When the Occasional Trading Bill was before the Seanad it was explained that there were problems connected with the drafting of legislation to regulate roadside and street trading. I am glad to say that these have been resolved and the Bill we are considering contains everything that is necessary to eliminate the undesirable features of outdoor trading and ensure that such trading can again be a useful service instead of the nuisance it often is.
This Bill and the Occasional Trading Act, 1979, give statutory effect to the main recommendations of the Restrictive Practices Commission who made a study of both occasional and casual trading.
Roadside trading has become a nuisance because the traditional market place in the middle of the main street fouls up traffic and local authorities seldom, if ever, have been able to remedy this situation. Equally bad problems arise when traders set up shop on the side of main roads. Complaints have been made not only about the traffic problems but also about the debris created by these traders; unfair competition arising from the fact that these traders have lower selling costs than shopkeepers; possible loss of jobs in the distributive trades; evasion of taxes; and failure to give fair and reasonable services to consumers.
The complaints are often exaggerated, but I am satisfied that there are complaints which have to be remedied. It is not my intention to put fair and honest street traders out of business or make life unreasonably difficult for them. It is an unfortunate fact that there are quite a few members of the population who, for one reason or another, live in mobile homes and have no other means of earning money than by selling out of doors; and there are others who have fixed abodes but who choose to be street traders. As many of them currently operate, they create problems and they are not making reasonable contributions to public funds, but there is nothing essentially wrong with their way of doing business.
The Casual Trading Bill proposes to take all the powers needed to regulate outdoor trading and to impose fair and reasonable charges which are designed to offset some of the competitive advantages enjoyed by the traders and to contribute to the cost of administering this legislation.
It is proposed that, with a few exceptions, the Act will apply to retailing on public roads and streets, other places to which the public have access as of right, and any other places which local authorities designate as casual trading areas. Every casual trader will have to take out an annual licence which, apart from two classes of traders, will cost £100 and, when a local authority designates a casual trading area, an additional £20 per annum will be payable to the local authority for a permit to trade in the area. A separate permit will be required for each designated casual trading area and, if a trader wants to trade at more than one place at the same time in the one casual trading area, he will need a separate permit for each place. I am taking power to vary the fees either generally or in respect of specified classes of traders and I would like it to be known that I intend to make use of this provision if, in the light of experience, it seems fair and reasonable to do so. In so far as possible I will take account of such factors as charges on the rates arising from casual trading and the capacity of some classes of traders to pay more than others.
The holder of a licence will be required to display it or a copy of it wherever he is trading, but if he is trading in a designated casual trading area he will have to display his permit instead. I do not propose to anticipate debate on Committee Stage but I would just suggest that, unless we introduce a system of identity cards for all the population, this is as far as we can go towards making it possible for consumers and other interested parties to identify a casual trader with a view to contacting him at a later date to get after-sales service or for some other reason.
Local authorities are being empowered to designate any land, including a public road, to which the public have access as of right and any land occupied by a local authority as a casual trading area. By agreement, one local authority may designate land in another authority's area. The designation of trading areas will be a reserved function within the meaning of the various Management Acts — that is to say it will be the elected local representatives rather than the officials who will take the decisions. The authorities will be required to take into account the proper planning and development of their areas, amenity orders, traffic problems and all other matters they consider relevant when considering trading sites. The proposed procedure is laid down in the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963 the scope of which is being extended for this purpose. This has the merit of avoiding new legal and administrative procedures.
It is proposed that a person may appeal to the Circuit Court and no further against a local authority's designation of an area because it would be extravagant if the authority's development plan, amenity orders, and so on, could be subjected to lengthy and vexatious litigation when it performed what is, basically, the executive function of suiting local outdoor trading to the overall plan. For the same reason, a person will not be free to appeal further than the Circuit Court in connection with a decision to extinguish a market right — a subject I will be referring to shortly.
A local authority may make by-laws in relation to the control, regulation, supervision and administration of a casual trading area. It is specified that an authority may limit the area a trader may occupy but, beyond that, an authority is free to cover whatever things are necessary to suit casual trading to local circumstances. It will be noted that, so far as specified in the Bill, the only income of a local authority is the £20 permit fee, but Senators will know that local authorities do not need the authority of this legislation to charge rents, tolls, stallages and, perhaps, other charges which would be directly related to the cost of providing facilities for, or servicing, street trading areas.
It is proposed that a local authority may acquire a market right by agreement or compulsorily and, here again, we are extending the scope of existing local government legislation to prescribe the procedure. This was one of the things that delayed the circulation of the Bill. Local authorities had acquired market rights from private persons in the past but I am told they were unable to extinguish the market right or change the location of the market or take any measures which would tailor the public marketing arrangements to suit modern conditions.
We are providing that a local authority can continue a market or fair under their own management or may extinguish the market right and provide alternative facilities in the same vicinity and comprising or including facilities reasonably suitable for the holding of a market. What this means is that a local authority could substitute a casual trading area for the market.
Most of the other provisions in the Bill are fairly commonplace in legislation of this type and at this stage I need to refer only to two other matters.
The first of these is the role of the Garda Síochána in enforcing the Act. We are giving the Garda the same powers as authorised officers who will be appointed by me and by local authorities. In addition, we are giving the Garda power similar to those they enjoy under the Street Trading Act, 1926 — powers to arrest without warrant in certain circumstances and powers to seize and detain vehicles and goods used by people contravening the Act. The Street Trading Act applies only to Dublin and 26 other urban areas who have adopted it but the Bill will extend the powers of arrest and seizure to the whole State. The Garda asked for these powers. Local authorities who made submissions to the Restrictive Practices Commission urged that these powers are needed in certain circumstances. For example, if a casual trader, or a group of them and their customers are creating a traffic hazard, that is something which should be dealt with immediately. Another case would arise where the owners of vehicles and other goods were not immediately identifiable — arrest and/or seizure would solve this problem.
The final provision of the Bill is the section to amend the Occasional Trading Act, 1979. I wanted to ensure that charities, hospitals, schools, sporting organisations by whom — or on whose behalf — sales were organised would not be bothered by either the Occasional Trading Act or this Bill but it was brought home to us that a trader who made a contribution to a charity or other worthy nonprofit making cause could avail of the statutory exception and we would seldom, if ever, be able to prove where the rest of the profits were going. For that reason we have provided to tighten up the provision in the Occasional Trading Act and the corresponding part of the Casual Trading Bill.
I am satisfied that the Bill contains all the fair and reasonable provisions needed to confine outdoor trading to suitable places and to regulate trading at those places. I commend the Bill to the Seanad.