Consumer Information Bill, 1976: Second Stage.

Wednesday, 20 October 1976

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 293 No. 1

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Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Bruton): Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

The object of the Bill is to improve the protection given to consumers in the Merchandise Marks Acts, 1887 to 1970, by widening the definition and scope of trade descriptions to suit modern circumstances; by forbidding other misleading statements about goods and about services; by providing that advertisements are trade descriptions; by including power to require disclosure in advertisements of information necessary for consumers, and to assign meanings to terms used in advertisements and by setting up a director of consumer affairs with certain regulatory and enforcement powers.

Consumer protection is not new; indeed, its origins are very ancient. The beginning of modern consumer protection may be placed round about one hundred years ago with statutes such as the Weights and Measures Acts, the Merchandise Marks Acts. the Sale of Goods Act, the Food and Drugs Act and other similar enactments. These Acts contained much which is valuable today, but were of course devised to suit the circumstances of that era. For instance, the Weights and Measures Acts were related to a time when goods were weighed out in the shop and not prepacked, and the Merchandise Marks Acts did not visualise the application of trade descriptions in advertising, and not on television or radio. Even though these laws were supplemented and revised in 1928, 1931, 1936 and 1970 and new laws added, such as the Hire Purchase Act, 1946, and Restrictive Practices Act, 1953, and so on, they now are in need of considerable revision to meet the needs of today. [61] We live in a time of the widest consumer choice, attractive packaging, and artificial differentiation of products that are essentially the same. As the links in the chain between producer and consumer become more and more numerous, redress for the consumer becomes more complicated.

The need for up-dating and extending the different codes of law providing protection for consumers has long been recognised. A start was made with the Merchandise Marks Act, 1970, under which effective provision has been made for requiring quantities to be marked on a wide range of pre-packed goods, many of which are required in addition to be packed in prescribed sizes. In 1972 the National Prices Commission were asked to make an in-depth survey of the remaining areas where new legislation was required, and this led to the Whincup report, published on 1st October, 1973. With the establishment of the National Consumer Advisory Council this task was transferred at the end of 1973, and the council made their report to the Minister in December, 1974. It was published in February, 1975, and comments on the report were invited by the Minister not later than 30th June, 1975. The views of all interests on these were sought by press advertisement and these have been taken into account. The NCAC recommendations dealt with the subject under four separate headings and the present Bill is related only to the first heading, that is, deceptive trade practices. A second measure will be ready shortly dealing with contract terms, guarantees, warranties and so forth, that is, the field covered by the Sale of Goods Act, 1893, and work on further measures, in particular a Consumer Credit Bill, is well advanced. I may perhaps mention here that our programme of consumer protection legislation is closely in line with that contained in the consumer protection and information programme adopted by the EEC in April, 1975.

I would not like to let this occasion pass without paying a well-deserved tribute to the chairman and members of the National Consumer Advisory Council for their very painstaking work which has provided a most [62] valuable guide to the changes in the law which are most urgently necessary.

This Bill might be said to deal with all forms of information-giving to consumers, whether by printing on packs, notices in shops, brochures, leaflets, word-of-mouth, radio or television advertising. Its provisions are intended to ensure that all such information is neither false nor misleading, and also that essential information will not be withheld.

The notion of a “trade description”, introduced in the 1887 Act, was of a statement about goods which, on pain of prosecution, must be true. Only certain limited categories of statements were comprehended by the earlier Acts, so that while it was an offence to make an untrue statement about, for instance, the weight of an article, it was not an offence to claim falsely that it complied with a particular standard. The new Bill will remedy this by bringing within the concept of trade description virtually all kinds of statements about goods which might influence a purchaser. Trade descriptions will now comprehend statements about such matters as processing or reconditioning, fitness for purpose, compliance with a standard or test, and the standing or commercial importance of the supplier or manufacturer. A further gap is to be closed by prohibiting misleading as well as actually false statements.

There is a third general respect in which the application of the Acts to goods is being widened. The 1887 trade description had to be physically on, with or near the goods, but this Bill provides that information given by word of mouth or contained in an advertisement or in fact given in any way may be a trade description and subject to the same requirements of truth and accuracy as if it were physically attached to the goods.

One of the most controversial areas of misleading information in recent years has been in the field of price indications. These may be implied, or may be direct comparisons with former prices, normal prices, the price elsewhere, and so forth. The Bill makes it an offence to give a false or misleading indication as to the price [63] at which goods or services have been or are being offered or for which they can be obtained elsewhere, or the recommended price or the full price which will have to be paid. I expect that this measure will end the confusion and annoyance frequently occasioned by the “4p off” phenomenon.

Another provision which I might particularly mention is the power the Bill would give to a person to seek from the courts an order prohibiting the continued publication of a particular advertisement. This was in fact recommended explicitly by the NCAC, and I am aware that their recommendation has been a cause of some anxiety to the advertising industry. After very careful consideration, I have concluded that the inclusion of this provision is called for. What the Bill in general provides for is penalties for a variety of breaches of the law after these breaches have occurred; and while it is true to say that the fear of these penalties is a powerful reason why the breaches should not occur in the first place, this reasoning cannot always be relied on. I could not accept the position that a series of seriously misleading advertisements should continue to run with no power to stop them other than the threat that at some future date the person responsible would be prosecuted, always supposing he had not left the country.

I am satisfied that the provision in the Bill is called for, and equally I am confident that we can rely on our courts to see that it is not abused by frivolous or unjustified applications. As a safeguard against this, I have provided in the Bill that where in such proceedings the High Court requires an undertaking as to damages, this may include lodgment of money in court. I consider however that it is a valuable feature of the Bill that private citizens, as well as the director of consumer affairs, should have this possibility of court action to stop advertising which is causing or is likely to cause damage or loss. The citizen thus has a part to play in enforcement and the whole burden and cost will not fall entirely on the public authority.

[64] I believe that responsible advertisers have much to gain from the guarantees provided in this. They will be free of any danger of unfair competition by less scrupulous colleagues making misleading claims. I would like to pay a tribute to what the advertising industry itself has already done to protect the public from irresponsible advertising. Through the code of advertising standards for Ireland the advertisers, the agencies and the media have exercised a very valuable control, often of a kind which could not be exercised by legislation alone. I am sure that this form of self-discipline by the industry will continue, supplementing the controls in the Bill which will now underwrite it. Indeed the provision in the Bill whereby the director of consumer affairs can assist with the drawing up of voluntary codes and can approve codes is an earnest of my wish that codes should be fostered.

A further important feature of the Bill is the power to make orders requiring that specified information be included in advertisements in the interests of the consumer. This is necessary for cases where the omission of some essential information in an advertisement could make it misleading. It will also help in dealing with another field where complaints have been arising, for example, promotional contests. These very often do not disclose the full facts and in particular the results. I intend to use this power to ensure more frank and full information in relation to that form of promotion. Because words or expressions of imprecise meaning which yet have a ring or imputation of real or intrinsic value and worth are often used with little or no justification in relation to products, the Minister is also empowered to assign by order particular meanings to expressions commonly used in relation to goods and services to ensure that consumers are not misled by deceptive or vague descriptions.

Similarly, he may require by order that certain goods be marked with or accompanied by specified information or instructions where he feels that this is necessary in the consumers' interest. The power of making orders which is [65] conferred on the Minister is subject to his giving notice of the making of the order and consulting with interested parties. Furthermore, the approval of the draft order by both Houses of the Oireachtas is necessary.

I think I should also say a few words about trade description applied by oral statements. It may be thought that it is going too far to expose traders to the risks of action for statements made by their employees which would amount to trade descriptions. So much use is made of oral description and so much weight attached to it when buying, that it would be quite impossible for me not to include this form of trade description in the Bill. It seems reasonable to me that traders and shopkeepers should have a responsibility for trade descriptions given orally by their employees. It is intended that legal proceedings under the Act will be taken with discretion and where the circumstances warrant them. I do not envisage that traders will be harassed by the enforcement inspectors for trivial breaches where the degree of loss or damage which might have been caused by inadvertant misdescription was negligible.

Possibly the greatest single deficiency of the Merchandise Marks Acts is that they relate only to goods and make no provision for protecting the consumer against the dishonest advertising or promotion of services. Services are an area where consumers can be misled in the same way as with goods, and they are if anything even more dependent on the supplier's descriptions and representations. The Bill accordingly prohibits the fraudulent and negligent making of statements relating to services, facilities and accommodation. The relevant sections necessarily differ in detail from those dealing with descriptions of goods, but the general aim is to apply the same rules, mutatis mutandis, to statements by advertisement or otherwise, about services as about goods.

The area of consumer protection is one which is marked by continual development of new areas of study and calls for public regulation. This is a reflection of the dynamic character of marketing and product [66] development which, however, described from the point of view of business, contains the possibility of new forms of manipulation to which the consumer may not be alert. Potential for economic loss or damage to the consumer should be under surveillance and capable of being influenced as much as ex post facto sanctions for damage or loss caused. To help to rectify this possible danger, I propose to create with this Bill the office of Director of Consumer Affairs who would be an officer of my Department charged with keeping developments in trade descriptions and advertising under review in the in-interests of the consumer, requesting the cessation of prejudicial practices, seeking injunctions where necessary and promoting the adoption of codes of good practice by business groups. The Bill also provides for officers to be authorised by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to enforce the provisions of this Bill, generally, and to assist the director.

Considerable representation has been made to me that the value of any consumer protection legislation lies in effective enforcement. It is my intention and I have already put work in train on this, to have a unified weights and measures—prices inspectorate with officers authorised to carry out the measure proposed in this and other consumer protection legislation. My first reactions are that this should be a single centralised inspectorate, under the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and regionally located. These officers will be trained to carry out their duties under the weights and measures and consumer protection law and to do this with discretion, consideration for the practice of business as it is carried on day to day, but with regard to the provisions of the law for the prevention of loss due to fraud or deception. There are other duties which I envisage these inspectors will cover such as the enforcement of the safety of electrical goods under the low voltage electrical equipment regulations, safety standard for children's nightwear, toys and so on, prescribed sizes and quantity marking of goods, food standards, and so on. I think I can [67] say that the bringing together of inspectorate duties in the way I propose will keep this force within existing proportions and should not involve greatly increased numbers and costs, if any. I envisage that this inspectorate, while being an officer of the Minister and acting for him and taking prosecutions in his name, will be able to assist the director in similar way in carrying out his functions.

There are probably goods on the shelves or in the stores of distributors which were bought by them in good faith, but which might be held, on a strict interpretation of the new provisions, not to measure up fully to the new requirements. I think it would be harsh to leave distributors at a loss in relation to such goods which they accepted as goods freely circulating on the market, and that it would be reasonable to allow a short period to adjust to the new requirements. I will be open to suggestions on this point.

The Bill does seek to restore a balance which has titled somewhat against the consumer. I re-emphasise, however, that it also protects honest traders from their less scrupulous competitors. It also provides adequate defences for mistakes, accident and so forth and makes special provision for those who merely publish advertisements. Indeed, in referring to traders and manufacturers I would like to take the opportunity of paying tribute to those who are participating in the Guaranteed Irish Scheme.

This Bill is part of a general policy of consumer protection which could be said to contain three basic elements:

—ensuring that the consumer gets truthful information;

—ensuring that the consumer gets more, and more relevant information and,

—strengthening the consumer's position in the market place.

The first two elements are contained in this Bill and in improvements in price display provisions which are also in hand. The third will be a major preoccupation of later legislation to [68] modernise the Sale of Goods Act, to cover services as well as goods, consumer credit and restrictive practices legislation. The overall objective of the policy is to enable the consumer to play a more equal and effective role with the producer and distributor, in an expanding competitive economy.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  As we have only had this Bill a few days I do not propose to go into it at great detail at this stage. Essentially it is a Committee Stage Bill and there are many sections in it which will have to be teased out at some length and in great detail. After two or three readings of the Bill the effect of some of the sections is not clear and I do not think they are fully explained in the explanatory memorandum. There is an obvious need for new legislation in consumer protection. One can classify consumer protection either in the three categories announced by the Parliamentary Secretary or in the four categories which the National Consumer Advisory Council set out in their report in February, 1975. Whichever way one does this I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that the least urgent field of all is the one he is dealing with now. One of the reasons is that there was substantial amendment and updating of the Merchandise Marks Acts in 1970 but there was no substantial updating in a number of the other fields.

I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that with all possible haste he should produce legislation to amend and bring into line with modern reality the Sale of Goods Act, 1893, which is totally out of date so far as modern commercial practices are concerned and which puts the consumer at a considerably greater disadvantage than the producer or seller. It has him at a far greater disadvantage vis-á-vis his opposite number than the Legislature in 1893 could ever have contemplated.

