Consumer Information Bill, 1976: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to improve the protection given to the consumer in existing legislation such as the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887. Even though this measure was supplemented and revised in 1931 and 1970, its basic provisions are still related to a time when prepacking of goods was rare and advertising did not have its present day scope or impact and there was no radio or television. The need for updating these provisions has been recognised for quite some time and the first step was taken in the Act of 1970 which provided for compulsory quantity marking on prepacked goods. In 1972, the National Prices Commission were asked to examine the legislative needs in this area, and this task was taken over by the National Consumer Advisory Council when it was set up in 1973.

The council made recommendations to the Minister which were published in 1975, and comments and views on these have been taken into account in preparing the Bill. The council's recommendations dealt with the subject under four separate headings and the present Bill is related to the first heading only, that is, Deceptive Trade Practices. A second measure, published in May 1977, deals with contract terms, guarantees, warranties and so forth, that is, the field covered by the Sale of Goods Act, 1893. This is being examined with a view to early introduction in Dáil Éireann, and work on further measures, in particular a Consumer Credit Bill, is well advanced.

This Bill might be said to deal with all forms of information about goods and services given to consumers, whether by printing on packs, notices in shops, brochures, leaflets, or by radio or television advertising. Its provisions are intended to ensure that all such information is neither false nor misleading, and also that essential information will not be withheld.

The notion of a "trade description", introduced in the 1887 Act, was of a statement about goods which, on pain of prosecution, must be true. Only statements about quantity, composition and origin were comprehended by the Act of 1887, so that while it was an offence to make an untrue statement about, for instance, the weight of an article, or where it came from, it was not an offence to claim falsely that it complied with a particular standard. The new Bill will remedy this by bringing within the concept of trade description virtually all kinds of statements about goods which might influence a purchaser. Trade descriptions will now comprehend statements about such matters as processing or reconditioning, fitness for purpose, compliance with a standard or test, and the standing or commercial importance of the supplier or manufacturer. A further gap is to be closed by prohibiting misleading as well as actually false statements.

Also, while the 1887 trade description had to be physically on, with or near the goods, this Bill provides that information given by word of mouth or contained in an advertisement or in fact given in any way may be a trade description and subject to the same requirements of truth and accuracy as if it were physically attached to the goods.

One of the most controversial areas in recent years has been in the field of price indications and comparisons. These may be implied or direct comparisons with former prices, normal prices, the price elsewhere, and so on. The Bill makes it an offence to give a false or misleading indication as to the price at which goods or services are being offered or have been offered in the past, or of the price for which they can be obtained elsewhere, or of the recommended price or the full price which will have to be paid. I hope this will remedy the confusion and annoyance so often caused by the "4p off" phenomenon.

Another provision which I might particularly mention is the power the Bill would give to the Director of Consumer Affairs to seek an Order in the High Court prohibiting the continued publication of a particular advertisement. The council recommended explicitly that the Court should be empowered to ban an advertisement which is the subject of a complaint. After very careful consideration, I have concluded that the inclusion of such a provision is called for. What the Bill in general provides for is penalties for a variety of breaches of the law after these breaches have occurred, and while it is true to say that the fear of these penalties is a powerful reason why the breaches should not occur in the first place, this reasoning cannot always be relied on. I could not accept the position that a series of seriously misleading advertisements should continue to run with no power to stop them other than the threat that at some future date the person responsible would be prosecuted.

The provision as originally drafted would have given power to any person to seek an injunction of this kind. While this would be the most effective way of doing it, I found that it would be too readily open to abuse. Under such a provision it would be possible for a trader to stop his competitors' advertisements or delay them in such a way as to render them useless. I considered the possibility of avoiding this difficulty by requiring the director's consent for applications to the Court, but I am advised that such an arrangement is not practicable for several reasons. Accordingly, the power has to be confined to the director, but clearly it is open to any person to approach the director and ask him to take action about an advertisement which is likely to mislead and cause loss, damage or injury.

