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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 13 May 1999

Vol. 159 No. 9

Road Transport Bill, 1998: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The road haulage industry is facing many challenges at present arising from increasing levels of competition in the marketplace and the growing demands of customers for better and more specialised types of services. The industry is experiencing significant growth reflecting the overall growth in the economy which, in turn, requires hauliers to become more responsive to developments in the market and to adopt more sophisticated methods of operation. The Road Transport Bill, 1998, is being debated at a time of great challenge and opportunity for the road haulage industry.

The industry has been through a difficult period in the past couple of years. The blockade of Dublin port by hauliers in June 1997 provided a clear and unambiguous signal to us all that there are underlying difficulties in the sector. While there have been some improvements in conditions since then, there was subsequently a threat over the Tall Ships extravaganza last year which suggests that there continues to be problems for hauliers in the port area and elsewhere.

It was in this context that it was decided to commission an independent report into the road haulage industry with a mandate to review the sector under a number of headings and to propose a coherent strategy for the development of the industry. I am pleased to inform Members that the report, entitled A Strategy for the Successful Development of the Irish Road Haulage Industry, has been completed and that I have recently published it. The consultants' report was directed by a review group which resulted in six months close co-operation between the industry, employers and policy makers. It is the first major review of the structure of the road haulage industry and it provides an informed basis on which to plan for the future of a sector which is a major contributor to the economy and is vital to the interests of industry as a whole.

A difficult competitive environment for the haulage industry has been identified by the consultants. In particular, the consultants found that there is severe pressure on margins in the sector due to the competitive nature of the market and a rise in key input costs. The consultants also found that there is significant non-compliance and low levels of enforcement in a number of areas. In particular, unlicensed haulage and the rules on lorry weights were instanced. Non-compliance in these areas was seen to have important implications for the level of capacity and the nature of competition in the market.

The consultants make recommendations in six key areas: the legal and regulatory framework for the industry should be improved and enforcement strengthened and prioritised; enhanced support services for hauliers should be provided by means of research and information with State support; there should be a range of measures aimed at improving the operational performance of the sector; there should be measures to assist hauliers to meet the challenges posed by the increasing demands of users for more sophisticated distribution and delivery systems and there should be a strategy to facilitate future development of the sector.

The huge task of implementing the recommendations must now be tackled. My aim is to establish a small group charged with the responsibility to drive forward the process of implementation of the recommendations. However, the main impetus for progress and change must come from the industry. Individual hauliers in particular should look carefully at the report and examine the improvements they can make to their businesses. In their conclusions, the consultants state that "the response of the industry and individual businesses to the issues outlined will be critical in determining the success of the sector".

This is the background against which we are embarking on this Bill. Inevitably, the Bill will not address all the issues. It will, however, put in place significant statutory measures of concern to the sector. The Bill is both timely and desirable in the context of existing forces impacting on the road transport sector. The main elements of the Bill are the following: the introduction of a licensing regime for haulage and bus operators, involving the issue of licences of up to five years duration, instead of three or five years maximum duration at present; the replacement of a previously cumbersome vehicle plating procedure, involving my Department, the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda, with a transport disc regime provided solely by my Department and the application of that disc regime to the passenger sector for the first time; measures designed to ensure compliance by out of State hauliers with Irish road transport legislation; the introduction of a requirement on both haulage and passenger operators to provide adequate parking space and operating facilities for the vehicles to be operated under their licences; the amendment of the provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, to provide for consignor liability in the case of overweight vehicles; the amendment of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, to extend from five miles to 25 kilometres the distance a driver can be directed to a weighbridge for check weighing; to bring in other changes to the Road Transport Acts, 1933 to 1986, of a technical nature.

It would be useful to outline the background to the regime for haulage and passenger operator licences. In relation to passenger operator licences we are not dealing here with route licences which are a matter to be considered under the Road Transport Act, 1932, but with those licences which allow access to the profession of road passenger operator.

The most recent amendment to the Road Transport Acts was the Road Transport Act, 1986. This Act, together with a series of EU directives, which came into effect over the past decade, have amended the basis for admission to the road haulage and bus operator sectors. The directives also began the process of harmonising the regime pertaining to the regulation of the haulage and bus transport sectors throughout the EU and liberalisation of access to those sectors. Prior to the passage of the Road Transport Act, 1986, access to the road haulage industry in Ireland was restricted on a quantitative basis which effectively excluded prospective new enterprises from setting up in business.

Access to the road haulage and bus operator sectors is now regulated solely on the basis of qualitative requirements set down in EU directives. New entrants to these sectors must satisfy the licensing authorities in member states that they are financially sound, of good repute and under competent management. There has been further raising and harmonising of the standards for access by virtue of a directive adopted in 1998. The new stricter criteria will come into effect for new entrants from October of this year.

