Tuesday, 20 July 1965
Dáil Eireann Debate
We welcomed this Bill as a delayed effort by the Government to correct a situation which we believed would develop in the autumn of 1963 and which we saw developing over the past 12 to 18 months, during which period the Minister for Industry and Commerce resisted all attempts to introduce any new machinery for price control or, for that matter, to use the machinery that was available to him under the Prices Act, 1958. However, it is a change of heart by the Government. This measure is being introduced because, as the Taoiseach said on behalf of the Government, the situation was such as to warrant new machinery to curb ever-increaslng prices.
 We believe that the Bill with certain amendments can be much more effective than it is in its present form. We believe also that it seems from some of the remarks of the Taoiseach and of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, who spoke here last week, that it may not be the intention to use even the powers embodied in the Prices (Amendment) Bill, 1965. For that reason, I move on behalf of the Labour Party an amendment to section 1 although, of course, the whole Bill is merely one section. We propose a new paragraph to require manufacturers, wholesalers and importers to notify the Minister of any proposed increases in the prices charged by them for their commodities. I think it is necessary that the Minister should have this power because, in the first place, it would be somewhat of a deterrent to those who regulate prices not to do so in any unjust or unfair way. We know how prices have got out of hand in the past 18 months but we are not satisfied that there is a proper awareness within the Department of Industry and Commerce of numerous price increases.
I do not know very much about the machinery the Minister for Industry and Commerce has within his Department for the seeking out of price increases and their notification to him. It does not seem to me that those in the Department of Industry and Commerce have been over-industrious. I do not say they have been negligent, but it seems that price increases do not come to the notice of the Minister for Industry and Commerce until a certain amount of damage has been done. On occasions here in this House we have had to query the Minister by way of parliamentary question about the increase in the price of a certain commodity and in many cases the Minister tells us he has not received any complaints. I am not necessarily referring to the present Minister as he is not long enough in his present office. But, we said to his predecessor for a long time that people who believed they were being overcharged should take out their pens or pencils and write immediately to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. They do not do that. They complain to us, as I am  sure they complain to the members of their own Party, expecting that these price increases will be brought to the notice of the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Government.
I believe, therefore, that there should be an obligation on manufacturers, wholesalers and importers to notify any increases in prices charged for their particular commodities. Somebody might ask why we did not include retailers. I do not think it would be a practical suggestion to ask retailers in every shop in the country to notify price increases, even though it must be conceded in certain instances that prices by retailers have been increased unduly. In any case, the main point is that it takes a long time for price increases to come to the notice of the Minister. If that is not correct, I should like to hear evidence to the contrary.
As far as prices are concerned, we know some of the causes why they increased over the last 12 to 18 months. We concede immediately that the increase in wages must reflect itself to some extent in increases in prices. We recognise also that when the turnover tax was introduced prices increased further so that compensation would be given to manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers for this particular tax. But I think it must be said also that in very many cases when such a tax as the turnover tax is introduced, when there is a round of wage increases, that unfair advantage is taken of these occasions by the application of increases over and above what would normally compensate for such a tax as this and for such a wage round.
Briefly, therefore. I should like to submit on behalf of my Party that the Minister should in section 1 of the Bill take power to require manufacturers, wholesalers and importers to notify him of any increase. After all, this measure has been introduced because the Taoiseach regarded the present situation as somewhat of an emergency. It might be considered to be an unusual stipulation at an ordinary time but if the holding down of prices is so vital, I think a contributory factor in this would be to  insist that the people mentioned in the amendment would notify any price increases to the Minister for Industry and Commerce.
Mr. Donegan: My position in the Opposition in relation to this amendment is in line with our policy document which was issued some time ago when we advocated investigation of prices. I do not feel it would impose hardship on manufacturers or wholesalers to request them to notify the Department of Industry and Commerce of price increases. It means, as Deputy Corish pointed out, that the information is in the Department immediately the price increase starts and it means, in fact, that the sort of prices that were debated in the Taoiseach's Estimate together with the Prices (Amendment) Bill last week could, perhaps, be foreseen and steps could be taken to do something about them. We do not think it is too onerous a task either. A lot of the work of notification of prices could be done through the Wholesalers Association, FUE, and the Federation of Irish Industries.