It has been suggested that this kind of measure, preventing misleading information, is not much help to a person who has been misled and has suffered loss or damage as a result. Even when the culprit has been punished, the victim goes unrecompensed. This is true, and, to provide for such a situation the Bill now provides, at section 17 for redress for such victims. The provision is very restricted; it is limited to the amount of the fine, and to claimants who have applied before the case is heard and who are called as witnesses. It was not possible to allow of any wider scope for compensation here because of legal complications but I think even this restricted provision will do a good deal for victims of any offence under the Act. I will continue to look for improved mechanisms of redress.

A further important feature of the Bill is the power to make orders requiring that specified information be included in advertisements in the interests of the consumer. This is necessary for cases where the omission of some essential information in an advertisement could make it misleading. Because words or expressions of imprecise meaning which yet carry a suggestion of real or intrinsic value and worth are often used with little or no justification in relation to products, the Minister is also empowered to assign by order particular meanings to expressions commonly used in relation to goods and services to ensure that consumers are not misled by deceptive or vague descriptions. Similarly, he may require by order that certain goods be marked with or accompanied by specified information or instructions where he feels that this is necessary in the consumers' interest. The power of making orders which is conferred on the Minister is subject to his giving notice of the making of the order and consulting with interested parties. Furthermore, the approval of the draft order by both Houses of the Oireachtas is necessary.

Possibly the greatest single deficiency of the Merchandise Marks Acts is that they relate only to goods and make no provision for protecting the consumer against the dishonest advertising or promotion of services. Consumers can be misled about services in the same way as with goods; they are, if anything, even more dependent on the supplier's descriptions and representations. The Bill, accordingly, prohibits false and misleading statements relating to services, facilities and accommodation. The relevant section necessarily differs in detail from those dealing with descriptions of goods but the general aim is to apply the same rules,mutatis mutandis, to statements by advertisement or otherwise, about services as about goods.

The whole area of consumer protection is noticeable for continual development of new areas of study and demands for public regulation. This arises from the dynamic character of marketing and product development which, however, described from the point of view of business, contain the possibility of new forms of manipulation to which the consumer may not be alert. Possible economic loss or damage to the consumer should be under surveillance and capable of being influenced as much asex post facto sanctions for damage or loss caused.

To help to rectify this possible danger, I propose to create with this Bill the office of Director of Consumer Affairs who would be charged with the responsibility for keeping developments in trade descriptions and advertising under review in the interests of the consumer, requesting the cessation of prejudicial practices, seeking injunctions where necessary and promoting the adoption of codes of good practice by business groups. The Bill also provides for officers to be authorised by the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy to enforce the provisions of this Bill, generally, and to assist the director.

There are probably goods on the shelves or in the stores of distributors which were bought by them in good faith, but which might be held, on a strict interpretation of the new provisions, not to measure up fully to the requirements. I think it would be harsh to leave distributors at a loss in relation to such goods, which they accepted as freely circulating on the market, and I feel it would be reasonable to allow a short period to adjust to the new requirements. I will be open to suggestions on this point.

Finally, the Bill does seek to restore a balance which has tilted somewhat against the consumer. I emphasise however, that it also protects honest traders from their less scrupulous competitors. It provides adequate defences for mistake, accident and so forth and makes special provision for those who merely publish advertisements, where this is the business they are in.

This Bill is part of a general policy of consumer protection which could be said to contain three basic elements: ensuring that the consumer gets truthful information; ensuring that the consumer gets more, and more relevant information; strengthening the consumer's position in the market place.

The first two elements are contained in this Bill and in recent improvements in price display provisions. The third element is dealt with in the second measure I mentioned earlier which was published in May last, and will modernise the Sale of Goods Act, cover services as well as goods, and also in the new measure being prepared dealing with consumer credit. The overall objective of the policy is to enable the consumer to play a more equal and effective role with the producer and distributor, in an expanding competitive economy.

