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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 12 Apr 1934

Vol. 51 No. 13

In Committee on Finance. - Road Transport Bill, 1934—Second Stage.

I move: That this Bill be now read a Second Time. The purpose of the Bill is to effect a number of miscellaneous amendments in the Road Transport Act of 1933. It will facilitate Deputies, perhaps, if I explain briefly the nature of the amendments contemplated. I should say that the Act of 1933 introduced for the first time statutory control and regulation of the carriage of merchandise by road. That business was much less organised and much less definite in character than the passenger-carrying business that had been brought subject to regulation by the Act of 1932. Many of the persons engaged in it were doing so in a very small way, although dependent upon it for a livelihood. It proved to be a very slow process to get them to realise what was required of them, and to become familiar with the nature of the legislation which had been enacted by the Oireachtas. It would have been a cause of very great hardship upon these people to have disregarded the circumstances of their failure to comply with the statutory requirements. It was not intended that the Act should impose hardship upon these persons and, consequently, when it became clear that a large number of persons, who should have applied for existing carrier certificates under the Act of 1933, had failed to do so within the time laid down in that Act, an amending statute was passed through the Oireachtas extending the period within which such applications could be made for, roughly, six months from the original date. Public notice of the nature of the legislation, and of the manner in which application for certificates should be made and the necessity for getting such certificates, was given in every way possible by advertisements in the Press, announcements from the Broadcasting Station, posters displayed outside Civic Guard stations and so forth. Nevertheless, a large number of persons failed to realise what was required of them and to make application. Under the terms of the statute these persons were debarred from securing these certificates, and if the Act had been operated without regard to the consequences affecting these persons, they would have been deprived entirely of the right to continue in the business on which their livelihoods depended.

The number of applications for certificates made subsequent to the final date, that is the date as extended by the amending Act of 1933, is now 200. If the number was much smaller one might be inclined to say that the persons concerned had only themselves to blame, having regard to the fact that we had extended the period by six months. However, I think it would be undesirable that 200 persons should be debarred utterly and completely from securing these certificates because of their disregard of the requirements of the statute or because of their ignorance concerning it. It is proposed, therefore, to deal with these late claims, but not to permit of any additional claims being made, either under this Bill or in the future.

The Bill proposes to extend, until 1st April, thé period in which applications for certificates can be made, and, consequently, the 200 persons whose applications were late under the existing law can be dealt with under the terms of this Bill when it is enacted. The amendment of the law proposed in that respect necessitates the fixing of a later appointed day than that which has been fixed already for the operation of merchandise licences. The 1st of February was appointed as the date upon which no person holding a certificate could continue to engage in the business of carrying merchandise by road for reward without a licence. An existing carrier had, first, to get a certificate that he was, in fact, a carrier, and subsequently to obtain a licence to operate in the future. The 1st of February was the date on which the portion of the Act requiring carriers to have licences came into operation. Now that we are extending the period within which carriers may apply for their certificates, as such, it is necessary also to cancel the order, already made, fixing the appointed day as 1st February, and to provide for the fixation of another date, which is being done by this Bill.

The provisions of the 1933 Act restrict all existing carriers permanently to, roughly, the same carrying capacity as was available to them during the qualifying period, the carrying capacity being measured by the unladen weight of the vehicles or tractors available in connection with their service. That provision, however, has involved hardship in certain cases, and, consequently, there are certain sections of this Bill designed to deal with these cases. Firstly, it appears that it is the practice to use passenger vehicles for the purpose of transporting newspapers in certain parts of the country. Most Deputies living in Dublin are familiar with the passenger car carrying newspapers round the city, on a Sunday morning particularly. In order to enable that practice to continue undisturbed, it is proposed to bring within the definition of lorry a vehicle constructed and designed for the carriage of passengers but which, for the time being, is being used for the carriage of newspapers. Secondly, there have been a number of cases in which vehicles were substituted for those that were available during the qualifying period which were roughly of the same carrying capacity but the unladen weights of which were greater. Frequently, due to the fact that the new vehicle was constructed with an Irish-built body, instead of the foreign-built body of the older vehicle, the new vehicle may have been of a greater unladen weight. Under the strict terms of the Act of 1933, where such a vehicle had been substituted for the vehicle available during the qualifying period and was of a greater weight, a licence could not be issued. It is proposed to take power to deal with such cases by allowing a certain element of discretion where vehicles have been substituted in that particular way.

