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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 Jun 1980

Vol. 94 No. 6

Packaged Goods (Quantity Control) Bill, 1980: Second Stage.

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

The purpose of this Bill, as its name implies, is to update methods of control of the contents of packages—not only the methods employed by packers and importers but also those of the State. This will be achieved by legalising the average system of quantity declaration on packages by requiring that packers and importers who have not already done so introduce statistical quantity control procedures and by setting up a specially trained departmental inspectorate to oversee the practical operation of these procedures. It should not, however, be thought that the new system will consequently penalise and adversely affect packers. In fact, the opposite is true.

By the introduction of tighter control procedures packers will benefit in that under the principles of the average system they will be able to take full advantage of modern high-speed filling equipment and discontinue the practice off "over filling" which is necessary so as to ensure compliance with present "minimum contents" law. The consumer too will benefit from these proposals as a result of the increased surveillance at factory and import levels. Importers will be under the same obligation as packers to ensure that packages meet the requirements of the law. They will, however, to a large extent be able to meet this obligation by obtaining documentation from their suppliers abroad.

These proposals bear strong similarities to those being adopted elsewhere in the European Community in that they are based on two directives of the Community, Nos. 75/106/EEC and 76/211/EEC, the aim of which is to ensure free circulation within the Community of packages which have been made up and are marked in accordance with the directives. However, this is not to say that our proposals are limited to implementing these two EEC directives. In fact they go beyond the scope of the directives in that they embrace all prepacked goods over five grams or five millilitres in quantity whereas the EEC measures place an upper ceiling of 10 kg/10 litres—five litres in some cases—on the quantity and, in the case of some products, confine the benefits to certain specified sizes. I am also taking the precaution of providing certain powers in the Bill to expand or contract the scope of the legislation so as to enable us to keep pace with future developments in Community planning or the requirements of international trade.

The Bill has been welcomed by packers and manufacturers generally, because of the advantages already mentioned which will accrue from the introduction of the average system of quantity declaration and which will help to increase their competitiveness on both home and foreign markets. It is of particular interest to exporters of products which come within the scope of the two directives mentioned as it will enable them to use the symbol for which the directives provide—the "e-mark". This symbol acts as a metrological passport within the Community in that it means that the Government of the member state in whose territory it was applied guarantees that the quantity declared on the package is correct within the tolerances laid down in the directives. In time I expect that the "e-mark" will in practice become recognised as a guarantee of accuracy in export markets other than those within the Community and this should further increase the acceptability of Irish produce abroad.

The Bill is comparatively simple in concept in that it sets out to provide the broad parameters for the new control system. The detailed requirements will be contained in regulations to be made by the Minister and in two guidance manuals, one for packers and importers and the other for inspectors, to be published. Two teams of consultants have been engaged by my Department to draw up these guidance manuals and industry was provided with a first draft of a manual for packers and importers for consultation purposes some months ago.

The response given it and the advice and comments generated have been of great assistance in preparing for the introduction of this Bill and the drafting of the necessary regulations which is currently under way. I should mention that my Department are also deeply indebted to the members of the Consultative Committee on Prepackaging. This committee, which was set up by the Minister in 1977 to advise on the implementation of the directives, comprises representatives of industry, packers, consumers and trade interests as well as representatives of the weights and measures authorities. Its advice and assistance are still available to the Department in connection with the preparation of the regulations and manuals and are of inestimable value.

I would like to expand on a number of details contained in the provisions, specifically, certain exclusions from the Act, including special arrangements in respect of small packers, the role of the departmental inspectorate, marking requirements and certain temporary derogations which may be granted. I should say initially that I intend excluding certain types of packages from the scope of the proposals, specifically, so called "random" or "catch" weights. These comprise random weight made-up packages such as are quite common in the bacon and dairy processing industry which, being so made up, are difficult if not impossible to monitor using the proposed methods of statistical sampling. Accordingly, it has been decided that they will continue to be subject to existing "minimum contents" requirements.

This, in turn, bring me to the one group of packers which I propose exempting from statistical control procedures and record keeping. Specifically these are very small packers or packers of short runs where each package is manually filled and weighed on non- or semi-automatic weighing equipment and is filled to minimum contents requirements, thus ensuring that no package contains less than the declared quantity.

