QUESTION ON THE ADJOURNMENT. - PRICE OF BREAD.

I do not think it is necessary for me to offer any apology to Deputies for raising this important question at this hour. I think the matter is of sufficient importance to warrant Deputies giving it attention for the half hour proposed to be given to it. The question of the price of bread in the Saorstát at the moment is one which requires very serious investigation. I am perfectly satisfied at all events that there is no relation between the price of flour and the price of bread to the consumer. Hence I put my question to-day in order to get from the Minister some statement with regard to what he proposes to do on the findings of the Tribunal on Prices. Deputies will remember that in 1927 the cost of living had reached such an abnormal figure that representations were made to the Minister by Deputies, at the call of their constituents, that it was time some action was taken by the Government to reduce the cost of living. The Minister set up this Tribunal. The Tribunal went very exhaustively into the examination of the figures. Unfortunately the consuming public did not give them very much assistance at the time. However, they dealt exhaustively with the figures relating to the price of flour and bread.

In their introductory remarks to their Report they say:—

"Bread was the first commodity to which we directed our attention as we were of opinion that it is of prime importance in the budget of the average consumer. That view was confirmed by the Director of Statistics who stated that the cost of living index number is affected to the extent of one and a quarter points by a rise of one penny in the retail price of the quartern (4lbs.) loaf and that if the increase in bread prices is accompanied by a corresponding increase in the retail price of flour as is usually the case the total increase is two and a quarter points."

The tribunal, as I say, went exhaustively into the question in such important centres as Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and elsewhere, and they made certain recommendations. On page 49 of the Report they say: "Dealing with the case of Dublin and elsewhere, we find that an excessive profit must have accrued to master bakers in the Saorstát over the years 1926-27, owing to the decline in flour prices not being reflected quickly enough in the price of the loaf."

They were dealing there with certain figures submitted to them by the Dublin master bakers for 1925-26. During these years the prices ruling were—In 1925, 48/- to 54/6; in 1926, from 47/- to 50/-, and the price of the loaf to the consumer varied from 11d. to one shilling. On these prices the Tribunal said that they found that an excessive profit must have accrued to the master bakers. Lower down in the Report they say: "We are satisfied that there is an urgent need for early intervention on the part of the proposed Prices Board in the matter." The Prices Board is in one of the recommendations. They recommend that a Prices Board should be set up, and that there should be a scale of standard flour prices to which the price of bread should correspond. What is the position to-day? If the Tribunal found that on the figures submitted to them by the master bakers and the flour millers the prices charged for bread are excessive, what change is there in the position to-day? Can any person, examining the thing impersonally, arrive at any other conclusion than that the same state of things exists to-day? That is my contention. I have made some study of the figures, and anybody looking in the papers from day to day will see the prices quoted for the London markets. During the last three or four weeks I notice that the price of flour has been falling; recently, I think last week, the price quoted was 42/-, and I think it is down now to 41/-. The quotations here of 41/- and 42/- refer, of course, to the British quotation. I may say in passing that these are quotations for the very best flour. We must reasonably assume that there are quotations, if we could find them, for the surplus flour that they export to this country, because we know that 60 per cent. of their surplus is exported to this country. Anyway, we must assume that these quotations are very much lower than the quotations we find in the newspapers. The prices of the Irish flour millers are usually from 2/ to 3/- over the prices quoted in the Press by the British millers. I have some figures from December to June indicating that the price ruling here to the master bakers was from 44/- to 48/-. The price of 48/- was for a short time, I think it was two weeks. In December, January, and February the prices stood at 44/-. In March it stood at 45/, and in June, that is, at the present month, the price is 44/-. The Tribunal discovered that similar prices were ruling for the years 1925-26, and on these they definitely and clearly stated that excessive profits accrued to the master bakers.