I should preface my remarks by saying that this Bill came up sooner than I thought it would and if my thoughts are not as well prepared as they should be I hope I will be forgiven.

This Bill, in effect, extends and amends the Merchandise Marks Acts of 1887 and 1970. The 1970 Act is easy to get at but an Act of 1887 is not easy to dig up. Senators who live in the country and who may like to do some work on a Bill at home would find it difficult to get that kind of information. Perhaps in future Bills on which the same problem would arise, the sections which are amended or extended would be listed and outlined in the Schedule or in the Explanatory Memorandum. That would be of great assistance.

The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned the general policies of her Department in relation to consumer protection. The three main points were: ensuring that the consumer gets truthful information, ensuring that the consumer gets more relevant information, and strengthening the consumer's position in the market place. The first two points are covered in this Bill. The third one is being left to a later stage. The third one is by far the most neglected one in Irish legislation and the one that requires very urgent and immediate attention.

I welcome the Bill. Our consumer legislation generally is in such a sorry state that any measure that serves to assist the consumer in any way must be welcomed. It should be noted, however, that the Bill is very narrow in its application and apart from one notable exception it is a criminal Bill in content. It creates new offences and provides for the establishment of the office of Director of Consumer Affairs whose main function is to ensure that provisions of the Act are enforced, and to keep the Minister up to date on the goings-on in the consumer world.

The Bill does not change our civil law. It does not help in any way the consumer who gets into difficulty in a normal civil transaction. Anyone who wants to make a claim for damages or compensation arising out of, say, the purchase of goods still must rely on the Sale of Goods Act in our common law. Even the provisions, implied covenants and warranties contained in the Sale of Goods Act can be very simply excluded from applying to any transaction by the manufacturer or supplier or whoever is concerned by simply saying that they do not apply. It is in this area, in which we lag appallingly far behind our EEC colleagues, that real legislation is required. Similarly, the Hire Purchase Acts, the last of which was passed in the 1960s, were intended to cover all transactions that had an element of deferred payment in them. At that time they covered most transactions. Most credit sale transactions were included in the scope of the Hire Purchase Acts. Since then, through the wisdom and ability of finance companies and hire purchase houses, they have succeeded in creating new schemes and transactions which are not affected by hire purchase legislation. This is an area which requires to be sorted out.

The Bill provides for the extension to services as well as goods for the making of misleading or false statements. I wonder whether political parties are in business and whether they provide a service. If they do, I wonder whether they come within the scope of this Bill. If they do, and if a political party makes a misleading statement or makes a promise that it does not subsequently keep, I wonder what will happen. If that applies, I would suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should put in a section allowing for retrospection so far as the application of the Bill is concerned.

I think political parties have a lot of licence.

I want to compliment the Parliamentary Secretary in relation to one amendment which she caused to be made on Committee Stage in the Dáil. That is the amendment which allows for compensation of a victim. We have precedents in our legislation. The Road Traffic Act, although it is not operative at present because of constitutional difficulties, provided at one stage that where one had a crash with an uninsured driver and the person who did the damage was charged with driving without insurance, an application could be made to the court for the imposition on the miscreant person of a compensatory fine. The amendment in section 17 is very similar to this and should be welcomed. It puts a human and sensible face on the legislation and law generally and helps to break the association of the law with an ass.

It is a Bill which is best discussed on Committee Stage because of the nature of the provisions. I do not want to get involved in a detailed discussion on the Bill section by section but there are a few areas which I would like to discuss at this stage and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary might consider some of the ideas that will be put forward and bring in amendments on Committee Stage.