All these bodies could very easily notify the Department of Industry and Commerce of price increases in their various spheres of operation. These increases do not have to be placarded all over the place to be criticised, perhaps, correctly criticised. They are merely at the behest and for the information of the Minister for Industry and Commerce who can then watch the barometer and see the guide-posts being established so that he can take steps when such steps are necessary to control prices. We on this side of the House support the amendment.
Mr. O'Leary: In regard to the amendment to section 1 on page 3, as Deputy Corish has said, it will be extremely difficult to have any notification at the retail level. It will be quite impossible to have any sort of system in operation regarding price changes at the retail level where lt hits the housewife and where the increased cost is felt almost immediately. It would be impossible to have  any machinery of notification for that level. Therefore, we have suggested that at least at the levels of manufacture, wholesale and import there will be machinery for notification.
We have been accused of being retrospective in our criticism of this Bill but the timing element is essential if a Prices Bill is to be satisfactory. Our main criticism is that the timing was wrong and that the Bill came after the real damage was done. The Government may consider it uncharitable of me to say that one way of looking at this Bill is that it is a figleaf to hide the nakedness and inactivity of the Government in attacking rising prices during the lifetime of the national agreement. This was not without warning from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. There are letters on record from the Congress asking that action be taken immediately. They pointed out that if the prospects of any national agreement were to be salvaged and if such agreement were to be successful as a means of arranging wages in the future, the question of prices must immediately be looked at. These overtures were ignored. We have been asked for our support in the matter of prices. We were told that competition would regulate them. Competition has not been sufficient to regulate prices and we now have this Bill. We would regard it as insincere on our part if we did not try to weigh in and to give this Bill some power. That is why we have brought in these amendments.
We must divide the level of prices, the area of action, that we will take. The Minister will have an Order for prices. We have chosen the base of wholesale, manufacture and import. Quite a weight of the increases that have occurred lie in the agricultural sector. It is obvious that world trends in the price of beef, for example, will have to be taken into account. You will have to have economists to keep an eye on the changes. I think we would have nothing significant to say on prices unless we watched the imports factor very carefully and considered how the economy would be affected by it.
At the wholesale level, we think we  should try to be notified about changes. This would fill out our information about any changes that might be coming in the price structure ahead. If we could introduce almost a screen about prices and pick off any movement in prices over the spectrum between manufacture and imports, and if we could watch the movement in the three areas I have mentioned, it would dispel the mystery of an increase occurring at the retail stage without any prior warning.
Already the price movement of the soap manufacturers is to be seen. They have made overtures in respect of an increase in the price of soap. It is at the wholesale level that the increase will be made and therefore it is of importance that action be taken at that level. Briefly, what we have sought to do was to attack increasing prices at three different points, to have specialised information available at these three points, the only realistic points from which we can have information—the import, wholesale and manufacturing levels. As the House is aware, they have had difficulty in Britain at the level of maintenance resale price on the aspect of governing prices at the manufacturing level. It is something that we here would also want to watch. These are the checkpoints that we suggest should be watched and it is in that spirit that we put them forward on this Bill.
I suggest that it would be weak if specialised information were not available from these three points. It would mean that our Bill lacked the technical information necessary if effective action is to be taken in time before a mysterious increase hits our retail costs when, as at the moment, we begin to work back retrospectively for the origin of the cost increase. Any manufacturer can get a pretty convincing alibi if our investigations begin on a retrospective basis, that is, if we work back from an established fact of a cost increase. Therefore, we suggest that at those points of origin of increase in cost—manufacture, wholesale and import—it should be read into the  Act that there be channels of notification available to use in respect of those changes.
The Minister may answer that, by order, he can conceivably do many of the things here that we should prefer to see spelled out in black and white in the Act — what should be done, rather than the Minister's discretion being the only shield between us and rising prices. In the past, Ministerial discretion and Ministerial action have not been sufficient to ward off increasing prices. It is rather a sorry thing to say that canned fruits, jams and marmalades and a few houses out here in Raheny have been investigated for price increases when the whole economy is tottering with price increases.
Industrial relations are in a turmoil because the cost of living has gone up to an unprecedented degree and there has been no firm action to withstand it. Consequently, the trade unions are put in the position of trying to answer for their members in the present crisis situation. Up and down the country, sections are asking for cost of living increases. The answer, after official questions, is that they must wait for another 12 months for the expiry of the national agreement. The Labour Party have only 22 Deputies and there are Parties in Dáil Éireann larger than a Party of 22 Deputies. It is late in the day. However, we should not be true to our policy unless we backed to the hilt any moves towards getting some form of price control.