I am glad to learn from the Parliamentary Secretary that the next Bill proposes to deal with that. The proper order of priority would have been to produce that Bill first. How long the other Bill will take I do not know—it may be a month or very much longer. [69] I say with confidence that the need to amend the Sale of Goods Act, 1893, is more urgent than any other single factor in consumer protection. Most of our commercial law of which the Sale of Goods Act, 1893 is a major plank emanates from the nineteenth century when commercial practices were quite different to what they are now. Then international trade was only a small fraction of the rate at which it is now carried on and the whole basis of trade was very different to what is commonplace today.

The other field in which there is grave urgency so far as consumer protection is concerned is not in the area covered by this Bill but in that of consumer credit control. In spite of the fact that we had Hire Purchase Acts in 1946 and 1960, that field has changed immensely in recent years. The consumer is at a very considerable disadvantage today because of the restrictions on the rights of owners or sellers of goods imposed by those Acts. It is now frequently the practice to have forms of credit sales which are not credit sales as defined in the Hire Purchase Acts but involve the provision of credit to small purchasers, people who are not well off and can afford to buy most of their goods only by weekly instalments.

At the moment, in order to circumvent the restrictions imposed by the Oireachtas in the Hire Purchase Acts, 1946 and 1960, the method by which credit is being made available to persons who wish to purchase by weekly or other small instalments does not come within the terms of those Acts either as a hire purchase or credit sales agreement. The result is that, as has been pointed out by the National Consumer Advisory Council, the rate of interest frequently charged these people, even though they do not realise it, is astronomical. The figures are provided for them in such a way that they are not capable of working out the true rate of interest, which is often as high as 40 per cent. If a businessman was asked to pay 40 per cent interest, I know what his reaction would be. It is the unfortunate small person who is spending, perhaps, £50 and repaying it over 12 months or so who is forced [70] into the position that whether he likes it or not he has to pay exorbitant rates of interest of which the figure I mentioned is not unusual. There is tremendous need, therefore, for legislation governing that aspect of consumer protection because the consumer is more unprotected in that sphere than anywhere else.

This Bill is welcome in so far as it continues the process which was started in 1972 in modernising the Merchandise Marks Acts. I do not think the abuses which this Bill sets out to remedy—and I am in agreement naturally with its efforts in principle to remedy these abuses—are either as widespread or as serious as the abuses are in relation to consumer credit or as the difficulties encountered by many consumers under the Sale of Goods Act, 1893, where their rights as against the seller have, by a passage of time, become almost non-existent and where people frequently find themselves in the position, even though they have bought patently defective goods, that they are unable to obtain satisfaction.

On Committee Stage this party will have many suggestions of detail and amendments to many of these sections and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will have an open mind in relation to them. I foresee a number of difficulties here. In certain instances the Parliamentary Secretary has not gone far enough and in others he may have gone too far. I hope in the course of reasonable discussions on amendments that we might be able to improve the Bill in this respect.

I would like to make a number of general points on the general approach to the Bill without going into matters of great detail. The first point I want to deal with is the fact that all the offences created in this Bill are criminal offences. What is envisaged here by way of enforcement of the Bill is the taking of a prosecution by the Minister or one of his authorised agents against somebody who uses a false trade description or publishes false or misleading statements or advertisements regarding the goods or services he is going to supply. The person who suffers the actual loss as a [71] result of these false statements is not catered for in this Bill. I suggest that this is a great weakness of the Bill. It is no satisfaction to the individual who has suffered the loss that the man who gave a false description was brought to court and prosecuted by the Minister and fined if, at the same time, no provision is made in the Bill to compensate the individual or individuals who suffered pecuniary loss.

The fact of prosecuting the trader or advertiser concerned and getting him convicted and fined may drive him into a position that he has no hope of compensating the individual concerned because the publicity may put him out of business. It may be no harm, from the point of view of benefit to the general public, to have him put out of business but it is great harm from the point of view of the individual or limited number of individuals who were affected injuriously by his false statements, misleading advertisements, false trade descriptions or whatever.

I suggest very strongly that in accordance with the normal practice on the Continent of Europe and in accordance with recent British legislative practice, as set out in the Criminal Justice Act, 1972, and the Criminal Court Act, 1973, when a prosecution for one of these offences under this Bill is being brought by the Minister or his agent, simultaneously, in the same proceedings, in the same court and at the same hearing, the court which convicts of one of the criminal offences created by this Bill or the Merchandise Marks Acts already in existence should have power to order the defendant concerned to compensate civilly the individual or individuals who suffered loss.

This is one of the weaknesses of our system of law. Unlike the continent, where they endeavour to short-circuit everything into one set of proceedings, and one only, we tend to retain a very marked division between criminal proceedings on the one hand and civil or private proceedings on the other. That is an unnecessary distinction. It is one that the ordinary public do not understand. They do not follow logically [72] why the result of a criminal prosecution should not be relevant to the hearing of a civil action. I quite understand that the public do not realise that if a prosecution is being brought in the normal way the consumer affected cannot start his civil proceedings until that prosecution is disposed of. At that stage it may well be that the bird has flown, that the prospects of the person injured getting compensation are very much lessened because the trader concerned may well have been a sort of fly-by-night individual anyway and the publicity attaching to his conviction for an offence under the measure will probably ensure that he gets out of the business. Then he has no assets or no way in which he can meet the claim made against him by the injured party.

This Bill allows us a glorious opportunity to bring our legal practice in that respect up to date, to allow jurisdiction to a court hearing prosecutions for offences under this Bill to order the defendant to pay civil damages to compensate the consumer injured by the false trade description, false advertisement or whatever. This could be done simply by the Parliamentary Secretary inserting a section or two to that effect in this Bill. I am willing to endeavour to draft such but it would be better if it were done by the draftsmen, the people to whom the Parliamentary Secretary has access and to whom I do not. It is a tricky field and is something which should be drafted by a professional draftsman rather than somebody merely trying to do his best.

If this Bill is passed in its present state, we will probably be the only country in the world where the court hearing the prosecution will not have power to award civil damages to the injured party. To a great extent the British have now changed their system to enable that to be done. Of course, parts of this Bill follow very closely the British Trades Description Act, 1968. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary is aware that there have been many suggestions in Britain over the past eight years for its amendment as the workings of that Act became more obvious. It is not sufficient [73] merely to adopt the relevant parts of the British Act as they stand. It would be much more beneficial to us to take them as the British now feel they should be amended.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That has been done.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  It may have been done in some respects but nothing like the extent to which consumer associations and others in Britain feel necessary. There is a fair element of copying that Act. There is not a lot of it by any ways new or unique. I am not being critical of it for that reason. It is no harm simply to point out that while the title is substantially different, there is not much else substantially different from certain parts of the British Act of 1968.

Arising further out of what I have been saying about the continued division between civil and criminal liability, I might draw the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to section 24 of this Bill which says:

A contract for the supply of any goods shall not be void or unenforceable by reason only of a contravention of any provision of the Acts or this Act.

I wonder is it necessary to have that section because it emphasises in a very clear way this division which is being maintained and which I suggest should not be. It can only be to the benefit of the consumer, and indeed in many ways to the traders or advertisers concerned, that they get the whole thing over and done with in one set of proceedings rather than in two long drawn out sets.

I would suggest that this legislation also affords the Minister the opportunity, if he so desires, to introduce what they have to a great extent in England—consumer courts of some kind or other. I am not advocating any particular type of court. I am simply advocating something informal, where lawyers are not needed, where there would be suitable officials to whom an aggrieved consumer can go with his complaint. The appropriate official could then write a letter to the trader or advertiser concerned and say: “We have this complaint. What [74] have you to say about it? Will you come and talk to the consumer with us?” That official can then arbitrate up to a limit. I would have thought an appropriate limit would be goods to the value of approximately £500. I notice that the National Advisory Consumer Council are not recommending a consumer court in that sense. They are recommending that where a claim is proved in the course of criminal proceedings the compensation should not exceed £2,000. Of course, the cases in which criminal proceedings will be taken will be limited in number. It should not be necessary for the Minister or his agent to take criminal proceedings in every case where a consumer has a legitimate grievance. On the other hand, at present, if the grievance of the consumer relates to goods worth less than £250 he can go to the ordinary civil. District Court. The delay there will vary somewhat from area to area. It is not unreasonable to say it would take him two to three months to get satisfaction from that court.

If his claim exceeds £250—and that is not a large sum today—he has to go to the Circuit Court. Again, depending on what part of the country he lives in, the delay in getting a decision in that court may vary between six and twelve months which is, to my mind, far too long for an aggrieved consumer to have to wait in a comparatively minor matter. Were we to have an informal consumer court, which could be established under the director of consumer affairs if necessary, special legislation would be needed. But I think it is envisaged in the Constitution that the kind of arrangements and arbitration that would be made in a matter such as this would not be the administration of justice in the sense that the Constitution declares only judges appointed under the Constitution can administer. This I would see as an arbitration in comparatively small matters where an individual consumer or group of consumers have a grievance against a trader.

I want to deal briefly with the office of director of consumer affairs which is set up under section 9 of this Bill. [75] When I saw that it was envisaged to create such an office at first I was very pleased but, when one reads the section, one is less happy that such an officer will be as effective as one would like. Subsection (4) says:

The Director shall be independent in the performance of his functions.

I would suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is not much point in saying that in subsection (4) if, in subsection (2), just above it, one says:

The person appointed to be a Director shall be such officer of the Minister as may be designated by the Minister.

In other words, he is a full-time employee of the Minister and is bound by statute to obey him. Subsection (3) states:

The Director shall hold office for such term as may be determined by the Minister and may be removed from office at any time by the Minister.

That has the effect of ensuring that vis-á-vis the Minister at least he has no independence. Simply saying in subsection (4) that the director shall be independent does not create independence for him because, presumably, if the Minister is dissatisfied with his activities as director he can get rid of him and the person concerned has no redress.

In the circumstances I think it would be better to have as director of consumer affairs some experienced person who is not an officer of the Minister, who is not a civil servant in the Department of Industry and Commerce or elsewhere, so that he could be seen to be independent of the Department and not just a small adjunct of the Department and directly under their thumb. I am not to be taken as suggesting that the Minister for the time being or the Secretary or Assistant Secretaries of the Department would consciously try to interfere with the director. I presume they would not, but the image given of him from the terms of his appointment as set out in this section would not inspire any confidence in the public that he was performing [76] an independent function, not subject to pressures from the Minister or the Department generally.

It is rather surprising that the functions of the director do not include the right to prosecute. Apparently the Minister has the power to prosecute but the director only has the power to apply to the High Court for an injunction in his own name to stop false or misleading advertising or trade descriptions. Perhaps it would be better if the prosecutions were taken by and in the name of the director of consumer affairs rather than in the name of the Minister. I do not think his functions are wide enough although I realise that there is a subsection which states that the Minister may by order confer on the director such other functions as he considers appropriate. The functions set out in the Bill should include some arbitration process as between an aggrieved consumer and a trader or advertiser so that the delays and expenses incurred in having recourse to the ordinary courts could be obviated, as is done in virtually every other country.

One of the points that struck me while listening to the Parliamentary Secretary was the fact that oral, false trade descriptions are included in the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary made the point that he thought it only reasonable that the proprietor of a business should be liable for the oral errors of his employees. I accept totally that so far as a civil claim as between the purchaser and the trader is concerned certainly the trader is, and should be, bound by the oral representations of his employees; but it is a bit much to make the trader concerned criminally liable for an oral misdescription given by an employee. For all one knows, the latter might do it out of sheer malice or totally recklessly, realising that his employer rather than he will be criminally responsible for such false statements.

Let us consider the situation of a very large firm where the employer is not present, perhaps is not even in the country, when a transaction takes place between one of his employees and a consumer and where what is admitted afterwards to be a false [77] statement is made by the employee. In those circumstances is it just that the employer should not only be civilly liable—he is so liable already and that is fair enough—but that he should also be criminally liable to a prosecution by the Minister or his agents? I think that may be one of the points where the Bill goes too far. There are others I shall discuss in detail on Committee Stage.

Section 16 (3) deals with the powers of authorised officers. These officers may be appointed by the Minister, by the director or by a county council or a county borough corporation and their powers are set out in (a) to (e) inclusive of subsection (3). I invite Members of the House to read those powers because they are extraordinarily wide. They are as wide, if not wider, than anything the Revenue Commissioners have. I am not saying that any authorised officer will deliberately abuse his powers in this respect but if there are a few hundred such authorised officers throughout the country there is the risk that one of them will be a black sheep who will abuse his powers.