I should now like to expand on the proposed role of the inspectorate to be established to oversee the implementation of the proposals. Although the proposals include provisions for prosecution and relatively stiff penalty clauses, it is my intention that the inspectorate and back-up staff of my Department will act in an advisory and supportive manner and I hope that they will not be seen by industry as an investigatory force whose primary purpose is to ferret out infringements. Rather, it is in the interests of all concerned to co-operate to ensure that the new scheme is adopted as smoothly and efficiently as possible so as to maximise its advantages.

I would like to emphasise that this Bill deals only with packaged goods which are sold by weight or volume. It is concerned only with the way in which the weight or volume is expressed on such packages, the extent to which this expression of quantity may vary from the exact quantity included in the package and the steps which must be taken by packers and importers to ensure that any variation in quantity which may occur is in accordance with the law.

Where the Bill and the regulations to be made under it refer to markings on packages, other than the "e-mark" which is provided for in the EEC Directives, the markings in question are the declaration of quantity and the identification mark of the packer or importer, the latter mark being necessary to enable an inspector to trace the source of the package.

Other markings such as listing of ingredients, showing of unit price, marking of latest date for use or consumption of the product, are the subject of two directives which were adopted recently by the European Community and which will be implemented in Ireland by other legislation, possibly later this year.

I am aware that there are also compulsory markings in relation to drugs, dangerous substances, agricultural produce and so on which are the responsibility of other Ministers. I have been in touch with the Departments concerned with a view to ensuring that there will be no conflict between their regulations and those which it is proposed to make under this Bill when enacted. Matters other than marking—for example, prescribing of products which must be sold by weight, volume or count, prescribing of sizes of packages in which certain products must be sold, indication of country of origin of a foreign product—are at present dealt with, and will continue to be dealt with, under the Merchandise Marks Acts, 1887 to 1978, although some minor modifications of these Acts will be necessary because of the legalisation of the average system of quantity declaration. These modifications are provided for in sections 12 and 20 of the Bill.

I do not, of course, expect that all industry will be able to switch over to the new system overnight and accordingly have made provisions for the issuing in certain circumstances of temporary derogations. While the outside limit of derogation laid down in the Act is 31 December, 1985, it is expected that the majority of temporary derogations from the Act will be for periods of months rather than years. They will be granted primarily to enable packers to use up existing stocks of labels and containers. Derogations may, however, be granted, in exceptional circumstances, for longer periods and from other requirements of the Bill—for example, the requirement to use approved equipment or to make checks at prescribed periods. Their primary purpose is to enable the Bill to be brought into operation within a reasonably short period after its enactment, thus facilitating those manufacturers who are already in a position to comply with its requirements and who feel that their competitiveness, particularly on export markets, is adversely affected by the present requirement to pack to the "minimum" rather than the "average".

I am confident that when adopted and fully operative the new control system will increase the efficiency and competitiveness of our packers and will provide Irish consumers with a comprehensive protection against substandard packages. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

We are not opposing this Bill which is obviously necessary in this age of gimmicks and high powered marketing. We are not in the age when a pound of tea was simply a pound of tea, or two pounds of sugar were two pounds of sugar. With the sophistication of present marketing it is obviously necessary that there should be controls to protect society and to protect consumers. For that reason in broad terms we welcome the Bill. It is necessary as well so that we should comply with EEC requirements under Directive 75/106 which deals with liquids and Directive 76/211 which deals with laws of member states relating to the making up by weight or by volume of certain prepackaged products.

It is necessary as well to help the export industry in this country in the prepackaging area so that the legislation harmonises with international standards and of course the tighter control is in the interest of the consumer. It is interesting that this Bill has been welcomed by those in manufacturing industry because very often governments introduce legislation which for different reasons is seen to be unduly restrictive by that section of the community which it affects. It is not so in this case. By the introduction of this measure the packaging and manufacturing people will benefit under the average system which will allow them to be more competitive with the full advantage of high speed filling equipment.

The very small manufacturer is being looked after by the exception that is being made and to which the Minister has referred. The retail trade for a number of years has been faced with a variety of inspectorates from the Department, for all types of purposes, and this has aggravated the retailing community.

