Local Government (Toll Roads) Bill, 1978: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill is an enabling measure which supplements the powers and functions of road authorities under existing legislation. At present there is no statutory power whereby the provision or the use of a public road or bridge can be subject to toll charges. It is public knowledge that interest has been expressed by the private sector in the provision of new road and bridge facilities on a toll basis. It is the Government's policy that, subject to certain primary considerations on which the provisions of this Bill are based, private enterprise should be facilitated in participating with road authorities in the financing, construction, maintenance and operation of suitable projects. The Bill before the House will accommodate such a development in that it will enable road authorities to enter into agreements with private persons who are prepared to participate in the improvement of our public road system.

The underlying principle of the Bill is that existing statutory road authorities will continue to be responsible for the provision and maintenance of the public road network, including bridges. There is no question of bodies setting themselves up to provide and operate toll facilities independently of the road authorities but, as already stated, local authorities will be able to enter into agreements with private entrepreneurs to develop suitable new projects. The Bill provides that the function of making toll schemes and decisions to enter into agreements with private interests will be reserved to the elected members of the local authorities concerned. There are also specific provisions in the Bill to protect the rights and interests of individuals. Notice of the making of a toll scheme, together with an explanatory statement, must be published in the press; the public will have at least one month to consider the scheme, the explanatory statement and the relevant maps. A further period of at least two months will be available in which persons may lodge statutory objections. In the event of such objections being lodged, a local inquiry must be held before a decision is taken to proceed with a scheme. I would emphasise that it will continue to be the responsibility of the road authorities to decide whatever projects might be undertaken under the terms of this Bill.

I do not propose at this stage to detail each section of the Bill, which complements existing road law. It is an enabling measure which will provide and additional option to road authorities for the financing and operation of particular road facilities, such as major river crossings, which are necessary in the general traffic and transportation interest. I commend the Bill to the House.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Listening to the very brief introductory speech by the Minister for the Environment in introducing this Bill one would never imagine that we have here a complete innovation. One would never imagine that the Minister is asking for enabling legislation to depart entirely from the legislation and procedures for the provisions of roads which we have known and enjoyed here over the years. This is, indeed, a very far-reaching Bill and I would have expected a much more elaborate speech from the Minister in introducing it in an effort to convince the House and the country that the Bill is desirable and that it should be enacted by the Oireachtas.

In the first place, the Bill enables road authorities, with the consent of the Minister for the Environment, to subject existing roads and bridges to tolls. There is no question of the Bill applying only to future roads and bridges which may be constructed for the convenience of the general public. There is no doubt that the Bill enables any and every road authority, with the consent of the Minister, to introduce toll schemes and to apply them to any road in the country, whether the road be from here to Naas, from here to Cork, from here to Cavan, or any other road. The road authority, also with the consent of the Minister, may prepare a toll scheme in respect of any bridge and to subject that bridge to the collection of tolls from those who use it. That is a far-reaching measure.

The Bill, particularly in section 9, goes on to make provision for entering into agreements with private individuals to enable those private individuals to maintain existing roads and bridges and to collect tolls on them, or to construct new roads and bridges and to collect tolls in respect of them. That, too, is an extremely far-reaching measure, not one a person would expect from the Minister for the Environment, with about one and a half of the folios the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy was talking about before he left the House.

I protest about the casual manner in which this Bill has been introduced, about the lack of information given to the House on the proposals in it. As far as the ordinary person is concerned, this Bill simply provides for the collection of road tax by another name. Before the last general election the Minister and his party undertook to abolish road tax in respect of cars of up to and including 16 horse power. That was one of the ways they undertook to get the economy going again. They never said they would substitute road tax by another form of tax, tolls, and that is what this Bill is all about: that is what the various sections enable the Minister for the Environment, in conjunction with road authorities, orvice versa, to do.

This country is far from having reached the stage when we have adequate roads and when we can go on to have super roads for the people who are prepared to pay for them. We have a long way to go before we reach the stage when we will have an adequate road structure which could be said to be acceptable for ordinary traffic. Until we have reached that stage it is too soon to have a two-tier system for a first class and a second class type of motorist. I had thought the Minister would have dealt with all these things when introducing the Bill.

In the knowledge we have of the Government's intention in regard to our road structure and to road transport, this Bill is premature. One could say that the pre-election Fianna Fáil manifesto has become a book of reference to which we refer now and again when we want to find out the Government's thinking, and in regard to roads the manifesto told us that it is the Government's intention to prepare a major road development plan designed to anticipate the demand of the eighties.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I should like the Minister to tell us—I had thought he would do so when introducing the Bill—if he and the Government have taken steps to prepare the major road development plan designed to anticipate the demand of the eighties, and is it part of that plan that road users are to be charged tolls? The Minister has just told me he has taken steps to prepare the road development plan mentioned in the manifesto. The people of the country, especially those who rejoiced so much when the road tax was abolished, are entitled to be told if it is part of that plan to charge tolls, and if so to what extent.

If the Minister is in course of preparing the major road plan promised in the manifesto, I take it he has set up some sort of committee, even at inter-departmental level. We are entitled to know whether the Minister has received an interim report from such a body. Deputies are entitled to get that information.

Debate adjourned.