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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Apr 1928

Vol. 23 No. 1


We will discuss the following amendments on the Order Paper together, as both deal with the same matter:—

1. In page 5, line 27, Section 11 (2), to insert after the word "period" and in brackets the words—"(not being longer than two years)."— (Seán Lemass).

2. In page 5, line 27, Section 11 (2), before the word "and" to insert in brackets the words "(not exceeding such maximum period as the Minister may prescribe either generally or specifically by regulations made by him under this section)."—(Aire Tionnscail agus Tráchtála.)

The sub-section of the Bill to which I have tabled an amendment relates to the licensing of petrol pumps which do not qualify for a certificate under the Bill. I take it that the purpose of the sub-section is to ensure that there will be in the shortest possible time a uniform instrument for the sale of petrol throughout the country, and the infliction of the least amount of hardship on the traders concerned. In other words, it is sought to arrive at a balance between the interests of motorists who use the petrol on the one hand, and on the other the traders who sell the petrol. In considering this we have to take into consideration, as the Minister said on the Second Reading of the Bill, that 18,000,000 gallons of petrol were sold in this country last year, the greater proportion of which, I think, was sold through the medium of instruments known as petrol pumps, of which there are 1,392 in the country. Of the 1,392, 825 without alteration were eligible for a certificate under the Bill, and that 523 of the remainder, even with alterations, could not be brought under the Bill, in so far as they would not be eligible for a certificate. In the case of these 523 pumps the principle of their construction is such that the Minister under the Bill could not give them a certificate to the effect that they were proper measuring instruments for the sale of petrol.

We must remember that if these pumps are inaccurate, as they are, the inaccuracy is bound to be in favour of the trader, and not in favour of the motorist. If the inaccuracy is the other way round the trader is going to get rid of his pump as quickly as possible, because he is losing on it. If he finds that he is gaining, as he is gaining, it is the motorists who buy petrol will be the losers. The suggestion in the Bill is to provide that these inaccurate pumps will be licensed for the sale of petrol for a period. The question of hardship comes in when the length of the period during which the licence will operate is taken into consideration. As I said, it should be the object of the Dáil to strike a balance between the good of the community, which would undoubtedly be served by having standard instruments of measure throughout the country, and a certificate from the Department of Industry and Commerce as to accuracy, and the desire not to inflict hardship on traders who bought pumps at a time when they were considered quite in order and suitable for trade in this country. The suggestion contained in my amendment is that the licences to be granted to these inaccurate pumps should not be for a period longer than two years. There are 523 pumps according to the Minister in this category. A number of these were sold to traders by oil companies, whose oil is sold in the pumps, on the instalment system, the instalments being so arranged that they were in fact little more than rent. The oil companies would still be anxious to facilitate the sale of their oil after the Bill comes into operation, and would be fairly certain to take care that pumps, if condemned, would be replaced so as to ensure that there would be no reduction in the amount of their oil sold. There are traders who bought these pumps outright and own them, and it is with them we should concern ourselves to ensure that they would not be put to any undue loss. We must keep in mind the fact that the pumps are inaccurate, that a man who pays for a gallon of petrol from these pumps is not getting a gallon, and that the trader is making a profit which he is not entitled to make. At the same time we do not want to close down the traders' pump completely and put him to the loss of the price he paid for it.

We suggest that a two years' period should be the maximum for the good of the community that should be given for seeing that proper measures are being used, and the interests of the trader can be balanced on that basis, that within two years after the passing of this Bill, which will be within two and a half years after the most recent of these pumps has been bought, they should either be shut down altogether or completely rebuilt in such a manner as to bring them within the terms of the Bill and to entitle them to get certificates.

The Minister stated on the Committee Stage that he would give us information on the Report Stage regarding the number of pumps concerned and the different types. The normal life of a pump is undoubtedly longer than two years, and there are different classes of these pumps in operation, some of which might be near enough to accuracy to make the alterations required very small. These are undoubtedly the pumps that would be altered as soon as the Bill comes into operation, and they can get certificates. I ask the Dáil to bear this in mind, that it is pumps that cannot be altered to make them sufficiently accurate to come under the Bill that it is proposed to licence, and it is these inaccurate pumps that we suggest should not be allowed to be used for the sale of petrol for a longer period than two years. I would be glad, however, to hear what the Minister has to say on the matter, particularly as to the number of types of pumps concerned, so that I could see the idea behind the amendment that he proposes, that the maximum period should be such as, either generally or specifically, might be prescribed by him by regulation. It is for the Dáil to say whether there should not be an overriding period. We think that in the case of pumps that are hopelessly inaccurate and that undoubtedly defraud the consumer every time he buys petrol, the period should be less than two years. We have no objection if the Minister wants to reduce it, but we think that two years should be the longest period for which these inaccurate pumps should be allowed to operate.