There have been other cases in which persons engaged in the merchandise-carrying business had vehicles available for the purpose of that business but not licensed during the qualifying period. It was stated that these vehicles were available for the business and could have been licensed at very short notice if required in connection with the business. It is proposed, wherever a genuine claim of that kind appears to be sustainable, to enable these vehicles to be taken into regard in fixing the unladen lorry or tractor weight of the applicant for a licence. These are the main provisions of the Bill. There are some other minor amendments which effect no change in the law, but are proposed mainly to clarify certain of the provisions of the Act of 1933.

The Bill is one which has arisen entirely out of our experience of the operation of that Act. I notice in the Press that certain associations and organisations associated with the railways have been protesting against the delay in bringing the Act of 1933 into full operation. That delay was due entirely to the very great difficulty in bringing under the form of control contemplated by the Act all the business of carrying merchandise by road, a business as to the dimensions of which we had no information, and the scattered nature of which made it very difficult to regulate. The work which devolved upon my Department in connection with the administration of the Act was very heavy indeed and it is, of course, not yet completed, because with the introduction of this Bill the period within which the same class of work will continue is necessarily lengthened. It is only when the Bill is through that the situation can be rounded off, by the issue of licences to those entitled to them and, consequently, the preparation of what I may call a picture of the road merchandise transport business as revealed in the list of licensees, the nature of the business in which they are engaged, the districts in which they are operating, and the unladen weight of the lorries and tractors used in connection with their business.

The number of applications received for certificates as existing carriers under the Act of 1933 was no less than 2,043. The number of certificates issued was 1,385. There were 1,176 licences issued, but that number may be possibly increased in consequence of the enactment of this measure. These figures are sufficient to give Deputies an indication of the widespread nature of the business, and the very large number of very small firms engaged in it and, consequently, will enable them to understand the difficulty of securing in relation to the business the very precise and accurate degree of control or regulation which the Act of 1933 contemplated. The difficulties which have arisen, however, will, I think, be removed by the Bill.

Does the difference between the numbers 1,385 and 2,043, represent fraudulent claims which could not be supported?

There were 78 applications refused; 67 were withdrawn; 313 were not pursued by the applicants, and the other 200 were those received after the final date and which cannot be dealt with until the Bill is enacted.

I think there can be no possible objection to the Bill. Even if some people may have neglected to apply in time, through carelessness or some other fault of their own, it is not desirable that they should be deprived of their means of livelihood. Seeing that the question of the necessity for applying for a licence will get considerable publicity by the passage of this Bill through the Dáil, in case there might be even half a dozen or ten or twelve still forgetful or ignorant of the duty imposed upon them, one wonders why the Minister did not allow the extension of time to last until the passing of this Bill. However, with regard to the main section, other than the extension which alters the appointed day—Section 10, as I read it, enables the Minister to double the standard weights to be allowed to any licensee. What occurs to one on reading the very complicated section, is why the proposal could not be expressed in some simpler language. One has to read it again and again to find out that the power which is taken by this Section 10 is power to allow up to twice what a licensee would be entitled to under the original Act. Further, I suggest to the Minister that it would have been worth his while to deal with all vehicles under two tons in a general way by giving to anybody getting a licence at all, a licence for a vehicle up to two tons unladen weight. I think it would have saved his office and himself a lot of worry, and there would have been no great injustice to anybody in such a provision.

Again, this change has taken place even since the original Act was passed, that there are now practically no ton vehicles for sale, and very few, and only very expensive, one and a half ton vehicles. The minimum vehicle, you may say, which is for sale for such purposes at present is a two-ton vehicle. I do not pretend that technically the change has been so complex as that, but I think that for practical purpose the description I have given would be correct. I suggest to the Minister that before the Bill finally passes he should consider whether he could not license the use of a vehicle of up to two tons, unladen weight, for anyone at all entitled to be a carrier.