Section 16 (3) (c) states:

inspect and copy or take extracts from such books, documents and records,

Not even the Revenue Commissioners can do this but under this section apparently an authorised officer may do so. Section 6 (3) (a) and (b) state:

at all reasonable times enter premises which any trade or business or any activity in connection with a trade or business is carried on and inspect the premises and any goods on the premises and, on paying or making tender of payment therefor, take any of the goods,

require any person who carries on such trade, business or activity and any person employed in connection therewith to produce to the officer any books, documents or records relating to such trade, business or activity which are in that person's power or control and to give him such information as he may reasonably require in regard to [78] any entries in such books, documents and records,

I happen to be a solicitor. I am providing a service and I come within the scope of this Bill. Two years ago when dealing with a Finance Bill we had a long-running fight with the Minister for Finance when he sought to give much less wide powers to the Revenue Commissioners in relation to solicitors and others. They were much less wide powers and were only exercisable in certain limited circumstances. Are we now in the position that authorised officers of the Minister for Industry and Commerce can go in to someone who comes within the scope of this Bill—a solicitor and a doctor come within this area—and request him to produce his books, records and documents? I do not want to start a major scare about this. I acknowledge that is probably not the intention but nonetheless we have to deal with legislation as we find it and that is the way it is written down here. There is virtually no inhibition whatever on the powers of an authorised officer.

I will go along with the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister and say that authorised officers should have all the powers that they reasonably need to perform their functions and to enforce this legislation. However, they do not need that kind of power to do their job and I do not think they should get it. It is too wide and, potentially, is open to abuse by somebody inclined maliciously. When legislating we must not disregard the possibility of the odd person being inclined maliciously. It would be very foolish to disregard such possibility.

There are many remarks that I wish to make on the details of many of the sections in relation to which we will be seeking a certain amount of explanation from the Minister. We shall be hoping that he may accept some amendments in relation to certain provisions of the Bill. There is not much more I wish to say in relation to the Bill generally but there is one inquiry I would make at this stage. It arises from the fact that it is not clear whether the Bill applies [79] to property in the sense of houses or flats and land. At first sight it would appear not to so apply but in section I the definition of accommodation means living accommodation while goods are defined as including ships, vehicles, aircraft, land, things attached to land and growing crops. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would confirm whether, for example, advertisements regarding the sale of land and houses are included in this.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  They are.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  I am glad to hear that. It would be wrong to exclude them. It may not be realised generally that such advertisements are included. It is a provision which is not in the British Act. Its exclusion was one of the weaknesses of that Act.

We welcome the Bill subject to the reservations I have expressed. Important as the Bill is in its own right, I would regard it as less urgent from the point of view of the protection of the consumer than consumer credit protection, protection which is needed badly. There is a pressing need for the modernisation of the Sale of Goods Act, 1893 because by reason of the passage of time and the changing of commercial practices the consumer is now at an enormous disadvantage because of situations which the 1893 Act could not have envisaged.

We have no objection to the Bill going through but we trust that the various amendments we shall be suggesting on Committee Stage will be considered favourably by the Minister or by the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. Carter: Information on Frank Carter  Zoom on Frank Carter  Regardless of what walk of life we are in, whether we are legal or lay persons, we should welcome this Bill. The wish I would express at the outset is that the legislation will not be shrouded in legalities, that in the first instance there will not be set up a large inspectorate for the purpose of enforcing the Bill's provisions without the public being informed adequately.

It is about time the Government took into account the number of laws [80] and regulations which the public are asked to comply with. In saying that, I appreciate that this Bill is very necessary but I trust it will be put forward in a manner which the consumer can understand readily—in other words, that it is not shrouded in definitions and regulations which, for instance, would give an opportunity of revelling to the Revenue Commissioners. It would be regrettable that the Bill should result in a chain of confusion which would put the public at odds with the aims of the Department. In the context of this legislation the consumer will be a very important person.

As the Minister has said, our legislation in this area apart from a few Acts of recent years, is outmoded and obsolete and that to this extent he is starting from a new low in consumer protection. We would all wish to be much better informed in regard to this whole area. It is a long time since this Bill was announced but it was only published towards the end of the recess. If the Government are seriously concerned in pursuing consumer protection to the bitter end. I should think that not merely would a Bill of this nature be published but that information centres would be set up to deal with this matter. We have moved from the day when regulations brought before the House could be merely enacted and not bothered about again. We must ensure that the people we are trying to protect are given as much information as possible about the relevant legislation. It is for this House to ensure that a modicum of common sense is brought to bear in respect of this Bill so that unlike some legislation enacted here in the past, it will not lead to abuse and confusion. It happened in the past that legislation which, though well-intentioned, was thwarted not merely by the people it was supposed to protect but often by those responsible for implementing it.

We have moved away from the day of the family grocer who sold goods by weight and who was known, respected and trusted in his locality. In considering this legislation we are dealing with multi-national companies which are far removed from the outlets which are [81] said to be servicing the public, far removed from the idea that they must sell goods by weights and measures. We are in the age of the packaged deal. In presenting legislation to the House on one occasion the Government made much play of the fact that the Acts concerned were a package deal. We are becoming used to this idea. We get the first part of the deal at one time and much later we may get a second, third and fourth part of it. The result is that, like children going to school, by the time we get the fourth part of it, we are inclined to have forgotten what the first part set out to implement.

This is what I mean when I refer to the confusion which can be caused by lengthy legislation. I am not blaming the Minister for this. It is part and parcel of the subject with which he is dealing. It is part and parcel of the laws which we are supposed to implement. It is also part and parcel—and this is very necessary—of the information which should be available. The necessary softening up or preparation should be done by the Department to put the consumers in a position where they would have a general idea of the laws implemented to protect their interests.

In the past that has not happened, whether as a result of pressure of work, or too many Bills coming before the House, or an improper teasing out of the subject under discussion. This has not worked to the advantage of those on whose behalf the legislation was put forward. This Bill is so involved that I am making a plea at the outset that we should take it by easy stages. It is coming by easy stages. Let us make sure we under stand the first part of it throughly before we go on to the second or third part of it. The people we are trying to protect are at the mercy of a well-informed distributive system not merely in relation to foods but also drugs. One could have a whole slab of a speech on the way drugs are pushed by advertisers at the moment. This matter might be more relevant to the Department of Health but the Food and Drugs Act is quoted here and, to that extent, drugs come into this range of protected goods.

[82] One of the points I should like to develop without undue repetition is the advantage television and radio present to advertisers. They have a captive audience. Listening to some of the “ads” one gets the impression that there is a certain amount of cynicism attached to them, that they are making fun of the product, as some of them set out to do. I am not saying it would be easy to curb that desire. Advertising has been brought to a ridiculous stage when the advertiser sets out to put his product before the public in a conversational manner. In effect, he is trying to say the product has no real merit but he wants to put it before the public if he can. He has a captive audience on television and radio. Sometimes the dialogue is quite flippant. I would hope that in time, with a better educational system, we will be able to catch up with that type of character and deal with him whether he is a private advertiser or acting on behalf of a multi-national company. As Members of this House, we have to listen to a good deal of dialogue. Some of us can say off the cuff that advertising dialogue to a captive audience is sometimes nauseating and repulsive. Any steps we can take to curb the scope and activities of that kind of advertiser should be taken, and the sooner the better.

As the Parliamentary Secretary said, consumer protection is not new. He mentioned quite a number of Acts which were passed here in recent years. He drew our attention to the fact that consumer protection as a subject was quite old. That is true, but how many people are aware of the Merchandise Marks Acts, or the Food and Drugs Act, or the Weights and Measures Acts? Very few, because in the modern context of shopping, in the supermarket, the emphasis is the other way around. We are offered a package and, if the weight is short, that is part of the package. To this extent, to my mind as a consumer, this again gives the advertiser, the pusher of the goods, a certain amount of advantage. It extends a bit of ground to him.

When I refer to characters like that I am not referring to the man who is [83] in business to try to make an honest living and to offer his services to the community in a fair and honest fashion. We are grateful that we still have a high number of those people. In recent years we have been importing another kind of individual, the slick merchant who thinks he can become a millionaire in a short time, among the green fools, as it were. I hope this legislation will enlighten a number of the green fools as to what is involved in high-geared shopping today.

We must realise that weights and measures have gone by the board largely and we are now contemplating total package deals. Not too long ago one character tried to enter this country to set up what he called “food barns”. He would not spend enough on the premises to have a house. In the barns he proposed to have a lot of boxes and the housewife would go in and lift a box from the shelf and take it home with her. We should have regulations to deal with those types of individuals and especially to deal with the individual who thinks he can bend the law and the media to the extent that he will be able to get away with a second-class service. We all are aware of the activities of the National Consumer Advisory Council and the task which they faced earlier on in trying to inform the public of the pitfalls involved in dealing with this matter. One could call up a range of slogans which the modern advertiser depends on to push his wares. I say “slogans” advisedly because it is often done in a sloganised and cynical manner which shows the type of mind behind the advertising and indicates to any consumer that the advertiser in this instance is not so much interested in the consumer as in peddling his own wares.

Consumer protection may not be new, but indeed it is surprising that it extends back a hundred years and that the public is so ill-informed in regard to it. One of the reasons, I suppose, is that we for so long, up to the advent of the modern supermarket, relied heavily on the integrity of the family grocer. He was often pilloried and it is often said of him that he was [84] a gombeen man and so on, but I think the name “gombeen man” was working overtime when it was used in regard to many of the past family grocers in this country. The public at that time—they knew the weights and measures because the weights and measures of those days were quite a different range of appointments from what they are today and had to be tested every year by a weights and measures inspector—in every townland and village relied heavily on the services of the family grocer and took his word for it, but we are in a different world and we did not even have to have recourse to the Whincup report to emphasise this. Today activities are vastly different, not merely in wholesale but in retail, and indeed in manufacture, from what they were a hundred years or even 50 years ago.

Therefore, legislation, however involved, needs to be teased out and explained by the Department implementing it. That is why I advocate, if I can advocate on legislation such as this, that news-desks should be set up under the supervision of the Minister for Industry and Commerce for the purpose of informing the consumer of his rights. The sad fact in regard to this type of legislation is that, as in every other walk of life, the sore thumb is the consumer with the least grievance who tries to take advantage, sometimes to his own detriment in the end and to the detriment in general of the legislation involved. That is why we should take steps to see that all the implications of the laws laid down here to protect the consumer are fully understood by the person whom the Bill is said to be protecting.

Trade descriptions is a subject in itself, and in Britain, where they have had this legislation, there have been a number of successes and some reverses in trying to implement it. The reverses would be due to the fact that the consumers involved were not appraised of their rights or of the laws protecting them under the legislation which was implemented. We have the advantage here that we can borrow from British experience and try to avoid some of the pitfalls in the [85] legislation implemented there and to perfect ours.

In modern society somehow we are more plauged than at any other time in history by the “Jack-of-all-trades, do-it-yourself” man who sometimes enters business with the object of getting rich in a hurry, and this type of character is not too concerned about protecting the consumer. In fact he is out to fleece the consumer if he can at all achieve it. He is out to pluck the goose while at the same time trying to keep the goose quiet so that it will not cackle. That is the person we are out to catch here. Therefore it is all the more necessary in this regard that the person we are trying to protect be at least as well-informed as those who set out to protect him. That can be achieved only by having the information disseminated at a few centres. I am not saying we should set up a whole chain of centres but that the line of communication could be much better from the Minister's office if he had a few news-desks where those people could go for information and be fully apprised of the issues at stake.

I do not propose to speak much longer on this because it is difficult in regard to protection to avoid repeating oneself, but I welcome the Minister's indulgence on behalf of the consumer. I hope that he will keep progressively to the point and try to push forward not merely this Bill but the remainder of the packet so that the first part will not be completely forgotten by the time the last part is presented. It is so involved that we should have at least lines of communication and we should try to simplify these laws and apply them to the consumer in the most modest way we can. There is no point in having shelves full of books if we do not read them, and we should have in the law only what we can reasonably implement. There is no use in striving after effect. We should be able to impart to other people what the legislation contains and that we are going to implement it to the fullest possible extent; that the law is not passed to become a volume to put on the shelf and be left there, but that every businessman in the country will have a copy of it [86] and that reasonable regulations will be made for the consumer involved to acquaint himself of what is done in this whole package of legislation.

Dr. Gibbons: Information on Hugh Gibbons  Zoom on Hugh Gibbons  When one recalls that Deputy O'Malley, with his legal training, had some difficulty in getting through this Bill, one can appreciate that we lesser mortals would have greater difficulty with it. However, it must be agreed that legislation such as this is badly needed, because advertising has created such an impact on our minds over the past number of years. This is done in a very glamorous fashion which, unfortunately, can be very misleading at times. When one reads the background to this advertising and sees how much psychological study is given to it, how much the habits and reactions of the viewers or readers are studied. one realises the large amount of money that is behind this, and it is absolutely essential that the Government should introduce laws to deal with the situation.

Much thought is given to the presentation of advertisements so that they will catch the eye, the ear and the thoughts of the people and gradually persuade them to accept goods which in many cases they do not need and which, in other cases, they could get much cheaper. One of the most annoying presentations of advertisers is this offering of the small container in the big package. The medical and pharmaceutical companies use this device. Cosmetic and sweet manufacturers also use it. I have no doubt that the legislation will deal with this problem, and rightly so, because the customer is buying something in a glamorised packet which when opened shows very little value for the money.