Mr. Treacy: I just want to add a word to what my colleagues have said on this matter. The amendment is put down primarily to ensure some form of restraint on those who would contemplate unfair price increases and, in an atmosphere where competition would seem to be non-existent in many spheres of commerce and industrial activity in this country, it is right and proper that a measure of this kind should be adopted. I think the Government have been forced to bring in this measure because at last they have been convinced that competition has not had the effect of keeping prices steady. The facts are that as a result of the admonitions of the Government  in contemplation of our entry into the Common Market very many groups have merged together. In industry and agriculture, we have seen grouping, merging and interlocking—a coming together to enter a Common Market of some 200 million people.
Mr. Treacy: With respect, Sir, I am coming to this question of prices. These groups, rings and cartels have been known to fix prices in this country. Is there not evidence of price fixing in respect of the very staff of life—bread and flour? In respect of petrol, drink, clothing and numerous other items, there is evidence of a lack of competition and the coming together of cliques and groups who determine their prices in advance and foist those prices on the general public. It must be admitted that where competition ceases in such an atmosphere, there is a moral obligation on the Government to intervene.
Mr. Treacy: If the Government are sincere in their wish to restrain price increases, they must accept this amendment, because it is only right and proper that there should be notification. If there is not notification, we will have the same free-for-all and grab-all-you-can atmosphere which we in the Labour Party deplore. In this grab-all-you-can atmosphere social justice cannot be done to any group in our society. That is why this amendment has been tabled by us.
Mr. Mullen: When considering this amendment, we should keep in mind what the Taoiseach said in introducing this Bill. As I understood him, he advocated that everybody should co-operate to ensure we got over this present crisis. We are not submitting this amendment in an attempt to  chastise the Government or the Minister in any way. Rather is it a serious attempt to have price control operated in a positive fashion. There is no use locking the stable door when the horse has gone.
Mr. Mullen: We in the Labour Party, who undoubtedly represent the trade union movement, have been expected to bring about some sort of order in the country, especially in our ranks. Trade unions are often called upon to play their part in overcoming a crisis. We in the trade union movement are a party to the National Wage Agreement. In that agreement, there is provision for notice of intention and provision for the expiration of time within which any further wage increases can be granted. What we are asking here is quite reasonable. We are asking the Minister to arrange that the people who are setting about increasing prices should give notice of their intention. Trade unions must now submit to their respective councils notice of intention that they are going to enter into a trade dispute.
We hold that this amendment is absolutely reasonable and will make this Prices Bill into something positive. If it is not accepted, the people in the trade union movement will not take for granted the intention of the Government in respect of price control. They will want to know for sure that every precaution will be taken to ensure that prices do not rise. Surely it is not unreasonable to require manufacturers, wholesalers and importers to advise the Minister of their intention to increase prices?
There is another good reason for this. The Prices Section in the Minister's Department is a small one. In order to enable the small band of men who will be dealing with this to ensure that if prices are to be increased, the case is made in advance, notice of intention should be given. In the Labour Court workers have to make a case for an increase in wages. In the same way employers should be called on to make a case for an increase in prices.
Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: I do not want to delay the House at this hour on this amendment. I stand up primarily to suggest that this is an amendment on which we should have the Minister's mind. It would be helpful to all sides if the Minister would intervene and let us know if from his point of view, from the administrative point of view and any other point of view, there is any difficulty about the suggestion made here.
As Deputy Donegan pointed out, it does not on the face of it appear to be an onerous requirement. We have suggested this idea of notification, but we have done it in the context of a general prices and incomes policy. If we were satisfied there would be an approach to a general prices and incomes policy which would establish the type of guide post of which Deputy Donegan spoke, then the suggestion put forward in this amendment might be one which could be extremely useful. On the other hand, if it is simply left and so described as a single tooth in a particular Prices Bill its value is to that extent greatly diminished. It seems to me it is a matter about which the Minister and his Department should have very pronounced views, which I would urge on the Minister to give to the House.