I maintain that on the prices ruling since December excessive profits have accrued to the master bakers. No Deputy will object to any particular factor in this country getting a reasonable return for the money he invested in a particular concern. But the consumer in this State, as in every other State, is surely entitled to some protection. It is little wonder that we find that our development, no matter what phase of activity we pursue, is retarded or obstructed by the cost-of-living figures as we find them to-day. There is a wrangle to-day about wages or something else, and very naturally, for I maintain that although we get statistics from the Department showing the index figures as to the cost of living, they are not quite accurate as they work out in practice. If any Deputy or any other person wishes to take me to task upon that particular matter, I invite him, particularly if he is a married man, to take up the home budget for a month or two, and find out by practical experience the purchasing value of the pound. If he does he will come back to this House assured and reassured that the index figure for practical purposes is of little or no value.

What exactly is my purpose in raising this question to-night? It is to obtain, if I can, some information from the Minister as to what he proposes to do with the recommendations contained in the Food Prices Report. These recommendations apply generally not only to bread, but also to articles of general consumption.

That has nothing to do with the debate.

The men sitting on that Tribunal were men of some standing. They went exhaustively into the whole question, and gave us a very splendid report which has cost some money to produce. They have made certain recommendations which are the very best we can procure at present. That Report was presented in October, 1927, and we find the complaint regarding the cost of living up and down the country to-day. I contend, therefore, that it is time the Government took action, and that a Prices Board, such as is suggested, that would stand between the consumer and the trader, should be set up immediately by the Minister. This Report cites the case of Queensland, where a Prices Commissioner has been appointed. This Commissioner has certain powers and works in with the departments. After investigation, he fixes prices, and no trader is allowed to exceed the prices fixed. I submit that this is at present a cancer in our whole social system, and that we have reached the stage when such a Board or Commissioner should be appointed to investigate wholesale and retail prices and fix prices, and so save the consumer from the obviously excessive charges that are being made.

I should like to say a few words in support of the arguments which have been advanced by the Deputy. It is up to the Government to take some action to prevent profiteering in bread. It has been shown by this Report that in every town visited by the Tribunal, with the solitary exception, I think, of Limerick, they found that the price of bread was in excess of the price which would give a fair return to the bakers. They also found, although they did not mention it specifically, that wherever a master bakers' Association was in existence the price of bread was excessive. It appears to me to be decidedly objectionable that anything in the nature of a ring for the purpose of fixing prices of essential foodstuffs should exist. One useful reform which could be instituted would be the enactment of legislation designed to prevent associations for the purpose of price-fixing, particularly in foodstuffs. The existence of these associations is one of the principal reasons for the delay referred to by the Deputy in a reduction in the price of flour being reflected in the price of bread.

There is urgent need to tackle this matter, and it is up to the Government to take action. We must remember that they have refused to give to the flour-milling industry the protection which they asked for, and justify their refusal by saying that it would result possibly in an increase of a farthing in the price of the loaf. In view of the fact that that was the main argument on which they relied to refuse protection to the flour-milling industry, we maintain, and I think it will be generally maintained, that they can find no excuse for failing to take action, if and when it is shown, as it has been shown by the Tribunal, that the price of bread is excessive at present. If the Government will not accept the recommendations of the Tribunal in connection with a permanent Prices Board, we trust that they have been considering the matter, and will be prepared to put before the House a recommendation for the establishment of some other machinery which will achieve the purpose.

As a member of the Prices Tribunal, I am extremely surprised that Deputies Lemass and Hennessy have actually read the Report. I was under the impression that it was a secret between myself and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Fisheries, with the Minister for Industry and Commerce as a possible accessory after the fact. Certainly one of the greatest problems we had to tackle was the fact that the price of bread in Cork—and I assume Deputy Hennessy is speaking with some knowledge of his constituency—was always apparently a halfpenny in the quartern loaf higher than in Dublin, although the Cork bakers got their flour rather more cheaply. Deputy Anthony will, no doubt, say that was the entertainment tax, that the privilege of living in Cork was worth paying a halfpenny in the loaf more for. Other people more jealous might say that it accounted for the remarkable mobility of Cork men, and that they were urged by hunger to seek a cheaper loaf. Certainly, it is remarkable; it is as remarkable as the fact that when a reduction in the price of the loaf is made in Dublin it takes four months for Cork to hear of it and make the reduction. I suppose the transport facilities for returning to Cork are less satisfactory. Deputy Hennessy referred to the fact that the Tribunal on Prices had discovered these remarkable facts with regard to costs.