I support fully the notion contained within this Bill, that the responsibility for compliance with this Bill is to be transferred from the point of sale from the retail store or supermarket to the manufacturer, or the packer, or to whatever one would choose to describe as the source of packaging the goods in question. Sometimes it seems to be a little unfair to the retail community that they are so totally held responsible for all types of goods and services which they provide and some areas of which are quite outside their control. This is an area where if a package does not contain what it should the retailer is held responsible and that to me seems unfair. I welcome the fact that now it is traced back along the line to its source.

I suspect that the Department in the implementation of this Bill will have difficulty with the extent of surveying and monitoring that will be necessary. I wish them well in doing so. I hope that when it is being implemented the purpose of the Bill itself is not lost on the consumer because this Bill is obviously in the interest of the consumer. Governments may get very excited about introducing legislation in broad objective terms which is desirable but at the end of the day unless the message gets through to the consumer that this Bill is in his or her interest and that the contents of the various packages and liquids are as specified, which is the purpose of this Bill, the whole effect of this will be lost on the consumer.

It seems to me to be very important that what is written on these packages and on these bottles is in simple terms and is legible to the housewife or to the man who is shopping. If we get lost in the jargon of EEC directives and all that goes with it and the minutiae that one gets on the pharmaceutical preparations, for example, and if this is the type of script that is going to appear on packets of custard and such items the whole point will be missed and the effect and the objective will have been lost. I would ask the Minister to ensure that his team of consultants and others in his Department in their liaison with the packers and the manufacturers do what they can to see that simple language in legible script which is not tiny print, is used.

I have nothing more to say on this Bill which is non-contentious. In broad terms we readily accept it.

The Minister of State said that the Bill has been welcomed by packers and manufacturers generally. I feel it will be of great benefit to the housewife if it ensures that greater control will be exercised over what manufacturers actually put in their packages. We are not doing anything serious about quantity control until we tackle the problem of unit pricing. I know that unit pricing is not common in EEC countries and only in West Germany is it compulsory for packets to have the price per unit marked clearly on them. I do not know why this is so. Perhaps it may be for the reason that our Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation, in their report on unit pricing in April of 1978, while they agreed with unit pricing in principle felt the cost would inevitably be passed on to the consumer, in this case, the housewife. With all due respect, they did not convince me as a housewife that that was necessarily so or even if it were so, that it would not be worth it in the long run.

The housewife when she goes to shop today is confronted with a bewildering array of sizes and shapes in packages. There is a small size, a medium size, a large size, a giant size and there is now a euro size. By the time she reads the small print and converts the measurements in kilograms down to ounces, with which she is probably more familiar, and then to pounds and pence, at the same time trying to control a couple of toddlers who are trying to come to terms with the bacon slicer, she is completely bewildered. Modern shopping, especially supermarket shopping is not geared to this sort of thing, so that unit pricing is a "must" for housewives. It would, too, make it very much easier to compare the cost of living in the various EEC countries.

I was glad to hear the Minister's comment that the showing of unit price is the subject of two directives which will be implemented in Ireland by other legislation, possibly later this year. I welcome this very much and I look forward to that legislation coming before the House. There is also a great need for manufacturers to be persuaded to produce a small size product for people who shop for one person only.

My reaction on reading the Bill for the first time was one of disappointment. I read it quickly and I thought we were concerned with quality control rather than quantity control. I feel that quality control is a very much neglected area. Where fruit and vegetables, particularly, are concerned, we should have a very rigorous system, possibly under weights and measures legislation, to ensure a better system of quality control. This will be a very formidable task as long as the Dublin Corporation Fruit and Vegetable Market is operating in its present unhygienic and inefficient manner, but it is very necessary.

Another item which is very necessary in quality control is that where nutrients have been removed from food during processing this should be clearly stated. Manufacturers always state what they add to food but they very rarely state what is taken out in processing. We could do a lot worse than look at legislation in other countries, such as they have in Canada, where this is looked after under the Food and Drugs Act, 1950 and which was updated in 1972. They have most useful regulations to ensure that dangerous cleaning substances such as chlorine which is very common——

The Chair would like to intervene. The Chair is aware that this Bill deals with quantity rather than quality and feels that the Senator is straying more towards the quality side rather than the quantity side.

