I apologise for the absence of the Minister, who is in Brussels on EC business and cannot be here for that reason.
The International Carriage of Goods by Road Bill, 1990, is essentially of a technical nature. It is designed to give the force of law in the State to the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road. The schedule to the Bill contains the text of the convention and the 1978 protocol thereto. As a detailed explanatory memorandum was published with the Bill, I shall confine my remarks to general issues arising.
Enactment of this Bill is a necessary first step on the way to Ireland's accession to the convention. As I shall explain later, it is in Ireland's interest to become a party to the convention as soon as possible. However, as provided for in Article 43 (2) of the convention, accession now of a state thereto could not have effect until 90 days after that state has deposited its instrument of accession with the Secretary-General of the United Nations who is the depositary of the convention. Thus, if this House and Dáil Éireann agree to enact the Bill soon, Ireland could be a party to the convention about four months hence.
If the Bill is enacted a ministerial Order will be made in due course under section 9 (2) (a) to declare the date on which Ireland's accession to the convention has effect and, therefore, the date on which the Bill as enacted will come into force. Notice of the making of that Order will be published in Iris Oifigiúil and in the national daily newspapers for the information of all concerned, in accordance with standard arrangements. The effect of the Bill coming into force will be to make the convention the applicable Irish law in so far as concerns contracts for the international carriage of goods by road to which the convention applies.
The convention was devised in 1956 under the aegis of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe to facilitate international transport and trade in goods. It came into operation in 1961 and is generally referred to by the acronym CMR, which is derived from its full title in the French language set out at the foot of page one of the explanatory memorandum to the Bill.
CMR is a set of commonsense rules to govern international carriage of goods by road and has withstood the test of time. It clearly establishes the contractual relationship which is to apply between the sender, carrier and intended recipient of the goods and provides a clear legal basis for securing the respective rights of the parties to the contract, including the enforcement of judgments under the convention in their favour in any state party to the convention.
The convention applies to international carriage of goods by road from or to any state which is a party to the convention, irrespective of whether or not the other state is a party to the convention. Thus, the convention already applies to international carriage of goods by road to or from this State from or to a state which is a party to the convention except the United Kingdom, to which I shall refer later. However, Irish law does not recognise the application of the convention, leaving doubt as to how Irish courts might decide any matters which might arise relating to the convention. Given the continuing growth in Irish international carriage of goods, particularly in the context of the completion and development of the EC Single Market and opening of markets in central and eastern Europe, it is clearly in Ireland's interest to become a party to the convention as soon as possible.
There are now 24 European states which are party to CMR, a clear indication of the importance of the convention. Ireland is now the only EC member state which is not a party to CMR. The 13 non-EC states which are party to CMR are Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Yugoslavia.
Consignment notes are at the heart of the convention as they are prima facie evidence of the contract for carriage, the conditions of the contract and the receipt of the goods by the carrier. The convention requires them to record specific information about the nature, quantity and condition of the goods to be carried and also any general or specific instructions to be followed by the carrier. The intended recipient of the goods is entitled to receive with the goods a copy of the consignment note against which to check the nature, quantity and condition of the goods on receipt. Thus the consignment note is the basis for claims for compensation for loss, damage or delay in carriage. For these reasons, section 7 of the Bill contains protective provisions for consignment notes. I am sure that this House will readily agree to them.
The convention also establishes the liability of carriers for loss or damage or delay to goods and sets a limit on that liability — up to approximately £7,000 per metric tonne — except where a higher value for the goods or a special interest in delivery is declared in the consignment note. Wilful misconduct by the carrier would preclude him from limiting his liability under the convention.
The convention also specifically frees carriers from any liability arising in specified circumstances such as, for example, where there was wrongdoing or neglect by the person claiming compensation, or there were special agreed risks, such as the use of unsheeted vehicles, or the carriage of goods originally subject to wastage, desiccation and other similar factors affecting the quantity or quality of the goods.
