I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the control and regulation of casual trading and for connected matters.
For some years past trade interests, local development associations, local authorities, trade unions, consumer interests and others have been making representations that the operations of both street traders and occasional traders have resulted in unfair competition; that the jobs of shop assistants were threatened; and that these classes of trading were unfair to the consumer.
The Restrictive Practices Commission carried out a study and they recommended new legislation to regulate both street traders and occasional traders. Initially we proposed to have a single Bill but it was discovered that there would be special problems in formulating provisions to deal with street trading and for that reason we went ahead with a Bill to deal with sales from temporary retail outlets, the Occasional Trading Bill, and this has since been enacted. The Occasional Trading Act, 1979 is achieving its objectives. Notwithstanding this, a loophole in it has been discovered and I propose to remedy this by way of an amendment contained in this Bill. I will deal later with the problem in question.
We are now considering the Bill to regulate roadside and street trading. The majority of submissions to the Restrictive Practices Commission were that roadside and street traders have an unfair advantage over established traders. It was alleged that they do not pay rent, rates, taxes and do not have other overheads which have to be met by shopkeepers. In some respects, the allegations were exaggerated but there is no doubt that the selling costs of street traders are lower and they do offer very severe competition.
Trade union interests have complained that the employment prospects of their members have been jeopardised not merely because of the higher overheads which have to be met by shopkeepers but also because street traders do not observe the statutory and reasonable negotiated conditions of employment of shop assistants. I accept that the trade unions have grounds for complaint.
Additionally, and as we are all aware, there has been widespread concern about the traffic and other environmental problems created by some outdoor traders.
I have merely touched on some of the arguments for better regulation of outdoor trading, but since Deputies on both sides of the House have made representations about the inadequacy of the existing law, I feel I have gone far enough. The form of control suggested in most submissions to the Restrictive Practices Commission — especially submissions made by local authorities — was for a more effective system of licensing subject to certain conditions, linked to designated areas and with penalties which would be a deterrent. There were suggestions for licensing at national level and at local level and for a combination of both.
The Bill goes along with the majority of the submissions made to the Restrictive Practices Commission. It proposes a system of licensing both at national and local level, the designation of trading areas by local authorities and the detailed regulation of trading by the authorities. Very wide powers are proposed which will enable local elected representatives to confine trading to the places where it will be a service to local communities rather than the nuisance it now often is.
Casual trading is defined as retailing at a place, including a public road, to which the public have access as of right or at any other place that is a designated trading area. For example, a local authority will be empowered to acquire land and designate it as a trading area.
It is proposed that, with a few exceptions, anyone engaging in casual trading will have to have a national licence issued by the Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism and the fee will in general be £100 per year, but this will be reduced to £5 in respect of a person selling fish, horticultural or agricultural produce, other than meat, or a family selling their own manufactures. In addition to the national licence, where local authorities have designated an area, casual traders will have to have a local authority permit costing £20 per year to trade in such an area. A separate local permit will be needed for each trading area.
The few classes of trading which we propose to except from the Act are those which either do not create the problems we are trying to resolve or which could not reasonably be confined to designated places. As examples, a farmer selling his own produce at a public place does not pose the problem the Bill is designed to deal with; and the breadmen, the milkmen and other door-to-door salesmen provide a service which could not reasonably be regulated in the manner proposed in this Bill.
There are provisions relating to the granting of licences and permits and the refusing and revocation of these in cases where the Act is contravened. It is proposed that conditions may be attached to permits and licences.
If a member of the public has any complaint to take up with a shopkeeper there is no problem in contacting him but the same is not true for roadside traders. Consequently, we propose that a casual trader shall display either a national licence or a permit wherever he traders so that any interested party can note the number of the permit and the trader's name and address.
Very wide powers are proposed to enable local authorities to designate the places in their functional area which will be set aside for outdoor trading and they will be empowered to make by-laws to regulate trading.
Authorities are being empowered to acquire market rights some of which are at present in private ownership as a result of Royal Charters and Letters Patent granted centuries ago. There are provisions for appeal to the Circuit Court against the decision of local authorities.
It is proposed that the legislation will be enforced by officers from the Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, local authority officers and the Garda. The proposed powers of authorised officers are in general the same as those they exercise under the Occasional Trading Act and prices legislation. It is proposed that the Garda will have the same powers as authorised officers and, in addition, powers similar to those they enjoy under the Street Trading Act, 1926. It is felt necessary that the Garda should have the power to arrest without warrant any person contravening the Act and seize and detain any goods, containers or vehicles being used in connection with the business.
In submission to the Restrictive Practices Commission reference was made to the fact that local authorities have difficulty in enforcing existing legislation against mobile traders because they had not powers to enable them to establish the ownership of goods. In the case of the Street Trading Act, the Garda do not have this problem. The Revenue Commissioners' staff also have powers to seize goods in connection with the enforcement of the tax laws.
All but one of the remaining provisions of the Bill are fairly standard in this type of legislation and I do not propose to summarise them. I will, however, refer briefly to the proposed amendment of section 2(2) (1) of the Occasional Trading Act, 1979. It was felt that that Act should not apply to sales from which no private profit was derived. We were thinking of such things as sales of work and jumble sales in aid of churches, schools, football clubs, foreign missions and hospitals. However, we have become conscious of the fact that it would seldom, if ever, be possible to prove it if someone was making some contribution to, say, a charity and was also taking a private profit. I am not saying that this has happened but, as drafted, section 2 (2) (i) of the Occasional Trading Act could be abused and we propose to bring it into line with the corresponding provision in the Casual Trading Bill — section 2 (2) (g) — which proposes to put the onus of proof on the retailer that no private profit is being taken.
The Restrictive Practices Commission concluded that the Pedlars Acts and the Hawkers Acts "relate to a commercial environment so different from the present that they are in effect obsolete and inappropriate to current problems". Other legislation is inadequate in so far as it is not capable of controlling adequately these types of trading. Quite clearly what was needed was one piece of legislation which would enable local authorities to decide the places where outdoor trading could be carried on in a disciplined way in the best interest of local consumers, established traders, casual traders and all other interested bodies. Central Government could not decide where trading should be permitted and what detailed conditions should be attached to such trading and the Bill is designed to give local authorities all the powers they could reasonably need.
I believe the Bill will stand the test of time and I recommend it to the House.