I accept the ruling of the Chair, but I do feel as regards quality and quantity that we might have stricter compliance with standards.

I have confined my remarks on the Bill to the housewife's position because I feel the housewife's position in the consumer society is a very important one. We have only to look at the recent battle of the multi-national giants who were trying to gain control of the retail food industry here. The housewife is a very important part of the consumer society. She is also subject to a great deal of psychological pressure when she shops, the sort of pressure that is designed to part her from her money without any reference to her budget or to her needs.

I would like to conclude by wishing the Minister well in this very responsible portfolio of consumer affairs. The concept of the consumer is a new one and although Ireland and Italy are regarded generally as being at the bottom of the league as regards consumer protection legislation I think that recently our record is good; we have passed the Consumer Information Act; the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act; the Occasional Trading Act and I look forward to the further legislation which the Minister mentioned in his speech.

I agree with Senator Cassidy about the importance of the area we are discussing which is fundamentally the area of consumer protection. In my time as Minister for Industry and Commerce I had some experience and indeed some involvement in the preparation of some of the legislation which has been passed by the present Government, and on the basis of that experience I want to say two contrasting things. First, I think that this piece of legislation is a very small piece. It is part of a useful progression of Bills in the area of consumer protection. I think we can look on that as a modest plus, but we have a very long way to go. We are in the circumstances that, as Senator Cassidy said, Italy and Ireland are the most backward places in the Community in regard to consumer protection.

We have a very poorly-developed consumer sense and we have a number of people who are working admirably in the consumer protection area, but they are quite few and they do not enjoy nearly enough public support. So let us not think that a Bill like this, which is a very small one does much in the consumer protection area. It is worth noting also that what we are doing is putting into national legislation a couple of directives that date from 1975 and 1976. It is for a reason like that, that the protestations of the distribution interests, wholesale and retail, that they have to have some extra time to use up the labelling and the packing which they have, ring a bit hollow.

I was very struck in my time as Minister at the extremely elaborate defences in depth, and which sounded plausible, which came from the packaging and wholesale section of distribution and which in fact when looked at closely were not so plausible. They were a passionate, skilful and well-organised rearguard action, but did they not know five years ago that this was going to have to become the law of Ireland? Did they not know four years ago? Who can claim with the faintest shred of justification that they were taken by surprise? They cannot make that claim. However, the Labour Party are certainly not going to contest the Bill. We are glad that this enactment is coming forward but we see it as something rather small.

I should like to make a few points of a more specific kind. The Minister will forgive me if I have misread the Bill—in fact, I hope I have—but, as far as I understand it, it is entirely metric. I should like to ask the Minister if that is correct because a lot of what I have to say in the next few paragraphs depends on whether it is right or not.

Almost entirely, but there would be still other imperial ones.

I was not completely clear. I read it to be in reality entirely metric with some loopholes. I wonder if that is the best way to describe it?

That is correct.

In that case let me try to characterise what has happened since we joined the Community. I believe in harmonisation, in the idea of the Bill and I believe passionately in the metric system. I greatly regret the confrontation between Britain and France 200 years ago that made us lock ourselves to a disgusting method of measuring and debauched generations of school children for a couple of hundred years when the metric system existed. I am totally pro-metric and, yet, the reality of what is happening in the transfer from imperial to metric is that the ordinary housewife, indeed why single out the housewife, the ordinary citizen does not understand a kilo, a litre, or the difference between an ml and a cc and so on. Why should they? I do not say that in any sense of reproach. What is happening is that the real information conveyed to the present generation of purchasers is, in fact, diminishing and not increasing. I say that with regret—it is nobody's fault—but that is the way it is. It will be better in the next generation. Would it not be a good thought in our legislation, if we genuinely want, first, to convey information and, secondly, to make people in their everyday life more familiar with the inter-relation of metric and imperial measure, to say both must be put on the packet? In fact, by saying that people could read whichever they were familiar with but by reading on an object, a packet of sugar or a carton of milk or what not, both things simultaneously they would continuously be getting a little education as to the relationship between the number of mls and half a pint and between the number of grammes and half a pound. Those are things we need to see lots of times so that we can become familiar with them. I would like to see imperial and metric printed.