At present both the criteria for obtaining a licence and the arrangements for issuing a licence are set down in statutory instruments made pursuant to the European Communities Act, 1972. It is intended to continue that arrangement and to consolidate it by revoking the licensing procedures in primary legislation and incorporating them in comprehensive regulations following enactment of this Bill. This will make it easier for intending applicants to ascertain what the statutory requirements are for obtaining a licence.

Existing enterprises are periodically assessed for their continuing adherence to these standards. This reassessment has until now been automatically triggered in this country on a three or five year basis – three in the case of domestic haulage operators, five in the case of international hauliers and all bus operators. The aim is that all enterprises will obtain a five year licence with a requirement to renew after that period. It is considered that this would be more rigorous and more effective than a continuous regime which was mooted in the Road Transport Bill, 1997. This change in policy has the approval of the main representative organisations in the haulage and passenger sectors.

Section 13 of the Bill is designed to ensure that breaches of the Road Transport Acts or regulations, relating to the carriage of merchandise or passengers, under the European Communities Act, 1972, can be prosecuted against out of State carriers in the course of a journey within the State. This is achieved by arresting any driver whom a garda has reason to believe is committing or has committed an offence and in the opinion of the garda has not given a satisfactory address for service of summons. The Bill defines what constitutes a satisfactory address as an address at which the person will be for a sufficient length of time for it to be possible to serve that person with a summons, or an address of some other specified person who will accept a summons on the first person's behalf. In such cases, the address of a firm of solicitors in the State who undertakes to accept a summons on behalf of the driver will satisfy this provision. The section is similar to a provision in the United Kingdom Policy and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984, which is used extensively by UK police authorities to deal with out of State hauliers in breach of road traffic and road transport legislation in the UK.

In the case of a driver of a vehicle being arrested under this section, the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, as amended by section 3 of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997, come into effect. The fol lowing is the procedure: the arrested driver is brought to the nearest Garda station; he is brought as soon as practicable before the District Court of the district in which the person has been arrested or he is released on bail to appear at the next appropriate sitting of the District Court; bail can be set by the station sergeant in accordance with section 31 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967; bail can be in the form of recognisance or a sum of money, and it is lodged in the relevant District Court to the Court Clerk; if the driver fails to appear before the court at the appointed time an application can be made under the relevant District Court rule to estreat the recognisance or to forfeit the sum of money.

Another initiative in this area is the proposal in section 16 to introduce on-the-spot fines in respect of offences under the Road Transport Acts or under regulations made pursuant to the European Communities Act, 1972, relating to road transport. This section is an enabling one and it will be a matter for the Minister to prescribe the class of offences which will be dealt with under this section.

A transport officer or a garda who has reasonable grounds for believing a person is committing an offence under the regulations may issue a notice to that person stating that the person is alleged to have committed the offence; the person may make a payment of £150 without delay to the inspector and a prosecution will not be pursued if the payment is made to the inspector without delay.

This provision is significantly different from the existing on-the-spot fines as we know them. The current system is an invitation to pay a certain amount of money within 21 days and if payment is made, no prosecution will ensue. The system proposed here is an invitation to pay a sum of £150, without delay, to either a Garda or a transport officer. If the driver refuses to pay and does not have a satisfactory address for service of summons, the provisions of section 13 can come into play. If the driver has a satisfactory address for service of summons and does not pay the fine he can be prosecuted in the normal way. The fine is set at £150. However, the Minister may vary this amount by regulations at any time to take account of inflation or if it is felt that a fine set at this level is not a sufficient deterrent or that the offences being committed demand greater fines. Flexibility is provided for in the Bill as to the currencies and the methods of payment which will be acceptable.

The provisions of section 17 which amend the Road Traffic Act, 1961, are timely. Section 12 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, is amended to include the consignor of the load as one of the persons liable to prosecution in the case of overweight vehicles. The section also provides for two good defence clauses, which is common sense. I am pleased to bring forward this provision. The current statutory position under the Road Traffic Acts is that only the driver and the owner of the vehicle are liable to prosecution for overloading. However, drivers are often under pressure to carry overloads given the competitive nature of the haulage sector and the possibility of losing the business if he refuses to carry the loads consigned. By making the consignor also liable to prosecution, the Bill will reduce the pressure on drivers to carry overweight loads.

It is not in the best interests of either the driver or the owner of the vehicle to carry overweight loads. First, there is the issue of road safety – the danger to the driver and other road users is inevitably increased from overweight loads. Second, there is the question of increased damage to road infrastructures. Third, overloading exposes expensive equipment to a burden for which it has not been designed, with long-term damage as a possible consequence.

The second amendment to the Road Traffic Act is the proposal to extend from five miles to 25 kilometres, which is about 15 miles, the distance a driver can be directed to a weighbridge for check weighing. I have long held the view that some drivers regularly use unsuitable back roads in order to avoid known weighbridges. They are sometimes called rat runs and their use is distressing to people in the neighbourhood. I hope this new provision will put a stop to this practice and, importantly, be an additional incentive for drivers, owners and consignors to avoid carrying overweight loads.