One of the things that interested me in this measure was the reference to services and, more interesting still, the services being defined: “includes any service provided by a person in the practice of a profession”. The Bill does not go on to define “profession”. Whether it is already defined legally somewhere else that [87] has not been made known to us, I do not know. As Deputy O'Malley said, this would refer to us all, doctors, lawyers, and other professional people. However, I would like to know if this includes quacks, people who offer medical services, particularly in the newspapers and also on television. To my mind, this is one of the aspects of advertising which should be covered by a Bill such as this. In concluding his statement the Minister made reference to services being covered in a future Bill, as if they were not already included in this one.

Another thing that struck me when going through the Bill and the White Paper was the fact that the Minister could make an order requiring specific information, compulsory disclosure, about goods. Would this apply to goods covered by patents and, if so, does this mean this law is cutting across the law that controls and governs patents? This might be a different situation in relation to machinery and so on, but in relation to such commodities as compound foods, paints, cosmetics, medicines and so on, I would like to know if the Minister will have the power, when this Bill becomes law, to compel the manufacturers to make available to the public what their goods contain. If they can, it will be a good thing.

The Minister referred to oral advertising. There is the question of secondhand business. We are all aware of certain secondhand businesses that are carried on in open markets and they are certainly carried on entirely by oral advertising and, no doubt, occasionally misleading advertising. Again, the Parliamentary Secretary should indicate to the public if it is his intention to deal with this type of trading.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  All trading is covered.

Dr. Gibbons: Information on Hugh Gibbons  Zoom on Hugh Gibbons  That would be covered too? Deputy O'Malley made the excellent point that the civil case should be included as well as the criminal case. He, with his legal knowledge, would be in a better position to understand this than others. [88] There are a few aspects of this which come up in other laws. We know of cases where the criminal law must wait on the civil law, for example, in the case of the motorcar accident. As a result, a case may not be heard for 12 months or two years. The Minister should take steps to ensure that this will not occur here, and Deputy O'Malley's suggestion covers the situation.

Deputy O'Malley also made the point that there is no provision in the Bill for compensating the consumer, and he rightly thought there should be. I would go so far as to suggest that the consumer should have the first claim on the goods of the consumer against whom the case is being taken. Again, as Deputy O'Malley said, it is quite possible that a prosecution or the prospect of a prosecution against such a person might almost put him out of business, and if the State is to collect a fine of £10,000 from him, it is most unfair that the consumer should not get consideration. I think everybody would agree he is entitled to first consideration.

Recently I learned to my surprise that there is no obligation on a trader to give change to anybody who purchases goods, and I would say very few people realise this. If this is the law of the State, it should be changed, and now is an opportunity to do so. On the same occasion I also learned that no person who buys goods is entitled to a receipt. If this is correct, it should also be changed, because there is something very wrong about that.

This Bill suggests various means of dealing with advertising which makes misleading statements about goods, because it is a fact that goods may not contain the weight they are supposed to contain or the material they are supposed to contain, and for this reason the public should be so informed. But there is another situation where the consumer can be misled and his health greatly affected. That is where he is not aware that a certain ingredient in the article being sold may affect his health. The State took the first step in this direction when it put the warning notice on cigarettes. It has been drawn to my attention [89] that the EEC have introduced some legislation on those lines which is entitled “Proposals for a Council Directive on the Approximation of the Laws of Member States in relation to Labelling, Presentation and Advertising of Foodstuffs for sale to the Ultimate Consumer”. I understand it has not gone far enough in offering protection to certain consumers, those suffering from disease and, if so, I think there is an obligation on us to offer our consumers—a select number, granted— protection along these lines.

I have a document here from the Irish Coeliac Society. They claim that those EEC directives do not give coeliac patients the protection they should have which would involve the indication on all goods sold that they contain glutin which is dangerous to their lives just as in the case of the advertisement on the cigarette packets. The president of the society, speaking recently said:

We, as a society, are worried that if the proposals submitted for the Council directive in Brussels are adopted insufficient protection will be afforded to those with coeliac disease. Moreover, we do not feel that draft directives relating to dietary foodstuffs as currently interpreted will afford any greater protection as exposure to glutin has been shown to increase risks of cancer in patients with coeliac disease. We feel that it is imperative that better protection be afforded whatever the financial cost.

I suggest that this is another area where protection should be offered to the consumer and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider this in the hope of including something by amendment in the Bill and offer it to the House at a later stage, because it is obviously very important.

Another thing that has been dealt with is the question of the prevention of persons from reading retail prices. I know one or two places where retail prices are on display and it is most difficult to read them. The relationship between prices and weights has been dealt with by Deputy Carter. It reminds me of a story told during the war of where one trader asked another [90] what he was charging for bread soda. He replied: “If I have it weighed and on the shelf I charge 3½d. Unfortunately, if I have not weighed it and the customer sees me weighing it I charge him 4d.” The message in the story is obvious.

In section 9, subsection (5) (a), it is stated that one of the functions of the director of consumer affairs is to keep under general review practices or proposed practices in relation to the advetising of, and the provision to members of the public of information relating to the description of, goods, services, accommodation and facilities. How would he set about this? Will his staff make inquiries and watch television programmes? If they see something on television or read something in a paper will he decide to take action on that? On the other hand, will he use some agency such as the Consumer Association of Ireland or the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards. The use of those organisations would be almost essential unless he sets up a whole organisation himself. There is no provision in the Bill for the payment of those people and some cognisance should be taken of that and if it is a defect in the Bill it should be remedied.

No doubt the Bill will cover many needs of the consumer. I have mentioned some matters not mentioned by others and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will recommend to the Minister that some thought be given to them and that we shall be able to legislate for them.

Mr. Callanan: Information on John Callanan  Zoom on John Callanan  In regard to the title of the Bill I think the word “consumer” may be misleading because, if I am right, section 1 of the Bill covers practically everything except purchasers. I would prefer to see it called the Purchaser Protection Bill. Otherwise, people will think the Bill is solely concerned with the housewife, the consumer, what you eat or what the stock eat. It also covers machinery—am I correct in that?

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It covers all transactions where trade discriptions are used.

[91]Mr. Callanan: Information on John Callanan  Zoom on John Callanan  Does it include livestock?

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Yes, if trade descriptions are used.

Mr. Callanan: Information on John Callanan  Zoom on John Callanan  That is my view. While I welcome the Bill I think it may be misunderstood and some people might be deterred from taking part in the debate because they think it refers to what you eat or consume.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  You cannot guarantee the quality to the final consumer if you have not the same guarantee all along the chain.

Mr. Callanan: Information on John Callanan  Zoom on John Callanan  Would not the title Purchasers Guarantee Bill be more appropriate since it includes so many things? One does not consume machinery, which is rightly included in this Bill. I would like the Minister to consider this.

This is a Committee Stage Bill and one cannot say much on it on this Stage. I am glad it covers all sorts of professional people because I do not want it to go out from the House that it is a Bill brought in for the ordinary family grocer who has provided a very good service and has been very honest on the whole. As previous speakers have said, we are now dealing with ruthless, multinational companies who show their goods and deceive people. Certainly, people do not get value for their money. Much of what I would say has been covered by previous speakers and I am therefore at a disadvantage.

I should like to emphasise that the director of consumer affairs, whoever he is, should not spend his time getting all the accounts of the small businessman and letting some big operator go free. Some years ago I visited a European country to attend discussions on the EEC. It was a Christian country but its moral standards were not very high. I commented on the moral standards to a person who was with me and was told: “The Lord gave the commandments to Moses. Each one is as important as the other, but you [92] people in Ireland are concerned with the sixth and ninth commandents and do not give a damn about justice.” Justice is something you have to make restitution for in accordance with the commandments of God. This Bill is necessary because we are concerned about some of the commandments but not about justice. There are a few persons in every walk of life who destroy the image of the majority who want to lead an honest life.

I welcome the Bill but hope it will not make life impossible for the small business people. I have great respect for the small business people and the small farmers. They have played a vital part in our economy.

False advertising should be carefully considered. Deputy Gibbons has dealt adequately with this matter and I do not want to repeat the points already made, but there are untrue advertisements. A major point in connection with advertising—and one made by Deputy O'Malley—concerns the ordinary person being involved in criminal proceedings against the seller of an article. The person who purchased the article has to take a civil action after the criminal proceedings and does not get any compensation. A poor person cannot afford to take an action for compensation. Therefore, some arrangements should be made whereby the two cases could be dealt with together. I understand that a civil action involving £300 or more cannot be dealt with in the District Court. How will the poorer person be in a position to take a case to the Circuit Court, which it will be necessary for him to do if the action involves an amount of £300 or more? Three hundred pounds is a small amount if you are buying machinery. Deputy O'Malley stressed this point in his opening speech when he said it was not good enough to say that the person who brought the action would not get compensation unless he took a civil action. This is unfair and is of no earthly use to the person who has been done out of his money. This Bill will need a lot of work at Committee Stage. For instance, if I buy a beast to put in with more livestock and that beast is wrong, am I to be held responsible? [93] There are a number of matters like that which need to be ironed out. The Parliamentary Secretary should know what I am talking about.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The seller would have to make a false statement.

Mr. Callanan: Information on John Callanan  Zoom on John Callanan  I am pointing out the difficulties in regard to the sale of livestock. It could also be difficult in regard to defective machinery.

Another matter I should like to mention is the selling of insurance company undertakes to provide insurance for a car and does not ask for a mechanical certificate they will pay for any damage caused but they will also seek a refund from the owner of the car. I know of a case where a man is being billed for £14,000 because the insurance company said his car was not mechanically fit at the time of the accident. This man was not asked for a certificate to show that his car was mechanically fit. I hope insurance is covered in this Bill.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Insurance is covered as far as trade descriptions are concerned.

Mr. Callanan: Information on John Callanan  Zoom on John Callanan  This is a very important Bill and I am surprised that there is not more interest in it. This will be a costly Bill to implement in regard to supervision. I do not know the amount of money being allowed for the implementation of this Bill, but I do know that to have any control over such a wide range will be costly.

This is an important Bill, but I do not think people realise the implications of it. People think it is designed to protect the consumer who buys groceries but it does more. The Bill embraces a very big area and for that reason it will have to be considered line by line on Committee Stage. We do not want our people thinking they have a law to protect them when they have not.

I assume that the question of houses and flats is covered. On the question of prosecutions I should like to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the fact that the trader in poor circumstances, if [94] a criminal case is brought against him, must appear before the Circuit Court, a court which he cannot afford. In my view the Bill covers every article that can be purchased and for that reason its title is slightly confusing. The title mentions “consumer” while in my view it is a purchasers' protection Bill. Everything is covered in it, machinery, livestock and the necessities of life, but I do not think people realise that. I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on introducing this and on covering such a wide area, but it will take a lot to implement it. To control the number of items covered in the Bill will mean a lot of supervision. I would not like people to think that the Bill was introduced to lacerate the small trader who is getting it hard to survive at present; it is aimed at bigger businesses and I look forward to contributing further to the debate on it on Committee Stage.

Mr. Esmonde: Information on John Grattan Esmonde  Zoom on John Grattan Esmonde  I do not intend to speak at any great length because essentially this is a Bill for discussion on Committee Stage. It is well to recognise that it is the first modern effort to redress the uneven balance that has existed in the market place in relation to the consumer. It is well for us to recognise that modern trade has become very complex and that the rewards for trading nowadays can be very high. This has resulted in experts in the advertising, selling and marketing fields being paid high fees for their expertise. We are also living in an age where there are diverse new means of communication in the media and there are very subtle propaganda instruments used to assist people in the sale of products and services. This Bill is only part of the Government's steps to try to update, rationalise and modernise legislation in the vendor and purchaser fields.

As the Parliamentary Secretary stated, the Bill essentially deals with misleading descriptions and false statements; but unlike most legislation of this or its related natures it does not allow merely for steps to be taken by the director of consumer affairs but also provides for action to be taken by private individuals who feel there [95] is a wrong done. This also includes, naturally, bodies of persons and associations. They can bring applications to a court for an order rectifying whatever may be wrong in relation to the sale or promotion of a product.

One may take the view—it would be an inaccurate view to take—that this Bill is only purely for the consumer's protection. It also provides protection for the fair and honest trader. It protects him against unfair competition by a fellow unscrupulous trader who stoops to false methods of advertising, false gimmicks and deceptions. We have all heard of unfair terms of competition and trade in the market place. To date, as far as I am aware, there is little legislation to assist the honest trader in rectifying that position. The unfortunate part about this is that it is usually the bigger and wealthier concerns that can afford to be unscrupulous and unfair in the market place; they have the know-how of propaganda, the machinery and the personnel. Very often the honest family trader has been put to the wall and out of business by unfair terms of competition and trading. We should not lose sight of that fact. While this Bill may not provide all that Deputies want done in this regard, it is a start; it is breaking new ground; it is pioneer work in this area and it is long overdue.