I echo the plea for legibility. I support what Senator Cassidy said on the question of unit pricing. There was a mention of unit pricing by the Minister on the basis of an exclusion, but since he made a brief reference to it I take it I am in order in doing the same.

A brief mention is in order.

I will be brief and what I have to say is germaine. In the April 1978 Report of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities there was approval in principle of the idea of unit pricing. The argument, the basis of an exclusion in the Bill, which could come forward, for example, from people dealing in bacon saying, "Yes, it is a lovely idea but it is too difficult", is not true with modern electronic machinery for weighing and stamping labels, What was genuinely difficult 20 years ago, to work out an exact weight and then the unit price corresponding or whatever is not so now. Nowadays there is machinery with electronic innards that will print labels in a number of weights and of prices simultaneously and at almost no extra cost. Those machines can be seen in supermarkets. Certain supermarkets have the wit to market their products in a quite sophisticated way in regard to price. A battery of very skilful people are involved. At the one end motivation researchers get into the shape of a pack, even the shape, then the colours on the pack, then how to make something that, in fact, contains five-and-three-quarter ounces look as if it contains nine-and-one-quarter ounces. They are getting psychologists to work on that. They have heavy law to circumvent all the mechanisms for the protection of the public. That being the case we know how dishonest and misleading packaging is. We know the packaging industry, just as we know the layout of a supermarket, is a mechanism for getting people into impulse buying of an irrational kind. I will not use a sharper phrase than that but that is sharp enough.

In what we know to be that circumstance then we are entitled to say that the arguments against the unit pricing are adequate for the thirties or forties and, indeed, for the days of mechanical cash registers but in the days of electronic cash registers, electronic label printing machines and electronic calculation of price in relation to weight, they are simply bogus and covering for another intention. The other intention, as usual in this matter, is to give advantage to the seller in the eternal tug-of-war between the seller and the buyer. My own conviction is that in that tug-of-war the State ought to be on the side of the buyer, who is less organised and often less well informed.

This is a useful small piece of progress which we certainly will not obstruct but in my view it could have been made stronger quite easily in a few ways. We do not have to trot behind the Community all the time four or five years late. We might occasionally anticipate it as the consumer legislation of some countries has done. When we do find ourselves coming into line with Community directives we might use the opportunity to strengthen the consumer as against the packager. This is not really dealing with the shops, this is dealing with the packagers and they are fewer in number than the retail outlets. They are easier to police. In that eternal battle the use of metric and imperial simultaneously would have been a useful thing to do and it could have been easily done. Those inter-conversions presented daunting arithmetic 20 years ago but are now so easy when people can get pocket calculators for £10. Little print-out labelling machines can be got for substantially more, but still for a small amount in regard to the total cost of a retailing enterprise, or a wholesale or packaging enterprise. For those reasons this Bill might have been a little stronger.

This is a relatively simple measure which does not call for a lot of debate. It should be stressed that it is purely a quantity proposal providing for the publishing or printing of the quantity of the article or goods contained in the package. We should not think it goes any further. Senator Keating has made a point which is worth following through. We are largely, as a community, relatively uneducated in relation to new methods of measuring quantity. Most people do not know what a gramme or a kilogram is or, indeed, litres. Although it is simpler in relation to our own measurement they still confuse people.

If the suggestion Senator Keating made was possible for the time being, that the package would contain both measurements or both weights, it would help. Perhaps the Minister might consider providing a chart for each supermarket or store showing the relative difference. That would help people. A lot of people do not understand the metric system. It is completely new. They did not learn about it at school and even those who learned about it recently are not very up to date on it. The aim of the Bill is to provide information and I suggest to the Minister that there might be additional ways to ensure that the customer will know what these quantities mean such as those put forward by Senator Keating, or by way of the Department providing charts for retailers, at least for the next ten to 20 years, setting out the comparatives between the different weights and measures.