A provision with which I am also pleased is contained in section 11. This section contains a requirement that all licensees, both haulage and passenger operators, must provide adequate parking spaces and operating premises for the vehicles operated under the licence. The objective of this provision is twofold. First, it is an effort to ensure that vehicles operated under a licence have adequate parking space. The provision is not intended to require the owner to park the vehicle at the premises, nor does it prevent owners/drivers parking vehicles at unsuitable areas such as housing estates. This is best achieved by local authority by-laws. However, it will ensure that there are adequate parking facilities available at the site.

The second objective is to ensure that there is a premises at which the licensee is located. In recent years there has been a tendency, albeit of a very small number of licensees, to have accommodation addresses. These accommodation addresses can often be the offices of a solicitor or accountant where visits to inspect tachograph charts can be difficult and frustrating. There is a concern also that persons refused licences elsewhere in the European Union may apply for licences in the State and use accommodation addresses to facilitate their applications. The section also provides a three year breathing space for existing licensees to meet the requirements for adequate parking spaces and operating premises.

I will now deal with the provisions in the Bill relating to transport discs. The objective is to establish a one-stop-shop for the issuing of transport discs. In the past vehicle plating was regarded as overly bureaucratic by the haulage sector. For instance, the plating procedure involved the following for each vehicle. The operator obtained his licence with the vehicles stated on the licence. He was then required to go to the Revenue Commissioners with the licence document to pay for the plate. He then took the receipt to the PSV officer in the local designated Garda station where he obtained the vehicle plate. This procedure was rightly deemed cumbersome. Subsequently, my Department, via a statutory regulation, reduced the number of transactions to two by accepting payment for the plate along with the licence fee, thus removing the Revenue Commissioners from the loop.

The new measures provide that my Department will accept the fee and issue the new transport discs. Transport discs in respect of each licensee will be generated from the computer records of vehicles in my Department and issued directly to the licensee. As each disc is expected to last on a vehicle windscreen for five years, it will be made of a durable material. The disc will contain relevant licensing and vehicle details to aid enforcement of the legislation governing licensing.

A notable feature of the transport disc regime is that it will apply to the passenger sector for the first time. It has been the policy of the passenger operator associations to have an official regime for plating buses put in place. The new transport disc meets that demand.

Another significant element of the Bill is contained in section 9. This section relates to an amendment to section 36 of the Road Transport Act, 1933, which is the principal Act, in relation to the prohibition on unlicensed haulage. The existing provision provided that it was not lawful for any person to enter into an agreement for the carriage for reward of merchandise by any other person unless that person was licensed. This prohibition has proved less than effective as the proving of an offence could require proof of the existence of a formal written contract between the consignor and the haulier. The provision in the Bill will enable prosecutions to be brought on the basis of advice notes or evidence of the driver or operator. This provision is expected to be effective in the overall fight against unlicensed haulage in the State.

An opportunity is being availed of in this Bill to address technical legal difficulties that have arisen in relation to CIE superannuation schemes. The legal basis for the existence of the Salaried Officers and Clerks (Great Northern Railway, County Donegal Railway and the Irish Railway Clearing House) Superannuation Scheme, 1977, is currently in doubt because the order enabling it was based on section 14 of the Transport Act, 1950, which was repealed without a saver by the Transport (Reorganisation of Córas lompair Éireann) Act, 1986.

Section 18 of the Bill provides a solution to the difficulty by restoring the status quo ante to orders made before the passing of the Transport (Reorganisation of Córas lompair Éireann) Act, 1986, by deeming them to continue in force as if made under section 25 of that Act. In this way the doubt as to the legal basis of the superannuation scheme will be removed.

Section 19 provides for the amalgamation of the pension funds operated by CIE. This is a technical and legal provision designed to allow the introduction of more flexible and efficient arrangements for funding pensions without in any way altering the rights and entitlements of staff under the various schemes. Under current legislation there is no statutory provision for the amalgamation of pension funds operated by the company. For a variety of reasons, CIE wishes to proceed with the amalgamation of the funds of the salaried staff superannuation schemes and has reached agreement with the members of the schemes to do so.

While it is not directly connected with this provision, I understand that agreement has been reached on certain improved superannuation benefits which will be introduced once the funds are amalgamated. As the various pension schemes in place in CIE provide for different contributions and different benefits, this provision will allow pension funds to be amalgamated while keeping separate the actual pension schemes. Therefore, the contributions which the members pay and the benefits they receive will not be affected by the amalgamation.

The Bill contains a number of other minor provisions of a technical nature such as the amendment of section 8 of the Road Transport Act, 1971, as inserted by the Road Transport Act, 1986, to facilitate the appropriate recognition in Ireland for licences, permits or authorisations issued by other states arising out of international agreements to which the European Communities are a party or such authorisations issued by other member states arising out of acts of the European Communities. This updating takes account of liberalisation of haulage markets within the European Union and beyond.