It is interesting to note that the Bill provides for dealing with a situation where there is misleading advertising in relation to the provision of services. We are all aware that today merchants and businessmen sell products and promise service, but how many of us have avoided being caught? Very often those fly-by-night traders disappear after a year or two, after they have made a killing in the market and leave people with a product that requires servicing. When that product is in need of servicing the purchasers can do nothing because the business has closed. This has happened particularly in the area of mechanical and electrical goods and it is fair to say that the products involved are the most expensive for the average housewife to buy. There are many housewives left with a heap of junk [96] or rubble in the kitchen because of such traders. They cannot get the service that was advertised and promised when they purchased the products. I am sure everybody has heard such complaints.

This Bill gives the director of consumer affairs a fair chance of dealing with such traders if there is a suspicion that the promise cannot be backed. It is becoming an ever increasing fact of life that products coming on the market are embellished and decorated with promises in relation to servicing and guarantees of servicing but there is no servicing available if one looks for it. Service for mechanical and electrical equipment today is not cheap. If people buy on the expectation of getting that service, they should get it.

I know it is impossible to deal with all the situations that can arise but this Bill is a step in the right direction. I hope it will also be an inducement to correct codes of conduct being established by traders and manufacturers in particular sections of the market to ensure that a fly-by-night is not allowed in or, if he comes in, he is put under surveillance so that he cannot tarnish the good name of reputable traders.

It is very necessary that people should know the contents of the products they buy. I am speaking particularly of what are sold as pseudo-cures and medicines—what I call the non-ethical side of the medical market, where huge profits are made. If these products were analysed, one would be amazed at the large part of the costings that goes into advertising. They are not sold on what is in them but as a result of advertising. The public are entitled to know what goes into these products.

When a drug is marketed through a chemist shop on a doctor's prescription, the contents are set out on the packet, but there is nothing on the non-ethical drug and there does not appear to be any requirement that this be done. I am thinking of the case of a bottle of so-called cure drink—I am going back 20 years— which contained about a pint. The [97] actual cost of the contents, the bottle, the cap, the labelling and distribution was 4d. and the product sold for 1/6d. People bought that as a good product when they were not feeling too well. A Bill like this is required to deal with such a situation.

This Bill, in relation to false descriptions and false propaganda, does not limit itself to the written word. It deals with every from of communication that can be used to advertise. This is very important. This is the right timing for this Bill because many people go into the supermarket-type store—not alone in the grocery trade but hardware and other types of stores—take a product off the shelf and pay when they are leaving the store. Previously a person spoke to the owner or his staff and got some advice on the product he was buying. That does not happen so frequently nowadays. That is why I think it is necessary that a Bill of this sort should provide for orders to be made directing people to state what is in a product and the nature of that product.

I have said enough on these matters on the Second Stage because this is essentially a Bill which should be teased out on Committee Stage. Some speakers have raised certain matters here—and I am not criticising them for doing that—which essentially deal with the updating of the code known as the Sale of Goods Act, 1893. That Act has stood the test of time, but it does not provide all the necessary reliefs for private individuals who suffered financial losses. That would be another fairly heavy day's work and a very technical day's or week's work for this House. Another area to be dealt with will be credit sales and hire purchase, but this Bill does not deal with that. It deals with false and misleading descriptions, advertising and methods of marketing, methods used to dupe the unfortunate consumer.

Mr. Moore: Information on Seán Moore  Zoom on Seán Moore  I, too, welcome this Bill and look forward to the Committee Stage. That this Bill is necessary goes without saying. The Parliamentary Secretary promised further legislation dealing with the sale of goods so that eventually we will reach [98] EEC standards. I hope there will not be any great delay in bringing in the second and third Bills which will give greater protection to the consumer and increase the standards of manufacture, if not morality, in the commercial world.

For years we have carried on with the simple notice of caveat emptor— let the buyer beware. That would not be enough in these days of highpowered advertising. Irish advertisers have a high standard but we import a very large number of goods and foreign manufacturers may not be as selective as we would like them to be. Unless we continue to have public concern, the situation will not be improved by the mere passing of legislation. Irish women should be the vanguard of the vigilance corps to stop unscrupulous foreign manufacturers making very large profits. Even very strong willed people can fall for attractively packaged goods. An article which could affect one's health—it might only be a cure for headache— could be put over in such a way that one would be tempted to buy it in the hope that it would work.

I think of the good, old-fashioned honesty of Henry Ford when he was selling his famous Model T car when he said: “You can have any colour you like as long as it is black”. At least he was setting his own standard. He did not propose fooling anybody that there was a whole range of colours. Today slick and unscrupulous manufacturers put before the public very attractively packaged goods backed by what one might almost call compulsive advertising. Therefore, they are able to sell such goods even though they may not be worth very much to the consumer. We see it today, especially among harassed housewives trying to make their own incomes and that of their husbands stretch to cover the total needs of the family. If such people buy apparatus or goods which turn out to be useless, economically that can be a tragedy in those homes.

I would hate to think that people would place so much faith in this legislation they would see it as a kind of cure-all for all the abuses taking [99] place in the market place. Legislation can be as effective only as the backing it gets from the people as a whole. Therefore, we must educate the public as to what they should look for before they buy any kind of apparatus or goods. There is an English publication which goes into this question very deeply. This would afford an opportunity to an Irish concern to set up and publish a magazine, or perhaps even a typed script, each week, commenting on various goods advertised so that people might be given the best possible protection from unscrupulous manufacturers.

Let us think of young people buying houses. Suppose they buy a faulty house, having paid a deposit and furnished part of it, they will not have very much money left to fight such an action. Yet were they to waste their money on such an ill-built structure, it might well mean a tragedy for those young people. We must not leave it merely to legislation. We must scrutinise how goods are manufactured, how they are marketed, or how houses are built. People may well say: “Well after all, there are safeguards already.” I am sure there are but are they adequate to protect the consumer from being exploited by unscrupulous manufactures?

One often wonders how people managed up to 1971, the last occasion on which we had a Bill of this nature before the House, with regard to protection. We live in an age of highpressure salesmanship and advertising. Back in 1871 people merely had access to newspapers; even then they were not available to everybody. Since then there have been the radio, television, the cinema each of which components of the media are used for advertising. Nowadays it is very hard to resist a good advertisement, whether it be in colour on television, in a cinema or in a newspaper. From the word “go” on RTE in the morning we are pressurised into buying somebody's products. I have often thought that RTE would be well advised to omit advertisements until, say, nine o'clock because it is not the best start to a day. Anyway one is not at one's best at that hour of the morning.

[100]Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  Some of the advertisements bring one into a world of dreams; would that not be lovely, holidays and so on?

Mr. Moore: Information on Seán Moore  Zoom on Seán Moore  Yes, indeed, they do but one receives a rude awakening at nine o'clock or thereabouts. The particular advertisements I had in mind are those for detergents where a salesman approaches women offering them two packets and asking them to swop. I look forward to the day when some woman will say she will swop and that will put an end to that for good and all.

I welcome this Bill. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will convey to the Government people's desire that we will have at least two further Bills with regard to the other phases of consumer protection. The House will have done a good job in adopting this Bill even though we may have some reservations on how it should have been amended. I look forward to offering further suggestions on Committee Stage as to how the Bill might be improved.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  Ireland is, perhaps, the most backward country in Europe where consumer protection is concerned. Our people have been exploited, cheated, defrauded and hoodwinked by manufacturers for years. They have been subjected to a barrage of misleading and false advertising and we have done nothing to protect them. Perhaps they have protection through the courts but at exorbitant cost because even in that field we have made it impossible for them to protect their rights. I do not think this Bill goes anywhere towards meeting the needs of protecting our consumers today. Every other country in Europe is well protected. I accept the will of the people but I have never been too enamoured of our decision to join the EEC. In this respect alone, if our standards come up to those of the EEC—and this is the aim here; we are being pushed into this situation to meet the requirements of the EEC —then it is one good measure for this country because we have been exploited, cheated and hoodwinked by manufacturers. Irish manufacturers do not necessarily constitute the biggest problem. Rather they are the foreign manufacturers who mark on their products [101]“guaranteed” but with no address. Recently I had occasion to buy a thermometer. On the little leaflet enclosed it said “guaranteed” but again it bore no address. It was a Japanese commodity. If something like this is guaranteed and does not work properly, from whom does one seek redress? There is no way in which one can do so. I have noticed that even cigarette advertisements say “guaranteed quality”. What does that mean? Is that the kind of misleading advertisement we will have checked? Are we really going to put teeth into this? Will a director of consumer affairs really take action or will it be such a long drawn-out affair that the consumer will become frustrated and let the matter go? We see too much paper legislation with no teeth applied. Regularly sales are announced in shops. How does one know when a sale is genuine? One employee of a store told me that it was not genuine because they bought in inferior goods just for the sale and put away the quality goods until the sale was over.

These are the kinds of misleading statements that are made. It is the kind of trickery that goes on. The claims made with regard to fuel consumption in cars are totally misleading and fraudulent and I hope some action is taken in this matter. In the United States the Nader organisation took General Motors to task for making misleading statements about this matter and they had them taken to court. The problem here is that there are not enough local consumer councils and there has not been any initiative by the Department to encourage greater public action and awareness of what goes on. I wonder if the answer to this problem is to appoint a director of consumer affairs? I think there should be a Department of Consumer Affairs and in private enterprise society there is need for this to be done in order to protect people. I do not think it is enough to appoint a civil servant. He would need to be a lawyer and to have knowledge of other professions in order to protect the public in the light of some of the claims made on behalf of certain goods.

[102] I should like to remind the House of what happened with regard to the Home Truths programme on television some time ago. It was aimed to protect the public but there was pressure put on RTE to get rid of it. There may be attempts to amend this Bill in the interests of the manufacturer only and not the consumer. I mentioned the programme on television to illustrate the pressures brought to bear in the interests of the manufacturers.

The Parliamentary Secretary paid tribute to the Guaranteed Irish scheme but I am led to believe that many of the products bearing this label are not Irish. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to clarify the matter. There is also the matter of misleading information. If the Department of Posts and Telegraphs guarantee to provide a telephone service when a person enters into a contract for a telephone and if the service is not forthcoming, is this a matter for the director of consumer affairs? Many such situations arise with Government Departments and I wonder if they will be subject to the provisions of this Bill.

There is also the question of services advertisements in the newspapers and this arises particularly in the evening papers circulated in the Dublin area. In many cases the advertisers can only be described as fly-by-night and they have exploited people. What protection will people have under this Bill with regard to guaranteed roof repairs, carpentry and so on? From my knowledge of the situation the newspapers do not exercise the responsibilities they should with regard to irresponsible statements made in advertisements. I appeal to the advertising managers in the newspapers to check the claims made by a number of contractors who are exploiting the public, especially in Dublin.

Manufacturers should be obliged to put their name and address on their products. On a product I bought recently there was no manufacturer's name and it took me two weeks to find out the name and to contact them because the goods were defective. With regard to over-the-counter medical [103] products, one such product is advertised blatantly as good for stomach complaints but that product contains an ingredient that causes gastric bleeding and gastric upset. It is a most misleading advertisement on RTE. Are RTE relying solely on a voluntary code adopted by advertisers or have they set up their own code? If they have set up their own code, how is this advertisement allowed to be displayed on television? It makes false and misleading statements about its effect; its effect is the opposite to that claimed. These are the matters that must be checked. Women Members of the Dáil have a greater knowledge of the problems of women in the home and I hope they will speak in this debate. Consumer affairs is a matter in which women are most interested.

Something must be done about the goods we import. We should ensure that the importers have some kind of fidelity bond so that they can meet any claims that may be made against them. This is one area in which the public are exploited and the Department should take steps to remedy the matter. A licence should be issued to importers only where they can guarantee a service. Unless some action is taken in this matter many more people will be defrauded.

I should like the Department to set up a national code of advertising and I thought it might have come under this Bill. I am not talking about a voluntary code but one directly under the aegis of the Department so that all advertisements of the type I have mentioned would be submitted to them. At the moment there is an advertisement for a product saying that it puts beef on one when, in fact, that product contains no beef whatever. The advertisement is misleading but it is being tolerated. Who will question whether it is right or wrong? If we had a national code of advertising there could be some control over the matter. It should not be left to a voluntary body who, in essence, are protecting the interests of their own members.

Mr. Staunton: Information on Myles Staunton  Zoom on Myles Staunton  I welcome this Bill. There is general acceptance of the need for updating legislation in this [104] area. This need arises particularly because of the changed methods of merchandising and marketing which have developed enormously in the last 20 years. Originally the legislation with regard to trade descriptions required certain information contained with the goods but the marketing activities on television and advertisements in the newspapers illustrate the need for updating the legislation.

The Bill provides that information given by word of mouth or contained in advertisements will be subject to the same requirements with regard to truth and accuracy as if the person were physically present and I regard this as a most necessary provision. In addition, from time to time the public have been bamboozled about prices and I welcome the provisions in the Bill that will eliminate any question of deception when supposed bargains are being offered. I am in agreement with the provision that allows the consumers protection in that they may seek from the courts an order prohibiting the continued publication of an advertisement that infringes the new code.

