendment on Committee Stage.
These are just questions.
I look forward to telling the Deputy tomorrow night what it is all about.
I hope the Deputy will do so.
Section 4(4) states:
(a) A retail grocery trading licence may contain such conditions (if any) as the Minister determines and specifies in the licence.
(B) A person who holds a retail grocery trading licence shall comply with the conditions of the licence.
(c) A person who contravenes paragraph (b) of this subsection shall be guilty of an offence.
More conditions, more restrictions. Section 4(5) states:
Without prejudice to subsection (4) (a), the Minister shall, in prescribing the conditions to be specified in a licence, in relation to a 20-mile radius of the location of the proposed retail outlet, have regard to the following:—
(a) the distribution of population:
(b) the adequacy of existing retail grocery outlets to service the community;
(c) the likely effect on the trade of the existing retail grocery outlets; and
(d) the likely effect on employment in that area.
I can imagine the kind of problems that would exist where a man intended to open a shop and other shopkeepers in the area protested against the new man getting a licence. All sorts of pressures would be brought to bear on the Minister not to grant that licence.
Section 4(6) states:
The Minister may revoke a retail grocery trading licence if he is satisfied that a condition of the licence is being or has been contravened.
Section 4(7) states:
The Minister may refuse to grant a retail grocery trading licence to a person who has been convicted of an offence under this section.
(Cavan-Monaghan): Perhaps the Deputy would explain the point about under cost selling?
The Deputy should speak on section 7. His time is running out.
I will come to that. Enormous powers are being given to the Minister to control the grocery trade.
(Cavan-Monaghan): This Bill is about protecting the consumer from cartels.
I would not agree. It is designed to restrict the consumer. In fact, I do not believe the consumer has been given very much consideration.
The Deputy may like to know that the section about which he is talking is cogged from his own Government's Act to control casual trading and the Mergers Act.
Deputy O'Toole will have the right to reply later.
The whole emphasis is on the Minister.
(Cavan-Monaghan): The Deputy should tell us about under cost selling.
That is being dealt with.
(Cavan-Monaghan): It was dealt with last week.
The Deputy in possession should not be asked questions and should not answer them.
I am trying to give the Opposition something to get their teeth into tomorrow night. They are hearing one side of the argument this evening.
The Deputy has read the Bill for us.
I went through it very carefully.
(Cavan-Monaghan): Unless this Bill is passed the Deputy will be getting his teeth into very expensive food in the years ahead.
I do not agree.
Section 7 provides that the retail sale of grocery goods below the net import price should be immediately prohibited by order. This proposal has already been rejected on foot of a report from the Restrictive Practices Commission which did not recommend its prohibition. In this connection the Second Stage speech on the Restrictive Practices (Confirmation of Order) Bill, 1981, is relevant. Perhaps Deputies opposite would deal with that tomorrow.
I took part in that debate. Deputy Briscoe was not even in the House.
It deals with the reason the Restrictive Practices Commission have rejected this prohibition.
Staples like sugar and tea have popularly been used for below cost selling. Deputies will know that it is illegal to advertise anything that is being sold below cost.
(Cavan-Monaghan): It is also illegal to advertise bingo, but people get to know about it.
I hope we will not debate bingo on this Bill.
This is a very dictatorial Bill designed to give ministerial control over the whole retail grocery trade. I cannot believe that those involved in the trade want this.
(Cavan-Monaghan): The Deputy should go and ask them.
I have spoken to many of them.
The Deputy told them he was very sympathetic towards them.
I am very sympathetic towards them.
I would not inflict this Bill on them and I am positive that if the Deputy were in Government he would not do so.
The Deputy would be surprised at what I would inflict on him.
Please, Deputies. We have only one minute left.
The Deputy wants everything bound up neatly in law. He wants a law for everything. I would ask Deputy O'Toole to look into his own heart.
It is a long time since people in this House looked into their hearts. That is an old one from Fianna Fáil.
Deputies opposite should examine the Bill very carefully.
I will not look into my heart.
Perhaps the Deputy has not the capacity. I have that capacity and I can say that this is not what the retail grocers want, especially if they are aware of the restricted nature of the Bill. I am positive that Fine Gael would not introduce such a Bill if they were in Government.
Would the Deputy move the adjournment?
Will I have any time tomorrow?
You will have ten seconds tomorrow night.