Section 10 amends section 5 of the Road Transport Act, 1978, to include international road transport agreements entered into by the European Communities or any acts of the European Communities. The section provides for the exemption of specified classes of international transport by road from the licensing, transport disc regime and also from the prohibition on the importation of vehicles provision of the Road Transport Acts. Section 12 creates an offence of falsifying or altering a licence document and of using a falsified or altered licence document for the carriage of goods or passengers for reward. Section 21 provides for an extensive schedule of repeals in order to revoke spent or replaced sections of the many Road Transport Acts.

The Bill is a significant step forward in road transport operator licensing and brings in a very important set of amendments to the Road Traffic Act, 1961. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State. The Opposition parties do not oppose the legislation. We consider it is good, positive and worthwhile and that it will be beneficial.

Many of us do much driving in country areas, particularly on bad roads while seeking Seanad votes, etc. We often find a filthy lorry with no number plate blocking our way on a narrow road with a queue of cars stretching half a mile behind. We must tidy up the rules for the driving of lorries. In many cases the problems are caused by illegal hauliers. I welcome the Bill's provisions and the commitment by the Minister and the Department to sort out matters relating to the transport of goods, including the vehicles used. This may make haulage more expensive but that is all to the good because it will drive off the road people who are a danger to everyone.

One problem in County Louth is a considerable amount of out of State transport, particularly lorries from Northern Ireland. Most lorry drivers are excellent but many of the Northern lorry drivers rush through this State without consideration. They overtake cars at 80 miles per hour and put people at risk. The provisions in the Bill will tackle out of State hauliers in an effective manner, through on the spot fines and allowing the Garda to apprehend culprits.

Traffic management is an important issue, although it may not relate directly to this Bill. We need more frequent checks on transport, particularly these lorries. I note the reference to weighing centres, etc., but lorries are rarely stopped on the road. The length of a lorry's journey and the speed at which it has travelled is indicated by a tachograph. I understand from the Dáil debate that a Europe wide electronic tachograph will soon be introduced because challenges have been made to the accuracy of readings from the current tachograph. It is important that we are able to monitor the speed of lorries and the number of hours for which they have been driven. The current system should be updated and if new technology is required it should be provided as standard.

Many lorry drivers are courteous. They keep their lorries clean and properly lit and will pull to the side if traffic builds up behind them. This makes a significant contribution to good traffic flow on smaller roads. However, some lorries travel in convoy. Up to five lorries, perhaps from the same firm, may travel one behind the other and traffic builds up behind them. It might be silly to introduce legislation to prevent more than two lorries travelling in a row but it makes driving quite dangerous. I do not know whether the Minister can address this in the Bill.

In the UK and France lorries must display on the back the maximum speed at which they may travel, depending on the type or road, a motorway, a dual carriageway or a normal road. This should be done here also. Some UK lorries display a sign on the back stating that if the lorry is not being driven properly other drivers can phone the firm to complain. This shows that these companies are concerned about safety and can be contacted immediately if one of their lorries is being driven too fast. This puts pressure not on good lorry drivers, because they are observing the rules, but on the bad ones. It would make sense if we did something similar here.

The Bill indicates that lorry owners must find a suitable parking space for their vehicles. About 70 per cent of Irish road hauliers are one or two man operations and when the company starts it may not have the finances to obtain proper parking. For instance, a person who receives a redundancy lump sum may buy a minibus or lorry and set himself up in business. Unfortunately, these vehicles are often parked in residential areas, which causes problems not only for the neighbours but for the vehicle owners because the lorry or bus is not safe from vandalism. I am dealing with a number of these cases in Drogheda at present. Perhaps Iarnród Éireann and Bus Éireann could make parking spaces available on property they are not using. People who have bought a bus or lorry using a redundancy lump sum cannot afford to buy a parking space as well. Others might argue that a person should be able to buy both the vehicle and a parking space or he should not enter the business. My socialist colleague seems to take that view but he should talk to the people I am dealing with at present.

Mr. Ryan

I believe in the market economy, not in "freebies" for businesses.

I believe in helping people when they start businesses. This would help the community.

This is an important and useful Bill. The aggressive and dangerous driving of these vehicles is worrying and I am glad the Bill will make it more expensive for people who operate illegally because they will be pursued. We are trying to remove transport from the roads because they cannot carry the current high volume of traffic. I was not aware, until I heard the Minister mention it, that a report was available on a strategy for the successful development of the Irish road haulage industry. I hope it suggests that we consider the greater transport of goods by rail. It must be possible to make it viable to use rail for the "just in time" delivery of goods to Sligo, for instance. It is probably more realistic than some might think. The cost is an important factor and Iarnród Éireann must have an efficient goods operation. It makes a lot of sense to encourage people to use rail for the transport of the large volume of goods currently sent by road. It should be done if it is possible – I do not know the details but the principle is good. We should study how it is done elsewhere in the world. We should encourage the delivery of goods to a central depot for transport by rail to the main cities and towns. That may not be easy for small companies but it should be possible for larger firms. What policies are being considered to encourage such development? The roads are choked with traffic and a large lorries choke traffic for longer and have a worse effect than smaller vehicles. We should encourage freight transport by rail. I welcome the Bill, which represents the start of an important and useful debate.