Mr. Larkin: The Labour Party tabled this amendment to ensure that manufacturers, wholesalers and importers would notify proposals to increase prices. The Labour Party had a very simple objective in putting it down. The Labour Party supported the Bill on Second Stage and indicated their support of price control machinery and welcomed the belated action of the Government and the Minister on the question of imposing price control.
The Labour Party were not satisfied with a Bill that said the Minister would have power to impose price control or to do this, that or the other thing. We are anxious to see that the measures to bring about price control in the interests of the ordinary citizen will have teeth in them. This amendment is one of the suggestions being made towards that end.
In view of what has happened since  February, 1964, it is quite clear that it is not realistic to think in terms of price control or investigation of price increases weeks and months after prices have been increased. Prices have gone up. While many people have been inclined to place the blame for that on wage and salary increases, let us face the facts. Of the approximate increase in prices of some 11 per cent since the negotiations leading to the ninth round adjustment, not more than two per cent can be attributed to increased wages and salaries. The greater part of the price increases was the result of unilateral decisions to increase prices; some of the increases were the result of the policy of this Government, possibly even of this House; some of them possibly arose as a result of increases in the price of imported raw materials.
No one in these benches would contend that if prices of raw materials, particularly imported raw materials, increase substantially, you can automatically clamp down on prices. We are concerned with the fact that prices have gone up and are still going up. We are concerned to ensure that if the Minister and the Government, in introducing this measure, are sincerely anxious to do something constructive about the matter, they should get the support and help of the House. The amendment is primarily for the purpose of ensuring that the Minister for Industry and Commerce will have the necessary information. The responsibility would be put on manufacturers, wholesalers and importers to notify the Minister of their intentions so that remedial measures may be taken at an early stage, so that investigation may take place at an early stage and so that decisions would not be taken weeks or months subsequent to the higher prices being charged in the shops, as has been the pattern so far, particularly in the past few months. Week after week, increased prices appeared in the shops. The housewives, whether in urban areas, city areas or rural areas, were faced with that position at weekends. The suggestion has been that workers, in securing wage and salary increases,  are responsible. The responsibility is not theirs.
We think this is an amendment which should recommend itself to the Minister. At least, the Minister should indicate here that he accepts the principle of the amendment. If there is a question of some administrative difficulty, certainly he will get support from all sides of the House and will be given whatever assistance is necessary to make the amendment effective. If manufacturers and, in particular, importers, pass on increased prices without comment, without report, without information, then the eventual sufferers, the ordinary citizens with families, will not get the protection this Bill should give them.
Mr. Donegan: I rise before the Minister intervenes merely to say that I should like to clarify for the second time the position of this Party and to say that price control was in our policy, that it was announced before the election. If Deputy O'Leary will not mind my saying so, I do not know of any better time to make an announcement than before an election. I do not make any apology for that particular decision. It is in friendly fashion that I am saying this.
The position is that we on this side of the House are supporting this amendment for that reason. We are not suggesting that profits have been excessive or that prices have been raised excessively over the past six or 12 months.
Mr. Donegan: I do not want to get into an argument as to whether or not they did. We are merely saying that this is not an onerous duty. Associations could very easily notify these prices. It would mean that prior information would always be available to the Minister. This is the only reason we are doing it. We are not being flamboyant or extravagant about it. We are not exaggerating. We merely think it is an ordinary business step that should be taken in the Oireachtas  and does not call for any extravagant statements or suggestions that there have been any excessive prices. I am not saying that anybody has done this. I am merely trying to get it across that we are supporting the amendment for that reason.
Mr. James Tully: I am glad the Deputy thinks it is OK. We have introduced the amendment because we believe that unless it is carried and incorporated in the Bill, there will continue to be excessive prices and we believe excessive prices need not have taken place if a Bill with such a section as is suggested in the amendment had been introduced.
As to the question of when it became policy, it has always been Labour policy to keep prices down to a reasonable level, and if Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil like to borrow that policy for the occasion of a general election, then they are welcome to it and I am glad they are sufficiently consistent to support it when an amendment like this comes before the House.
Dr. O'Connell: In introducing this amendment, the Labour Party are conscious of the price increases that have taken place. They are introducing the amendment to help the Minister in his efforts to ensure proper price control. We cannot rely on competition to  ensure that normal prices will prevail because competition will not do that, having regard to restrictive trade practices and the combines which under different names introduce the same products.
