Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 5 Dec 1957

Vol. 48 No. 12

Prices Bill, 1957—Committee Stage. (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:—
In sub-section (3), line 32, after "services" to insert "or to excessive profit margins at any stage".— (Senator Sheehy Skeffington).

I cannot see any necessity for this amendment. In so far as excessive profits can be defined at all, or can be attributed to the manufacturer charging prices that are too high in particular instances, it seems to me that these circumstances are fully covered by the phrase in the section: "owing to causes within the control of manufacturers."

If the manufacturer is charging too high a price and if that is the reason for the excessive profits, then that is a cause which the manufacturer has within his control, which he can deal with and which the committee can comment upon and make a reason for requiring the Minister to make an Order. Therefore, I do not see the necessity for this amendment at all.

The people who oppose this amendment do so not on its real wording, not on what the Senator who proposed it said, but rather on what they imagine the Senator thinks. To my mind, the spokesmen for the employers are doing their people no great service by strongly opposing this section, especially at the present time when the trade unions are being urged to have a sense of responsibility and not to press wage claims and when a maximum increase has been agreed at top level. They are not doing a great service to their people by that type of opposition.

The words proposed to be inserted are "excessive profit margins.""Excessive" is a matter of opinion. It will not be Senator Sheehy Skeffing-ton's opinion, but, according to the section, it will be the Advisory Committee's opinion of what is excessive or not. The recommendation of the committee has to go to the Minister and then again it will be the Minister's opinion as to excessiveness or otherwise of the profits.

There was merit, I think, in Senator Ryan's point and I was afraid somebody would think of it. It is quite true that if there are excessive profits, it would seem that the Advisory Committee in investigating the position and reporting to the Minister would take not of that fact or give their opinion on it. At the same time, it is no harm whatever to have the words in. It could probably be as easily argued that the words "undue labour costs" are unnecessary because of the preceding words in relation to persons rendering a service, because the supply of labour in such an instance would be rendering a service. The people opposed to this amendment might think again on it and recognise that there is no real objection to putting in a reference to excessive profits. The argument is not that profits should not be taken, but that the Advisory Committee should have regard to excessive profits and what their idea of excessive profits would be. As I say, when trade unions and labour generally are asked to exercise restraint, and when we have in this section a reference to undue labour costs, which has not yet been explained, it is good and proper that there should also be a reference to excessive profits.

The Parliamentary Secretary by this time must be getting amused at this battle which is raging around him. At last I am in agreement with my colleague, Senator Murphy. With reference to whether prices are unduly high owing to undue labour costs, you would have to define "undue labour costs". Are they costs that arise owing to the inefficiency of the manufacturer, owing to the fact that he has too many workers in his factory? Are they undue owing to the action of trade unions or some group of workers who happen to have a monopoly? We can show the obverse side of the coin referred to by Senator Sheehy Skeffington, where there might be a monopoly among small groups of workers who have a particular form of ability or capacity. I think Senator Murphy has a point that since undue labour costs went in, there might be some justification for putting in a reference to profits. Of course the wording in the amendment "excessive profit margins" has no meaning. The words "undue labour costs" in the section also have no meaning. If it was that prices are unduly high owing to causes within the control of manufacturers or of persons rendering a service in connection with the manufacture of the article, or something like that, you would have a coherent phrase which would cover the universe, so to speak; but "undue labour costs" suggests a precision which is not there. However, I will say this much for it: it has a shade more precision than the reference to "excessive profit margins at any stage".

I did not hear the earlier speeches, but, since I am the person who started this hare, I want to make my own position clear in regard to this amendment. This amendment is not in any way animated by hostility to labour or to trade unions. This Bill is very carefully drafted and there is a distinction between Parts II and III. Part III deals with cases where there is an element of monopoly or restriction on competition and, on Section 14, there are amendments which seem to me could possibly be relevant there, because if a monopolist or person who is not subject to competition is netting a very large profit, then the result of that is possibly to keep the price of the commodity higher than it otherwise would be. Therefore, what I am saying about the amendment to Section 10 does not bind me to say the same things about the amendments to Section 14 because the two parts of the Bill are fundamentally dissimilar.

I should like very briefly to repeat what I said yesterday, that, in the industrial process, where there is competition profits do not raise prices. Profits emerge at the end of the year's trading and nobody knows what the profits will be until the year's trading is over. Actual experience shows that the companies that pay the biggest dividends and have the highest profits are the companies that can undersell their competitors, and the companies with the biggest record of profits in Great Britain, for example—I do not wish to mention names, but perhaps I might mention Woolworths, a very well-known firm—are companies which, by their efficiency, are able to keep down prices to such an extent that they are able to compete successfully at lower prices to the public. The success of these companies is shown not in high prices, but in low prices.

As I said, I am drawing a distinction between Parts II and III of the Bill. In Part II, where competition is working, and where there are no restrictive practices, high profits can never be the cause of high prices. The profits emerge at the end of the productive process. High prices may be caused by unduly high labour costs or by unduly high other costs of production within the control of the manufacturer or possibly outside his control, but profits are an entirely different type of income. They are the rewards of successful manufacturers. They fluctuate very widely. It must be emphasised that negative profits on the whole are more common than positive profits.

I should like to know if the mover of this amendment would be prepared to consider the possibility of making some allowance for profits which are excessively low because "excessive" here so far has been interpreted as being excessively high. Supposing a manufacturer is unfortunately making excessively low profits, is anything going to be done to help him? The people who go into business, the ordinary shareholders and business men, take the risk of production. At the end of the whole process, when their costs have been incurred, their sales made and the prices determined in competition, they make a profit which is frequently negative, that is, a loss. To say that the residual income for the risk taken in business can raise prices when competition prevails shows a fundamental misconception of the nature of business. That is why I say the amendment is ill-conceived.

The mover of the amendment has, I think, seen the point of my observations and, therefore, has been trying to explain the amendment by emphasising the term "excessive." As I said, "excessive" may be excessively low; it may cause unemployment and drive people out of business, but in this amendment, it is meant as excessively high. As I said last night, if anybody can befine what is an excessive profit he is assuming there is something in the nature of a normal profit, because one cannot say something is excessive except in relation to something normal. As I said last night, if it could appear that in a debate in this House in December, 1957 a normal profit was defined and therefore the basis for an excessive profit established that would be as great a landmark in the history of economics as the launching of the satellite has been in the history of physics.

In putting forward this amendment, I referred to the potential factor, among other factors for unduly high prices, the possibility of excessive profits, as well as the possibility of undue labour costs, and I felt I was putting forward a plea for fair play. The sub-section which I am seeking to amend, sub-section (3) of Section 10 says, "an Advisory Committee shall report to the Minister... and if it reports that the prices or charges specified in its report are unduly high... owing to undue labour costs, shall state whether in its opinion circumstances are such as to require the Minister to make an Order". I feel it unfair to single out for mention undue labour costs, and to omit all mention of the possibility, which I think is a possibility, despite what has been said, that a factor may be—I do not say necessarily is—but may be excessive profit margins. Senator O'Brien has talked about "excessive losses", and asked would I be prepared to consider them. As Senator Murphy has pointed out, I shall not be on the Advisory Committee, but I could imagine an Advisory Committee being told by a manufacturer: "You may think our profit margin was a bit high this year, but clearly last year there was a loss" and certainly that would be taken into account.