I welcome the Bill which contains a number of important provisions. Tough measures are being introduced to better regulate an industry that is of vital importance to the economic and commercial life of the country. It is important not only in terms of imports and exports but also internal trade, infrastructure and, most importantly, safety on the roads.

Everybody is aware that the carriage of freight by rail has diminished and I share Senator O'Dowd's sentiments that every effort should be made to encourage its expansion. There is no reason that cannot be achieved if appropriate plans and strategies are put in place. The Senator is also correct to point out that the gridlock in city streets and country roads, particularly the main arteries, would be reduced significantly by the release of more road space as a result of more freight being carried by rail.

The review of the road haulage industry initiated by the Minister of State is most welcome. It is required urgently given the serious dif ficulties that have been experienced in recent times. I agree with him that there must be a coherent policy with a clear vision of what the future development of the industry will involve. Short, medium and long-term strategies are needed and must be put in place. The recently published consultants' report, A Strategy for the Successful Development of the Irish Road Haulage Industry, is a brilliant in-depth analysis of the industry and its many recommendations set out a vital blueprint for the future role and development of the road freight industry as a key player in the commercial and economic life of the country.

I wish to focus on a number of key problems in this industry. The first is parking. Legislation requires that adequate parking spaces be available at the place of business of the operator. That is an important measure. Too often, operators conduct their business from their homes and lorries are parked in residential areas with consequent spillages of oil and diesel. Repairs to the vehicles also take place on the side of the road. This is simply unacceptable. The Minister of State made it clear that while the legislation provides for the availability of adequate parking spaces at the place of business, he cannot deal with the parking of heavy goods vehicles and large coaches in residential streets. I greatly regret that because one of my biggest headaches is complaints from my constituents about such parking. Perhaps such a prohibition is not within the remit of the Department but if it is, I plead with the Minister of State to consider it.

Dublin Corporation has tried everything in an effort to impose a blanket ban on the parking of heavy goods vehicles, large vans and coaches on residential streets but the corporation's legal advisers say it cannot be done. It must be tried out area by area. That is slow, cumbersome and unsatisfactory. The corporation has also been told that if legislation is introduced with regulations, it would be enabled to overcome these legal problems. Frankly, the current situation is most unsatisfactory. It is unfair to residential communities whose members are entitled to peace of mind, safety for their children and to be able to drive in their streets without having to manoeuvre around large vehicles.

I appeal to the Minister of State to review this matter with a view to finding out what can be done, perhaps on an interdepartmental basis, to get rid of this problem. I do not blame the drivers. In many cases, the operators tell the drivers to take the goods vehicles or coaches home with them because they have an inadequate number of parking spaces at the place of business.

Another of my hobby-horses is speeding by lorries and coaches, a subject already well aired by Senator O'Dowd. I have had numerous complaints about this. I have always been of the opinion that the larger vehicle on a narrow street or stretch of road does not have the right of way. Perhaps I am wrong and there is no such law, but if there is not there should be. The greatest hazard is constituted by the heavier and bigger vehicle and there should be a legal onus on it to give way to the smaller one.

The problem of speeding by haulage lorries and coaches is generally due to the drivers rat-running through side streets and country lanes in an effort to avoid weighbridges and traffic lights. That is not acceptable. I do not know if the Minister of State has the power to address this problem but it must be tackled. Dublin Corporation tried to address it by erecting signs on a number of streets denoting three ton limits on vehicles. The enforcement of the limits is most unsatisfactory. I accept it is a matter for the Garda and does not fall within the remit of the Minister of State. I constantly wonder, as a result of the many complaints I get about this problem, if any departmental measure could be introduced to address it. It is a nightmare for residential urban and rural communities who must put up with speeding heavy duty vehicles and coaches on narrow country roads.

Not all the drivers are from outside the State, not all lorry drivers are reckless drivers and not all lorry drivers or owners allow their vehicles to deteriorate to such an extent that they are unrecognisable. However, too many do. Too many drivers indulge in practices which are simply unacceptable in the interests of public safety and the quality of life of the communities to which I referred.

I am delighted with the provisions relating to weighbridges. It will be possible to bring haulage vehicles back to weighbridges even from a distance of 25 kilometres. That is an essential new measure. According to the reports I receive, there is a great deal of dodging and rat-running to avoid weighbridges. That points to just one thing, overloading. If the overloading is as bad as it is believed to be within the industry, particularly by operators who do not indulge in it, it must be tackled firmly.