The Bill provides for the creation of the office of Director of Consumer Affairs. It also provides in section 9 (5) that the director shall be independent in the performance of his functions. Unfortunately, the subsection previous to that in section 9 provides that the director shall be a civil servant and initially shall be picked in accordance with offices within the civil service but subsequently that he shall hold office for five years at the end of which term the Minister may choose to re-appoint him for a further five years. Another subsection provides that the director may be removed from office at any time by the Minister. Quite honestly, I think that the powers given to the Minister in this respect make a total mockery of subsection (5) claiming that the director shall be independent in the performance of his functions. I realise that in another subsection it is provided that if a director is removed from office the Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas the statements of the reasons for his removal. If he wanted to give that subsection any meaning I suggest that the Minister should give his causes for a proposed dismissal rather than attempt to close the door when the horse has bolted. This is a post and an office which should be seen to be independent and this is the only way that it can be done. It has not been unheard of for, indeed, not one office holder but entire boards to be removed by a Minister and reasons given subsequently in the House and just a little of stonewalling done to get over the immediate problem.

If the Parliamentary Secretary is serious about this, if she wants to say and mean that the director will be independent, let her provide that the Minister may remove the director if she feels that he ought to have that power, but let her provide that the Minister should give his reasons for that before the dismissal takes place. Presumably, as the Bill is drafted, the Minister would remove the office holder and would at the same time arrange for the appointment of a successor or put the operation in motion through the Civil Service Commission. At that stage, if after discussion in the House, the House and the Government are satisfied that the previous director should not have been dismissed the chances are that somebody else will already have been appointed. That is one area in the Bill which I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider.

I am very concerned about the powers given to authorised officers. I compliment the Parliamentary Secretary on the powers in this sense that they are effective in themselves; they provide for realistic methods of investigation; there are realistic methods of prosecution in the director's office and the Minister's office and the fines are such as should be a deterrent, which is a good thing. I am concerned about some of the powers given to authorised officers. Apparently, they will either be appointed by the Minister or be the whole time officers of a council of a county or corporation or other bodies. So, local authorities also will have the power to authorise these people. Paragraph (b) of the list of powers reads:

...require any person who carries on such trade, business or activity and any person employed in connection therewith to produce to the officer any books, documents or records....

That is fair enough so far as the principle of the business is concerned. But, so far as an employee is concerned, I wonder if it is fair that an authorised officer could approach a businessman's shop assistant in the absence of the businessman and seek certain documents and certain explanations without the knowledge of the businessman. And bringing it a step further, presumably doctors, solicitors, provide a service: those people frequently have in their possession documents which are of a highly confidential nature, documents which are possibly privileged, and it is quite possible under the provisions of this Bill, as I read it, that an authorised officer could go into a solicitor's office in the absence of the solicitor and ask a typist to produce a certain file, documents therein or records of any sort in relation to a case he may be investigating. I cannot see the sense in that. It is extremely dangerous. While I approve of the general powers and the notion behind them, namely, to have sensible methods of investigation, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider that particular paragraph (b).

There are other changes which I would like to see in the Bill. I realise the difficulties the Parliamentary Secretary has about giving power to the consumer to apply to the court for an injunction, but I wonder if some provision could be made. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned in her statement that she considered the possibility of a member of the public doing it, having received the consent of the director, and that there are legal difficulties here. I do not know what the legal difficulties are. I wonder if something could be done in that respect. The director may be very busy. In relation to the independence of the director, we are not told whether or not he will work under the auspices of the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy. I presume he will, or certainly under the umbrella of that organisation. Even that Department has under its control semi-State bodies who are in business, who provide a service and about whom the director might like to make inquiries in regard to some complaints. That is something which, in my view, certainly hinders his independence and it is just the type of case where there ought to be provision for a member of the public making an application. The point was made earlier that this director should be seen as utterly independent and, if you like, as the champion of consumers. This is a concept that the Parliamentary Secretary should consider and one which would be very welcome.