One further matter I should like to inquire about in connection with this Bill is with regard to the carriage of beet. That is going to be a very big item in road traffic next Autumn, and I take it that if the Road Transport Act, as now amended, is fully in effect by that time, you will have the position, that so far as the road conveyance of beet is concerned it will be largely in the hands of the Great Southern Railways, accord-the Great Southern Railways. Of course, ing to the original Act, will be bound by rates of charge which will be fixed by the Railway Tribunal, but in that connection I should like to have some indication from the Minister as to what he expects to be done with regard to the fixing of such rates. Is it his expectation that those rates will be fixed for every little by-road, and will cover the cost of conveying the beet from the farmers' residence to the factory? As I read the Bill, I interpreted that provision to mean that all that would be done would be the fixing of general charges on the main roads. I did not think it was possible—and I do not yet think so—for any Tribunal to successfully attempt to fix rates to apply to individual farmers. If that is not the case I wonder what will be the position of farmers who want to have beet conveyed from their premises to the factory, if they have not the chance of a competitive transport. If they are entirely in the hands of the Great Southern Railways, and if the latter are bound only in so far as the main roads are concerned by the rates that may be fixed by the Tribunal, would there not be a chance there of such charges being levied as will make the cost to the farmer of conveying his beet a very serious and a very expensive business? I know that there is considerable apprehension in the vicinity of one of the beet factories at all events with regard to that question, because it is expected that a good deal more than half the traffic will be conveyed by road. I may say that in that district it is not expected that the carriers there—even if the Road Transport Act, 1933, does not come fully into effect, and those private carriers are still allowed to remain—will be able to deal with anything like a fair share of the traffic that will be offered to them. Inevitably, then, the Great Southern Company will have the task of transporting that beet to the factories; and, therefore, to the beet growers and others concerned the question as to what control there will be over the charges which the Great Southern Company propose to make is a serious one. In my opinion it would be impossible for any tribunal to fix charges that would apply to each farmer, and, if it were possible, I think they would have to allow——

When an amending Bill of this nature comes before the House, the Act which it purports to amend is not open for discussion, except in so far as it is affected by the amending Bill. The Deputy has made his point, and I think he should be satisfied with that.

The only thing that I was endeavouring to do, Sir, was to make the point clearer.

With regard to the fixation of the 1st April as the final date for the making of applications for certificates as existing carriers, I do not think there is anything to be gained by further extending that date. The Deputy will remember that the original date was one month after the passage of the original Act, which was itself a long time going through the Dáil, and received a considerable amount of publicity. That date was extended by another Bill to the 31st October of last year. It is now being extended to the 1st of April, and I think it is reasonable to anticipate that all persons entitled to those certificates will, by this, have learned the nature of the legislation, and have taken the step of writing to the Department and applying for their certificate. If there is any reason to believe that a considerable number of persons are still carrying on that business without knowing the legislation affecting it, the matter could be considered, but I think it is exceedingly unlikely, and it is obviously desirable that that particular stage of the scheme should be terminated as early as possible.

The phraseology of Section 10, to which Deputy Moore objects, is, of course, that considered by the draftsman most suitable to give expression to the matter contained in it. It is, I admit, rather a complicated form, but it is preferable to have an elaborate form of that kind to having any possibility of misunderstanding as to the nature of the section, or any interpretation which would defeat its purposes, put on it subsequently. Sub-sections (1) and (2) relate to subsection (7), and provide for the inclusion of lorries which comply with the appropriate conditions set out in subsection (7). Sub-sections (4), (5) and (6) relate to the substitution for an old vehicle or an old tractor of a new one of somewhat greater unladen weight but of much the same carrying capacity. It is not, therefore, correct to say that the section permits a person to get double what he was entitled to under the existing Act. That might happen in exceptional cases, but they would certainly be very exceptional indeed. With regard to the transportation of beet, it is not intended by the Great Southern Railways Company, as I am informed, to quote each farmer a separate rate for the carriage of his beet to the sugar factory. The Railway Company have, I understand, quoted a scale of rates for the transport of beet, which the board of the sugar company consider satisfactory. Those are the principal matters to which the Deputy referred.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, April 18th.