My view is that there are many factors for possible high prices. We mentioned some of them. One is the cost of labour being unduly high, but another is the cost of capital, which may also be unduly high, and we do not mention that. We mention one but not the other. There has been underlying part of this debate the view that there is no such thing as an undue profit. I do not know whether that really is the contention. I do not know if anybody would get up and say it could not happen, that excessive profit exists only in my mind, that it does not exist in reality. I did ask in my opening remarks that the amendment itself be treated and not the whole question of whether you should have profits or not. I asked that the question of excessive profits should be considered. If I may quote what I did say last night:

"I realise that any time one mentions the word ‘profit' it creates a great deal of confusion and even indignation because if one says there should not be exorbitant profit or excessive profit, people get up and say: ‘Apparently you do not think there should be any profit at all,' as if the only kind of profit was exorbitant profit."

It is clear to me, as explained by several speakers, that profits are one thing and excessive profits are another. But it is no defence against my amendment to say you "must have profits," and therefore must not talk about excessive profits at all. You must have labour costs too, yet we do talk about undue labour costs. Labour costs can be too high, and we mention that as a possible factor. I suggest, in spite of all that was said, that profit margins can be too high. If we mention one, we should mention the other. I see no point in the argument against it, unless it can be proved that profits can never be too high.

Obviously, it may not necessarily be the manufacturer, or the people "rendering services"—perhaps it may be the middleman—who may be responsible for excessive profits. If you see a cabbage for which the producer got ½d. costing 5d. in the shops, you do get the impression that somewhere along the line there was an excessive profit. If a fisherman gets 9d. a stone for herring and if the housewife has to pay 1/- a lb., he would be a bold man who would see no great ground for suspecting an excessive profit somewhere there. Senator O'Brien says you cannot limit the profit margin. I am not proposing that; I am merely asking that it be considered as a factor. I am merely asking the Advisory Council to go into the question of excessive profits as well as of undue labour costs.

It is true, as was stated by me, that we do limit certain profit rates. Senator O'Donovan admits that we limit dividends on things like gas but that gas "is a monopoly." My point is that a monopoly-situation exists in relation to the price of very many more commodities than many people recognise, because of price-fixing rings. A monopoly-situation might well require the possibility of excessive profit-taking being examined by this Advisory Committee. It may not be the manufacturers. It may be the traders' ring which may insist on excessive profits being taken by retailers under threat of stoppage of supplies. I cited a case that was proved in open court, as it were, before the Prices Advisory Body, and here I think Senator O'Brien is under a serious misapprehension. He thinks he is living in a free competition economy. Things would be very different if that were so, but again and again we find that it is not so. I am glad to note that he made a distinction between Part II and Part III of the Bill. Part III relates to the Fair Trading Commission, and restrictive practices, but I am of opinion that Part II might relate to situations where as yet no restrictive practices had yet been proved to exist, and where there might be a factor of excessive profit causing unduly high prices.

Senator Ryan suggested that the amendment was "not necessary," because the question of excessive profits is "in the control of the manufacturers," but I think, if it is necessary to mention labour costs as a possible factor, then we should mention the capital cost factor also. In other words, we should mention neither of them or both. I did not notice any amendments being put down by those who differ from me, to the effect that we should not mention "undue labour costs," because of the fact that the working man must get his wages. Nobody suggested it was insulting to the worker to put in "undue labour costs," with no mention at all of the possibility that excessive profit-taking might be influencing the price, and might be making it unduly high.

Senator O'Donovan mentioned the way in which this debate had been going around and that he had come to agreement with his colleague, Senator Murphy. I hope the debate will come full circle and that he will come to agreement with me.

Certainly not.

We might put in these words "excessive profits," or, on the Report Stage, take out "undue labour costs".

I should like to deal with one point lest it might be thought that Senator Sheehy Skeffington had anything in it. He talked about monopolies existing in this country. Anybody who keeps up with the facts of economic life around us is aware of these monopolies in small articles which are produced for general use, but, when you are considering a matter in this way, you must look at the general situation. The great bulk of the average person's income goes on food, clothing and shelter. There are no monopolies in food that I am aware of. The clothing and boot and shoe industry is one of the most highly competitive in the country being composed of a very large number of small firms. We know what the position of the housing industry is at present.

Let us take an opposite example, pointing the opposite way, to the example Senator Sheehy Skeffington gave last night. The first group of people whom the Fair Trade Commission examined in this country were the builders' providers. That was one of the greatest economic jokes ever perpetrated in this country. When the facts relating to the economic situation were being built up in the Department of Industry and Commerce in the years 1945 and 1946, the people in the builders' providers' industry were in a monopoly position and were making more profit, perhaps, than was reasonable to expect——

Excessive profits.

—— for that short period. When the Fair Trade Commission went into action, they took the industry which had been one of the causes why the Fair Trade Commission had been set up and examined first the builders' providers. Any person with any connection with that industry realised it was one of the biggest economic jokes ever perpetrated in this country. There was cut-throat competition between the builders' providers; they were going down like ninepins. They were in the Gazette every week and they were going bankrupt and the Fair Trade Commission went solemnly through the farce of examining the whole case.

The Seanad knows the kind of articles I refer to, particularly those in the light industries, but even there you have a fair measure of competition. You have five or six big firms manufacturing wire and you have certain small articles where only the one firm is involved. The fact is that, taking the economic situation as a whole, the Legislature cannot provide for a minor article representing one-fiftieth of one per cent. of the national income or something like that. There is no use in saying that the monopoly situation of this country is such that you can put down an amendment like this referring to excessive profit margins, something intangible, which you cannot define and which is of no use to the community.

I have already said—and it is true— that I would have doubts about the inclusion of the phrase "undue labour costs." I do not understand what is intended to be achieved by the phrase "undue labour costs". So far as I am concerned, if the Parliamentary Secretary wants to take out the phrase "undue labour costs" and meet everybody's view, I certainly would be quite satisfied with it.

I am sorry to prolong the debate, but I am trying to clear up the issue for my own sake and for the sake of the Seanad. Senator Sheehy Skeffington is an exceedingly skilled debater and he shifted his ground very skilfully in his last few remarks. I wish to try to clear up the issue a little more. There are just three points I want to make very shortly. As regards the use of the word "excessive", excessive profits are dealt with in Part III of the Bill. I do not propose to speak against the Senator's amendment to Section 14 because I think that, where there is an element of monopoly, profits may be excessive and in that way prices may be put up.