The Minister's Department could not hope to look into every price increase. While the Minister would be investigating one price increase, other insidious price increases would take place unknown to him. In fact, this Bill would leave the onus on the public to notify the Department of increases. This, the public will not do because they have come to accept price increases. It would be wrong and unfair to ask the public to notify the Department of every price increase.
We offer this amendment as a measure to help the Government and the Minister in their efforts to curb price increases. We think that, if accepted, it will ensure a proper Prices Bill and satisfaction among the public and that it will take a load from the Department by having every price increase notified, so that they can be investigated before the increases can take effect. If the Minister would support this, it is our view that the public would feel it was a test of his sincerity in ensuring the success of the Prices Bill and would be satisfied.
Minister for Industry and Commerce (Dr. Hillery): When I saw this amendment first, I studied it because I thought it attempted to achieve completeness in the powers which the Government might give me. However, we must try to visualise what will happen in the circumstances of attempting to control prices. As far as I can see the future, such a general notification requirement would cause chaos. It would hamstring traders, wholesalers and importers who have seasonal variations in their prices and variations in relation to sales promotion. As well as that, it would mean that all the resources I have to deal with this prices position could be swamped in routine notifications.
I seek in this Bill fairly wide powers. The alternative to accepting this amendment is not, as suggested by some Deputies, not having an effective  Bill. One of the powers I seek is to be able to say: “Stand still; there will be no price increase.” I am seeking powers to be able to make a swift examination at all levels and to make an order affecting prices at the various levels. I also seek power to establish bodies to advise me and to extend the powers, which are limited in the main Act, of the advisory committees.
If I could explain my reluctance to accept this amendment, apart from the fact that it would cause chaos and tie up some of my resources, it is also based on the fact that in the powers I seek, there would be flexibility which would make the Minister's activities much more effective. I visualise, as soon as I do get authority, an immediate investigation by me of the distribution costs, say, of potatoes and meat. At the same time, I would set up a body which would advise me on the other commodities which should be investigated. In this way all the resources we have—and I think members of the House realise how difficult it will be to implement price control— will be directed by these bodies, public bodies from various sections of the community, to commodities affecting the public and affecting the cost of living.
I can see the idea behind this amendment as making for completeness but I can see it causing confusion. The alternative, flexible way of achieving price control by attacking over a narrow front with limited resources, which must of necessity be limited, will be much more effective in the long run.
Mr. Corish: The Minister said that at first glance he thought this amendment would complete the Bill. Of course, he had to look for flaws. Naturally he will find flaws. If the amendment were to operate in the strict sense which the Minister has described, there could be chaos. This is a Bill that has to operate, according to section 22A (1): “Whenever and so often as the Government are satisfied that the condition of the national economy is such that it is necessary to maintain stability... the Government may by order....” The Minister has  pretty wide powers here which beyond doubt could cause chaos if they were used indiscriminately
The Minister is missing a very important point. We are giving the Minister certain powers here. All his powers are discretionary. We only ask this, that he will by order direct in respect of certain commodities that where there are to be price increases, these increases be notified. The Minister's argument is that he would be required to make an order compelling notification in respect of every single item handled by an importer or wholesaler or made by a manufacturer. We want to give the Minister this power in respect of what are normally regarded as essential commodities, essential foodstuffs, essential articles of clothing. We are giving the Minister this discretionary power and I suggest that if he does accept the amendment, he will not cause chaos or hamstring himself. He will have some discretionary power which is given to him by a Government order to inquire into cases of price increases which he considers to be excessive. In page 3 he may require people to do certain things, to furnish information, books, accounts, and so on. It could be said that those powers could cause chaos if he required them in respect of every single commodity. What the Minister would be getting by this amendment would be power to require those who intend to increase the price of certain commodities to notify the Department of Industry and Commerce.
Mr. Donegan: The only suggestion the Minister made that seemed to make sense to me in regard to this amendment was that there were certain commodities which had a seasonal change in price. One can think of fruit importers who would have higher prices at certain times of the year. This would make the Department's duty a little more onerous but still it could be done. However, if the amendment were accepted, it would have to be rephrased on Report Stage because the Minister mentioned meat and this item would not be fully covered by this amendment as it stands. Meat generally in this country comes from  cattle bought live from the farmer and killed in the butcher's establishment or at a public abattoir and sold direct to the housewife by the person who bought it from the farmer. Therefore, that is something that would get through the Labour Party amendment net. It could be rephrased on Report Stage; it is merely a defect in drafting. The Minister has not produced any real case as to why he should not accept this amendment.