Having welcomed the Bill generally, I would not like to give the impression that I am satisfied now that our consumer protection work is done. My feelings are quite the contrary to this. Our laws, as I have said, are in such an appalling condition that any attempt in the right direction would have to be welcomed. What needs to be changed is the substantive law, the Sale of Goods Act, the Hire Purchase Act and similar Acts. In addition, the whole question of access to justice and access to courts is of the most fundamental importance. We must remember that, no matter what right we give a person in any legislation, it is not worth a damn if that person cannot afford to enforce that right—because litigation costs money—and one of the biggest problems we have is that it takes so long nowadays to establish your right in court because of delays in court, and again some of our courts are not properly equipped to deal with these matters; it is not their fault. Our court system is inflexible and too formal for certain matters. Our court system is such as to be intimidating sometimes to complainants, defendants, witnesses who are uninitiated in the court scene and who do not understand it. We have shied away completely from the concept of courts that are there to deal with specialised problems. We have the Redundancy Appeals Tribunals— something like that.

Why cannot we have a consumer court? Let it be informal. Let it move around the country as the need would demand. Why not have the family law court? That is the type of way we should be thinking and it applies particularly in relation to matters of consumer concern. I appreciate that it does not in any way come under the scope of this Bill—there is no hope of proposing an amendment—but I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider seriously the introduction of a system of consumer courts? I believe that that is the most effective way in which you could counteract the affairs of dubious businessmen.

Finally, there is the question of money. You will never have any consumer legislation worth anything unless you have a system of civil legal aid. I realise that this is something which has been raised time and time again. The fact is that that legislation is most needed by the poorer sections in our society. Those people, no matter what is provided for in any legislation, can do absolutely nothing because they are unfamiliar with court procedures and they have a mental block about going to court because of the possible high cost involved. There is no close association between the court system, and the poorer sections of our society. Although this does not come up directly within her Department, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to use her influence in this respect. Until we have a system of civil legal aid—let it be limited for the moment to family law but it should also be extended to cover consumer affairs—we will not have effective consumer protection legislation.

It is generally accepted that the consumer is entitled to be protected and informed and the Irish Government made a commitment to this effect when the European Economic Communities preliminary programme for a consumer protection and information policy was adopted by the Council of Ministers in April, 1975. This Bill seeks to meet this commitment. Legislation is only as effective as its efficient enforcement. A most useful section to consider in this regard is section 7, subsection (2), which endeavours to define a reduced price or a sale and a recommended price. How does one define a sale? It is something that tries—usually successfully—to part us from the money in our pockets as painlessly as possible and have us come back for more. Which of us at one time or another has not ended up with our own "groce of green spectacles" complete with silver rims and shagreen cases? Let us face it, sales make suckers of us all.

There is a more insidious form of sale which, because it is designed to appeal to the more vulnerable members of society, is particularly reprehensible. I refer to the practice in supermarkets and food stores of offering for sale basic necessities at a so-called reduced price. One is not told the reason for the reduction or the original price. One is led to assume, because of subtle advertising, that one is getting more for less. One cannot check because we have no system of unit pricing. Limited resources mean limited choice, and whether one is obliged to cater for a large family or whether one is an old aged pensioner fending for oneself, one is pressurised unduly to buy these items. People like this cannot take advantage of the real bargains that are to be had in buying food. They cannot buy in bulk and they cannot buy in season. Shopping for them has become a hazardous and almost a frightening experience. The housewife today finds the current consumer price index irrelevant. She carries her own in her head. She knows from her household accounts that no matter what she paid last month, last week, or even yesterday, she still cannot be sure what she will be asked to pay today for an item. If this Bill did nothing else but to stop this form of advertising and sale it would be a worth-while achievement.

Section 9, which sets up the Office of Director of Consumer Affairs, I find a little ambiguous, particularly the subsection which relates to his independence in the performance of his functions. To be effective the Director of Consumer Affairs must not only be but must be seen to be the watchdog of the consumer. Therefore he must be completely independent of the Minister and of the Department. One hopes that the Director will see it as part of his function to cast a cold eye upon the accounting systems of our semi-State bodies and that he will adopt a standard definition of trading terms such as "unbreakable", "child proof" so that these may no longer be matters of opinion.