From the many reports available, both from the Garda Síochána and the public, one of the most frustrating aspects of road transport is the behaviour of many out of State hauliers and the huge difficulties experienced in prosecuting them. For that reason I welcome section 13 which contains provisions to ensure compliance by out of State hauliers with Irish road transport legislation. A garda will now be able to arrest a driver who is believed by the garda to be committing an offence and who does not have a satisfactory address for the service of a summons. When such a person is arrested, he or she will be released on station bail and if he or she does not turn up for the court hearing, an application can be made for the bail money to be confiscated.

The issue of the involvement of consignors has been raised frequently, and that issue was raised during the debate on the previous Bill. I am delighted about the categories of person who will be liable for prosecution for certain offences, particularly in the case of vehicles found to carrying loads greater than those which are permitted.

The provisions of section 17 are timely and welcome and I am delighted they are included in the Bill. Too often the overloading of vehicles, which is known to be widespread, occurs due to pressure put on drivers by consignors. To date only the driver and the owner can be prosecuted in that regard. It is widely known in the industry that consignors frequently threaten to take their business elsewhere if their requests that drivers should drive overloaded vehicles are not met. The introduction of this measure will make consignors think again. Consignors will be included in the category of persons who can be prosecuted for such offences. The elimination of the bureaucracy is also welcome and the industry, in general, lauds the Minister of State for that.

I compliment the Minister of State on initiating the first major review of the road haulage industry. The report, A Strategy for the Successful Development of the Irish Road Haulage Industry, identifies and recommends many key areas of the Bill. When welcoming the publication of the report he expressed his determination to start a process of interdepartmental consultation in respect of the legal, regulatory and environmental recommendations as quickly as possible. He also gave a commitment to establish an implementation group consisting of officials, hauliers and users. I congratulate him on the speed with which he is moving to upgrade and improve this highly competitive and vital industry.

Mr. Ryan

I am always intrigued by the fact that if one believes industry should operate in a competitive market, one is usually accused of being a socialist. Apparently, to believe in a market economy is to believe in a subsidised market economy. The Minister of State is the most amiable of gentlemen and I do not mean this to be an attack on him, but he said the consultants found there is severe pressure on margins in the sector due to the competitive nature of the market and the rise in key input costs. Pressure on margins is supposed to exist in a competitive market economy. That is the reason we believe in competition. If there is not pressure on margins there is not competition. One cannot have generous margins in a properly functioning competi tive market economy. We either have one or the other.

If we believe in competition, it must be real competition in which case there is a squeeze on margins. The reason Bank of Ireland makes exorbitant profits is because we do not have a competitive banking sector. There is not real competition between the banks. The profits made by the banking sector are incompatible with a properly competitive market. If banking in a properly functioning market were as profitable as our banking sector, that would result in other participants being drawn in to gain a share of the profits. That is what a competitive market is supposed to mean.

Those of us who stand somewhere to the left in Irish politics have become fed up with corporate welfare. Time magazine recently undertook a study of it, which ran to 60 pages when I downloaded it from the Internet. Corporate welfare is the range of subsidies the business sector takes for granted. For instance, the taxpayers of Ireland or Europe pay for the cost of building our roads and we charge the road haulage industry a fee of only a few thousand pounds. Everybody knows that is not the real cost to the taxpayer of the use by the road haulage industry of the roads. If the industry was to pay society the real cost of the use of the roads our railways would be overcrowded. The problem is that real costs are not being attributed anywhere.

One of the reasons railways are given so many subsidies is because the full cost of running the railways has to be covered by Iarnód Éireann, including the provision and maintenance of the permanent way. Road hauliers do not pay for the provision or maintenance of the roads they use or for the other ancillary services, including planning and organisation. They pay a fee to use them. We may approve of that, but it is a hidden and substantial subsidy to the industry. It is one which road hauliers do not appreciate, acknowledge or deny. They pay a small element of tax in that regard.

We must sort out whether we believe in a competitive market economy. It seems we believe in it where it suits us and that is usually where there are entrenched rights of trade Unionists. Quite correctly, we do not allow that nonsense anymore. I do not support it and neither does my party.

The Time study on corporate welfare identified the degree to which Time Warner availed of enormous indirect and hidden State subsidies. It showed corporate welfare cost the United States Government a factor of about ten times more than so-called social welfare cost. I recall that the late Padraig Moriarty, the former chief executive and later chairman of the ESB, said there was no private sector in this country. He said there was only one sector which was directly supported by the State and another sector which was more generously but indirectly supported by the State, which called itself the private sector.

