I endorse what has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary with regard to the similarity of the Minister's amendment and my amendment, except that the second part of my amendment concerns dissemination of information about consumer affairs generally. We are at one on the dissemination of information with regard to consumer protection legislation and regulations and laws concerning consumer affairs. The reason for my adding "and about consumer affairs generally" is not lost on the Parliamentary Secretary, I am sure, because this concerns a much broader field. We are talking about information and education in the broader sense. In the debate earlier this year this matter was discussed, but I must impress on the Parliamentary Secretary that the second part of my amendment is important.
The National Prices Commission have a limited function here in that they provide a certain amount of information, they investigate prices, they do in-depth investigations in some areas of the economy and in the production and the manufacture of some commodities, they do comparative assessments between this country, and other countries, and so on. I am talking about information through the office of the director. We are setting up an office with a director who shall be, I hope, speaking in the interests of the consumers and of the manufacturers and traders who provide an honest service. Unless that director is seen to be there on behalf of the consumer and on behalf of the manufacturer, unless that office disseminates information which is useful to the consumer above and beyond the basic information concerning legislation and the interpretation of legislation in layman's language, unless the director has the facilities to go beyond providing such information, he will be falling short of the expectations of consumers. The director should be in a position to give information on the price of any commodity and should be able to advise consumers at any time. Many consumers are being fooled by persuasive publicity campaigns which create the wrong impression. While this legislation will restrict this type of activity and protect the consumer, there will be loopholes in it. The person who finds the loopholes will be known to the Director of Consumer Affairs, who should be able to inform consumers of these loopholes.
In their manifesto Fianna Fáil undertook to produce a weekly survey of prices because they were not happy with the workings of the Prices Commission. So far, this information has not been produced. There has also been a delay in the publication of the report of the Prices Commission which is, we have been told, due to the illness of the chairman. Prices are being sanctioned by the Minister all the time but it may take six weeks for the new prices to be made known generally. This kind of information could be channelled through the director's office.
We are inundated with EEC directives on standards of which the ordinary consumer knows very little. Many Members of this House, including myself, are ignorant of many EEC directives. The director could undertake to inform the public of these directives.
Apart from these two functions, the director's efforts on behalf of consumers will be nil. The preventive and corrective aspects of the director's functions are important. The dissemination of information would be preventive and would surely obviate the necessity of instituting court proceedings against traders for misdemeanours. For example, if the director was able to alert consumers of dangerous or doubtful products, they would respect his warning and would not purchase such products.
The IIRS are concerned with the inspection and examination of products. Prior to Christmas there are many new toys on the market and some of them are found to be dangerous on inspection by the IIRS. I should like to know if the IIRS have any means of warning the public of dangerous products. A short time ago I read a newspaper article on an imported bicycle which was found to be dangerous, but many people may have missed that article. There should be close co-operation between the director and the IIRS. For instance, the IIRS should notify the Director of Consumer Affairs of the results of their examination of any product. On receiving information from the IIRS, the director would be in a position to warn the public. In the long run this would save the State money because it would reduce the number of proceedings instituted against traders and manufacturers for misdemeanours.
The director should also be able to supervise consumer education. I assume that the person appointed will be an expert in this field. I assume that he would also be in a position to educate consumers as to their rights, their obligations and so on. At present there is a guarantee system for certain products and the purchaser who signs that guarantee is actually signing away rights instead of establishing any basis in law for bringing a charge. In many cases people sign these because they are ignorant of what they mean.
As the Parliamentary Secretary is aware, the documentation presented contains very small print and people are asked to sign on the dotted line without having a clue as to what they are signing. That is caused by a lack of education. I see the director's office and the director as a means for the dissemination of education, of educating the public. I do not suggest that they simply put an advertisement in the national newspapers for one day. Generally speaking advertisements published by the State to alert the public—for example those issued by the National Health Council—are very dull when compared with those prepared by professionals engaged by big companies. In 1976 the amount of money spent here on advertising was in the region of £34 million.
The success of the efforts of the director to counteract some of the misleading advertisements will depend to a great extent on the resources made available to him. The amendment tabled by the Minister is too restrictive in that it deals specifically with dissemination of information with regard to legislation only. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to have another look at this with a view to broadening it so that the onus can be put on the director to ensure that information and details about commodities is issued by his office. That would do it a great deal of good. It would also be a link with the consumers because, ultimately, the director will depend on the public for information with regard to the sale of goods, the type of goods being sold and so on. He will have to depend on complaints being sent to his office. If he was in a position to give consumers information and establish educational programmes whereby consumers would be made more aware of their rights he would be establishing a further link with consumers.