Road Transport Bill, 1935—Second Stage.

I move that this Bill be now read a Second Time. The purpose of the Bill is to effect a number of miscellaneous amendments in the Road Transport Act of 1933. The amendments are not connected, one to the other, and perhaps it will serve the purpose of the House if I merely indicate the scope of, and the necessity for, each of these amendments. The experience which the Department of Industry and Commerce has had of the operation of the Road Transport Acts has made it clear that the amendments of the nature proposed in this Bill are necessary and desirable in order to facilitate the administration of the Acts. The first amendment effected is in Section 2. Under the Road Transport Acts, as they now stand, the carriage of merchandise, which is not the actual property of the owner of the vehicle in which it is carried, is not permissible outside the exempted areas provided for in the 1933 Act except under licence. Cases have come under the notice of the Department of companies, in the same ownership or under the same management, where one of the companies has been in the habit of using its lorries for carrying merchandise which was the property of one or more of the other companies in the same group, but all under the same ownership or management. It is proposed, by an extension of the definition of carriage for reward, to enable such companies to continue to carry merchandise, as they have been in the habit of doing in the past, without being in possession of merchandise licences.

Perhaps the Minister would explain that to us a little more clearly. The Minister spoke of a group of companies. Would this be a group of companies all incorporated in the same company, or would it mean individual companies?

It refers to companies in a common ownership and management. There were only one or two cases where it arose, and it would obviously be a hardship on the firms concerned that the practice they had been carrying on, where the lorries of one company carried the merchandise of the other company, could not be continued. If the firms were owned by individuals, the difficulty would not have arisen. It only arose in the case of companies under common ownership and management.

Section 3 deals with a different point. When the original Act was being framed, any person who had received a licence as an existing carrier had, attached to that licence, a standard lorry weight which was the total of the standard weights of the lorries used by him in connection with that business during the qualifying period. When the Bill was in Committee, it was suggested here by Deputy Séamus Moore that it would be desirable and would make administration simpler if we had a minimum standard lorry weight, which, he suggested, should be two tons. At the time, I did not consider such an amendment desirable, and I thought we could proceed upon the lines originally devised when the Bill was drafted. Experience, however, has shown that Deputy Moore was right and that, for a number of reasons, it is desirable to bring into effect now the amendment he suggested at that time—that amendment being to permit of a minimum standard lorry weight of two tons. There are 1,352 merchandise licensees authorised to carry for reward, and of those, no less than 1,000, or about 74 per cent., employ single vehicles, the unladen weight of which in each case is less than two tons, and of this 1,000, 202, or 20 per cent., employ vehicles of not more than one ton unladen weight. Many of the vehicles which were in use during the qualifying period, and in respect of which the standard lorry weight of each licensee was calculated, were subsequently replaced by others of greater unladen weight and also of greater carrying capacity before the restrictive effect of the legislation was realised, and also because of the difficulty in securing replacements of exactly similar type, consequent on changes in the types of lorries manufactured. The best known example would be the case of the old Ford one-ton truck, which carried merchandise considerably in excess of that amount, but which is not being marketed now.

Persons who are licensed in respect of vehicles of that kind had, and will continue to have, difficulty in replacing them by suitable vehicles of the same unladen weight.

The position now is that there is no provision in the Acts to amend the standard lorry weights to enable such licensees, that is licensees who have replaced the lorries they had during the qualifying period with others of greater unladen weight, to operate the vehicles which they now hold. That position is undoubtedly a hardship on many licensees who are depending upon these lorries for their livelihood, and it is proposed to allow a minimum standard lorry weight of two tons to enable such persons to continue in business. In other words, any person with a merchandise licence can operate a lorry of standard weight of two tons, even though his existing standard weight is under that figure. Similarly, in the case of licensees who have replaced the body of a lorry in use during the statutory period by a heavier body of Saorstat manufacture, it is proposed to include the increased unladen weight in the standard lorry weights.

Under the Road Transport Act of 1934, the amending Act of last year, a licensee who replaces a vehicle by a new vehicle with a body manufactured in the Saorstat of the same carrying capacity as the old vehicle is entitled to an increase in his standard lorry weight to provide for the increased weight of the new vehicle, but a licensee who improves his old vehicle by having a Saorstat built body for the existing body is not entitled to have his standard lorry weight increased to provide for the increased weight of the vehicle consequent on the substitution of the Saorstat body.

Did I understand the Minister that he is not entitled to have the increase?