While Senator Brugha was speaking I thought that if he was in the retail business now he would find that there are ample charts around without adding another one. Paints manufactured within the Republic carry the metric weight while imported paints carry both. It is a must that imperial and metric are displayed on the container. Packets which contain raisins or currants on the outside state 12 ounces but there is no indication whether that is net or gross. It is completely misleading. Such packages should clearly indicate to the consumer whether the weight is net or gross. It is easy to do that because of the small number of people involved. It is not like in the retail business. One is only dealing with importers and manufacturers.

The Minister made reference to some temporary exemptions. I should like to know why there are exemptions. If one firm who are geared to deal with this find that somebody who is in competition with them is exempt, that firm will have a grievance. There are other exemptions also. I am curious to know the reason for those exemptions. I welcome this Bill. It is a move in the right direction and like Senator Staunton, I am delighted this matter is being dealt with at the import and manufacture level and not at the retail stage.

I welcome this Bill which enables the Minister to issue regulations on a directive that is overdue. It is mainly concerned with the averaging directive which the Irish food industry has been operating since the beginning of the year. With the help of the weights and measures inspectors, who have provided certificates, they have been able to retain their position in the export market. We are grateful to the Department for this.

On Senator Keating's point about the electronic equipment, we have been warned to be very careful in buying weighing equipment. This will come under another directive, the weights and measures directive. It is possible that this will be explained in the publicity manual which will be issued so that manufacturers or businesses should not rush into buying machines which may not be acceptable to the factory inspectors. We are proceeding to metrication but, as we have heard, dual marking, metric and imperial, will be allowed until 1985. There are certain products, such as biscuits, which have dual marking and one will find both ounces and grammes illustrated on the packet. The tendency as we move to metrication is to enlarge the metric weight and make the imperial weight smaller.

The Minister has explained that there are many other Bills imminent to comply with legislation under the EEC directions on packaged goods, weights and measures, unit pricing, article numbering and, most important, food labelling. This is of the utmost importance to us because the UK issued their draft proposals in February this year and it is unlikely that the Irish law will be introduced for some time—I was not quite sure whether this was one of the Bills which would be introduced later this year. The labelling directive will, of course, cover Senator Cassidy's point because the proper ingredients will have to be displayed on the packet and if the ingredients are not pure the scientific people will not allow it through.

Whilst we are very anxious for Community harmonisation, and the need not to offend others, or be undiplomatic to the UK in particular, I should like to draw attention to the fact that there was a great deal of consumer legislation in the past year, the Consumer Information Bill, the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Bill, the Safety in Industry Bill and now this Bill. All this recent legislation means that Irish factories are expected to comply with a multitude of disciplines. In general, Irish manufacturing industries are only too willing and happy to do so but we are concerned that competitors from other EEC countries, particularly from the UK which is now suffering from a depression and unloading a great deal of imports here, comply with all these disciplines which are embodied in that legislation. As I have said in an earlier debate, Ireland is one of the easiest countries in which to import food. If Government policy is opposed to anything but full compliance with Community proposals and if consumer interests must reign supreme then we should investigate all pragmatic steps to ensure that our competitive manufacturers who are importing here are complying with all the legislation with which Irish manufacturers are adhering to.

I hope the Minister will spur on the Director of Consumer Affairs and other people involved in the administration of the directives now being made law to ensure that importers comply with that legislation and urgently raise such matters with offending parties. One instance which struck me under the Safety in Industry Bill is that inspectors of factories have power to inspect every part of the factory day or night; they may require the production of registers and while inspectors pay a great deal of attention to the hygiene——

The Chair feels that the Senator seems to be broadening the scope of the debate.

I want to illustrate the point that under this legislation connected with packaged goods Irish manufacturers are adhering to the legislation but I am not sufficiently satisfied that we are paying the same attention to our imports. In other words, I welcome the Bill and all others which improve the harmonisation of product exchange between countries but I appeal for a more effective watch-dog on imports to see that they comply with such legislation. I wish the Minister well in his onerous position.

I should like to join in the welcome extended to the Bill. I believe it will go a long way to improving conditions for consumers and manufacturers alike. I support the view put forward that some people will have great difficulty, or still have great difficulty in translating the weights and measures from one system to the other. The point made by Senator Brugha about producing charts to show the relative value of each weight or measure has a good deal of merit in it. It was very effective in schools and the younger generation do not experience very much difficulty in translating one to the other. I have seen that. It is true that older people have the greatest difficulty in translating and suggest that during the transition period weights and measures in addition to being given in the metric system should also be given in the system to which people were accustomed. Otherwise they will have great difficulty.

