The purpose of this Bill is to make a number of changes in the provisions of the Harbours Act that we passed last year. These changes have resulted from experience of the operation of certain provisions of that Act, or from representations made concerning these provisions by certain harbour authorities. As each section deals with a separate point I shall have to refer to them singly. It will be recollected that when introducing the Bill last year I informed the Houses of the Oireachtas that the Government proposed to give financial assistance, where necessary, for the development and restoration of harbour works.
Arising out of Government policy in that regard, an application was made by Tralee and Fenit Harbour Authority for a grant to cover the full cost of works which involved the construction of a new viaduct, and the widening of the pier, at an estimated expenditure of £100,000. The Government agreed to give a grant covering the full cost of the work, if the county council remitted entirely an old debt due by the harbour authority to the county council. The latter body agreed to do so but, on examination of the position, found that it had no legal power to remit it. One of the provisions of this Bill is to give the county council power to remit that debt, and to allow the agreement regarding Tralee and Fenit Harbours to be implemented.
The second point concerns a difficulty that arose in connection with the election of harbour boards last year. As Senators are aware at these elections owners of ships are entitled to vote. We thought we had covered all possible combinations which might own ships, in providing for individuals, partnerships and companies, but it appears that at the Arklow Harbour elections, votes were claimed on behalf of certain schooners owned by individuals in partnership with a limited company. The secretary of the harbour authority as returning officer decided that there was no provision in the Act by which votes might be allowed in respect of these schooners. This is to put that matter right, and to provide for that rather unusual type of ownership in future harbour elections.
The third point concerns the tender service at Cork Harbour. Before the war that service was provided by a private firm. That firm went out of business and Cork Harbour Commissioners decided to restore the tender service when the Atlantic liners began to use the harbour again. They were fully empowered to do so under the Harbours Act, but they found that the operation of the tender service was involving them in certain losses. The private company which provided a tender service helped to balance their budget by the process of running excursions down the river from Cork to Cobh on Sundays and holidays during the summer months. The harbour authorities wish to provide the same facilities and power is given by the provisions of this Bill, enabling them to carry passengers for reward in vessels provided by them.
Section 9 of the Bill deals with travelling and subsistence allowances of members of harbour authorities and is designed to bring provisions in this regard into line with corresponding provisions in local government legislation. Senators will remember that in all those matters of detail we tried to keep the provisions of the Harbours Act in line with local government legislation but the local government practice in this regard was changed since this Act was passed. Under a section of the Principal Act all officers of harbour authorities are appointed on the recommendations of the Local Appointments Commissioners. There are, however, a number of small harbours where secretaries and technical officers are part-time persons paid very small salaries, and it is considered impracticable to apply the provisions of the Local Appointments Act to these posts. It is proposed, therefore, that in the case of certain designated minor harbours the Local Appointments Commission's machinery will not apply, unless the Minister for Industry and Commerce so decides. When the Harbours Act of 1946 was before the Seanad the question arose as to the possibility of making the service of an individual with a local authority count for pension purposes in harbour authorities' superannuation schemes in the event of that person being transferred from the services of a local authority to a harbour authority. I undertook to discuss this matter with the Minister for Local Government and, as a result, appropriate provision is made here. Under the Local Government Superannuation Bill now before the Oireachtas the Minister for Local Government is making a corresponding provision in the other direction, that is, to make harbour authority service count for pension purposes in the case of a person transferred to a local authority.
Under the Cork Harbour Act of 1826 the Cork Harbour Commissioners made an annual payment of £369 4s. 8d. to the Cork Corporation under an agreement in which the Cork Corporation abandoned certain rights that they had to levy dues on certain types of vessels entering the harbour. There has been some disputation in Cork as to whether this payment should cease. The two bodies have not yet reached agreement but a proposal in this Bill is that the payment shall cease subject to the payment of compensation by the commissioners to the corporation to be fixed, in the absence of agreement, by arbitration. I am informed that the congestion that is at present noticeable in some of the large ports is attributable, in some degree, to the failure of importing agents to remove goods from the quays and transit sheds within a reasonable time after their importation. Harbour authorities have power to charge rents for the space occupied by such goods for an excessive period of time which is specified in their bylaws but experience has shown that, in present conditions at all events, some importers prefer to pay the rent than to remove the goods. To deal with this position the Bill proposes to give harbour authorities power to move goods left on the quays or in the transit sheds, after a reasonable time, and to store them at the expense of the owner after giving him seven days' notice and if they are not removed after a further period to sell the goods after giving 14 days' notice. These are the only changes in the Harbours Act which have appeared to be necessary following its operation during the past year. Having regard to the length and complex nature of the Act and to its many novel features I think that it can be regarded as satisfactory that the bringing of it into operation, in the varied circumstances of the different ports, did not involve any larger number of changes than this Bill provides for. None of them are of any great importance and all of them are regarded as desirable and necessary by the harbour authorities concerned.