It is regrettable that the opportunity afforded in this Bill to provide State subvention for an independent consumer association was not availed of. Such an association in providing and disseminating the sort of information consumers really want, such as lists of comparative prices at regular intervals, would help the director to be more effective and dynamic. We have had in Ireland since 1968 such a consumer association, but they are hampered because they are a voluntary body. I will not labour the point except to point out that in Denmark, a country about the same size as Ireland, they have had such an association with Government subvention for over 40 years.

I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary's description of the provisions of section 17 relating to the provision of compensation for those who may suffer loss and damage as being very restricted if for no other reason than it appears to the layman that in a criminal court the onus of proof is very much greater than it is in a civil court.

I express the hope that the director will not see it as part of his duty to chase from our television screens the gorgeous super-mums. I must admit they add a touch of glamour and romance to what seems by comparison the squalor of my domestic existence.

Consumer protection, even though there have been laws dealing with it on the Statute Book for a considerable number of years, is something which has only relatively recently been given its due attention. It is recognised now that, due to the many sophisticated methods of marketing in our shops, stores and the general market place, protection for the consumer is increasingly required. The extent of that protection is dependent upon the promptness with which action can be expedited to protect the consumer and on the amount of redress available to the person who has suffered some form of deceit in his purchases.

This Bill will be generally welcomed by the consumers association. It may not go as far as they would wish to protect consumers in their marketing affairs. It is only the first stage in what I would like to think is an assault on deceitful trading techniques now increasingly being practised, and I hope it will lead to further measures in the near future.

Consumer protection is something which needs regular review because we are today confronted with a very sophisticated market place. Purchasers are faced more and more with very tempting lavish goods and there is a great temptation to buy impulsively. On giving into those temptations the consumer at times finds on arriving home that he has been duped. The redress which this Bill offers to a consumer who has suffered is not at all adequate. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to spell out in more detail why redress more commensurate with the loss could not have been given. If adequate redress were available to a person who has suffered, that would be a wonderful deterrent in relation to deceitful practices.

It is also good to see that services are included under this Bill. There has been a vast expansion in the field of servicing in recent years. Before now consumers had not protection in relation to services. That there is a period to enable both traders and consumers to adjust to the new requirements of this Bill is acceptable, but when the new director is appointed he will have a sufficient record of cases of deceitful trading techniques on his hands, so that he will not have to wait for any undue period before bringing measures into effect.

The director, no matter who is appointed to that position, be it a civil servant or a non-civil servant, will always be open to criticism. No matter who the person is, it is imperative that he be seen to be acting promptly and impartially. It is unfortunate that the Bill does not allow a person to take action directly by way of an injunction. A person must, according to the Bill, go through the director. This can lead to delay and detracts somewhat from the principle of protection for the consumer, which is the basis of the Bill. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary can, if not by way of an amendment to this Bill, in some future legislation to extend the scope of protection to the ordinary consumer by injunction rather than having to go through the office of the director.

Business groups can do much to ensure that proper ethical standards are applied in marketing techniques. That some people were getting away with unethical practices in recent years has been a temptation for other groups to operate unethically. The director can be an instrumental force in persuading business groups to unite on this matter. It is in their best interests that the customer should recognise that he is being treated fairly when buying in the market place.

The Bill, the first stage in the large area of consumer protection, is welcome. I hope that future consumer legislation will extend the scope of the provisions contained in this Bill. Perhaps then we will, from our experience of the operation of this Bill, be able to improve on its measures.

I welcome this Bill. I do not intend to make a speech but should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary some brief questions.

I am not quite sure whether houses other than single-sale, person-to-person houses are included. Would the Parliamentary Secretary explain the effect of section 17? Could one infer from it that the director could, on behalf of a person who has been misled, secure compensation for that person? We all know of many cases where people have in good faith, purchased houses because of the structure, the site, the amenities and so on and subsequently found that it was not what they thought. Can the Minister use this Bill to secure redress for such persons? It is very important because this usually happens to members of society who are not in a position to go to court or to engage in litigation of one kind or another.

