Wednesday, 21 May 1980
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Enright: Yesterday evening I asked the Minister to delete section 3 (2) (e). I asked the Minister if he had any idea of the actual cost involved in its administration and what fees he envisages will be charged under this section. He stated that he is considering setting up an inspectorate. Would the Minister give us more information about this?
Minister of State at the Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism (Mr. Meaney): We are discussing amendments Nos. 1c and 1d. Amendment No. 1c refers to authorisation and amendment No. 1d refers to routine inspection. They are two completely different matters. It is accepted that there should be an inspectorate. The inspectorate, in addition to being guardians for the consumer, will provide a service for industry. Theirs will not be purely a policing role. The service will include authorising and checking certain types of equipment to be used in making up or checking packages outside the normal verification and stamping done under weights and measures legislation for equipment for use in trade. The fees provided for in this legislation will mean that all the types of equipment authorised will be treated in a uniform manner.
It is desirable that the industry user should pay for services provided by the State and the proposal maintains consistency with existing practice in relation to similar services provided under weights and measures legislation. It is consistent with the present practice.
 Industry packers will have savings arising from use of high speed machinery and more cost effective methods of control. It is not envisaged that there would be a necessity for a net price imposition on the consumer. It is appropriate that the person who uses the service—primarily the packer and indirectly the purchaser of the particular product—should pay for the service. The alternative is for the taxpayer in general to pay and there is not a significant reason favouring this.
The legislation applies largely to goods which are mass produced and the cost of certification of machines when allocated over a large number of products would be insignificant, and probably on account of the savings to packers arising from the use of the average method would not involve any cost to the consumer.
The Deputy wondered about the size of the inspectorate and asked whether it would be numbered in hundreds rather than tens. It will be tens rather than hundreds. In regard to amendment 1(c), there will be a charge for initial authorisation but there will not be a charge in regard to routine checks. It is largely in line with the weights and measures legislation.
Mr. Meaney: If they come from the EEC countries they will be marked with the distinctive E, and under the EEC regulation which we are endorsing by this legislation our goods going to EEC countries will have a similar marking for certification purposes.
Mr. Enright: My concern is that if the packer is charged under this legislation that charge will be passed down to the consumer in increased prices for the products. The important point is that the consumer should not have to pay extra for the goods, that the Central Fund should bear the cost of the authorisation. On Monday the Minister for Finance spoke about our loss of competitiveness vis-a-vis other countries. Surely the adninistration of this legislation would mean a further loss of our competitiveness.
Mr. Enright: The fees will have to be paid by the packer and in normal practice such costs will ultimately fall on the consumer. That is my main concern. If the number of the inspectorate is to be as small as the Minister has said, the cost to the Exchequer will be relatively small and therefore it would be wise that it would be met by the Central Fund rather than having it fall on the consumer.
Mr. Meaney: There is not any way the cost could go down along the line to the consumer. This legislation will be operating on similar lines to the weights and measures legislation in regard to authorisation and certification of self-indicating or semi-self-indicating machines. The fee in that respect is £5 and I cannot see how that could trickle down to the consumer. As I have said, there will not be a charge for routine checks.
Mr. Meaney: They will be owned by the firms. The Deputy-spoke about the possible effect on competitiveness. In  Great Britain the system is that the packer will pay the fees in accordance with their legislation endorsing the EEC regulation. We are following that pattern.
Mr. Enright: I accept that this legislation is in accordance with the EEC regulation. I accept that Britain have somewhat similar legislation and that they are not making any charges. Be that as it may, we should look at this from a more general viewpoint. The fee for the certification or authorisation is so small and there are so few inspectors employed that there is little reason why in this instance the Minister is not prepared to meet our approach and have the costs levied from central funds.
Mr. Meaney: If the Deputy is arguing that point, we would have the present system under the weights and measures regulations and the new system with the new inspectorate and there would be a lot of inconsistency. Nobody can say that the charge of a fee of £5 for certification of self-indicating machines or semi self-indicating machines that weigh more than one ton and are under five tons is excessive. For a machine that weighs 100 kilograms there is a £2 fee. That is not unreasonable. It all must be operated on the same lines. We cannot have a new system charging fees one way and the old system charging them another way. We will probably have a separate inspectorate at the beginning but as time goes on we hope there will be a uniform one.
Burke, Raphael P.
Daly, Brendan. Keegan, Seán.
Fitzpatrick, Tom (Dublin South
Fitzsimons, James N.
Fox, Christopher J.
Hussey, Thomas. Moore, Seán.
Murphy, Ciarán P.
O'Connor, Timothy C.
Wilson, John P.
Woods, Michael J.
Cosgrave, Michael J.
D'Arcy, Michael J.
Deasy, Martin A.
Donnellan, John F.
Enright, Thomas W.