The basic liability limit would apply if the value of the goods damaged or lost was equal to or exceeded that limit. While the basic liability limit in the convention may be somewhat higher than the liability limit which applies at present under contract to some international carriage of goods by road to or from the state, it is not expected that the higher limit would necessarily increase costs for either carriers or their customers. For example, insurance premia payable by a carrier would, essentially, reflect the carrier's risk status, a matter over which he would have direct control.
Liability limits higher than the basic limit specified in the convention may, of course, be agreed to by the parties concerned on payment of an agreed surcharge to the carrier. Thus, the convention contains comprehensive and flexible provisions for the establishment of any liability which a carrier may have for loss, damage or delay to the goods in question and for deciding on any compensation payable therefor.
Uniquely, the 1956 Protocol of Signature to the Convention agreed to by the State and the United Kingdom but not signed by them, provided that the convention should not apply to carriage solely between the State and the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. The apparent reason for this exceptional non-application was to avoid any additional burden for hauliers concerned. Events since then have overtaken that exception which is clearly due for an end in the internationalisation of trade and completion of the EC Internal Market according to uniform rules.
The convention is applied on a voluntary basis to much carriage — notably of perishables — between the State and the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and from a legal viewpoint should be formalised by legislation. Section 9 (2) (b) of the Bill enables this to be done from such date, after the Bill is enacted, as is agreed with the United Kingdom authorities who will need to bring their law into line in this respect.
The other states party to the convention and the Secretary-General of the United Nations will be notified when that is done. Support for that course of action and for the Bill generally has been received from representative organisations of Irish hauliers and the United Kingdom authorities have raised no objection.
The House may be surprised to learn that the convention was amended only once, by the 1978 Protocol, to substitute modern monetary values for francs in the basic liability limit in the convention as orginally agreed in 1956. This is certainly proof of its continuing usefulness. However, completion of the EC Internal Market and the opening of markets in central and eastern Europe may well prompt consideration of adapting the convention as a basis for uniform rules to govern carriage of goods by road, for example, cabotage, which at present is outside the convention and therefore subject to differing requirements from state to state even those party to the convention. Accordingly, the views of representative organisations of Irish hauliers have been sought in the matter and are awaited.
As regards cabotage, that is operators from one state being allowed to engage also in the carriage of goods wholly within another state, a limited form of cabotage involving quotas will operate in EC member states as from 1 July 1990. Ireland has a quota of 585 two-monthly authorisations for the year to 30 June 1991 and the Department of Tourism and Transport will be seeking applications for such authorisations from hauliers in due course. This will provide additional opportunities for Irish hauliers to expand their operations and reduce empty running of vehicles which is unavoidable under present EC legislation.
Additional benefits stem from the continuing liberalisation of European road transport via increases in multilateral authorisations available to Irish hauliers in both EC and ECMT states. There are ongoing discussions at EC Council level to agree increases in EC multilateral quotas up to 1993 when all such quotas will be abolished. In addition, Ireland has bilateral road transport agreements in operation with nine EC states — that is except Spain and Portugal — and also with four non-EC states, all of whom are party to CMR — Finland, Norway, Sweden and Yugoslavia. Negotiations are well advanced with Spain, Portugal and Czechoslovakia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has expressed interest in such an agreement — all of these states too, already are party to CMR. The agreements allow hauliers to obtain the necessary permits from their own national authorities rather than from the authorities of the other states in the absence of an agreement. Ireland's accession to CMR should, therefore, prove advantageous.
The step being taken for accession to the convention are a further sign of Ireland's commitment to full participation in international transport for the benefit of Irish transport and other business. Ireland's legislation to implement the Agreement on the International Carriage Perishable Foodstuffs, also devised under the aegis of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, came into force on 22 March 1989, while the Air Navigation and Transport Act, 1988, enabled the State to ratify amendments to the 1929 Warsaw Convention on the Carriage of Goods, Persons and Baggage by Air on 27 June 1989. The clear objective of that legislation and this Bill, in particular, is to help develop the international business of Irish transport undertakings. I accordingly commend the Bill to the House.