Is it a good practice to advertise an article by saying that if one buys such an item, he will have an opportunity to get a year's housekeeping money or a new car? This type of advertising has been increasing recently. If that is not a good practice, will the Parliamentary Secretary take steps to deal with it?

I welcome the Bill. I am often puzzled by the fact that there is the possibility of pressure on the partners in industry to come together to make decisions but the consumer, also a partner in industry, because he purchases goods, is regularly left out. Sufficient measures have not been taken over the years to protect their interests. It may be too ideological to have consumers sitting on boards of companies, but it is possible at some level of Government, apart from the prices commission to have consumers interests represented. Consumers' interests should be considered in the drafting of legislation which does not deal directly with consumer protection. In a Bill relating to industry for example, there is no reason why consumers interests should not be consulted.

In this Bill when we talk about land, we are talking about houses. People own the land that houses are built on and there is no way that the land can be taken from them unless a person has sufficient wealth to develop it. In the context of this Bill the House is a consumer product and I do not see why a house should be referred to in the context of land. In this connection, are people who purchase houses getting a fair crack of the whip? It is possible that many builders are not registered. Many of the complaints representatives receive arise out of problems connected with house purchases. It is a pity that more interest is not taken in the house as a consumer product, and that more protection is not given.

Any developments which protect the consumer are very welcome and I wish the Parliamentary Secretary well.

I thank the Senators who took part in the debate for the welcome they have given the Bill. All of us agree that consumer legislation, particularly in the recent past, has been neglected. As sales promotion and methods of advertising have improved considerably in the past ten years, there was a genuine need for legislation to protect consumers and to assist genuine traders and distributors throughout the country.

Various points have been made about consumer legislation generally. I said in my opening remarks that this was the first measure in consumer legislation. I hope that early in the next session after the Christmas Recess, the Consumer Protection Bill will be brought before Dáil Éireann and as quickly as possible after that to this House. Later on in the session I hope that the Consumer Credit Bill will be introduced in the Dáil. It is important that consumer legislation of all kinds should be brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas and the provisions put into practice. Most traders and distributors are genuine, but a certain minority who may not be behaving in the proper manner are getting away with and have got away with a lot under our law. There is a genuine need to amend it.

Senator Molony said that this Bill referred to the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887. The Act has been reprinted and is available from the Government Publications Sales Office. On the Sale of Goods and Services Bill, the Senator asked that guarantees, warrantees and exclusion clauses should be included. The Bill does cover these points.

The welcome given to section 17 is well warranted. A certain measure of civil redress was asked for by the many people who made comments on this Bill since it was first introduced in the Dáil during the period of the last Government. We have gone as far as we can possibly go, but the situation is under constant surveillance. Reference was made by a number of speakers to the appointment of the Director of Consumer Affairs and this is possibly one of the most important sections of the Consumer Information Bill. Without the appointment of a Director of Consumer Affairs the whole Bill and, indeed, consumer law generally, might be inoperable.

It is important that a distinction be made between the Bill as it now is and the Bill as it was originally drafted in relation to the appointment of the Director of Consumer Affairs. The position will be advertised and will be filled by means by public open competition. This will be done by the help of the Civil Service Commission who will set up this public competition which will be open to everybody, male and female, throughout the country. It is important that it be seen that this position is not confined to a civil servant or within the civil service area. The best possible person for the job will be appointed. I assure this House, as I assured the Dáil, that this will not be a party political appointment. This is tremendously important.