Will the Deputy say whether the prices in Dublin go up months before the Cork prices?

That again is a case of defective communication, obviously. I want to come now to the definite recommendations of the Tribunal. A definite recommendation was made that the Prices Board should prepare a table of prices of standard-grade, straight-run flour to which the maximum price for the delivery of bread should correspond (page 53). I do not know that it is necessary to have a Prices Board to prepare that. I think it could be done by the Statistical Branch of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. There is no Expenses Table drawn up by the British Food Council. Although that Council have not the powers that I should like to see a Prices Board enjoying, and though, no doubt, their figures would require to be adapted to local circumstances here, their figures would form a certain guide, and I think it would be possible for the Ministry to draw up a table of that character, so that the people might know what they ought to pay for bread, what was a reasonable price, and might know, when there was a reduction in the price of flour, how much the loaf should be reduced. That would be of some advantage to them, and would not require legislation or any delay in the matter. I would urge the Minister to reconsider, or consider again, his decision not to set up a Prices Board. It need not be an expensive Board. It would consist, as visualised by the Tribunal, partly of civil servants, a representative of the Statistical Department, a representative of the Department of Agriculture, and two or three honorary members; possibly one Deputy, one Senator, and one other gentleman, who would act without remuneration. A small Board of that character would, I believe, be very valuable in educating the public mind and, if they were given statutory power to obtain information, I believe they would do a great deal to make the position clearer. The Minister is justified in saying that there is a lack of interest in this matter, that people do not try to buy as cheaply as they might, and do not give evidence before Tribunals. But the process of education is a slow one. I believe that the Tribunal did something to educate the people, and I would be very sorry if its work ceased entirely and if nothing further was done.

I am very glad that Deputy Hennessy raised this matter. I recognise that the Minister will have only a few minutes in which to reply so I will not take up too much time. Deputy Cooper's contribution is a tribute to the discrimination of the Cork people's taste, in the matter of their bread at any rate. It is generally admitted that the Cork loaf is the best loaf in the world. There is no question whatever about that. I want to say this much, that as far as prices are concerned I understand that the conditions are that even though the price of flour may fluctuate that would not make any difference whatsoever in the price of the loaf.

I want to be very brief, at any rate I do hope that the Minister will in his reply indicate that he will do something in the way of setting up a prices board or something like that so that the price of the loaf would bear some relation to the price paid for the flour.

I am not prepared to make any statement in regard to what Deputy Anthony said. I understand that the matter raised to-day by Deputy Hennessy was generally the price of bread in relation to the price of flour. That is the beginning and the end of it. That has nothing to do with the Report of the Food Prices Tribunal. I have nothing to add to the answer to a question in April last, except to point out that I did not say that I was against the establishment of a prices board.

I gave notice on the whole question and I submit that you should cover all other matters. It was a wider question.

The Deputy asked a question with regard to the flour prices and the prices of bread, and not being satisfied with the reply he had necessarily to give notice of something covered by that particular question.

And covering also other matters.

I think the question of the Board recommended by the Food Prices Tribunal would arise.

It might, but I did not come here prepared to give any decision on the question of a Prices Board except what I gave in April, and it is quite unsound to expect me to give such a decision now. With regard to the relation of the price of bread to the price of flour, the answer to-day stated that I did not consider that at the present moment aprima facie case was made out against the master bakers on the matter of excessive charges for bread. If we take the figures quoted by Deputy Hennessy as the price at which flour was listed and the price at which it was bought, then the prices quoted by Deputy Hennessy are quite in line with what is set out in page 33 of the Report of the Food Prices Tribunal. If the Deputy is taking merely the Food Tribunal Reports and taking the present prices of bread and the figures he quoted for the price of flour for a period of months, and taking further what they say in the Report, that the decrease in the price of flour must be in operation for some time before the decrease in the price of bread may follow, then he will find that there is nothing to complain of in the price of bread in the Saorstát at the moment. I am not speaking of Cork particularly. If the Deputy had proved to me that there is an average of ninety-four loaves out of the 280 lbs. sack, he would have gone a step further in the matter of investigating than what the Food Prices Tribunal was able to go.