I draw a distinction between that and the second part of the Bill where we must assume that competition prevails. If competition does not prevail anybody who is dissatisfied can go before the Fair Trade Commission and the machinery in Part III of the Bill then comes into operation.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington shifted his ground very skilfully and for the first time brought in the phrase "cost of capital". I want to make it perfectly clear that the cost of capital is not the same as profit. The cost of capital is what has to be paid for capital. If a company has to borrow from the bank or on debentures or on mortgage, and contracts to pay so much per cent. on its borrowing, so much has to be paid on that. That would be the cost of capital. Incidentally, the cost of capital in this country tends to be high because profits tend to be low. The way in which to get cheap capital into industry is to encourage people to take ordinary shares and risks of production; to stand losses where there are losses; to have no dividend in a bad year and to avoid all these contractual obligations involved in bank borrowing, debentures and mortgages. The way to get capital costs down is to encourage plenty of profit. It is the risk capital that is prepared to work without any reward and very often at a loss for many years. Profits are the pool from which capital is built up for investment in the country.

As I said last night, there is a fundamental contradiction in thinking in this country about investment. Everybody is called upon to invest in Irish industry, but as soon as anybody does so successfully and makes any profit, he is accused of profiteering. He is taxed. There is income-tax, distributed profits tax and undistributed profits tax, not to mention surtax and death duties. Businesses are taxed until the good is gone out of their profits. Now it is suggested that, in addition, they should be hauled before an Advisory Committee because they have been successful in earning a good profit. I suggest that to shift the ground from profits to the cost of capital is a very skilful debating point, but it is unsound because profits do not reward the cost of capital.

We could not have a debate on this subject without the cabbage. The cabbage is always the prototype of the article for which the housewife pays too much and the poor farmer gets too little. Might I suggest that if the price of cabbage is unduly high and farmers are unduly badly paid, that is not the result of anybody getting an excessive profit? It is the result of an unduly expensive distributive mechanism. Everybody, from the farmer to the small shopkeeper who sells the cabbage is getting not a high profit but a low profit. If the cabbage is dear, it is not because of the high profit of the hucksters' shops or the small farmers. It is because of the bad type of distributive mechanism.

There is just one point. We imagine that the inquiry of the committee will be into profits. The committee will be inquiring into prices. It seems to me that before the Minister would issue a warrant to the committee, there should be concern about the prices. If we have an efficient industry producing goods at a low price and taking a good profit, then it is efficient and they do not seem to come under this and there would hardly be an inquiry into their prices. This is a Prices Bill and if they are looking into prices, surely they should have regard to the extent of the profits taken?

I did not intend to repeat what I had already said previously for the purpose of replying to various other speakers. I suppose I should be flattered that my reply called forth other replies. I do not propose to say very much about what was said. There are three main points I want to make. Senator O'Brien made very complimentary remarks about me being a skilled debater. I would respectfully suggest that Senator O'Brien could buy and sell me as a skilled debater and probably make a considerable profit, even though the commodity was not worth very much.

He says I have shifted my ground. I felt that was rather hard because he had said earlier on, and now again after listening to me, that I was speaking about excessive profits and, in order to refute that accusation, I quoted the words I used in my speech last night before I started to develop my speech this afternoon at all. He did not come back to that, but said I was shifting my ground because I was talking about capital cost—that the dividend paid because of the risk run on invested capital was quite different and should not be thought of in the same light as profit.

Senator O'Donovan has referred to my impression that there is a monopoly situation, a situation which enables certain group interests to fix too high a price, an inflated price. He says there is no monopoly situation in relation to food. I wonder if he has had a look at the facts. I wonder what factors he thinks make for the price of bread and flour. Would he agree with me that at least the view can be held that the price of flour is based on the costings of the most uneconomic mill in the country and that, in fact, you have pretty well, in effect, a monopoly situation—people being kept, if you like, artificially in business, perhaps, by reason of a price that, by any community standard, is far too high?

It is true that, in relation to the ordinary things you buy in a grocer's shop, since very recently, there has not been a monopoly situation because the Minister implemented the recommendations of the Fair Trade Commission on supplies of groceries. We are told by the Minister that he will revise that and look into it. He may then change it. I hope he will not. I hope Senator O'Donovan is right in saying that the present free competition in groceries will continue.

I suppose that, like myself, Senator O'Donovan has given up consuming infant foods for some time past. Still, they are foods and there are a number of allied products which come under the heading of food and which most emphatically have their price fixed by people within a monopoly situation. I do not quite follow the reasoning about the cabbage, I am afraid. There was no mention of the herring. The suggestion apparently is that you must not talk about excessive profits when a half-penny cabbage costs 5d, or more, by the time it gets to Dublin, because it is not excessive, because it is wholly bad mechanism and apparently a whole series of little profits which make up something which looks very like a total excessive profit for one reason or another. In view of the fact that there has been no suggestion that we should omit the words "undue labour costs", I should like to press for the inclusion of some reference to "or to excessive profit margins at any stage."

I think there has been a misreading of the phrase "persons rendering services" in line 32. It seems to me that the reference made to it suggested that these were services incidental or ancillary to the provision of commodities. There are two matters which the Bill will control—(1) the price of commodities and (2) the rendering of services. These are two separate matters. It is in that sense that the word is included here.

I do not know exactly what Senator Sheehy Skeffington means by the expression "or to excessive profit margins at any stage". Does he mean at any stage of the manufacturing process?

At any stage between the raw material and the consumer.

Then we cannot deal with the matter under this section. Here we are dealing only with factors within the control of the manufacturer or of the person rendering a service, such as a repair service of any sort. When you come to the later stages of distribution, it has to be dealt with by the later provisions of the Bill. However, that is more or less beside the point.

The simple answer to the amendment is that the section is much better than it would be if the amendment were added to it, even from Senator Sheehy Skeffington's own viewpoint. It has been suggested to me that if you put in a phrase of this sort, it will be a qualifying phrase to some extent and that it is much better to leave the expression "causes within the control of manufacturers" as it stands, that it is a far more effective use of words to achieve Senator Sheehy Skeffington's point of view than the amendment he suggests.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary consider omitting the reference to "undue labour costs"?

No, because they are not within the control of a manufacturer.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary elaborate on what is meant by the expression "undue labour costs"? Is it the rate that might be agreed with the trade union? Is it also the fees that might be paid to directors? Is it the cost of management? Is it the commission given? Do all these things come in or is it simply the rate of wages paid to the workers?

The Advisory Committee will make a report to the Minister. I suggest it would be much better to leave the Senator's question in any particular case for consideration by the Advisory Committee and to let that Advisory Committee say to the Minister: "In our opinion, the costs in this particular case are too high because of undue labour costs" and they can specify their opinion of what they are.

I imagine that Senator Murphy is competent—probably more so than myself—to visualise undue labour costs arising from various sets of circumstances. It has happened in industries in the past and, if it had not happened and if there were not an experience of it, we would not have it here in the section.

Amendment put and declared lost, Senators Sheehy Skeffington, Murphy and O'Leary dissenting.


Question proposed: "That Section 10 stand part of the Bill".

Is there power under this section to ask the Advisory Committee to inquire into the costs of distribution? I ask that question because, in the Preamble to the Bill, on page 3, line 42, there is reference to where the Minister is of opinion that there is an unfair practice in connection with distribution and, in Section 16, there is reference to the Minister making regulations following Section 15, and under Section 16, sub-section (1) (b), the Minister may make regulations with regard to distribution. Under Section 10, I do not think the Minister would have power to specify in the warrant that the Advisory Committee inquire into distribution costs. The word "distribution" is expressly mentioned in the Preamble and expressly mentioned in Section 16, but it is not mentioned in Section 10.