Mr. Cluskey: I was somewhat amazed at the Minister's intervention when he said he was reluctant to accept the amendment on the basis that it might cause chaos. The logical conclusion to that is that the Minister must be expecting to be inundated with increases in the next six or 12 months. This also brought back to my mind what we in the Labour benches said when the Bill was first introduced by the Minister, that is, that we wondered how sincere were Fianna Fáil in regard to price control. We find it very hard to believe they are sincere in face of the statements which were made some very few months prior to the introduction of this Bill, that they did not believe it either necessary or desirable to introduce price control, and then within a short time they found it both necessary and desirable to introduce some sort of price control.
We were very suspicious as to what motivated Fianna Fáil in doing this. However, we are prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt and to accept even at this late stage something we had advocated over many years. We are very glad to see the conversion, or apparent conversion, of Fianna Fáil to the necessity for and the desirability of price control. However, when we go through the Bill, we find there are certain defects which could be rectified by accepting this amendment. We find, however, a reluctance on the part of the Government to accept the amendment.
All we ask is that, if a manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, exporter or importer wants to increase his prices, he should notify the Department of his intention. Surely that is not an unreasonable request? If the Minister is really serious about keeping an eye  on prices and if, as he stated in his intervention a few moments ago, he has not enough staff at his disposal to do even the routine work in which keeping an eye on prices will involve him, surely the intelligent approach in those circumstances is to put the onus of notification of intention to increase prices on those who intend to make the increases. In that way the Minister will be aware beforehand that such and such an increase is intended. Surely that is desirable, if the Minister is sincere about his desire to control prices?
We believe, too, that price notification of intention would act as a deterrent in the case of those who might otherwise try to get away with an enhanced price here and there. If onus of notification is placed on them, together with justification ultimately of the intended increase, that will work as a deterrent in relation to those who might make an increase and reap the benefit of that increase over a period of, perhaps, several months before the Minister became aware that an increase had taken place. Surely, if the Government and the Minister are sincere about price control, they will accept this amendment, an amendment which will make price control practicable?
Mr. O'Leary: The Minister is, I am sure, sincere when he says his resources at the moment would make it difficult for him to take on this task with regard to notification. Far be it from us to say we should employ a few more civil servants but, if that is what is called for in this instance, then let us have a few more civil servants so that this particular part of this Bill can be implemented.
I do not think the Minister is correct in thinking this would tie up either his Department or the tribunal in useless work of duplication and notification of routine and unimportant price increases. The fact is that, in process of time, following the implementation of the section, it should be possible to see a pattern emerging in regard to notification. Those employed in the particular section would become well acquainted with the pattern of price  increases and their notification. A seasonal pattern would emerge. After a little experience, it would be found that price increases were not an isolated or unique phenomenon occurring without relation to other common factors. A connection would be found and the pattern of increases could be plotted.
The Minister can banish from his mind any idea of people tied up in unique occurrences quite unrelated to one another in regard to prices. He would find a pattern emerging. With a little experience in operation, he would find, I think, that the situation would not prove as chaotic as he seems to imagine. The fact is we regard the present proposal as a little too loose and that is why we hold some attempt at notification is essential. It is not as if the situation were such that nothing required to be done at the moment. Quite obviously, there is a crisis and it is because of that crisis that we have this Bill before the House now—too late, we maintain—and the purpose of our amendment is to give strength to the Bill. We believe it would have the effect of eliminating increases that owe no part of their origin to economic factors. No time would be wasted in investigating price increases that had no economic basis because any individual who might mistakenly think he could get away with something would be compelled by law to notify the Department of any intended increase. This would have a psychological effect.
Mr. O'Leary: The supermarts are there. I know Fine Gael agricultural policy is a bit out of date, but the fact is the wholesalers are there and notification at that level would, as I say, have an effect. In any case, should there be some really big increase, then the Minister could invoke the powers he is seeking elsewhere in the Bill.
We regard this amendment as important. It is not, perhaps, as perfect  as we should like it to be but we believe the Minister should seriously consider it. We do not think its acceptance should involve any great increase in personnel. Neither do we believe that the Minister would have to have a statutory provision for notification of price increases.
