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.