The Fair Trade Commission deals with questions arising under that general term "distribution".

The Advisory Committee would not have to deal with that at all?

No. The Advisory Committee will advise the Minister in relation to matters raised in discussion. The Minister may refer matters to this Advisory Committee. He can also refer matters to the Fair Trade Commission. There are the two stages which affect the cost, the manufacturing stage and the subsequent distribution stage, and this deals here with the Minister's efforts under this Bill to ensure that manufacturing costs will not be unduly high and he has the help of an Advisory Committee there. Generally speaking, he has the help of the Fair Trade Commission in the matter of distribution, but the Senator knows what the three main causes will be of any action on the part of the Minister—a monopoly situation, restrictive practices and, then, these emergency situations which might arise from time to time. The Minister, in his speech in the Dáil, indicated that the Suez Canal crisis and its consequences were a good example of that.

I make one final attempt to elicit from the Parliamentary Secretary what is meant by "undue labour costs". I have been thinking over what he said and I am still far from clear as to what is the intention. If it is thought by the Advisory Committee that the manufacturer, or whoever he may be, is paying too much in wages, I do not see how the fixing of a maximum price by the Minister, presumably having regard to that fact and knowing fully the existing price, will help. If the employer has entered into an agreement with the trade union to pay certain rates of pay, I do not know how he will stand when the Advisory Committee say, in effect: "We will not allow you to charge the present price which takes account of the rates you pay to your employees". It may not be likely, but it could be used by the Minister to force a cut in wage rates generally. He could put the gun to the employer's head and say to him: "You will have to cut your wage rates; you will have to cease paying the rate agreed with the trade union and bring it down to a lower level if you want to continue in business and sell at the price I am now fixing". Is that not possible? If that is not the intention, it seems to be the only possible intention. I grant that it is probably extreme, but it is the only intention that I can think of immediately. If the Parliamentary Secretary sees other reasons for putting in a reference to undue labour costs, I wish he would tell them to me because, so far, he has not enlightened me.

The Advisory Committee will advise the Minister and they will give their opinion to the Minister as to what the causes of undue high costs are in any particular instance. I do not know whether Senator Murphy wants to involve me with trade unions or not in this matter, but he has asked if the Advisory Committee will advise the Minister to force down wages because costs are high by taking action to fix a price that would require the manufacturer to take such a course in order to maintain the economic character of his business. I do not know whether that is the best example or not. I do not know whether Senator Murphy has ever heard of skilled tradesmen leaving their employment because they were forced to do so little work in the day that they were in danger of losing their skill through lack of application of it. I have.

I do not accept Senator Sheehy Skeffington's axiom that the cost of the article will be the cost at which the most inefficient unit can produce it. We have recent examples here where inefficient units simply went out of production.

Unless they were protected by a price ring.

There were no "ifs or "ands" in the Senator's categorical statement. The provisions of this Bill are designed, devised and intended to frustrate any such manipulation by rings. I do not know whether I can give specific examples that would satisfy Senator Murphy as to what the meaning of "undue labour costs" is. He may, as I suggest, want to involve me with trade union organisations and, if that is the case, there is nothing I can say to him that will satisfy him, but can he not think of any situation in which this phrase might be very apt?

Surely, the responsibility is on the Parliamentary Secretary. He is urging the Seanad to pass this section.

The Parliamentary Secretary is accepting his responsibility and, I submit, discharging it fairly and squarely to the Seanad by saying that an Advisory Committee, better qualified than the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister, will deal with specific cases as they arise and examine all the facts and, if the Senator can give us the facts on any case here, now, perhaps I might also venture an opinion, but I do not think it would be binding.

I have not put these terms into the Bill. If the Parliamentary Secretary, in effect, is saying to me: "I can think of good reasons but will not tell you what they are," I do not think he should keep me guessing. This is not an extreme example either —employers are very good at arguments and I could expect that some employers, in negotiations in future, will say: "Ah, but I must have regard to this, that I might be told, if I agree to this increase, that there would be undue labour costs." The union may say: "That is ridiculous, these are not undue labour costs," and the employer may say: "It is not my opinion, it is not your opinion: it might be the opinion of the Advisory Committee or the opinion of the Minister." We have no guidance now as to what is intended or meant. It could, in fact, be used as a method of keeping down wages or forcing them down.

Are not the trade unions represented on the Advisory Committee, so what is the sense of this talk about forcing wages down? I cannot imagine trade union representatives on the Advisory Committee being as meek and mild as Senator Murphy suggests.

The matter has been sufficiently debated already on the amendment and on the section.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 11, 12 and 13 agreed to.

I would ask the Seanad to remember that this matter has been pretty well discussed on amendment No. 1.

I move amendment No. 2:—

In sub-section (1), line 18, before "or" to insert "or to excessive profit margins at any stage."

It became apparent in dealing with the earlier amendment that some Senators saw more point in having this reference to "excessive profit margins at any stage" inserted in the two sub-sections of Section 14 as I here propose. Consequently, I would suppose that they would support this amendment at this stage.

The arguments against this are very much the same as those which have been stated already. I think it would be only a waste of the time of the Seanad to go back over them.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I take it the amendment is not being pressed?

There might be more support for this amendment than the previous one.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.
Section 14 agreed to.
Sections 15 to 22, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 23 stand part of the Bill."

I think that we should welcome sub-section (2) as enshrining a principle which we like to see included in this kind of Bill always. It was enshrined also in the Office Premises Bill we had before us yesterday. The principle is that when an authorised person gets certain powers of investigation, not merely shall he be furnished with an authorising warrant, or certificate, but he must produce it on request. That is a matter sometimes taken for granted, but I would like to welcome the fact that it is here written into this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:—

In sub-section (1) (d), line 35, before "require" to insert "reasonably".

This is a very small amendment and might almost be regarded as a verbal or drafting amendment. Sub-section (1) of this section says:—

"An authorised officer may, for the purpose of obtaining any information which the Minister may require for enabling him to exercise his functions under this Act, do any one or more of the following things—"

Then there are five paragraphs dealing with the entering of premises, the requiring of a person to give any information "which may reasonably be required" in regard to books and so on, the inspection and copying of extracts from books, and the requiring of any such person to give him any information he may require. I feel that, accidentally perhaps, the word "reasonably" was omitted in paragraph (d). It is included in the others; it is included in (b), "such information as he may reasonably require"; it is included in (e), "information which he may reasonably require"; but in (d) he may require such person to give him "any information he may require". I take it that that is too wide a power and that there is not really an intention to give the authorised officer power to get any information he may require. The qualifying adverb "reasonably", which is felt to be necessary in the other clauses, should be inserted here, and that is the purpose of my amendment.