Mr. Corry: To be honest about it, I think the amendment would be a help. I am talking frankly now and as one who has gone through the mill. I should like CIE to be compelled to notify any increase in their charges and state the justification for it. I should also like the Goulding monopoly to be compelled to notify increases and the justification for them. I should like some tribunal other than the joke before which I spent four days making a case, when everything had been cut and dried and we knew beforehand what the decision would be. These are the things that affect the prices of the ordinary commodities people have to buy. When we try to pass on the increase—I am speaking here for the agricultural community—in the commodity we are selling, we find we have to take strike action in order to extract it, or some portion of it.
That was the position last year. We found there was a very firm decision when it came to an increase in the price of sugar. There was a very firm block there. There would be no increase in the price of sugar. The farmers were concerned there: no increase in the price of sugar. We have seen the effect of that kind of action on two or three occasions before. We saw it in operation when Deputy Dillon was Minister for Agriculture and Mr. Dan Morrissey, Minister for Industry and Commerce, and we saw the result of it and we shall see the result of it during the next six months. It is very easy to cut down the acreage as far as the farmer is concerned. Farmers were in the position that when they had their bargain made on price, they were notified a month afterwards by CIE that there was an increase in transport prices. That notification should be given in time  for the Department of Industry and Commerce to investigate it and to ascertain the position. Last year, after the price of beet had been fixed, we were notified by CIE of an increase in price and then we got a similar notification from the Goulding monopoly of an increase in the price of fertiliser. The cure found is to cut the farmer's production and increase the adverse trade balance by imports of foreign sugar. Deputy Dillon tried that and got in an extra 75,000 tons of foreign sugar in one year. The present move will have the same result.
Mr. Corry: And I am dealing with the point that notification should be given. There is no stronger argument than what I have made, particularly in regard to CIE. Last month we asked CIE to quote in regard to transport of peas to our Midleton factory. We got a price from them and then we got a quotation for 15 per cent less from Cork Transport and then East Cork Hauliers quoted a price ten per cent less which meant there was a 25 per cent difference between the CIE quotation for the job and the East Cork Hauliers' quotation.
Mr. Corry: Are we to have a notification from the monopoly that has the sole right to supply fertiliser? Are we to have notification of increases from them? Is that contained in this amendment or not?
Mr. Corry: Those are the people I want to see hauled over the coals and I also want to see the CIE monopoly hauled over the coals and straightened out. I cannot understand why one body of hauliers can do a job for 25 per cent less than the State-subsidised body. Those are the reasons why I think the Minister should have another look at this amendment.
Mr. Mullen: Listening to the Minister's interventions. I am somewhat puzzled and I should like him to explain, if he can, how what we are suggesting would interfere with bringing about a proper Prices Bill. We are suggesting order in the place of chaos. A chaotic situation exists at present regarding prices. Deputy Corry referred to bargains being made. One thing we must bear in mind in thinking of prices is the idea of conforming to the people's wishes. We must remember that a bargain was made by way of national agreement which provided for an increase in wages for working people at a time when the cost of living stood at a particular figure and we must bear in mind that since that national agreement was reached the cost of living has gone up by 11 points.
Mr. Mullen: We want a positive Prices Bill. This is the real reason for this amendment. We want satisfactory price control. We see no reason why the employers should not be called on to make a case for price increases as the workers are called on to make a case for wage increases. Both sides should be required to give notice of intention. The workers must do it and the employers should be made do it.
I should also like the Minister to say how he intends to operate this measure and how our amendment would inhibit its operation. Does he intend to increase his staff and, if so,  to what extent? What will be the action taken when complaints are made? Who will make them? Will officials go out from the Department to ascertain whether prices have been slyly put up? We are entitled to have answers to these questions because we are quite sincere in advocating teeth for the Bill and we submit that if these provisions are not put into the Bill, it will be simply a cod. We are not attempting to chastise the Minister or the Government but I appeal to the Minister not to resist this amendment just for the sake of argument or simply because it comes from the Labour Party. This is an obvious amendment in which we are seeking to put into practice what we have been preaching about curbing prices. I see nothing wrong with it. I should like the Minister to explain how it would not be possible to operate it because he has not done so in his interventions and he must do so if we in the trade union movement are going to sell this scheme and hold the line.