We often hear it said that we should feel sorry for a sector of the economy in which there is pressure on margins because it is very competitive. We should be delighted we have sectors like that in our economy. We do not have half enough of them. We do not have them in some State sectors or in many other areas, including banking. If one reads studies on competitiveness, one would realise that one of the areas of concern to the Irish Competitiveness Council, is the inefficiency of the banking system. The banking system is very efficient in making its shareholders and its directors rich, but it is not very efficient at doing the job it is supposed to do. In this regard, aspects of this Bill are very welcome.

To date road hauliers did not have an obligation to provide for parking and operating spaces for vehicles. That meant they parked their vehicles on the side of the road. Who paid for that? We did. Road hauliers used space provided for society by society for their commercial benefit. It saved them costs. Every time hauliers take up half of the space in a housing estate they damage other people's amenities. That is something on which a good environmental economist would put a figure. I could make a stab at that figure by working it out on the back of an envelope. That is about as much space as one could devote to environmental economics because it is a very poorly developed science. The use of such amenity space is undoubtedly a subsidy. Every time hauliers get free parking in an area which interferes with other people's amenities, that is a subsidy. I am a great believer in intervention in the market economy. We ought to identify these areas and decide where we will provide such subsidies, but those subsidies should not be given by accident.

The scenario Senator Liam Fitzgerald described should not happen. It should not be the case that Dublin Corporation cannot regulate intelligently and efficiently who parks where in residential areas. Much to the horror of individuals, Dublin Corporation appears to have dealt quite successfully with the problem of illegal car parking by clamping. It appears to have worked. On the one hand, I hope my local authority introduces such a system and on the other I hope it does not. That system has worked.

Many provisions in the Bill are welcome. The simplification of the procedures to deal with out of State drivers is a necessary consequence of our membership of the EU and of international transport. It is long overdue. As the Minister of State said, the Bill provides for the possibility of the imposition of on-the-spot fines. These fines are the first on-the-spot fines that will be introduced. What we have called on-the-spot fines are an on-the-spot option to pay a fine later, but the Bill provides for on-the-spot fines. They are used all over Europe and it is about time we introduced them. I am glad a deliberate attempt has been made to deal with the problem of hauliers avoiding weighbridges by increasing the distance vehicles can be brought back to them.

I hope we are moving towards the use of tachographs as evidence against drivers charged with exceeding the speed limit. If a tachograph shows how many miles a driver has travelled and if there is a record of when he left his starting point, it is not to difficult to work out the average speed. However, according to a radio discussion I heard, tachographs cannot be used as evidence to prosecute drivers for speeding. This is ridiculous.

Many road hauliers operate within the law. However, as someone who drives from Cork to Dublin regularly I also know there are a great number who do not, particularly as regards speeding. I understand the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles is about 50 miles an hour. However, they rarely travel at that speed. I will have to be careful as I do not want this used in evidence against me but I was recently coming into Watergrasshill, travelling at 61 or 62 miles per hour and there were three juggernauts on the inside lane doing 61or 62 miles per hour, one in front of me doing 62 miles per hour, one behind me flashing his lights indicating to me to get out of the fast lane because I was only going at 62 miles per hour – perhaps I keep using the figure 62 as a euphemism – and another was coming towards me from Watergrasshill doing 62 miles per hour. I know from this that there are a great number of people breaking the law. If one compares the momentum of a large heavy goods vehicle travelling at 50 miles per hour with the momentum of one travelling at 60 miles per hour and works out the energy involved, one realises the damage they can do. Again it appears to be a problem of non-compliance and non-enforcement.

The EU and European environmental agencies have carried out a great deal of research and identified road transport as a major cause of air pollution, but road users do not have to pay for the damage done to air quality. There is a huge environmental case for increasing the use of rail, as Senators O'Dowd and Fitzgerald suggested. There are two ways to encourage the use of rail; one is to fund Iarnród Éireann to ensure it has modern and efficient rail and rolling stock and the other is to ensure that road haulage is efficient. We spoke about first year economic courses last night – efficiency means that they are charged the real cost of what they are doing and we do not give the hidden subsidies, directly or indirectly through road, parking, fuel and environmental subsidies. We want what the con sultants say is there – an efficient and competitive road haulage system. However, it should be efficient in real terms, not because the community carries the costs. This does not serve any purpose in the long-term. There are many aspects of road transport which we could debate in the future. However, I welcome the Bill.

I thank Senators O'Dowd, Fitzgerald and Ryan for their excellent contributions to which I listened carefully. The review of the road haulage sector, to which I referred earlier, was mentioned. As was clear from my opening remarks, I am aware there are difficulties in the sector. There have been indications of this in the past and it was in the context of those difficulties that the recent review was embarked upon. The report has the value of identifying the problems which we must endeavour to address and of recommending some solutions. I am confident that all the issues can be approached with a spirit of co-operation between my Department, hauliers, haulage companies and IBEC, representing the users.