I am aware that since the introduction of the decimalisation of our currency older people still think in terms of 240 pence in the pound. That emphasises the need for making the transition from one system to another in a gradual way and relating the new system being introduced with the one people were accustomed to for a little time. The Minister should consider seriously having a relation between the two weights or measures for the transition period.

I welcome the Bill. I agree with Senator Keating that it is all part of legislation to protect the consumer but I do not think this Bill is to protect the housewife against a packer who is out to take advantage of her. It will give the housewife the advantage of the use of modern machinery by the packager to reduce cost. Naturally, modern machinery works faster and there is less cost. Under present legislation where an employer has to give a minimum weight the packer has to give excess weight to make sure he is right. In some legislation there is the impossible position that packers have to give the exact weight. In other words, if they are over the weight then in accordance with the law they are breaking the law just as they are if they give under the weight.

The Bill puts the matter right and if the average weight is given, within limits, the packer will be able to give the advantage of cost saving to the consumer. The Bill puts an onus on the importer. The Minister suggests that this may be done by documentation or failing that it means that the importer will have to weigh all produce coming in before he re-sells to make sure it has the fair average weight. A lot will depend on the regulations made under the Bill. One part of the Bill states that goods can be ordered by the inspectorate to be held for a certain period, presumably as evidence. In that case the regulations will be important as to what is exempt and what it not because certain goods change with time. For example, packaged bread will lose weight with age. I presume there will be something in the regulations to cover this. Generally, I welcome the Bill because it will enable the Minister by regulation to put many things right which are troublesome in the packaging field.

I should like to thank all Senators who contributed for their kind remarks and for what they said on the Bill. There was a general welcome which I very much appreciate. As I said at the outset this Bill is not wide-ranging, it is just another piece of legislation concerning the consumer and consumer protection. There will be a lot more legislation within the next 12 months and we hope to get it through the House without any great delays. The Bill deals with the situation where there is high-power packaging and, as Senator Keating said, advancing technology. It concerns the "e-mark" on packaging with very fast packaging. We are replacing the minimum system with the average system.

Senator Staunton was worried that what would be written on the packages should be legible. That is a natural worry to have. He wanted it written in simple language. I should like to refer the Senator to section 10 (1) (d) which provides that markings be easily read without opening the package. That should satisfy Senator Staunton's worry. Senator Cassidy suggested that manufacturers put products on the markets in smaller sizes to suit people on very limited income, mainly those on social welfare, old age pensioners and so on. I am aware of the need for this but I doubt if it has been brought to the notice of the manufacturers. If the market exists I cannot see why the manufacturers will not have to comply with it. Of course, manufacturers have to see what is profitable. I know of one product that is sold in the old 2lb. measure but a person living alone would have sufficient in ½ lb. It would be in the interest of the manufacturer to come in line with that. I wonder if they carried out any research on that.

Senator Cassidy also mentioned quality control for fruit and vegetables. The matters raised by the Senator in that regard are appropriate to the Departments of Agriculture and Health.

Senator Keating was worried about the delay. I know that he has experience in this field as he was Minister for Industry and Commerce. When the Senator was Minister, legislation was starting and directives were coming from the EEC. Senator Keating is very well aware of what they contain. We will check it out because we always check everything in our office. Some of the other EEC member states have only recently implemented the directives, for example, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and Luxembourg. It would not really be a great advantage to Ireland to implement them before 1980.

We have a long way to go in consumer protection. There is a lot to be done in that field. I look forward to being deeply involved in it and hope to bring more legislation here as time goes on. The metric system versus the imperial system was also mentioned. Senator Brugha mentioned that and he also mentioned charts. Under the legislation programme charts have been available in retail outlets for some time. I do not know if people have become fully aware of what is involved. I exhort people to become more involved in the metric system as it is something we will have to face in the future. The metric system is used in directives but there is nothing to stop any firm, manufacturer or packager also using the imperial system side by side. We are not legislating on it. Many people have come to me and have said they would like all packaging to be plain and clear and have as little as possible on it with very little small print. There is nothing to stop any manufacturer or packager from putting on the weights and the volumes under the two systems.