Mr. N. Lemass: Deputy Mullen has made it clear that in the trade union movement, not only is a trade union required by Congress and the Dublin Council of Trade Unions—should that trade union be situated in the Dublin area—to give seven days' notice of strike but it must also furnish to the proper body, such as the Dublin Council of Trade Unions or Congress, seven days' notice of intention to strike. This is a very good thing because it enables the various people on both sides of industry to get together and try to prevent industrial upset. In this regard the Labour Party amendment shows its weakness because there is no reference to time of notice in it. If this amendment is accepted by the Minister, he will be in no better position——
I suggest that the intention in the  amendment is not clear, as far as I can read it. I agree that the intention is probably most desirable but I submit that this intention is dealt with favourably in the Bill. Through the dropping of a word I had pointed out that section such-and-such, relating to contracts, eliminated any question of retrospection and I was taken to task because my sentence did not come over as it might have done. At the same time, it is provided in the Bill that if a price increase takes place, the Minister can forthwith instruct the manufecturer, retailer, wholesaler or distributor to revert to the price that was in operation before his intervention.
Mr. N. Lemass: May I suggest to the members of the Labour Party, and I do not want to be antagonistic in any way, because, unlike some of them, I am an active trade unionist, that a prices advisory council was set up by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, and as far as I know the sister of one of the Deputies over there was on it, and it reported that nobody turned up to attend. If the Dublin Trade Union Council and the trade unions are genuine——
Mr. N. Lemass: Even outside the trade union movement, there are associations such as the Countrywomen's Association and other associations, all of which keep a very keen eye on the movement of prices and the suggestion that I am making is that this Bill covers the situation where a price is raised, as the Minister can have the former price reverted to, that is, the price operating before he decided to have the investigation.
Dr. Hillery: Deputy Mullen wanted me to make my objection to this amendment clearer. Having listened to Deputy Corish, I see the light better now. When I spoke first, I was objecting to having this power to make a blanket order on everybody that they should notify an intended increase. Deputy Corish said that what he intended was that in regard to certain commodities, this power should be enforced in order to prevent rises in the cost of these commodities. I have a stronger power as visualised in the context of economic necessity over a short period for selective action over a range of commodities affecting the cost of living. I can order a standstill on prices; not just to instruct people to tell me when they raise them but I can order a standstill so that there will be no increase, whether they tell me or not.
Dr. Hillery: I have not got this power now. The power in the Bill is greater than the power being offered in the amendment. There is a flaw in the amendment in that it does leave out the retailer. This is a big gap. I think the power to have a standstill——
Mr. Donegan: The Minister has made a fair defence, that he has this blanket power. It is something quite different from the amendment. It is a blanket power which has nothing to do with prior notification of price increases. This notification was meant, from our side of the House, to ensure that the full information before the event happened would be available to the Minister. We felt that would be a good thing. If we are to end up with a prices and incomes policy and a wages policy, intertwined between the two, then surely we should be in a position to know about increases in prices, if not before they happen, at least immediately they happen?
I know that the Minister through the operations of the Statistics Department, in the production of the Consumer Price Index, has quite a lot of information but I think he would agree that a lot of it is hindsight,  information that is available some time after events have occurred. This prior notification would ensure that the Minister would have the information immediately it was necessary for him to have it and place him in the position that if he felt it was necessary to impose the blanket order, he could do it at the right time. We on this side of the House are supporting this in the most measured way, not with the feeling that there have been unjust increases in prices but because we feel it would help the Minister and make the Bill more complete.
Dr. O'Connell: Obviously the Minister has made up his mind that he will not accept this amendment. The Taoiseach has asked for the co-operation of the entire country and that includes the manufacturers. The manufacturers would be most anxious to co-operate with the Minister in notifying him of price increases. The blanket order might perhaps include justifiable increases and prevent these from taking place but the Minister knows that there may be unjustifiable ones. In the other way, companies proposing increases notify the Minister. The onus would be on them. It would be a measure of their co-operation with the Minister and would save unnecessary work. I cannot see how it would cause chaos in the Department; it would cause chaos in the country if you let it reach the stage where inspectors went around the country looking haphazardly for increases. There is no predetermined measure to seek out any price increases but there is a very vast range of products which they would have to look into. This amendment would ensure the Minister receiving notification immediately any increase was proposed.
|Last Updated: 15/09/2010 11:26:06||Page of 28|