This section is inserted to enable him to get the increase. The amendment of the principal Act effected by Section 4 is a purely verbal one, designed to remove any ambiguity which might be thought to exist in the present wording and to make it clear that the intention is that the prohibition on carriage for reward applies only to carriage in mechanically propelled vehicles. Sections 5 and 6 are necessary to facilitate the enforcement of Section 7 of the Act of 1932 and Section 9 of the Act of 1933 regarding the operation of unlicensed services by persons entering the Saorstát from Northern Ireland. The proposals in these sections imposed restrictions on the importation of mechanically propelled vehicles used either for the carriage of passengers or merchandise and are not intended to prevent people from outside the Saorstat carrying on business freely within the Saorstat within the law. These provisions have been found necessary merely to secure that the law shall be observed. They arise from difficulties experienced in administering the Road Transport Acts. Shortly, it has been found that our licensing requirements cannot be enforced against carriers resident outside the Saorstat without subjecting them or their passengers, or the persons concerned in the goods they are carrying into the Saorstat, to inconvenience and annoyance on every occasion on which they cross the frontier. The summary jurisdiction procedure is not available against them as it is against Saorstat citizens and Saorstat companies, a summons cannot be served outside the jurisdiction. There is no desire to harass such carriers who, it is well known, are in the main anxious and willing to observe the law in the conduct of their business in so far as it brings them into our territory. Certain operators, however, have shown a tendency to disregard, or misunderstand, the requirements. The Department of Local Government and the Department of the Revenue Commissioners are interested equally with the Department of Industry and Commerce in this matter which has been engaging their attention for some time. The matter has been examined and the machinery proposed in the Bill appears to be the most satisfactory for dealing with the position.

Persons carrying passengers into the Saorstát in large vehicles with seats for more than six passengers will be required to obtain a simple form of import licence from the Minister for Industry and Commerce. This licence will be issued on application and without question in the first instance to every applicant. There will be no charge, and it will be of indefinite duration so long as the holder is believed to be reasonably endeavouring to comply with the law as to road transport licences. The withdrawal of a licence from any firm will not be done hastily, but cases of apparent disregard of the law will be gone into fully and carefully with the firm concerned, and it is only when it is evident, after the fullest opportunity for satisfying the Department of Industry and Commerce has been afforded, that in most cases there has been a series of incidents which cannot be satisfactorily explained that the step will be taken of withdrawing an import licence for a period or permanently. This course will not cause the unexpected interruptions of business or inconvenience of third parties which the alternative methods of enforcing the law, such as arrests and detention at the frontier in suspected cases, would involve. The import licence will be in addition to the ordinary Customs requirements, and also in addition to the whole of the licensing requirements under the Road Transport and Road Traffic Acts. I want to make it clear that the machinery is not designed to confine non-Saorstát persons from carrying on legitimate business, but is designed to secure the observance of Saorstát laws, which will be used with the utmost care.

That is the full scope of the Bill, and Deputies will note that the amendments proposed are various, but are not of major importance. They arise out of the experience of the operation of the Act during the past year. Possibly, the future will reveal occasion for further amendment of those Acts. These are only amendments which have appeared necessary resulting from our experience to date.

It has long been a maxim of this House, and of every other legislature, that one cannot satisfactorily legislate for exceptions, but Section 2 of this Bill apparently resolutely sets its face against that principle, and in this case it is expedient to do so. I think that on such an occasion as this the Minister should tell us what these exceptions are. He has told us that there are associated companies, or groups of companies, but he will readily recognise himself that that is not very informative. The board of directors of one company may engage in a variety of activities. No question could arise under the original Act but that they were entitled to carry their own merchandise. I do not understand how the Minister can justify two different persons carrying one another's merchandise for reward and still be made exempt from the provisions of the original legislation. Before the Minister asks us to make an exception of that character, I think he ought at least to illustrate one case of the many which he may have in mind, and, if he is reluctant to name any names, perhaps he would furnish fictitious names in order to illustrate the kind of case he has in mind which would justify this very peculiar exception being made.

With regard to Section 3, I am very glad that the Minister seeks the powers he does seek in that section, because some cases have come under my own notice where men have either bought lorries which did not correspond with the licence they got under the original Act or found that they were unable to get lorries which would correspond with the licence. All I will ask the Minister to do in that connection is to assure us that in respect of applications in his office which he was under a statutory obligation to refuse during the last couple of years, he will notify the people concerned that he has now statutory power to grant their applications for a heavier lorry if they renew them. I have one or two cases in mind of country boys who abandoned their hope of getting a lorry and went to work for other men because of the licence difficulty. I remember being told, when I made representations in regard to the matter, that the Minister could not be of assistance, although he was willing to be if he could, because he had no statutory discretion in the matter. He now will have that statutory discretion, and I should be glad if he would look up the cases in his office which he had to refuse, although reluctant, so that he may give the requisite consent to these individuals to get the heavier lorries now.

So far as Sections 5 and 6 are concerned, they are extremely complex and we must merely accept the Minister's very specific undertaking that they are not intended for any ulterior motive but are simply introduced for the purpose of making administration of the law possible. I should be glad if the Minister would give us some little more information about Section 2, and, when he is doing so, if he would inform us what exactly was the effect of Section 2 of the Road Transport Act, 1934, which is repealed by sub-section (2) of Section 2 of this Bill.

I think that most people who have any connection with road transport will welcome this Bill. Personally, I would welcome even more elasticity and more amendment than the Minister is proposing because the motor transport business is a developing business and just as the Ford ton truck or 30-cwt. truck developed in a very short time into the two-ton truck, so we find in other grades of vehicles the same thing taking place.