There were two remarks of Deputy Lemass that I take exception to right away. The aim of this particular clause is not to ensure a uniform type of measuring instrument; it is to ensure that amongst the different patterns it will be certain that there will be no inaccuracy, that is to say, that there will be a protection to the public as against false measure. The Deputy has also spoken of inaccurate pumps, and he said that the inaccuracy will always be against the consumer. But it is not the intention of my Department to license any inaccurate pump. If a pump is found to be inaccurate no licence will be granted. But what has to be considered is the protection of the public and allowing the public to see, by the particular type of machine used, what measure is supposed to be given. The main point that really arises in regard to most of these measuring instruments is: Is it visible? Is it possible for the buyer to see the amount he is getting? Is there anything visible to him from which he can get evidence with regard to the amount given to him? If pumps are found to be definitely inaccurate no licence will be given. There are certain pumps of a particular pattern and they cannot come up to the very strict requirements that are necessary for gaining a certificate. Outside that, but certainly still within the limits of accuracy, although not within the limit of visibility of amount given to the public, we wish to be allowed to certify. As to the overriding period, if there is to be an overriding period—and I object to it on consideration—the period would have to be somewhere about nine or ten years. It certainly should not be less than eight years, I think, when one remembers that in this you are making provision for a maximum period and providing for all pumps. I suggest to the Deputy that it is in fact true that what is in my amendment gives better protection than any overriding maximum, because the suggestion here is that there should be regulation, but the suggestion in my amendment is that the regulations should state specifically for a particular class, or even for units within a class, a period of years.

It would be open to the Deputy hereafter, once the regulations are made, to get the regulations, to see what are the particular pumps that are given, say, some period outside the period of two years that he suggests, and by method of Parliamentary Question, from time to time to find out what changes are being made with regard to these, what are the regulations enforced in the way of accuracy, in the way of visibility to the consumer and so on, and there is a much readier way of getting at the individual pump than by this overriding maximum. If one takes an overriding maximum it must be one that seems fair to the pump most recently brought into use or to the one that has the longest commercial life. That would undoubtedly let in a very big number of pumps which should not be given that lifetime, and I think it is better to have a regulation, applied either to a class or to units within that particular class, because we have found that on an attempt to make an examination such as I promised, it was really impossible to get these things considered until the individual pumps come up for examination. It has been quite impossible to get any enumeration of the classes that I endeavoured to find. We found that even within a class itself it is quite possible to make variations, depending on the life of the instrument and certain other considerations. I suggest that the two years' period would be quite unfair as a maximum period. If there is to be a maximum period I would suggest something in the region of eight years, and I personally think that an eight years period would be far too long for a big number of these instruments. I therefore suggest to the Deputy that if he and the House accept my amendment there would then be room, if any Deputy gets complaints as to a particular type of measuring instrument, to have the matter raised here on the regulations enforced by my Department by way of a question, a discussion on the adjournment, or by a motion. Certainly, when the regulations are issued and when the individuals within a class to which the regulations are applicable are made clear, there will be a better basis for discussion, a better opportunity to bring in an amendment for a change, and the amendment for the change, could then be put down in the regulations if the regulations are objected to. I have to confess that I have not been able to get the enumeration I promised by reason of the difficulty we experienced when the matter came to be considered, because we found that it was not suitable to divide merely into the classes of pumps, that variations were possible in the individual pumps in a class, and we hope we will not have to prescribe a particular period for a class of pump. There will be regulations in so far as it is reasonably possible, limiting even individual units in a class.

Do I understand the Minister to say that no pump which is found to be inaccurate will get a licence?

If a pump is clearly found to be inaccurate it will not get a licence.

And that no matter what period is fixed for the operation of a licence for any particular pump, if as a result of examination it has been found to have become inaccurate, the licence will be withdrawn?

The regulations may be changed and a regulation imposing a lesser period for a particular pump may be made, or there may be a threat to withdraw the licence altogether if a change were not made. That would be the line of approach to this by the Department.

I mean if the pump was found to be inaccurate, despite the fact that the period for which the licence was in operation had not expired, the licence could be withdrawn.

Yes; even taking the higher class, a certificate could be withdrawn.

Is the owner of a pump required to keep it in order? Is the owner of a pump continuously liable for the accuracy of his pump, even when it is licensed? Take the ordinary case of a weighing machine. If I find my machine is wrong I am responsible. Will it be the same in relation to a pump, or will it be that during the intervening period the owner of a pump will be free from responsibility?

No. I think the penalties are exactly the same for any type of measuring instrument. I understand the procedure with regard to, say, an ordinary weighing machine, which is used for weighing out any matter sold by weight is that if on inspection it is found to be deficient there is the possibility of a prosecution for having used a deficient weight for some period before that.

Presumably the law being the same, the penalty would be the same in regard to these particular measures, but I cannot answer that point absolutely clearly at the moment.