Fitzpatrick, Tom (Cavan-Monaghan).
Harte, Patrick D.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Moore and Briscoe; Níl, Deputies L'Estrange and B. Desmond.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment 1d not moved.
Section 3 agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 5 stand part of the Bill”.
Mr. Enright: There will be a considerable amount of equipment involved with regard to measuring and weighing the packages. Will the Minister tell the House when he thinks regulations will be introduced? A considerable amount of equipment will be used for the testing, weighing and certification of packaged goods and while many firms may have this equipment already a considerable number will not have it. Firms may have to adapt machinery or obtain new plant and I should like to know the position.
Mr. Meaney: There is provision for derogation. The original idea was that the provisions of this measure would come into effect some time in 1980. I cannot be definite because this Bill must go to Seanad Éireann but I can assure the Deputy there is no need for firms to have problems because there is provision for derogation.
Mr. Enright: I should imagine the Bill will go through this House fairly quickly but I am concerned about implementation of the regulations as distinct from the Bill.
Mr. Meaney: Once the Bill is passed the usual time scale is a few months. All I can tell the Deputy is that we will not delay it.
Mr. Enright: I am concerned to give firms an opportunity to be ready and able to comply with the terms of the legislation. I wonder what will be the time scale for bringing in the regulations? Will it be weeks or months after the passing of the Bill?
Mr. Meaney: They will be brought in as soon as possible. We have had consultations with industry and all matters have been ironed out. The legislation will be brought into effect as soon as possible, within seven or eight weeks, but the point I want to make is that there can be derogations in respect of individual firms.
Mr. Enright: Is the Minister referring to the exemptions in section 6?
Mr. Meaney: Yes.
Mr. Bruton: I wish to make a general point here about the introduction of regulations. I have noticed that in legislation such as this in which power is given to introduce regulations, there are tremendous delays in the introduction of the regulations. I had a case this morning which related to the Horse Industry Act, 1970, which provided for the making of regulations to govern horse-riding establishments. I found that, ten years after the Bill was passed, the regulations have not been issued. The Consumer Information Act which was passed in 1978 also contains extensive powers for the introduction of regulations but to the best of my knowledge no regulation has been introduced under that Act, an Act which concerns all sorts of important matters such as information that must be given on packages, the meaning of particular terms used in advertisements and so on. The failure of the Department to issue the regulations in this case means that in many respects the legislation is now a complete dead letter in so far as it could have taken effect only if the regulations had been issued.
Mr. Meaney: The Deputy may save his breath because that will not happen in this case. Matters are at an advanced  stage in so far as the regulations under this Bill are concerned.
Mr. Bruton: How soon may we expect these regulations to be in effect?
Mr. Meaney: Approximately a couple of months, since matters are already in train and discussions are taking place.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 6 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 7 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Enright: I should like the Minister to clarify the position regarding this section vis-à-vis the position relating to section 3, subsection (1) (e). I take it that in referring to the expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of this Act, what is involved is the workings of the Department as distinct from the weights and measures inspectorate. On the one hand a firm or packer may be responsible for some costs whereas in section 7 we find that the expenses incurred will be the responsibility of the Minister for Finance.
Mr. Meaney: The fees charged may not cover the whole cost of the inspectorate. There will be inspections also that will not be charged for and these are covered in section 7. As I have explained, the ordinary routine inspection is not being charged for and the fees collected will not in general be sufficient to cover the routine charges.
Mr. Enright: May we take it then, that in respect of routine inspections by weights and measures officials, the expenses involved will be met by the Department of Finance?
Mr. Meaney: Routine inspections will not be charged for where everything is found to be in order.
Mr. Enright: May we take it that if everything is not in order the firm concerned  will be responsible for the costs involved?
Mr. Meaney: The certification is paid for by the packer. The ordinary routine visit is not paid for by the packer but should a second or subsequent visit be considered necessary as a result of something that was found wrong during the routine visit, the cost of any such subsequent visit would be the responsibility of the packer.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 8 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Enright: This section applies to any package which has been either made up in the State or imported and which, as provided in subsection (1) has been made up other than in the presence of the person purchasing the package. Paragraph (b) of the subsection deals with what should be expressed on the package. If a firm fail to express on the package the information referred to in the subsection, will the Minister have power under the legislation to take action against that firm? In other words, will firms be compelled to express on packages the information concerned? I am talking about the type of case in which a firm might be devious enough to try to escape the general intentions of the Bill by omitting deliberately to express on their packages information as to weight, volume and so on.
Mr. Meaney: The Bill will assist people who express on the packages in which their products are contained information as to weight, measures and so on, but there are other regulations governing the type of situation to which the Deputy refers. These other regulations come under a different heading and not under this Bill, a Bill which is in line with the EEC directive regarding the assisting of packers in the main.