There is another matter the remedying of which I would have welcomed, but which is not mentioned here. It is in regard to the dislocation of transport due to other considerations than the Road Transport Act. Certain changes were made with regard to the importation of certain things which caused lorries to be laid up for a few months until distribution was adjusted within the Saorstát. I have a case or two in mind of a transport company which was clearly in business and one of whose lorries was laid up for a little time. There was great difficulty in getting around that. The Road Transport Act is very rigid in that respect. While I welcome this amendment of the original Bill, I think the Minister could possibly have gone further in some other directions.

The matter raised by Deputy Dillon in connection with Section 2 is, I think, easily understood. He asked me to give him fictitious names. I will give him the case of a small group of people—perhaps of the one family—operating the Mullingar Motor Garage Company and also the Mullingar grocery store, general drapery store, corn mill or flour mill or something of the kind, as separate companies for business reasons, but owned by the same people and managed by the same people. The practice in the past had been for the transport in the garage to carry the products of the store. That became impossible under the terms of the Road Transport Act unless the proprietor of the garage claimed a licence as an existing carrier and, consequently, became subject to all the liabilities of the Act, which include the liability of carry merchandise for anybody who offered it. He did not desire to become a public carrier in that respect but merely wanted to continue to carry his own merchandise in a sense, that is, the merchandise of the associated company which was in the same ownership and under the same management. If the two concerns had been owned by the same individual, there would have been no difficulty at all. It was only where they had, for business reasons, established separate companies and registered them as such, that difficulty arose and it is provided in this case, where that situation exists, that a merchandise licence is not required to enable the transport of one company to be used to carry the merchandise of the other. I do not think it is of very great importance. There cannot be more than a few cases of that kind throughout the country and the effect on the general scheme of the Road Transport Act, 1933, is negligible.

I do not quite understand why the Minister put in paragraph (a) of sub-section (1), because that provides for the case of a propelled vehicle owned by a person drawing merchandise, the property of such person. What is the necessity for that paragraph if the cases are only as stated by the Minister?

Sub-section (2) of the Act of 1934 sets out:—

Where a mechanically propelled vehicle or a vehicle drawn by a mechanically propelled vehicle is used for the carriage of merchandise the property of the owner of such mechanically propelled vehicle, such merchandise shall not be deemed for the purposes of the principal Act to be carried for reward.

It is merely a matter of drafting. It is being repealed and being re-enacted.

And in its re-enacted form, it is being elaborated by paragraph (b)?

By paragraph (b). The other point raised by Deputy Haslett does not really arise in connection with this Bill. It is true that certain people had difficulty in establishing their claim to the standard lorry weight they put forward in their claim, because they had included vehicles which were not, in fact, in use or licensed for use during the qualifying period. It was not intended that persons should get a standard lorry weight in excess of the total lorry weight of the vehicles in actual use during the qualifying period. That raised some difficulty, but there was no ambiguity as to what was the intention when the Act was being framed. It was to give to each existing carrier a licence to continue as a carrier, using vehicles of the same kind as those he was actually using during the qualifying period, which was the period immediately preceding the passage of the Act.

It was not intended to shut him out?

It was intended, if he was not a carrier during that period or was only a carrier in a restricted sense, that he should not be allowed to exaggerate the extent to which he was in business. In giving him this licence we gave him a valuable property, a property which he can dispose of for cash. He becomes one of a restricted number engaged in a particular business, knowing that it is the intention of certain other operators in that business to buy out this licence and consequently any success that attended his efforts to exaggerate the extent to which he was in the business by securing the inclusion of weights of lorries which were not used, but which would tend to increase the value of his business for sale purposes, had to be taken into consideration. It was the function of the Department to see that that did not happen, and to give him only the licence to which he was entitled under the Act.

Would it be possible for the Minister's Department to notify the persons whom they have had to refuse?

The Deputy will note that the wording of Section 3 is definite. On the day this Bill passes every one of these licensees has the right to operate a lorry up to two tons capacity. On application his licence will be amended, but in fact his licence is valid from the date the Bill passes irrespective of the lorry weight stated on it, provided he is operating a lorry up to two tons.

The Minister will find that there are at least a few cases in which this actually happened. A man had a 30 cwt. lorry licence under the original Act. The lorry broke down and he bought a new one and then discovered that the new one was a two-ton lorry and he was notified he could not carry on. Representations were made to the Department. They were sympathetically received, but the Department pointed out that the Minister had no power to increase the capacity, whereupon the person concerned was obliged to dispose of the lorry. In one case the man went to work for someone else, and he was labouring under the belief that he could not again get back to the business.

But he still holds the licence which has some value and, if he desires to get back to the business, after this Bill is passed he would be in a position to use his licence.

Will the Minister undertake to notify these people?

If necessary.

Perhaps the Minister would consider issuing a statement in relation to this whole lorry position?

Our experience in the past has been that the issuing of statements has not helped to clear away the difficulties. On another occasion in connection with road transport we broadcast statements, put up posters round the country, and inserted advertisements in the newspapers. In fact, we sent out instructions to the Civic Guards asking them to tell the owners of lorries all about the Act, and six months later we had to amend the Act, extending for 12 months the period in which applications could be made.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a Second Time.

Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, 8th May.

It will be a nice substitute for the Budget.

Maybe you are right.