This is a Bill to confirm an order which I have made under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1953, on the recommendation of the Fair Trade Commission, relating to the supply and distribution of electrical appliances and equipment and also to confirm a related amending order.
The commission's recommendation followed a public inquiry initiated by them into complaints from distributors that they were experiencing difficulty in procuring supplies of electrical goods.
The commission's report of the inquiry shows that there are over 70 Irish manufacturers of electrical appliances and equipment. A high proportion of their output is sold on the home market, the requirements of which are also met to a substantial degree by imports. Irish manufacturers sell to wholesalers or direct to retailers and contractors, and imported appliances and equipment are distributed in the same way by manufacturers' representatives or agents.
Some manufacturers' representatives carry on a wholesale business; some wholesalers also have a retail business while many electrical contractors engage in the retailing of appliances and equipment. There are six associations representing the interests of manufacturers, manufacturers' representatives, wholesalers, retailers and contractors. Over 100 witnesses representing trade associations, manufacturers' representatives, wholesalers, retailers, contractors, the Electricity Supply Board and the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards were examined in the course of the inquiry.
The commission found that certain practices in the trade were not compatible with the public interest, and recommended that an order be made to prohibit them. These practices include coercion of a supplier by an association to withhold supplies or discriminate against any person; preparation or publication of lists of approved traders for the purpose of limiting entry to the trade or boycotting a supplier; resale price maintenance; collective fixing of prices by suppliers and withholding of goods by a supplier because of prices charged. The commission also recommended that the order should require a supplier to have written terms and conditions of sale and apply these terms and conditions to the acceptance of orders for goods.
I accepted the recommendations of the commission and I made the Restrictive Trade Practices (Electrical Appliances and Equipment) Order, 1971, to give effect to the recommendations and also to provide in the light of the report that a supplier's terms and conditions should be framed in an equitable way, should not be unduly onerous, and should be applied in a manner which would not involve unfair discrimination. Subsequently I found it necessary to make the Restrictive Trade Practices (Electrical Appliances and Equipment) (Amendment) Order, 1971, which provides for a minor drafting amendment of the original order.
Following the making of the original order and publication of the commissioner's report, representations were made to me by the Electrical Industries Federation of Ireland. While not objecting to the terms of the order, the federation maintained that the evidence cited in the report related to practices which no longer existed at the time of the inquiry.
While I accept that many of the practices concerned had been abandoned, I wish to point out that the commission have acknowledged this where appropriate in their report and it is also true that some individual firms continue to be influenced in their distribution arrangements by policies which have been abandoned by trade associations. Furthermore, the commission's report does not confine itself to practices of associations but also embraces the activities of individual suppliers. I am glad to have the federation's assurance that restrictive practices have been abandoned but I feel, nevertheless, that some safeguards are necessary to prevent restrictive practices which are outside the control of the federation or which might reappear at some time in the future. The orders to which this Bill relates provides these safeguards.
I hope that Senators will not infer from all this that the federation are restrictive in their outlook. This would be far from the truth and, in fact, they have put forward constructive proposals relating to safety standards and the training of personnel in the electrical trade which my Department is examining in consultation with the other Departments concerned. While on the subject of safety standards I would like to mention that since the publication of the report of the Fair Trade Commission the Electro-Technical Council of Ireland has been set up under the aegis of the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards. Its object is to bring about improvements in efficiency and safety. It includes representatives of the ESB, of Government Departments and of various branches of the trade.
The Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1953, provides that orders of this kind shall not have effect unless they are confirmed by Act of the Oireachtas. The Bill now before the Seanad is the confirming Bill which is necessary to give the force of law to the orders concerned. With Bills of this kind, the orders which it is proposed to confirm may not be amended by the Oireachtas but must be accepted or rejected as they stand. The matters with which the orders deal have been the subject of a detailed public inquiry by the Fair Trade Commission, and their report sets out the arguments in favour of adopting the provisions embodied in the orders. The Bill has already been welcomed in the Dáil and I can recommend it to the Seanad without reservation. Its enactment will provide necessary safeguards against any future attempts at restricting normal competitive conditions in the electrical trade with consequent benefits to the trade and the public.