Mr. Enright: The overall intention of the relevant EEC regulations is to ensure that the consumer is protected. Let us take the example of tins of beans and peas, standard types of tins of both, on which the weight is shown. Let us assume there has been an increase in the price of peas and a firm discover they are unable to implement that increase, having sought permission from the Prices Commission. To enable them sell their product they reduce the size of the tin and charge the same price. In other words, the consumer is getting less for the same amount of money. The same can happen with the simple bar of chocolate when, at times, the quantity is reduced but the price level maintained.
Mr. Meaney: What would be on the package?
Mr. Enright: That is the point I am making. The size of the bar of chocolate is reduced but the same price charged.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Would that not come under the next section which deals with quantity?
Mr. Meaney: No, it does not come under the Bill at all.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It does not come under the provisions of this Bill at all. There is the one Bill only before the House.
Mr. Meaney: The Bill is endeavouring to assist firms and packers who sell goods and products when they show the quantity on them, when they want to avail of the average system, with which this Bill mainly deals. The Deputy mentioned goods for sale that would not have displayed on them quantity or weight. Any regulations in regard to them would come under the Merchandise Marks Regulations, not under this Bill.
Mr. Enright: The point that struck me was that, say, a firm wanted to avoid having to display particular markings on their products. If they failed to do so are they excluded from the provisions of this Bill?
Mr. Meaney: This Bill is to assist those who market for the consumer. Any of the other points the Deputy raised would come under the Merchandise Marks Regulations.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 9 and 10 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 11 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Enright: How large will this e-mark referred to be? Will it be a stamp, or——
Mr. Meaney: To start with, actually it is an Irish `e'. It must be at least three millimetres high. The regulations are laid down under the appropriate EEC directive for the different sizes of packages. They will apply as per that directive under the provisions of this Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 12 agreed to.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister to move amendment No. 2 which has been debated already.
Mr. Meaney: I move amendment No. 2:
In page 9, lines 43 to 45, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:
“(1) The Minister may appoint any person who is either—
(a) an officer of the Minister, or
(b) a person who for the time being stands appointed under the Weights and Measures Acts, 1978 to 1961, as an inspector of weights and measures,
to be an inspector for the purposes of this Act.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Meaney: I move amendment No. 3:
In page 10, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
“(3) Without prejudice to any power apart from this subsection of the Minister as regards the revocation of appointments, the Minister may at any time revoke an appointment under this section, and in case the Minister revokes an appointment under this section, the person whose appointment is so revoked shall forthwith give to the Minister the certificate furnished to him under this section.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 13, as amended, agreed to.
Section 14, agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 15 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Enright: With regard to appeals against seizures, if a person is dissatisfied it is to the District Court he may appeal?
Mr. Meaney: Yes.
Mr. Enright: I foresee some problem here in that the jurisdiction of the District Court would be limited. If the value of the products seized ran into thousands of pounds, going beyond the limits of the jurisdiction of the District Court, can I take it that the district justice will have power to deal with it, even though it may be a very sizeable amount of goods?
Mr. Meaney: This would refer to seizure of packages and the value of no individual package would be likely to run into that amount of money. It would not be a question of firms having all of their products seized. It will be seizure of packages and the total value would not be that high. We would not be envisaging thousands upon thousands of pounds worth.
Mr. Enright: Could there not be a situation in which, say, a lorry-load would be seized?
Mr. Meaney: As the Bill stands, all that would be seized would be what would be necessary for evidence in court. That is the purpose of the Bill, and that value would not be very great.
Mr. Enright: I take it that a company having items seized would be allowed retain supplies to have them tested themselves, and that the Department would be doing likewise?
Mr. Meaney: That would be the general procedure. Perhaps the Deputy is envisaging circumstances in which a company refused to listen to advice, and continued time and again, occasioning several court cases. Is that correct?
Mr. Enright: No.
Mr. Meaney: In the ordinary course of events the amount or value of goods seized would not be very great.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 16 agreed to.
Mr. Enright: I move amendment No. 4:
In page 13, subsection (5), line 42, to delete “twice” and substitute “by”.
My reason for putting down this amendment is that I felt “twice the relevant amount calculated in the manner so prescribed,” seemed a very sizeable amount. It would be more appropriate, instead of having it double the amount, to put in the word “by”.
Mr. Meaney: To give a very short reply, one must return to the EEC directive. We have kept in line with that EEC directive. To change this, there would need to be a discussion and it would make it meaningless.
Mr. Enright: If the amount is inadequate, it seems a sizeable change to make it twice the amount. I take it that we are adhering strictly to EEC regulations and have no choice in changing the amount?
Mr. Meaney: That is so.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 17 agreed to.
Section 18 to 20, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment and passed.
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