However, I do not think this Bill is the occasion for a which hunt on the trading community. Generally, they have been responsible during many years. We have not been subject to the flagrant type of advertising that has been more evident in some other countries in the western world.

That has not been practised here to the same extent. The attitude among the manufacturers and among the trading population in general has been fairly responsible. This Bill is necessary particularly at this time for a reason to which Deputy O'Connell referred—that in an area of free trade we are living in circumstances in which many consumer goods in areas that had been protected in the past are protected no longer. Consequently, there are on the top shelves of stores consumer goods which had not been prevalent previously. It is very necessary to protect the consumer in respect of goods which come from outside the country when the origins concerned can be hazy and the reputations of the manufacturers concerned are not known to our consumers.

I have reservations about that section [105] of the Bill which seeks to legislate for the question of trade restrictions applied by oral statements. The circumstances in which shopkeepers are to be held responsible for descriptions given to customers possibly by very junior members of the staff can in practice lead to substantial difficulties. It seems rather harsh that somebody in a very junior position, perhaps only serving his or her time in a shop, can make statements which in turn can lead to serious problems in the courts for an employer. Therefore, I foresee considerable practical difficulties in the implementation of this provision.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the Guaranteed Irish scheme and he took the opportunity of paying tribute to those who are participating in that scheme. It seems pertinent to avail of this opportunity to make a few points in regard to the Guaranteed Irish scheme both in relation to the Irish consumer and to the manufacturing industry. In recent years there has been an enormous increase in the extent to which agents are handling goods from other countries, in the extent to which traders are prepared to give prominence to such goods and to the extent to which the consumer is prepared to buy imported goods. In saying this I am not disputing the right of the consumer to purchase what he chooses. We live in a free society. Certainly if they want goods of a quality that is not obtainable in so far as the home-produced commodity is concerned, I do not question their right to purchase the superior article but in many mundane areas of activity, for example, in relation to the purchase of jams, people are buying far more imported brands than is necessary.

There is no point in pilloring the Government of the day in relation to trading balances. In the extremely difficult times in which we are living we should put more backbone into manufacturing industry at home by being a little more patriotic in our attitude to such goods and also by insisting that the Irish alternative is available.

I am thinking in particular of the footwear industry which is experiencing [106] great difficulty but it can be difficult in this city, for instance, to find a shop carrying a range of Irish shoes. By both shopkeepers and the public exercising a little patriotism in this area, there could be a vast improvement in the balance of trade situation. The remedy is in our own hands. I compliment the Parliamentary Secretary on the introduction of this Bill.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  I, too, welcome this Bill but during the past few days in endeavouring to read both it and the explanatory memorandum I have been disappointed more with what is not in the Bill than with what it contains. I gather from the Parliamentary Secretary's remarks today that what we have here, in effect, is a follow-up to the recommendations of the National Consumer Advisory Council. We are presented with legislation intended to accord with what was contained in Chapter 1 of their recommendations which were circulated generally on the 11th February last year. That was 18 months ago.

There are a number of points I wish to make on this Second Reading but of necessity I must curtail myself solely because I have not had the opportunity of studying the Bill as closely as I would have wished. From my time in the Department I had some knowledge of the requirements for the legislation. I am extremely conscious of the necessity for consumer protection. We are dealing here with a piece of legislation which is a consumer information Bill when what more obviously is required is a consumer protection Bill. I agree with Deputy O'Connell that our entry into the EEC has not done much for us in this area apart from endeavouring to bring us into line with other countries and to that extent it has been useful.

Despite the recommendations of the National Consumer Advisory Council what we have here, as was pointed out by Deputy O'Malley, is more or less a repetition of the British Trade Description Act, 1968. During my time as Minister for Industry and Commerce I was aware that because the situation is changing so much one should endeavour to keep up-to-date consumer information and protection. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that many [107] Acts in this sphere of activity have been updated down through the years and that, theoretically, this Bill was the culmination of all updating. It is rather remarkable that he was not able to build in anything further than what I regard as a technical photostat copy of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968.

I glanced through the background information to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, the Whincup Report circulated in September, 1973, and the recommendations made by the National Consumer Advisory Council. I am rather disappointed that the Parliamentary Secretary did not draw a little more on his imagination and what should by now be his knowledge of the actual consumer problems. We were promised by the outgoing Government—I had it in preparation— legislation for outlawing trading stamps. When the new Government took office the Minister for Industry and Commerce said that, while he would not outlaw them, he proposed to introduce legislation to curb them and effectively do something about them. I went through the Bill looking for some reference to trading stamps. I was surprised to find no reference to them.

The Parliamentary Secretary told us today that they have a second measure which will be ready shortly. It reminds me of the Mergers and Monopolies Bill. It has been ready for the past three years but we do not seem to be making any progress with it. So far as I know, it is not included in the programme we hope to clear before Christmas. Despite the importance of this Bill, I believe it is even more important. The Consumer Information Bill is not as important as I had hoped it would be when it was circulated just before the summer recess. It just about made it. Unfortunately nobody on this side of the House had an adequate opportunity to study it. There are so many little bits and pieces in this Bill that it can be more effectively dealt with on Committee Stage. I hope our spokesman will look for sufficient time before we take Committee Stage to give us a chance to go into it.

The Parliamentary Secretary has the [108] report of the National Consumer Advisory Council since December, 1974, almost two years ago. We have had it since 12th February. This Bill has been rushed out. There is nothing terribly startling in it. It is predictable. It is more notable for what is not in it, than what is in it. I got the impression from the Minister that, while he did not propose to outlaw trading stamps, he intended to try to ensure that a market value would be put on them. The popular trading stamp we know of has a figure of .033p on it. We do not know whether that means each stamp is supposed to be worth .033p. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell me whether this can be covered under the words “false description”. I get the impression from the reaction across the House that this is not caught under this legislation. This Consumer Information Bill goes out of its way to say that it covers false statements, false suggestions, false assumptions, false publicity and misleading advertisements.

When I see the figure .033p on a green shield stamp, I get the impression that the stamp is worth .033p. If it transpires that this Bill cannot change even that much on the stamp, I want to say quite categorically that the Bill falls down under the basic heading of consumer information. If the Bill does not effectively deal with that, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to introduce an amendment on Committee Stage to extend the Bill to cover that matter. I make no bones about it. I am not ashamed to state that when I was Minister for Industry and Commerce the trading stamp was a pet aversion of mine. It fulfils no useful function. It does nothing for the consumer except increase prices. One of the greatest promoters of trading stamps in the latter part of his life— whereas he was an opponent of them in the early stages; I do not want to mention names—as a director of one of the leading Dublin stores gave them up and admitted that they only had the effect of keeping up his prices. That statement from a discerning business man should make it pretty clear to the consumer that they have an inflationary effect and are in their own way responsible for increased prices. [109] At the other end a person who goes to buy a gallon of petrol will say “I get it for the same price as I do when I buy my petrol at a non-stamp store”. We also have the situation where many oil companies force the managers of their various vending stations to use trading stamps. This is a restrictive practice and one on which I got a considerable number of complaints from people who were being forced to exist on meagre returns as a result of having to purchase those stamps. That deals with an aspect which was left out of what should be consumer information.

I have gone through this Bill searching, in relation to the Parliamentary Secretary's promise, for the intention to create the post of director of consumer affairs, somebody who would endeavour to see that the regulations in the Bill are carried out. I know that one thing in the UK which seems to have merited a great deal of favourable comment is their highly organised consumers' association which is called “The Housewives” or something like that. There is a monthly consumer information booklet called Which? which is drawn on frequently by consumers here because we use so much English produce. This publication is more or less a standing order with the Minister for Industry and Commerce and for the Department.

It is one of those things which is watched for consumer information. I hoped that built into this Bill would be some indication from the Parliamentary Secretary that his Ministry would in some way subsidise or contribute to or encourage the National Consumer Council to issue a booklet of that nature. There is a void that could be filled by an Irish edition of Which? or something similar to that. Probably it would be more expensive to produce here because the circulation would be smaller than in Britain. It need not circulate as regularly. I am assuming that Which? is issued monthly—maybe it is weekly.

I hoped that the Parliamentary Secretary, who omitted some of the recommendations in chapter 1 of the National Consumer Advisory Council's recommendations, might have [110] allowed himself to introduce some innovations instead of following the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, tied in with what he describes as the NCAC recommendation. I suggest to him that between now and Committee Stage he might look at this aspect. I want to recommend something of that nature because there is a breakdown in the organised supply of information to the consumer. It amazes me that, when I was Minister for Industry and Commerce from 1971 to 1973, one of the most active organisations was the Irish Housewives' Association. Whether they shot their bolt during that hectic two-year period or not, I do not know. They are still with us, but certainly there is more abuse and hardship on the consumer now than there was in the time of the Fianna Fáil Government. Perhaps it is that there are so many problems that they keep falling over themselves and if the housewives get to protesting now at increases in prices of tea, sugar, bread and butter, by the time they get the statement out they are out of date because the prices have gone up again. I do not know whether it is my face or otherwise but I seem to have some effect on the housewives. Maybe some time when I have finished with politics the Minister for Industry and Commerce and his Parliamentary Secretary may be able to tell me what they had that I had not that was able to subdue or pacify or overcome opposition. Maybe the housewives went hoarse as a result of protesting at that time.

We have a trade and consumer information Bill and on those two headings somethings more could be done. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the possibility, under the heading of consumer information, of being able to join with some consumers' organisation to help to inform the people. This might be a function for the office of director of consumer affairs. With all due respects, I do not think it is. He should try to stay out of it.

I wonder if the Minister is wise in specifically spelling out that this office of director of consumer affairs is going to be an internal office of his Department. I took careful stock of his [111] presentation this morning, and I appreciate that having set up this position of director of consumer affairs, he would then propose to amalgamate the inspectorates, so that, for instance, the weights, measures and prices inspectorate would be linked in with the officials he would have checking and enforcing the safety of electrical goods under the low voltage electrical equipment regulations, children's nightwear, the toys, prescribed sizes, the quantity marking of goods, food standards and so on. That is a legitimate aim. We should try to have all of those things tied in together. I did not realise that weights and measures had been an Industry and Commerce function. I thought that basically they were for the Department of Justice. I have the impression that the weights and measures man was a Garda sergeant.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  They worked with the Department of Industry and Commerce.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  But they come under the Department of Justice.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  In the sense of personnel relations they do because they are gardaí, but they work to the Department of Industry and Commerce.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  The Parliamentary Secretary in his speech said he wanted to have a unified weights and measures/ prices inspectorate with officers authorised to carry out this.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  This is a section of the proposal.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  It is built into the Bill, the taking of the power from the Minister for Justice.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  This is not a weights and measures Bill so it does not have to be in this Bill; but in order to have unified enforcement in general we would propose to bring weights and measures inspectors into the consumer protection Bill which would mean that any consequential changes would be [112] made under the Weights and Measures Bill rather than under this Bill.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  I do not want to make an issue of it. The idea of putting them all under the one umbrella is logical. Unfortunately, that logic follows the fact that the director of consumer affairs will still be an officer of the Department of Industry and Commerce. I think the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that I have some experience and can express views in this regard. In his opening statement the Parliamentary Secretary says:

To help to rectify this possible danger, I propose to create with this Bill the office of director of consumer affairs who would be an officer of my Department charged with keeping developments in trade descriptions and advertising under review in the interests of the consumer....

I respectfully suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that if that is the intention there is no point in having section 9 at all. I have not had the opportunity of going fully into section 9, which states:

(1) There shall stand established the Office of Director of Consumer Affairs and the holder of the office shall be known as the Director of Consumer Affairs and is referred to subsequently in this Act as the Director.

(2) The person appointed to be Director shall be such officer of the Minister as may be designated by the Minister.

If this Bill were to have been introduced without section 9 the Minister would still have the same power, and he could do all the things he proposes to do in this Bill by designating an assistant secretary or principal officer to do this work. That is one of the day-to-day functions in the Department. The Minister, being the official head of the Department, has to stand over all its actions, but in his Department there are the heads of the various sections. Under the Aireacht, which we heard about away back and in relation to which Industry and Commerce was one of the Departments which it [113] was proposed should adopt this, the Parliamentary Secretary would have an officer within his Department, if this Bill were to go through without having section 9 in it, who could be nominated to look after this aspect.

As I see it, section 9 is in this Bill only as an adornment, showing that the Minister was doing something that nobody else ever did before. I do not think section 9 strengthens the Bill at all. As I have said, subsection (2) provides that the person appointed to be director shall be such officer of the Minister as may be designated by the Minister, and subsection (3) provides:

The Director shall hold office for such term as may be determined by the Minister and may be removed from office at any time by the Minister.