But the Minister will not require them to do it.

No. It is something that will be going out in a short time. We will have the "e-mark" as well and it will carry its own right throughout the EEC. I appreciate that many housewives will be buying imported goods and we would not have control over these. The "e-mark" is very much involved in this legislation. It is an Irish E. Somebody asked what size the "e" would be. The mark "e" will be in a legible size in proportion to the package or the volume of goods that is packaged. One could not ask for an "E" to be carried on a small package. The provisions of the Bill will apply equally to Irish import firms. It will be a strict Bill. It is carrying the "e-mark" which will have to come from other countries and that carries authority to go through the other member states.

Some Senators mentioned labelling legislation. That is very important legislation and the Department are very much involved with it at present. I never like to put a time limit on when any legislation will come in. I hope, all going well, to have that legislation within 12 months. We have a lot of other legislation coming before the summer and we have already arranged for Bills to come in in the autumn.

Senator Reynolds spoke about exemptions and said that one firm would be geared up and another would not be. The Bill will be to the advantage of the firm which has advanced and geared itself, and has bought sophisticated machinery for high power packaging. The other firm may still have the minimum contents regulations which means that every package will have to have X number of items which, in many many cases, will lead to an over-fill. I said earlier that the advantage will be to the firms who have advanced, spent a lot of money on a modern, sophisticated machinery, technology and so on.

Senator Jago mentioned the inspectorate and its operation on behalf of the housewife will give her an increased assurance that the package contains the legal quantity. Once the package contains a certain mark on it, the housewife can be guaranteed that the legal quantity is OK and that she is protected. Somebody said that it was a good Bill because it did not put any more onus on the retailers. That was a fair comment because it is at the point of packaging that the inspectorate will be working. They will have access to packers and the way they work. Anyone who has studied the directives will see the standards required and the allowances that are made for mistakes. I should like to thank everybody who contributed to the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to take the next Stage?

I made a request to the Minister in regard to simultaneous metrication and imperial labelling which was supported both by Senator Brugha for the Government and the other parties in the House. I should like an opportunity to move an amendment on this because it is an important issue.

I did not hear the Senator.

I want an opportunity, since it seemed the suggestion I made in regard to labelling had the support of all three parties, to move an amendment which would also furnish us with a method of protecting Irish packages against overseas competition. It is important for the housewife and the packager. I am not willing to have the next Stage taken now.

Would it not be possible for the Senator to put one in later this afternoon?

It could be included by ministerial regulation. I do not mind having a look at it.

My wish is that for the protection of the consumer it should be obligatory to mark it both in imperial measure and in metric measure. The advantage of that is that some countries doing very big runs which are entirely metric would not take the trouble to put in imperial measure as well. We would be saving our packagers from a little bit of overseas competition as well as protecting the consumer. I want to see the requirement that both the metric and the imperial number be put on. I take the point about not having undue complexity but that is simple to do and would be advantageous to all sides.

How will we arrange it with importers?

Importers from Britain?

From member EEC states.

We would have a way, with a perfect legitimate reason, of protecting our consumer from ignorance and our packager from overseas competition.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We cannot have a debate on the substance of an amendment that has not yet been tabled.

It is no harm to tease it out. On this EEC directive, we have no control over ensuring that companies within other EEC countries will put down anything except metric and work under the metric system. We are asking Irish packagers, industries and manufacturers to put down a specific set of markings which will carry them through the EEC but it is something that other countries are not asking their manufacturers or packagers to do.

We had a suggestion from the Leader of the House that if I could table something later on in the afternoon, it might be possible to meet the situation.

Yes, if the Senator would do that.

As a matter of procedure, I want to contribute on the next item on the agenda, but immediately I have done that I will draft something.

I suggest that the question of when the next Stage is taken can be considered after the next item.

We will facilitate the Senator at any hour and he could have a chat with the Department before putting the amendments down.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The debate on the Order for the next Stage of this Bill is now adjourned and we move on to item No. 5.

When will we resume on this?

On the conclusion of item No. 5.