I do not think the adverb is necessary to produce the required qualification. I think the better qualification is contained within the brackets. That indicates quite clearly the type of information which this officer will be seeking. Right through this section and its paragraphs, the words "reasonably" and "reasonable" are mentioned so often as to indicate to the officer that he must act reasonably. It is obvious that with regard to books, documents and records, care would have to be taken and the word "reasonably" is inserted; but when the officer comes to require information about the identity of an unincorporated body of persons, information in regard to the membership thereof or the committee of management or other controlling authority, it is quite obvious that what the officer will be seeking is to establish the identity of people from whom inquiries would subsequently have to be made. I think the absence of the word "reasonable" there has no diabolical significance—if that is what the Senator wishes to suggest.

In any event, the officer will be operating under the general control and direction of the Minister and if the Senator has any apprehensions that this power may be abused, the general tenor of the entire section and its parts, ought to allay that fear.

I am afraid I am not satisfied with the Parliamentary Secretary's answer. He first says that the nature of the information is made clear in the brackets, but the bracket begins with the wording "including in particular". The paragraph at present reads:—

"(d) require such person to give him any information he may require in regard to the persons carrying on such activity (including, in particular...)"

and so on. It is not a comprehensive bracket at all: it just indicates some type of information he might ask. The paragraph itself gives very sweeping powers.

The second argument which the Parliamentary Secretary puts forward is that the word "reasonably" has been used so often in the section that it need not be used in this paragraph. Yet it is found necessary to use it in the following paragraph. It is apparently felt to be there too often to include it in (d), but not to include it in (e). That does not seem logical.

Finally, I do not suggest that there is any diabolical power intended or that inspectors are wicked people; but I think we in this house ought to be jealous of the power we give under these Bills, and not give more power than is required. We should not give excessive powers simply because we are assured that the chances are that they will never be abused.

I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary requires the power for his officers to do more than require information which they may reasonably require, as is stipulated in all the other paragraphs. Therefore, I would press him to accept the amendment.

It seems to me the Parliamentary Secretary might reasonably accept this amendment. I do not think there is any intention anywhere to exercise excessive powers, but the argument the Parliamentary Secretary makes would seem to me to be an argument for deleting the word "reasonably" wherever it occurs in Section 24. Everything he says would apply as much to paragraph (b) and paragraph (e) as to paragraph (g), but it certainly would not be a bit of harm to the paragraph if the word "reasonably" were inserted before "require". It would not shake the foundations of the State if the Parliamentary Secretary did this and it certainly would not be any harm. He might very well do it because it brings that paragraph more into line with the others and the words within the bracket are not exclusive; they are inclusive—"including, in particular"—and it would show a willingness on the part of the Parliamentary Secretary to listen to us now and again.

I would urge the Parliamentary Secretary to consider accepting this amendment. It would take away no power from the Minister or the officer concerned. We should try to visualise what will happen if the person refuses to give the information. Presumably, he is brought before some court and the judge or justice will have to decide whether the person committed an offence against this Act or not. He would be in a much better position to consider the situation if the wording "reasonably require" were there, because he is going to try to find some way out if he is asked to find a person guilty of an offence under this section, if the person has been asked to give information which was unreasonable. He would be in a much better position to meet the situation if the word "reasonably" were there and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider this amendment favourably.

I should like to add my support to the amendment. It seems desirable, especially in view of what Senator Ryan has just said. The Parliamentary Secretary would please the House and improve the Bill by accepting the amendment.

I would be most willing to avoid any difference with the Seanad on this matter, but the fact is—this is not the reason on which I have been arguing against the amendment—that any amendment now will require that the Bill will have to go back to the Dáil. That would delay very considerably the passing of this Bill into an effective Act. The régime of control will end on 31st December and we want to have the new régime ready to take over on 1st January. That cannot take place if we amend the Bill.

On the merits of this amendment, I should point out that the refusal of any information by any person does not carry with it an automatic penalty. There is a safeguard there. The Minister must decide that the facts are such that a prosecution should be brought and if he does come to that decision, there is the further safeguard in the fact that the court must try the charge. There can be no very serious cause for complaint by leaving this as it is and letting this Act come into force on the day on which it was intended it should become operative.

As I say, many persons questioned under this section will make their own decision as to what is reasonable and what is not reasonable and will refuse, I take it, to answer very many questions, in the early stages, particularly, before these authorised officers have gained sufficient experience. People may flatly refuse to answer the questions they are asked and it is conceivable that the authorised officer will make his complaint to the Minister in the ordinary way. The Minister will assess the merits of the authorised officer's complaint and in a great many cases the Minister will possibly agree with the refusal. Therefore, this is not as compelling on the individual to be questioned as it may seem, and refusal to comply does not automatically carry dire consequences, seeing that there are at least two further stages at which the refusal must be sieved and vetted. That is on the merits of the case, but I am afraid, in connection with the other reason I have given, I have no option in the matter.

This is really one of the finest cases of all for the abolition of the Seanad. We are wasting our time completely talking about this Bill, if we cannot amend it. If this Prices Bill has a time limit, it should have been brought into the Dáil sufficiently early to give us time to consider it. In any event, in the situation in which the Parliamentary Secretary finds himself now, I will make him this offer. Let him accept this amendment and the next amendment, No. 5, and we will give him all stages of the Bill to-night. It can be brought back to the Dáil then and I am sufficiently experienced in the Dáil to know that the Dáil can suspend its proceedings for half an hour, or whatever it is, to consider these amendments. They would require only about two minutes. It is humiliating to sit here listening to a discussion which can have no finality at all according to the Parliamentary Secretary. This is an old point and I make this concession to the Parliamentary Secretary: it is not confined to his Government but it is characteristic of all Governments.

They are always bringing in things that have to be passed by a certain time. There is always a hurry. No matter how long the Department delays and no matter how long the Government delays in the Dáil, the measure comes in here and we are told: "You cannot do anything with it." If we cannot do anything with it, let us give it up. If we can do something with it—and it is reasonable that we should—let us proceed to put the words that we want into the Bill and we will give the Parliamentary Secretary all stages of the Bill to-night.

I should like to be associated with what amounts to a protest in relation to this Bill. This is by no means the first time we have been told: "You cannot amend this Bill" or "We cannot accept amendments because we have no time." It is really making a farce of the proceedings of this House, if this is to happen often and it is tending to happen quite often and I think I am speaking for the House in protesting against it. I suggest that, in regard to the Parliamentary Secretary's observation, we should—I will not say look upon it with scorn—continue our debate as if it had not been said.

I wish to be associated with the protest of the two previous speakers and also to protest against the way in which the Seanad operates. Of necessity, we continue for at least a week or maybe two weeks after the Dáil and on every occasion are we to be told: "The Dáil has risen and nothing can be done about that matter"? We might as well go home if we have not the facilities to amend legislation in that period equally with amending it at any other time of the sitting.

I do not want to repeat the point, with which I entirely agree, that the Seanad should stand up for its rights to have some power in Committee. Going into Committee is just a waste of time, unless we can amend. Furthermore, I do not think there would be a situation of disaster if, between 1st January and 15th January, next, say, there is a kind of interregnum, and the Prices Advisory Body cannot be replaced for 15 days. It is in fact being replaced by this Bill, only by the power given to the Minister to bring things into being. However, I think the offer made by Senator Hayes is a good and reasonable one, and I would support it.