In Iris Oifigiúil every day of the week we have these orders made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce sanctioning increases in the price of bread, butter and so on. At one time there was nothing much in Iris Oifigiúil except a financial statement from the Department of Finance and the land that the Land Commission proposed to take over. Now there are a couple of leaves taken up every week with orders by the Minister for Industry and Commerce increasing prices. Those orders are signed by an assistant secretary. The assistant secretaries are so fed up signing these orders that I have noticed recently that the function seems to have been transferred back down to a principal officer. Presumably the assistant secretaries were so busy on other things, maybe preparing this Bill and trying to rush it out, that a principal officer is now signing these orders increasing prices. He is a man designated by the Minister. The Parliamentary Secretary realises that the Minister signs a document annually designating a number of officers within his Department to sign documents on his behalf. This is what we have here, except that section 9 dresses it up and makes the officer director of consumer affairs.

The reason I am spending so much time on this is that I believe that if this director of consumer affairs is to be of any practical use to the consumer [114] he should be set up in a separate office away from Industry and Commerce, somewhat like the examiner of restrictive practices. He should become a separate entity. He should not be somebody who can be removed at any time by the Minister or who can go off for a break, as he must, in the summertime for his holidays and whom the Minister can nominate Joe Soap to replace for the month.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  If he was hived off somewhere else, it would be even more difficult to replace him if he went on holiday.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  If he is hived off, he becomes a little more independent.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  On the point the Deputy is making, it is not a valid argument.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  I am making the point that the director of consumer affairs is a nonentity. He is there like the old National Prices Commission, to protect the Minister. The Minister never increases prices now; it is the National Prices Commission who do it.

The first I learned about this Bill was on Sunday when I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary outlining it. That is not the Parliamentary Secretary's fault. It is a pity he did not post it on Thursday. I know posting it on Thursday does not ensure delivery on Friday, but it might be delivered on Friday. However, I do not want to be attacking the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary appreciates the point I am making. There are officers within the Department dealing with prices. All we are doing here is creating a new head of a new section within the Department. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the director of consumer affairs would not be too hard in certain instances, that this matter had to be introduced carefully and so on. If a shopkeeper, manufacturer or producer in my constituency got into a spot of bother arising from a misleading advertising claim, and the director of consumer affairs took a serious view of it and was going to take action, he could come to me and [115] say “The Minister for Industry and Commerce can take action against me”. He will not talk about the director of consumer affairs. He will ask me if I could do anything about it because if he is prosecuted and fined he will have to dismiss four workers. I would explain to the Minister for Industry and Commerce that I understood that the man was wrong, that this was illegal, but he had an order for, say, 100 of these articles from London and if there was adverse publicity such as that he was prosecuted for doing something wrong and that his product did not measure up to his claims for it, it would mean the loss of the order and this would be disastrous for the firm and some of my constituents would be out of a job. It is very hard politically for the minister to deal with such a situation. Probably, I would have to say to the man that there would be no use in my going to the Minister, that he should go and see my colleague in Mountmellick—he would surely fix him up. If the director of consumer affairs were independent of the Minister—I am thinking of the examiner of restricative practices in this context—the position would be different. I would look on the director of consumer affairs as a very important person and I hope he will eventually get more powers, but he would cease to be important or would never become important if he were merely the chief rubber stamp for the Minister for Industry and Commerce. If he were removed from the Minister's ambit somewhat like the examiner of restrictive practices, it would be more difficult to do what the Parliamentary Secretary envisaged towards the end of his contribution.

I spoke of the absence of any practical follow-up of consumer information even by providing a fund or some assistance which could be given to a consumers' organisation endeavouring to give factual information through a booklet like Which?. We are introducing legislation to prevent people from giving false information in one way or another. The House is aware that I have certain pet aversions in radio and television programmes—I have favourites also. Peculiarly, I find that [116] people who have consumer complaints —and usually these arise when the firm, the supplier or manufacturer with whom they have been dealing do not give any satisfaction when the product or service does not measure up to the required standards—have recourse not to the office of the Minister but the popular recourse is to ring my friend, Gay Byrne. Then Mary, or whoever is there, gets in touch with the manufacturer or supplier. The bad publicity that can come from being shown up in this public way makes the manufacturer or supplier concede far more than he would in the case of a normal complaint. As I see it, the only hopeful official complaints division available to consumers at present is the Gay Byrne or Rodney Rice show. This should not be the case; we should not have that sort of selectivity of consumer protection.

I find myself listening on radio occasionally to Tomás Rosengrave giving information about social welfare, apparently official information. Could not the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary consider that, as part of their consumer information service, they would be justified in taking time officially on radio or television to inform the public of the position. Deputy O'Connor mentioned that the “Home Truths” programme was a great loss. The Department of Social Welfare seems to have taken on something of this type and I would ask the Minister for Industry and Commerce, if they decide not to form a consumers' advisory board with some type of subsidy, to consider something on similar lines. I agree with what is in the Bill, that the consumers should try to do something for themselves but we are all consumers and I think that from the point of view of supplying information, if the Department set up some agency to receive complaints and process them they should publicise them. Apart from the Gay Byrne and Rodney Rice shows I think that The Irish Press and Irish Independent have columns to which one can write about one's complaint and they try to get some redress. It is dreadful to think that we have to rely on the media in this way. What the manufacturer or [117] supplier really fears is the adverse publicity. He may be paying for time on television for advertising purpose and turn on a programme at another stage to find that what he pays to advertise on television is being knocked on radio between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. This is a peculiar setup. I have been so often knocking or criticising Gay Byrne that it may be no harm for me to go on record as giving him some praise from time to time. That does not come too easily from me.

While this Bill contains 27 sections and is accompanied by a sizeable explanatory memorandum, I seem to discover in searching through it not what is in it but what is not in it. The complaint from the point of view of consumer information in regard to pyramid selling goes back to my time but there is nothing in the Bill to inform or protect the public in that regard. This is like the case of the trading stamps. We were promised legislation. The Minister waxed eloquently about his worries and intentions. He said he was monitoring the matter and used such expressions as “on-going”, “down-turning” and so on. There is no doubt that this Bill is welcome but I should like it to cover many more items.

Another pet aversion of mine is false descriptions. The Parliamentary Secretary goes out of his way to say that not alone are we dealing with goods but we are now dealing with services. The heading for section 6 reads “False or misleading statements as to services, etc.” Section 6 (1) reads:

If a person, in the course or for the purposes of a trade, business or profession—

(a) make a statement which he knows to be false, or

(b) recklessly makes a statement which is false as to any of the following matters, that is to say—

Paragraph (iii) states:

the time at which, manner in which or persons by whom any services, accommodation or facities are so provided,

[118] Does that section mean that, if CIE issue a bus timetable which states that the No. 19 bus will leave Rialto terminus at 2.05 p.m. and fails to do so, the director of consumer affairs or the Minister for Industry and Commerce can prosecute CIE for issuing a false and a misleading statement in their timetable? We know that traffic conditions are harsh and that it is difficult for a bus to keep to a timetable. We know that CIE make this statement in the hope that the bus will keep to its timetable. I would say that it is reckless for CIE to say that a bus will leave a terminus in accordance with a timetable. We are talking about services and section 6 does not exclude CIE. If CIE are caught under section 6 and are not prosecuted, how can we prosecute someone else who falls down on a service commitment? In his speech the Minister said:

The Bill accordingly prohibits the fraudulent and negligent making of statements relating to services, facilities and accommodation.

In his reply the Minister should clarify this matter. The last thing we want to do is to pass legislation that cannot be enacted. We would have a hell of a row on our hands if the Minister had to tackle CIE for legitimate reasons. I have seen queues of people waiting at the No. 19 terminus for buses to arrive. If I complain to the director of consumer affairs in relation to the No. 19 bus, what can he do?

With regard to false representations, I would be disinclined to talk about consumer information without having something to say about the sale of Irish goods. Another of my pet aversions is to feel I have bought an Irish article because the inside label states that it has been manufactured especially for, say, “Murphy's” of Grafton Street. One can assume that one is buying an Irish manufactured suit when the label states that it has been made specially for “Murphy's” of Grafton Street. Does this Bill deal with that kind of situation. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the trader will not be crucified for making a small mis-statement. If I purchase a suit in “Murphy's” and told by the assistant that it is Irish made and subsequently find that it [119] has been made in London for “Murphy's” what can the director of consumer affairs do about this matter? Is it mandatory under the new legislation for a firm to label their goods “Made in London”? We can have two aspects of this. The article can be tailored by “Murphy's” of Grafton Street from the “guaranteed Irish Shetland wool” that we hear about in the mornings.

My contribution has dealt mainly with what was not contained in the Bill rather than what is in it but I shall deal with the contents of the Bill on Committee Stage. I am interested in hearing the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary to the questions I posed. I know he is dedicated to his job and has been extremely civil at all times—a trait of people who filled that office. I do not think his hands were tied because he had to meet a deadline and produce something in a hurry for fear the Opposition would kick up a row about consumer protection. The Bill deals with the least pressing item in relation to consumer protection. The Parliamentary Secretary paid tribute to advertisers and said they were very rational in the presentation of advertisements; but I should like to be assured, from the point of view of Irish manufacturers, that the Parliamentary Secretary will do everything to ensure that people are not sold an article represented as having been manufactured here but which was produced in another country.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I should like to welcome this Bill because it affords greater protection to the consumer— by consumer I mean people who purchase goods and services. It is true that in this regard we have fallen behind the rest of Europe and for this reason I should like to compliment the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on introducing this comprehensive measure. I hope its adoption will not mean the introduction of a through the country such as the inspectors who keep an eye on retail price lists. I am aware that the latter is an important task but it is difficult to explain its importance to some shopkeepers [120] and businessmen who may find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Such traders might find themselves on the wrong side of the law because of an error of 1p while the charge for the same article in lounges might be greater and the publican would not be prosecuted.

In this regard there is a need for harmonisation of packages and of goods supplied in bottles. There should be a harmonisation of volume so that the consumer is able to compare the prices of different brands and not have to do mathematical calculations in regard to the contents of packages or bottles. I believe the price tag on all articles should clearly state whether or not it includes VAT. The price displayed on an article can have the effect of attracting a person into the shop. In many cases once such a person enters a shop he does not like walking out without buying the article even though it is dearer than he expected. There is need for protection in this regard.

It is frustrating for small children to find that some chocolate bars are not what they appear to be. To make such packages look bigger one or two firms put in a piece of cardboard. If this Bill succeeds in clipping the cardboard off the bottom of such packages it will be a big advance on the present situation. I regret that it has not been possible for the Minister to protect the unsuspecting consumer from the growing army of itinerant traders to be found along our roads. In the main they constitute a traffic hazard—I assume they are tax dodgers—and they offer unfair competition to traders who must pay their rates, taxes and staff. It is disappointing that the Minister has not introduced some curbs on such traders because they constitute a manace on our national primary roads. They deal in merchandise which is of inferior quality; it is mainly seconds. It is possible that this is covered in the Bill. I regret I was not able to go through it as carefully as I would have liked. If merchandise is not of first class quality, there should be an obligation on the retailer to indicate that it is seconds. If one visits the larger supermarkets in other European cities, one can see the great protection the [121] customer is afforded. I hope we will be able to give the same kind of protection to our housewives.

I would like to ask about section 16. Does the Parliamentary Secretary envisage that this work will be undertaken by inspectors similar to health inspectors employed by local authorities or will the new director of consumer affairs be a person in Dublin to whom people can send their complaints? I have not been able to find out from the Bill whether there will be a significant number of inspectors helping the director. It is very necessary, especially at the present time when so many people, especially housewives, are trying to fit as much as they can into a day and have to rush into supermarkets and do not have the time to vet their purchases, that there be harmonisation in packaging, size and weight. This will enable the housewife to compare very easily the actual price of the goods. If it were mandatory to have liquids in bottles marked in the same way, it would be easy to compare one brand with another. The same applies to all kinds of packaged and tinned food. Have the Department any plans to introduce that kind of harmonisation? Last year a considerable number of draft directives passed through the European Parliament and I wonder when they will be introduced into our legislation.

Again, I compliment the Parliamentary Secretary on bringing in this legislation which will be of tremendous benefit to the consumer and which is for his protection. I hope it will be possible to give complete cover to our consumers in the not too distant future and ensure that our consumer protection will be on a par with other EEC countries.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Bruton): Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I would like to thank all Members who contributed to this debate for the thought they have given to this legislation and their welcome. I propose, if I may, to deal in a somewhat disjointed way with the points made because it is hard to draw them into a sequential order at short notice.

I agree with Deputy O'Malley on [122] the great importance of bringing up to date the Sale of Goods Act, 1893. It is my intention that this should be done at the earliest possible date. One of the reasons why we have not been as quick as we would have liked in introducing the legislation now before the House is that we were working simultaneously on drafting the other measures in relation to the Sale of Goods Act.