As regards the independence of the director, the office of Director of Consumer Affairs will be similar to that of Examiner of Restrictive Practices in that he will be under the aegis of the Minister, but will be independent in the performance of his duties. As Senator Molony rightly said this is really a matter for in-depth discussion on Committee Stage. I look forward to the Committee Stage because it is then that the problems or flaws which may be found in it by Senators can be thrashed out and dealt with in detail. Senator Molony said that perhaps the independence of the director would be negatived by the term of five years office for reappointment, and he mentioned that the Minister can at any time fire the director. This would only be done if the case should arise. If it were found that the director was not performing his duties in a proper manner the Minister would have no alternative but to dismiss him. There may be other aspects which would interfere with the directors in the performance of his duties. I have probably referred to them in the Dáil on Committee Stage.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary consider providing in the Bill that the Minister give his reasons to the House before removing the director, and so give the House an opportunity to discuss it? Subsequent to that discussion the Minister could do whatever he thought proper.

This point was raised on Committee Stage in the Dáil and to a certain extent it is a valid point. In presenting his report to both Houses of the Oireachtas after the dismissal of the director, it would not be so much the reasons why the director was dismissed that would come up for debate, as whether the Minister had acted correctly in dismissing him. The Senator might like to raise this point again on Committee Stage when we can deal with it in more detail.

Several Senators, Senator Cassidy and Senator Molony particularly, suggested that any member of the public should be able to seek an injunction. This has been discussed and it was felt that the power to seek an injunction should be confined to the director. There were pros and cons on both sides. In the Dáil both sides agreed that what came out in the end was the best possible way.

As regards the setting up of consumer courts and the question of civil legal aid, I am examining a better system of redress such as informal tribunals run by industrial distributors or consumers. I have asked the Department of Justice to consider any improvements that can be made in the District Court system. It is intended to look at the case for a small claims' court. We are examining the experiences which other countries had in relation to this. Small claims courts, outside the normal system, cannot dispense justice or impose penalties. They can order replacement or they can arbitrate, but the Constitution confines any more than that to the normal courts. All aspects of redress will be looked at.

Senator Cassidy dealt with prices, scales and what constituted a sale. The provisions in section 7 should bring more truth and clarity to this area. I agree with Senator Cassidy that there is tremendous confusion amongst a great number of consumers. Consumers are confused about the phenomena which has grown in the past number of years where one sees an item marked a certain price with 4p off. When people wish to know what is the 4p off the information given is sometimes very vague. As regards consumer information. Senator Cassidy said that perhaps the director would not be able to do enough. The law and legislation can only go so far. A lot of things can be done by the consumer movement.

I compliment the Consumers Association of Ireland and the IHA for a document dealing with the setting up of a research and information centre which they presented to me and which has been referred to the National Consumer Advisory Council. There are some very valid and very good points in it. I hope to have a report from the council on their proposals and hope to take action in the very near future, certainly early in the New Year.

Senator Markey talked about redress for a consumer who has suffered and of course defects can be actionable irrespective of any description or even if there was no description at all. Senator Harte talked about houses and asked if they were included in the terms of the Bill where it mentions "land and things attached to land". In our law when we refer to "land and things attached to land" houses are included. Senator Brugha mentioned defects in houses, and all of those matters would be included where a house would be sold through an advertisement in the paper, as most houses are. Senator Brugha would have in mind large housing schemes which are sold in bulk, so to speak, through an advertisement in the paper or through an auctioneer, and the advertiser is liable under the Bill.

I thank the Senators for having a relatively short Second Stage because I feel that the meat of the Bill is in Committee Stage, and I hope that Committee Stage will be soon, possibly next week, with the agreement of the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House. I am glad that the Bill has reached this stage in the Seanad, I said on my promotion to the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy that it was my intention to ensure that all consumer legislation would be taken through both Houses of the Oireachtas as quickly as possible. We have started properly and I feel that with the co-operation of everybody, as indeed we have had, our consumer law will be considerably improved upon by the time the next election comes round.

When it comes to Committee Stage would the Parliamentary Secretary spell out exactly what powers the director would have under the Bill in relation to the sale of houses as she has described?

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 30th November, 1977.

We will have an informal suspension until 3.30

Business suspended at 3.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.