I am prepared to accept what has been suggested by Senator Hayes. I have made no point at all about the question of accepting this adverb, but what I have said is that it would not seem to me to make a very material difference. If it satisfies the Seanad that it should go in, I agree. It is possibly the case that whether this Bill is an Act or not in the beginning of the new year, it will make no material difference. However, it was pleaded it should replace ultimately the existing control and it is for that reason I made the suggestion I have made. I have not the slightest intention of offending the dignity of the Seanad in any way. I do not know if Senator Hayes can guarantee that the Bill will get to the Dáil before the Dáil adjourns.

Yes, I can. I can certainly guarantee it.

There is one point about this which should not be lost sight of as regards our ability to send this measure back to the Dáil in time. Nobody expected the Dáil to rise as early as it is rising for the Christmas recess.

It was settled a fortnight ago, I think.

And nobody expected that so many Senators would be so long-winded.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:—

Before sub-section (2), to insert a new sub-section as follows:—

(2) No one shall be required by virtue of paragraph (e) of sub-section (1) of this section to answer any question or to give any evidence tending to criminate himself or in respect of either of which he would be entitled to claim privilege (as being a matter of confidence between him and his legal adviser) in the High Court.

I do not want to delay the house but I think this amendment is one of some substance and importance. Paragraph (e) of sub-section (1) of Section 24 states that an authorised officer may require a person "to give him any other information which he may reasonably require". I can envisage a situation in which a person, questioned by an authorised officer, might plead he was doing certain things that were within the law because he had been so advised by his legal adviser. It has long been established that communications passing between a client and his legal adviser are confidential. The courts protect the confidential character of these communications and do not compel a client to disclose them. Consequently, there should be some saving in this section in the form in which I have drafted this amendment.

I would direct the attention of the House to the fact that Section 28 (2) of the Office Premises Bill, with which we dealt last night, states that no person shall be required to answer any question or to give any evidence which would tend to criminate himself. That is an attempt to safeguard the rights of the individual in not supplying information which would criminate himself.

The information which a person may have got as a result of discussions with his legal adviser may be of a kind which would enable an authorised officer to take proceedings under this Bill against the person in question. It is all the more unfortunate in this case because the penalties provided for failing to give information, which an authorised officer may reasonably require, may include a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months. If an authorised officer required the disclosure of communications passing between a businessman and his solicitor, and the businessman refused to disclose those communications, the officer would be entitled to take proceedings in court. That might be one of the several charges that might be laid against the businessman and I think a justice or judge, as the Bill stands, would be bound to hold that an offence had been committed, and some penalty as provided under Section 26 would be inflicted on the individual.

Under paragraph 12 of the Second Schedule, dealing with the powers of the Advisory Committee, protection is afforded to witnesses appearing before the Advisory Committee. In sub-section (3) of the paragraph it is provided that a witness before an Advisory Committee will be entitled to the same privileges and immunities as if he were before the High Court. This amendment I move is in line with the provisions relating to the conduct of witnesses before an Advisory Body and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, in view of his approach to a somewhat similar problem, to accept it.

I should like to support this amendment for the reasons given by Senator O'Quigley. In fact, if Senator O'Quigley is willing to agree, I should like to see the parenthesis omitted, and have it read "that he be entitled to claim privilege in the High Court." There are communications between people and their professional advisers, other than solicitors, in respect of which they are entitled to claim privilege and I think limiting it to a legal adviser is unnecessarily limiting the privilege. If Senator O'Quigley would agree to that, it would be an improvement in the amendment.

I think the reasons given for this amendment are valid ones. I do not think the power of the authorised officer will be ignored by having this amendment included. Consequently, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider including an amendment of this type, though possibly not in the exact wording of the Senator's amendment.

The wording of the amendments follows very closely sub-section (2) of Section 94 of the Factories Act, 1955, which reads as follows:—

"No one shall be required by virtue of paragraph (f) of sub-section (1) of this section to answer any question or to give any evidence tending to criminate himself."

That is one of the misconceptions, that the functions of the factory inspector and of the authorised officer under this Bill are exactly similar, but there is not an exact analogy between them. It is obvious that the questionings of an inspector under the Factories Act may have a very vital bearing on subsequent proceedings, arising out of serious injury or a fatal accident. I think it was for that reason it was so worded in the Factories Act. A result of that kind can hardly be anticipated in connection with this Bill. If anybody is likely to incriminate himself by his answers to questionings by an authorised officer and if he has any doubt in his mind, it seems he will take the sure course of refusing to answer and let his refusals be adjudged in the first place by the Minister and, if the Minister decides to prosecute, by the court.

Seeing that a good deal of apprehension has been expressed that we are not serious about this Bill, it seems to me inconsistent that we should try to force on the Minister amendments of this sort which, in fact, will very effectively tie the hands of his officers in trying to make a good job of it.

The Factories Act was quoted a good deal yesterday. I was not aware that there was a section like this in the Factories Act, and I must disclaim any knowledge or connection with the Factories Act in putting down this amendment.

The Parliamentary Secretary has not dealt with the most important part of the amendment—the second part—that a person should not be exposed to the threat of a penalty as provided for in Section 26 of this Bill to disclose confidential communications passing between him and his solicitor. That is the important thing. That is the ordinary law, that a person is under no obligation to disclose, even in court, communications passing between himself and his solicitor. What this Bill does by implication is to amend old-established law that people are not compelled to disclose those communications.

The authorised officers will be able to get all the information they require without being given authority to pry into communications passing between persons being questioned and their legal advisers. That is the important thing, that we should not amend the ordinary law of the land by implication in this way. If somebody refuses to disclose to an authorised officer the communication which has passed between a client and his solicitor, that becomes an offence under the section and once it becomes an offence, it is something a court will have to deal with. There is no use saying: "Leave it to the court." The court will find that an offence has been committed. That is the reason why I put down the amendment.

The Parliamentary Secretary seems to me to give two entirely contradictory reasons for opposing the amendment. The amendment, as pointed out by Professor O'Brien, is restrictive in a particular way, but it does give some protection to the person who is questioned. Paragraph (e) is very wide. The Parliamentary Secretary objects on two grounds. First, he says it is not necessary and, secondly, that if this amendment were inserted it would hamper the Minister in his genuine attempt to put the Bill into operation when it becomes an Act. He cannot have it both ways.

If it is not necessary, that is all right, but if it would hamper the Minister, it ought not to be put in. The Parliamentary Secretary certainly does not require power to have an officer put questions to people which might tend to incriminate them or disclose a matter of confidence between the person questioned and his legal adviser. Paragraph (e) is too wide. I was saying to the Minister in private conversation that all Bills are drafted in this way. When they want to accomplish a certain thing, they draft a Bill which covers everything. That is the standard scheme.

It is all very well to say that nobody will put it into operation like that. Paragraph (e) seems to be amending a recognised principle of law and I do not think we should allow it. I do not think a person would have any defence, if paragraph (e) were quoted. It may very well be, of course, that between the reasonableness of the officers, the reasonableness of the official to whom the officer reports and the reasonableness of the Minister in the last resort, nothing wrong would happen, but, all the same, it is there. We have got to see it is as good as we can make it. Either the words in the amendment or some words to accomplish the object sought should be inserted in the Bill.