I hope in the new legislation that we will be able to extend the new powers which will be given in the law of contract to the consumer, not just to goods but, as an innovation, to services as well. To a certain degree this legislation removes some of the necessity for civil action because it makes some abuses, which might otherwise have misled the consumer and to which hitherto his only action would have been a civil action against the person who made the misleading statement, the subject of criminal action. The area where the consumer will have only recourse to the civil remedy will be somewhat reduced in so far as these abuses will hopefully be stamped out by this Bill and will no longer be a cause of action.

One of the most important points in this Bill, and in which I have taken a personal interest, is the fact that the orders it is proposed to make under this Bill, particularly in relation to the information which must be contained in advertisements and labels on goods, will be able to require positively that certain information be given. These orders will be coming back to this House for approval and oral debate prior to their taking effect. Therefore, in future when dealing with these orders attention will be focussed in this House on consumer matters, hopefully, on a continuing basis. I am very anxious that the powers to make orders in relation to information that must be given in either advertisements or on labels be exercised. I think that —and I stand subject to correction— they have not been exercised to the extent that might have been hoped under the British legislation which created similar powers. To avoid this I have already asked the National Consumers' Advisory Council for [123] specific advice in anticipation of the legislation on the sort of matters in relation to which information orders, marking orders, advertising orders or definition orders might appropriately be made.

Reference was made by some Deputies to the need for consumer courts or some type of small claims court procedure. That is not a matter which is appropriate to this Bill which is essentially concerned with the creation of criminal offences. The small claims court procedure would be appropriate to the settlement of civil disputes between manufacturers or traders and the consumers.

I have made a study of this matter. In Canada recently I was informed that a small claims court procedure can be a very expensive service to operate. There is also the problem that under our Constitution a judicial function, as I understand it, can only be exercised in the final analysis by a court. Any party who was dissatisfied with the result of a matter decided in a small claims court could, whether he be the manufacturer or the consumer, appeal to the higher court and it is quite possible one would be adding another layer of administration to the judicial practice when, in fact, substantial matters would end up in court anyway and, from the point of view of cost, the exercise might not prove as worthwhile as one would hope. I merely put that forward as an argument deserving consideration. My mind is in no way closed and I think we should go into the matter in greater detail with particular emphasis on the constitutional difficulties which may exist here but not in other countries we might otherwise be encouraged to follow.

Deputy O'Malley referred to the director of consumer affairs. He seemed to be under the impression that the director would not be in a position to initiate a prosecution. Section 9 (5) (g) in fact indicates that, without prejudice to the powers or functions of any other prosecuting authority, the director may bring proceedings in relation to offences. Some [124] speakers were worried about the inclusion of oral statements in the category of trade descriptions which, if false, could be the subject of a prosecution. It is necessary that these be included because it is quite possible a particular trader, while not stating anything false in his advertising, might have a systematic policy of orally misleading people who trade with him. This could obviously be a particular problem in relation to itinerant or occasional traders and, if we did not have the power to prosecute, this abuse could go completely unchecked. I believe this power must stay, subject to the assurance I have given that it will be exercised reasonably.

Some speakers expressed concern about the independence of the director. Section 9 (4) clearly provides that the director shall be independent in the performance of his function. It is certainly my intention that he should be so independent, particularly in the matter of prosecutions. He should not be subject to political or other influence. I think it was Deputy O'Malley who said that, in theory, the Minister could seek his removal from office. We should know from not too distant past experience that that is just not on. It is simply not on for a Minister to remove an officer of this character, an officer who will be dealing with the public on a continuing basis and working in a very public way. The Minister could not come along and remove him from office for some capricious reason. In theory, he could, but in practice it would be politically impossible for him to do so. That political reality, combined with the guarantee given in the section, confirms the director's de jure and de facto independence.

Some would have us set up a separate agency with a separate staff structure. I would be opposed to that. Far from needing more agencies it is my belief we need fewer. We need to concentrate agencies to a greater degree. In the long run I see the need for looking at the possibility of a greater degree of co-operation and co-ordination in the whole area of consumer protection which encompasses restrictive practices and prices and the consumer area we are now discussing.

[125] Deputy O'Malley and others raised the possibility of providing for civil compensation to be granted up to certain financial limits in the course of criminal proceedings. I gather there is no provision for that in Britain's Trade Descriptions Act. There is the problem that the burden of proof in civil actions is different from the burden of proof in criminal actions.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  It is less.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is different. In a criminal action the only question is whether or not the defendant is guilty and there is no question of any damage being incurred by any sanction imposed by the prosecuting authority. In a civil action the sanction could possibly go either way and in such an action proof is on the basis of the balance of probabilities whereas proof of the facts in a criminal action is on the basis of being beyond reasonable doubt. That difference of degree of proof required could create problems.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  If the greater onus is fulfilled surely the lesser onus is fulfilled.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I have not a closed mind on the matter and I think we should look at it but it could lead to a problem, taking the Deputy's point, if certain limited things are proved in a criminal proceeding. In that eventuality does the fact that damages are given preclude further damages being sought? Would a person be put in jeopardy twice, first in a criminal proceeding and then in a civil proceeding on the same facts but, in which the balance of proof would be different? I also believe that in a criminal proceeding it would not be possible to identify all the parties who might have been injured. Their number could be legion. This is another problem. The overall consideration which influenced our decision was the advice we received from the law officer as to the legal propriety of making the particular provision suggested by the National Consumer Advisory Council. I am, however, prepared to listen to arguments on this point on Committee Stage.

Deputy O'Malley wondered to what [126] extent this legislation was novel. Was it merely a copy of the British legislation? There are quite a number of provisions here where we are well ahead of Britain and other countries.

In regard to the provisions contained in section 8 for the seeking of injunctions in regard to advertising campaigns which might cause damage to the consumer, we do not rely solely on the taking of criminal proceedings on a post hoc basis. A very distinctive feature of this legislation is that a private individual can seek an injunction in the High Court. Another distinctive feature is in section 13 whereby the names and addresses of those responsible for the publication of advertisements must be given in response to queries.

Another distinctive feature of our legislation is the provision in section 14 in relation to access to weighing facilities where food is being sold by retail. Section 15 provides against the prohibition of persons from reading retail prices and that is another new and distinctly Irish provision. The same applies to section 20 in relation to the onus of proof when the truth of an issue is concerned.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  I would not boast about that.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Deputies referred to the problem of consumer credit. One of the reasons we should proceed with other aspects of consumer legislation more quickly than with this is because there is an EEC directive at an advanced stage of consideration which will affect our law significantly when it comes into being. It would not be appropriate to proceed too quickly in advance of that directive because we might have to reverse our decision later if it were not in accordance with EEC requirements. The provisions whereby the Minister may, in making advertisement or information orders, require certain information to be given, could be invoked in relation to consumer credit so that advertisements in regard to consumer credit would give specific information.

Deputy Carter spoke of problems in relation to the public understanding of this legislation and the need for [127] more information to be given about this legislation. This is something we should give thought to in the long run. I agree with him that there are problems in this respect. This legislation amends an 1887 statute and one would have to have that statute in hand along with the Bill in order fully to understand it. Proceeding in this manner in order to get the Bill introduced quickly and to have the changes in the law made was necessary, but in the long run it would be desirable if we could, if not provide codified legislation, at least a codified guide to existing legislation which will enable ordinary members of the public to understand it.

The same Deputy referred to the need for the public to be able to make inquiries easily in their own areas. We already have, as a result of the initiative of the Minister, a Priceline service. In the fairly near future it is the intention to integrate the prices and weights and measures standards for the protection of the consumer. I would hope that the Priceline service could be used to give information to the public on their rights and the procedures contained in this legislation. It might not be possible to give the public the answers immediately over the telephone because the individual inspector who would answer it would not be adequately versed in all these provisions, but the existence of the telephone and of a manning service will provide a channel of communication in the different regions and this should prove to be very valuable for the consumer.

Deputy Carter referred to flippant advertisements. The Bill provides for orders requiring that information be given in various advertisements and this in time will lead to the availability of information which will be more informative.

Deputy Gibbons and Deputy McDonald referred to standard sizes in packaging and to having a relationship between the quantity of goods in a packet and the size of the packet. Powers exist under the existing Merchandise Marks Acts in relation to standard sized packets and these [128] powers have already been invoked extensively. Provision is being made in the EEC for further elaboration of that legislation and we will be following this. Indeed one will find that many of the problems which existed in relation to this matter do not exist to the same degree as they did some years ago. There is provision in existing legislation whereby the weight and quantity of goods contained in packages is required to be stated on the package, and that should deal with the problem of the small goods in big packages.

Deputy Gibbons inquired about the applicability of the provisions of this legislation to professions and to quacks. They apply to both, and indeed to secondhand businesses. In relation to complaints, a complaints service already exists to deal with particular problems. The Department deal with a large number of problems each year and bring many of them to a satisfactory conclusion. The Institute for Industrial Research and Standards also provide a service of that nature.

Deputy Callanan referred to the cost of enforcement of the Bill over the wide range of transactions to which it refers. Possible addition to the cost of public services is something that is of great concern to us, and in this context I draw the attention of the House to the power given to the director of consumer affairs in regard to the introduction of approved voluntary codes of practice in relation to particular trades and the truth of statements made and the approval of internal disciplinary procedures in these trades. If these can be brought into being they will largely obviate the necessity for prosecution and consequently the cost of administration. However, the Bill is necessary because it underwrites and provides a stop against misleading practices which could not be provided by voluntary codes alone.

In reply to Deputy Esmonde, the information orders which can be made under the Bill can apply to “non ethical drugs”, about which he was concerned.

Deputy Moore asked a question [129] about the Consumers' Association of Ireland. They publish a very useful document.

Deputy O'Connell referred to misleading statements about price reductions. This is being dealt with in the Bill. He referred to the guaranteed Irish scheme and suggested that some of the guaranteed Irish products were not Irish. I have not heard this complaint and I have some doubts about it. I would be very glad if he could give me some concrete information about this allegation and I would have it investigated immediately. I know the organisers of the scheme are going to great trouble to ensure that it is both a truthful campaign and one which can be followed up to the benefit of the consumer in particular cases.

Deputy Lalor referred to trading stamps. The Bill does not deal with them and did not purport to deal with them. We hope to introduce legislation at a later stage which will provide for the regulation of the use of trading stamps to protect the consumer and individual traders from exploitation in this area. We have also been looking at the problem of pyramid selling. There are grave problems in drafting here, including the abuse of pyramid selling without proscribing at the same time perfectly legitimate forms of business. The problem, to my knowledge, is not as great now as it was at the time the controversy was most vigorous in relation to it. While it is something we should keep under review, I feel in terms of the very substantial effort involved in introducing legislation that other matters, such as those contained in this Bill, should be dealt with first. We have done some preliminary work on the regulation of pyramid selling and, if necessary, we can proceed with it.

Deputy McDonald referred to itinerant trading. I should point out that any misrepresentation or misleading description applied by itinerant trading would be the subject of prosecution under this legislation. The general question of the regulation of itinerant trading is not a matter which is purported to be dealt with under this Bill, but I can tell the House it is a subject of study by the Restrictive Practices [130] Commission which I hope will be available in the not too distant future.

Deputy O'Malley expressed concern about the powers given to the authorised officers under the Bill. These are more or less the same powers which already exist under the Merchandise Marks and Food and Drugs legislation for authorised officers there. I do not think they are causing problems under that legislation and I have no doubt the same will be the case in relation to this legislation. If any particular points are raised on Committee I will be happy to look at them.

Deputy Gibbons referred to the problems of the Coeliac Society. We are investigating those. The information orders provided in the Bill could be of help in this context. It is a matter we will have to discuss very fully with the Department of Health to find out what can be done.

Deputy Esmonde referred to the need to ensure that promises to provide services and in relation to the preparation of goods should be met. If these are given specifically and are not available an offence could be committed under the legislation. We can require, under the information orders, that particular information in respect of this matter might be given in relation to the marketing of particular commodities.

Deputy Lalor suggested that CIE timetables amount to recklessly making a false statement. The answer to this problem is that the bus timetable is not meant to be, and is not understood by anybody to be, a firm statement that a particular bus will leave at a particular time. It is an indication of the timetable at which the company will aim but it is understood by all that breakdowns, traffic jams, crew shortages and so on may make the attainment of this impossible. It is not therefore a false statement which will come within the purview of this legislation. It is quite possible for CIE to state on their timetable the exact conditions under which they are making these statements, to qualify them sufficiently. It will not be a problem for them—although sometimes there may be a problem for the people waiting for the buses.

[131] In relation to Deputy McDonald's point about the harmonisation of size ranges the Merchandise Marks Order made in 1972 introduced prescribed sizes.

I would like to thank the House for the welcome they have given to the Bill. It brings us a long way along the road of consumer protection. It provides that statements being made in promoting goods will henceforth be true; and, it they are not, swift action can be taken against those who are making untrue statements. I feel this will be something which will be of great value to the consumer in the years to come. The powers to make orders in relation to the provision of particular information will provide a flexible instrument which can be used, and hopefully will be used, in 20 to 30 years hence to deal with the marketing conditions which may exist at that time.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 10th November, 1976.


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