Will the Minister inquire from the Army baker in the Curragh?

That would give only one instance. Deputy Hennessy's question referred, and he spoke of it himself, to 94 loaves being baked from each 280 lbs. sack of flour.

I could give you proof of that.

The Deputy cannot give me that figure for the country, because it is not a fact. He could give facts with regard to certain areas.

I can give you facts on the matter for the country.

One cannot take the price of bread in a certain area. We must have general considerations before we can come to any decision.

Take the number at 92.

I think the Food Prices Tribunal took it at 89. The average, according to the Food Prices Tribunal, would be less than 90.

Eighty-nine was wrong.

As I say, the figure quoted by the Deputy did not take into consideration the sliding scale in page 33 of the Report. The present prices of flour and bread are such that there cannot be said to be a case made for excessive charges for bread by the master bakers. The cost of living figure has been brought into this. Possibly though it is not more than ordinary special to this case, it might be giving education to the public in this matter to say that the cost of living and the cost of living figures are too distinct things. There is no relation between them. It is no such simple relation, at all events, as people believe.

Deputy Hennessy said that if you take the ordinary family in a household, consider their circumstances and see what quantity of food is bought in the week, one must naturally look to the increased prices, and people will take the view that the information supplied by the Statistical Department is not accurate. I said that at that moment I would agree with him, but my view would be contrary to what Deputy Hennessy's view is. The cost of living figure in this country is a fictitious figure. It represents not what the British cost of living figure represents, namely, the present price for a certain group of articles as compared with the price of those same articles in 1914. That is what the British figure gives. Let us see what our figure gives. Let us take a family in certain circumstances and see what it was living on in 1914. Take, then, the changed conditions in 1920 and 1921 when the standard had risen considerably, and then take the present prices as compared with 1921. It represents not merely the cost of living increase, but the standard of living increase, and the things are entirely different. When our cost of living is compared with the British cost of living, that has to be remembered.

There is a further thing to be remembered. If one were to take merely the British conditions and consider the peculiar ratings of certain items in our lists, the difference would be diminished by about five points. If one gives to the same ratings the British values of certain items, the cost of living figure is almost identical with the British figure. These items are not at all understood, and the British cost of living figure is mentioned simply as some measure with regard to living now as compared to 1914.

Will the Minister deal with the portion of the Report which touches on the 1925-26 cost of living figure, when the flour used by the Dublin Master Bakers was costing an average of 49/- per sack? It is pointed out that when the flour used by the Dublin Master Bakers is costing an average of 49/- per sack the price of elevenpence per quartern loaf is equitable and would be equitable as long as the price of flour remained between 47/- and 51/- per sack.

I think the Deputy will find that it should be a halfpenny down.

The prices to-day are at 42/- per sack.

They are not. If the Deputy is calculating on so many loaves being made from a sack of flour, I cannot calculate on that basis. I have to consider conditions generally.

I think the Minister stated that the price of the loaf ought to be 10½d. instead of 11d.

That was one particular item that Deputy Hennessy forgot to supply. I stated further what the Food Prices Tribunal also said that the price of flour has to be low for a particular period. There has to be a lag always in the price of bread following the price of flour.

Fixed by the stocks the millers carry, and they only carry stocks for twenty-eight days.

Not when there are tariff applications. They carry very big stocks, and that is what we are paying for at the moment. If there is going to be a longer lag this time, it is due to that. Again, I may say that the Department continue to watch the price of bread in relation to the price of flour, and the matter of a permanent Prices Board will have to be left over for another occasion.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 28th June.