I do not agree at all that my two points are mutually contradictory. I say this section is not necessary for the purpose of safeguarding the person against incriminating himself. What I say now is that if this section went into the Bill and I were questioned, I would tell the officer I would not answer any of his questions. Every one of them might incriminate me and I would give no answer at all.

Surely that would not be a defence for me? Surely a court would decide that was an insufficient answer on my part? There must be some method of discovering what a sufficient answer is and that is not a sufficient answer.

The Parliamentary Secretary suggests that by putting in this section a person would say the question would incriminate him as would every other question. I should like to point out that care has been taken in respect of provision in regard to matters upon which information must be given. These are the matters which will produce the information upon which the Minister will decide whether a prosecution should or should not issue. That information will be found by entering the premises, inspecting them and taking copies of accounts. This apparently is only to cover up any of the rather unimportant matters which may not have been thought of or covered by paragraphs (a) to (d).

The Parliamentary Secretary has not yet dealt with the position that this section, as it stands, requires a person to disclose confidential communications passing between him and his legal adviser. That is old established law and if the person refuses to disclose that information, when requested to do so, then, under paragraph (e) as it stands, he commits an offence for which he can be prosecuted. We ought not leave citizens of this country open to a charge in the District Court and liable to a penalty not exceeding 12 months.

I cannot see how this matter will arise at the point where the person is questioned by the authorised officer. I think in that case the person will make up his mind for reasons which are not legal ones at all. Where this will arise is when he comes into court and is asked to defend himself. I think he should be able to say as a defence that the question he was asked might tend to incriminate him. I do not think the matter arises when he is asked the question. It should be open to him as a defence when the matter comes before the court. I cannot agree with Senator O'Quigley that it will be of any great importance when the question is put in the first place.

If we read sub-section (2) we find that the person who fails to give the information under sub-section (1) "shall be guilty of an offence" under sub-section (2) so he is guilty of an offence quite definitely by refusing to give evidence which might incriminate himself.

I feel that Senator O'Quigley has made a very strong case against the section as it now stands, which appears to create a new offence out of an action which, so far, has been regarded as the legitimate right of every citizen under the common law, namely, to refuse to give information which may incriminate himself.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington has secured the inclusion in sub-section (1) of the word "reasonably". Surely the inclusion of that word—even though, in my opinion, it was unnecessary—should answer the point he is making here?

Question put: "That the new sub-section be there inserted."
The Committee divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 16.

  • Barry, Anthony.
  • Burke, Denis.
  • Carton, Victor.
  • Cole, John C.
  • Crowe, Patrick.
  • Davidson, Mary F.
  • Donegan, Patrick.
  • Hayes, Michael.
  • L'Estrange, Gerald.
  • Murphy, Dominick F.
  • O'Brien, George A.T.
  • O'Donovan, John.
  • O'Leary, Johnny.
  • O'Quigley, John B.
  • O'Sullivan, John L.
  • Quinlan, Patrick M.
  • Roddy, Joseph.
  • Sheehy Skeffington, Owen L.
  • Stanford, William B.
  • Tunney, James.


  • Ahern, Liam.
  • Carter, Frank.
  • Colley, Harry.
  • Dowdall, Jane.
  • Fitzsimons, Patrick.
  • Hayes, Seán.
  • Hogan, Daniel.
  • Kissane, Éamon.
  • O'Callaghan William.
  • Ó Donnabháin, Seán.
  • Ó Grádaigh, Seán.
  • Ó Maoláin, Tomás.
  • O'Reilly, Patrick.
  • Ó Siochfhradha, Pádraig.
  • O'Sullivan, Ted.
  • Walsh, Laurence J.
Tellers:—Tá: Senators Burke and O'Quigley; Níl: Senators Carter and Mrs. Dowdall.
Question declared carried.
Section 24, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 25 to 28, inclusive, and First Schedule agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:—

In paragraph 5 (2), line 3, before "remove" to insert "on the recommendation of the Committee".

I do not want to delay the House, but this amendment deals with the Second Schedule, paragraph 5 (2), page 13. It refers to the Minister's right to remove from office a member of the Advisory Committee under three circumstances: (1) through ill-health; (2) if he has ceased to be a member of the panel, or (3)—and this is the paragraph that I want to amend—if his removal "appears to the Minister to be necessary in the interests of the effective and economical performance of the duties of that Advisory Committee." It has seemed to me that this is giving too much power to the Minister, in relation to the removal, which is a rather important thing, from the Advisory Committee of any member, and I should feel happier about it if the Minister were allowed to have this power and to act upon it only on the recommendation of the committee. If the committee feels that a certain member of the committee is preventing the effective and economical performance of the duties of that committee it is reasonable to give the Minister power to remove him, but to give the Minister power to remove him whether or not the committee feels that he is impeding the work of the committee seems to me to be giving too much power to the Minister. I should like the section to be amended to enable the Minister to have that power to remove only on the recommendation of the committee.

You really cannot confuse the functions of this Advisory Committee and the functions of the Minister. The Minister appoints an Advisory Committee under certain conditions and I do not see any method of preventing the Minister from taking power to remove a member. He does it as an administrative act. It may be questioned in the Dáil by way of parliamentary question, adjournment debate or, if necessary, by way of motion. He is acting as Minister and does something for which he can be held responsible, which can be argued about and for which he can be censured and I think, on the whole, there is no case for saying that he must wait for the recommendation of the committee.

The Minister, in his absolute discretion, can appoint people to the committee, and it seems to me that, if the Minister has made a mistake for any reason, he ought to be able to have absolute discretion to correct it. Quite apart from that, the amendment does seem to visualise a very embarrassing situation for the other members of the committee. Presumably, the person to be removed will be entitled to take part in the discussions of the committee as to what his fate as a member is to be and I cannot see any committee of ordinary people discussing without embarrassment, or indeed agreeing to discuss at all, the fate of a colleague while he is present.

I see some substance in the contention of Senator Hayes and also in that of the Parliamentary Secretary, in that the Minister appoints, therefore, he should have the right to remove, but I can envisage a situation in which an Advisory Committee is actively pursuing an investigation into the high price of a certain commodity, and it might be suggested the Minister might be lobbied and told even that one member of that committee was being over-zealous, asking extremely awkward questions, was not prepared to accept evasive answers. I do not suggest that it would happen often, but I do not think it is absolutely impossible for a Minister so to be influenced, and I am reluctant to give him a blank cheque for the removal of anybody that he likes from an Advisory Committee, without any proposal to that effect being put to him by the Advisory Committee themselves, who know whether, in fact, such a member is impeding the action of the committee.

Why should the Minister want to remove such a member from the committee, seeing that the Minister need not accept the advice of the committee in any event?

He might care to remove him because the member was asking questions which were found embarrassing by important and influential people appearing before them.

The real answer is that, if the Minister is as bad as that, this proviso will not stop him.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 7:—

To delete paragraph 11 (5) and substitute the following:—

An inquiry by an Advisory Committee shall normally be held in public.