The second point the Minister spoke of was this: That it was not so much a question of the accuracy of the machine as of the provision of means by which the consumer of goods could know that he was getting what he was paying for. There are certain types of machines by which one knows, the fact that one visibly sees the petrol. What I mean is, the petrol is pushed into a transparent vessel and runs up to a level mark. What I want to know from the Minister is if he is confining himself to that kind of visibility or whether he intends to avail of any other method of indicator which would show that the petrol has travelled through a definite cylindrical length. I want to know if that would be sufficient for him?

It would depend on circumstances.

You are not confining yourself to what one might call the physical visibility of the pump?

Obviously not. What I said was this, that in the ordinary measuring instrument what is looked to is not merely that the amount is delivered which is the amount that is to be sold, but that it is clear to the purchaser that such is the case. In the ordinary way, that is shown by the visibility of the container, which rises to a certain point. There may be other methods, but the real defect with regard to most of these 500 pumps is that they have nothing at all which shows to the consumer what he is getting. That is the main defect in the 523 pumps—that there is nothing visible. When one comes to consider some other method of measurement, such as running the liquid through a tube of a particular size, I am not at all sure that that method can be regarded as giving a security to the purchaser of seeing what he gets, unless it be that there is a cut off so that he sees it filled and emptied.

Examination showed that the difficulty with regard to most of these pumps is that a very great number of them can be manipulated, and that, while pretending to give a certain amount of liquid, they can be manipulated to give less than that amount. We have to set out against that. Of course, if we found one that was clearly inaccurate in the amount that it gave, I think what would be done there is, it would be wiped off the books altogether. The great difficulty, however, is to get after the particular type of instrument which, while pretending to give a particular amount, can be manipulated so as not to give that amount at each discharge. I think, as Deputy Lemass has explained, that there is sufficient protection in the method that I have indicated. When regulations are made one can see the applicability of different types, and there can be questions and answers going on here with regard to other classes or units about which people have had complaints, or in regard to which suspicions arise.

The Minister would be satisfied with any indicator which showed that a certain action had taken place after it had been tested, and the variation of which was outside control?

Broadly speaking, I think that is so.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 agreed to.
Question: That the Bill, as amended, be received for final consideration.

There were two points raised on the Committee Stage that I would like to deal with. One question related to the fact that a particular section of this Bill was an amendment of a section of an earlier Act, and that it had been re-enacted in the amended form. I have considered that point, and have found the difficulty in connection with it to be this: The section which it is proposed to amend is Section 2 of the Act of 1878. So far as this Bill amends a section of the Act of 1878 it is quite simple to do that. It only means copying the old wording and cutting out certain portions of it. But the difficulty in regard to this particular section is this: that that section in the Act of 1878 had been earlier amended by an intermediate Act, and if we are going to read into this Bill the further amendments made to that section, then we would have to re-enact and put into this Bill the various sections amended by the intermediate Act. What would happen, therefore, is this, that there would have to be such a system of cross references not only to the amendment made in that particular section of the Act of 1878, but to other sections of that Act, that it would not be by any means a simple matter. In any event that is not a desirable form of legislation. It has been put to me that it is much simpler to deal with the matter as I propose here than to make all the provisions that would be entailed by the other method.

The second point made was on the question of charges made for adjustment of weights and measures and of weighing machines. There has been consideration given to the possibility of including in the Bill provisions in regard to charges. Again, it is difficult— I alluded to it on the Committee Stage —it is almost impossible to think of the variety of adjustments and repairs that would have to be done, and it is impossible to think out here and now the charges that would be legitimate under the varying circumstances in different parts of the country. This Bill for the first time gives the power to make certain statutory regulations for the guidance of inspectors. We propose to include in these regulations certain points which we hope will remedy the grievances that have been complained of, and to make it quite clear to traders that they are not bound to accept anybody recommended to them by the inspector. The position will be this, that they can get the work done for themselves and have the repairs tested afterwards by the inspector. If Deputies who get complaints from people in their areas with regard to these matters would let me know what is alleged I can have the matter looked into. I say that because it may be that in certain areas there are certain people taking advantage of the ignorance of traders and others with regard to what is entailed on them by the law in regard to repairs. If Deputies get such complaints in their various areas I would be glad to have them from them, because then I can get the areas from which the complaints come better investigated, and the traders in these areas properly and definitely instructed with regard to what is required of them. I am not moving any amendment with regard to these two points.

Am I to understand that the Minister found it impossible to get what he meant in plain English into the Bill?

No, but it would mean having about eight sections instead of one.

Will the Minister not consider the unfortunate people who will be supposed to carry out the Act having to go first to the Act, then back to the Amending Act, and finally to the Principal Act, and the difficulty they will be placed in?

They can consult some lawyer.

Question put and agreed to.
Fifth Stage ordered for Friday.