As I mentioned earlier, the report makes recommendations in six key areas which impact on Departments, agencies, representative associations, trainers and hauliers. The consultants found significant non-compliance and low levels of enforcement in a number of areas, particularly unlicensed haulage and the rules on lorry weights. Non-compliance in these areas is seen to have important implications for the level of capacity and the nature of competition in the market and a number of recommendations have been made in order to address these problems, for example, the establishment of a registration system for own account transport operators; assistance in effective enforcement – enforcement impinges on a number of different aspects raised by the three Senators and this must be addressed and improved; the recruitment of additional transport officers and support staff for extra enforcement; the strengthening of the commercial vehicle testing procedures and the improved monitoring of testing stations; and increased enforcement of road traffic legislation, including the rules in relation to overweight vehicles. I am pleased that an important recommendation concerning the introduction of consignor liability in the case of overweight loads is already provided for in section 17.

As regards the industry itself, the consultants found that:

given the micro scale of operators in the Irish road haulage industry and the scale of the development challenge facing the sector, we believe there is a need for enhanced support for the road haulage sector. Our analysis suggested that despite the importance of this sector, it had received very low levels of development assistance.

This area is one in which I am particularly experi enced. Before I became a politician I was a distribution manager with a large semi-State company which involved the distribution of large quantities of finished product and raw materials by road and rail. Some of the issues raised by Senators Ryan and O'Dowd ring very true. When I took office I found myself involved in road haulage again and discovered that many of the ills and shortcomings which obtained when I worked in the area some decades ago still exist and need to be addressed immediately. I am glad that a number are being addressed by this Bill, for example, costing of haulage. Many hauliers are one-man operators and in my time they were competing in a cut-throat business. In doing their costings and arriving at a rate for charging, they often did not even take the depreciation of their vehicle into consideration. I am amazed that this shortcoming still exists. It lends itself to dangerous vehicles on the road and also means that when the vehicle is worn out, so is the business. These problems must be addressed.

There are excellent haulage companies in this country, large and small, endeavouring to achieve excellence using quite sophisticated equipment. That graph is going very much in the right direction. Senator Ryan spoke about competition and I agree with him. There is competition in this trade but it must be carried out against the background of adequate, appropriate and relevant legislation and its enforcement. There was no such legislation prior to the introduction of this Bill. Hopefully, when our work is done it will be in situ.Senators O'Dowd, Fitzgerald and Ryan referred to rail haulage. I worked on behalf of another State body 15 years ago and, in conjunction with CIE, custom built rail trucks were manufactured to handle the product which I was responsible for distributing. It worked out extremely well and large quantities of the product were palletised and transported in custom built compartmentalised rail trucks around the country. This took traffic off the roads. The rail trucks carried a payload of 40 tonnes, which would have been more than the permitted load on roads anyway. It was very efficient and evidenced that even then CIE was capable of taking such initiatives, as it still is. Businesses in general but particularly those in the haulage sector are also capable of taking initiatives such as those to move containers by rail, which are most welcome. A new service has been established by Coastal Containers to move containers between Cork and Dublin by rail. The movement of goods by road or rail is very much a commercial matter but, as Ireland is a small island, short journeys are involved in some instances and the practicalities of loading, unloading, etc., preclude or exclude rail usage.

Senator O'Dowd referred to a telephone number which people can use if lorries are not being driven properly. The Irish Road Haulage Association has already commenced an initiative on this. A number of operators have introduced this system and I fully agree with the Senator that action must be taken on cowboy operators, which is evident in this Bill.

Senators Fitzgerald and Ryan referred to the parking of vehicles in private estates. As public representatives, all of us have had representations in that regard. It is an unacceptable practice but it is a matter which must be dealt with by local authorities through their bye-laws. However, I must endeavour to deal with it in so far as my brief permits by putting in place a provision which would ensure that applicants for licences must provide a headquarters which has parking. That has not always been the case but, hopefully, that provision will ensure it is the case henceforth.

A number of important issues arise in regard to the relationship between hauliers and users. For instance, it is recommended that IBEC prepare a user charter to promote shorter turnaround times at premises. This problem has serious implications for productivity in the sector. Further recommendations include the promotion of long-term agreements between users and hauliers and the use of information technology. Another important recommendation relates to the establishment of the users industry council in conjunction with the IRHA to research market opportunities and improve the image of the industry.

Training providers are charged with the task of identifying the scale and nature of training services and resourcing that requirement. The implementation of the many recommendations in the report will engage us for some time to come and it will be necessary to seek Government approval for those which impact on the State sector. A number of Departments must be consulted and brought on board in this regard and they will have an input to these measures.

Meanwhile, I will set up an implementation group comprising officials from my Department, the hauliers and IBEC to push forward with the recommendations in the report. The Bill does not address all the issues but it contains many important developments for the haulage sector. They are worthwhile and must be enacted as soon as possible. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

At 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 19 May 1999.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 19 May 1999.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 19 May 1999.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 19 May 1999.