My concern here is to amend the provision on page 14, in sub-section (5) of paragraph 11 of this Schedule. My intention is to suggest the opposite of what is implied by the present sub-section. The present sub-section says:—

"An inquiry by an Advisory Committee shall not be held wholly or partly in public, except with the prior consent in writing of the Minister"

In my view, half the value of these committees will be lost unless their sittings are in public. I believe it is part of the democratic process for this kind of inquiry to be held in public, for the questions to be put in public, for the answers to be heard in public. We are dealing with the factors which lead to unduly high prices. The committee is concerned only with those, and, if prices are unduly high, the public should hear both the type of question asked and the type of justification put forward. I think it a bad principle to say that these inquiries shall take place behind closed doors. I do not suggest that anything wrong would necessarily happen behind the closed doors but justice should not merely be done, but should also appear to be done. Not merely should the inquiry be carried out on correct lines, and correct questions be asked and the full justification given, but it should appear in public to be so done. I feel that an Advisory Committee of this kind sitting in public, as the Prices Advisory Body did on many occasions —but not on sufficient occasions, in my opinion—is far better than a private meeting of the committee, the proceedings of which are not even covered by the Press.

I find myself in agreement with Senator Sheehy Skeffington on this matter. I think, as he said, it would be more democratic that the proceedings of these committees should be held normally in public. The amendment does not rule out the possibility of their being held in private, if that is thought necessary, but normally they should be held in public.

It seems to me that there cannot be any public confidence in the work of these bodies if the proceedings are held in secret, in private. To get public confidence, if it is necessary to hold an inquiry into any price, it would be better that it should normally be done in public and I support the amendment.

It is suggested that the committee should normally do its work in public. I think the very suggestion of a committee involves private deliberation and consideration. One can think of a very large variety of committees which do their work in private. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that it is for the purpose of deliberation, not distracted in any way by undesirable publicity, that committees are set up to deal with important questions.

Apart from that, it is most undesirable that the business of any citizen or incorporated group of citizens should unnecessarily be exposed to the light of a lot of very often undesirable publicity. If the circumstances in any case demand that the public interest can best be served by a public sitting or by an entire public inquiry, the Minister has power so to direct. In the normal practice, it should be—and common sense demands that it should be—conducted in private. The assumption should not be made straight away that the person involved in every one of these inquiries is condemned beforehand and therefore should be exposed to all the publicity which it is possible to give him. The other assumption is the proper one and the affairs of the concern should be examined privately.

There is a better chance of all the facts being elicited by a private inquiry than we could hope for from a public inquiry, in most cases which are likely to come before these Advisory Committees.

The Parliamentary Secretary thinks a person coming before a committee might appear to be "condemned beforehand". I would not share that view. The Parliamentary Secretary himself is here before this House, in Committee, which is sitting in public, and I do not think any of us regard him as being thereby condemned beforehand.

Reputable persons responsible for reputable business can appear before committees and before the Press when they have nothing to hide, and can come out with their heads up. I do not think the fear of "the light of publicity because of possible condemnation" is a sound argument. The amendment would improve the Bill, and improve the functioning of these committees and therefore I wish to press it.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 5.

  • Ahern, Liam.
  • Barry, Anthony.
  • Burke, Denis.
  • Carter, Frank.
  • Carton, Victor.
  • Cole, John C.
  • Colley, Harry.
  • Crowe, Patrick.
  • Donegan, Patrick.
  • Dowdall, Jane.
  • Fitzsimons, Patrick.
  • Hayes, Michael.
  • Hayes, Seán.
  • Hogan, Daniel.
  • Kissane, Éamon.
  • L'Estrange, Gerald.
  • O'Brien, George A.T.
  • O'Callaghan, William.
  • Ó Donnabháin, Seán.
  • Ó Grádaigh, Seán.
  • Ó Maoláin, Tomás.
  • O'Reilly, Patrick.
  • Ó Siochfhradha, Pádraig.
  • O'Sullivan, John L.
  • O'Sullivan, Ted.
  • Roddy, Joseph.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Walsh, Laurence J.


  • Davidson, Mary F.
  • Murphy, Dominick F.
  • O'Leary, Johnny.
  • Sheehy Skeffington, Owen L.
  • Tunney, James.
Tellers:—Tá: Senators Carter and Mrs. Dowdall; Níl: Senators Murphy and Sheehy Skeffington.
Question declared carried.
Question proposed: "That the Second Schedule be the Second Schedule to the Bill."

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what precisely is meant in sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 12 which says: "A witness before an Advisory Committee shall be entitled to the same immunities and privileges as if he were a witness before the High Court." If a witness comes and gives evidence and is subsequently victimised, what kind of protection can be brought into play to see that that victimisation ceases? That is a point I raised on the Second Stage.

Perhaps the Senator could give us a clearer idea as to what he means by the witness being victimised?

A trader appears as a witness in relation to certain price levels, profit margins, arranging of prices, and so on, and gives evidence from his knowledge of his own business, and thereby antagonises certain of his suppliers and subsequent to his giving evidence has supplies cut off. I mean victimisation in that sense. Has the Advisory Committee any power at all to ensure that he will not be commercially victimised by reason of the fact that he has come forward in a public-spirited manner to give evidence about certain factors that led to unduly high prices?

Is the Senator suggesting that, as a result of his giving evidence, the suppliers will now adopt restrictive or unfair trade practices to victimise him?

I take it, in that case, that the powers of the Fair Trade Commission could then be brought into play to protect him.

That might take three or four years. He would be out of business long ago. So this phrase "immunities and privileges" does not apply to the subsequent protection of such a person commercially victimised in this way.

I think the immunities and privileges referred to here possibly are not necessary for the same type of safeguarding of witnesses who give evidence before the Advisory Committee as is the case in respect of hearings in open court. We all know that a witness in court can say things that would be slanderous if he said them outside the court. We know that if it is part of the evidence and if he is answering questions put to him by counsel, he can say things that he could not say outside. That is a simple example of the type of immunity which a witness has. If the Senator visualises a similar situation in relation to the administration of this Act, then these immunities and privileges will also apply to protect the witness.

That seems to mean that many witnesses will be most reluctant to appear before this Advisory Committee, because they would think that it would be wiser to say nothing. "We know that the prices of such-and-such a commodity are artificially kept high, but if we say it openly, we will be victimised later on." This clause about protection amounts to nothing at all in that connection.

Is it not the position that all this evidence that will be heard will be taken in private?

Yes, that is so.

And it will not be known at all outside what evidence was given. Of course, if the previous amendment which the Senator had before the Seanad were accepted, the position would be totally different.

Surely the person whose prices are being inquired into will be present?

Question put and agreed to.
Third Schedule and Preamble agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

With regard to the next stage, what does the Parliamentary Secretary himself desire?

I want to meet the Seanad because it has been borne forcibly home to me that the Seanad does not want any of the stages of any Bill dealt with in a rushed, unsatisfactory and insufficient fashion. I am in agreement with the Seanad there, and it seems to me there is a feeling that there is not going to be a rampage of profiteering next month simply because this Bill will not be in force. For that reason, I am prepared to follow the ordinary course.

Report Stage fixed for Wednesday, 11th December.

Business suspended at 5.55 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.