Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Feb 1956

Vol. 154 No. 3

Committee on Finance. - Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1956—Second and Subsequent Stages.

I beg to move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

This Bill is intended to remove doubts that have been raised about the powers conferred on the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs by the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1926 to make statutory regulations, issue licences and collect licence fees in respect of wireless telegraphy apparatus in vehicles. Deputies will be aware that the High Court recently decided that a district justice was wrong in law in not convicting a man who had been prosecuted for having an unlicensed radio set in a motor car at a particular place. However, two of the judges expressed the opinion—and they emphasised that they were giving an opinion; not a court decision—that the wording of Section 5 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926, restricts the issue of licences for wireless telegraphy apparatus to apparatus "in a specified place" and that accordingly there is no power under the Act to issue licences for wireless apparatus in motor cars.

On this view of the law every person who has or has had a wireless set in a car outside or away from premises already covered by a wireless licence has been breaking the law, whether or not he has held a separate licence for it.

The Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1926 was intended to make provision, among other things—I am now about to quote from the Long Title—

"... for the regulation and control of wireless telegraphy on land, at sea and in the air..."

Moreover, Section 3 of the Act provides that subject to certain exceptions:—

"No person shall keep or have in his possession anywhere in Saorstát Éireann or in any ship or aircraft to which this section applies any apparatus for wireless telegraphy"

without a valid licence from the Minister.

It seems clear that the Oireachtas intended that the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs should have the widest powers to issue licences for the keeping and possession of wireless telegraphy apparatus anywhere within our jurisdiction and that the reference to "a specified place" in Section 5 was not intended to restrict the Minister's powers to issue licences, but rather to ensure that each licence would be related to a particular address or place for the purpose of control.

Successive Ministers for Posts and Telegraphs since 1927 have taken and acted upon that view which was and is a reasonable interpretation of the law. However, since doubts have been raised that it does not accord with the strict letter of the law, it is considered desirable to remove these doubts and that is the purpose of this Bill. It is a very short Bill and deals only with the issues raised in the recent High Court case.

Section 2 of the Bill provides that a vehicle shall be deemed to be a place separate and distinct from the premises in which that vehicle is ordinarily kept.

Section 3 provides for the retrospective operation of Section 2 and for the validation of the statutory regulations previously made, the licences issued and the licence fees collected in respect of wireless telegraphy apparatus in vehicles before the passing of the Act.

Although retrospective legislation is objectionable in principle, I do not think that reasonable objection can be taken to it in this instance. We are not in any event proposing to create a new offence or to impose a new burden retrospectively. In so far as successive Ministers for Posts and Telegraphs since 1927 may have been assuming powers not conferred on them by the Act—I say "may have been" advisedly because the position is not at all free from doubt—they have been doing so in all good faith. Moreover, if they were wrong in assuming these powers, there has been and is no provision in law for having a wireless set in a vehicle and motorists who use or have used car radios have been committing an offence. If so, this Act is needed to regularise the position.

It is, of course, essential for the control of the use of wireless telegraphy that the Minister should have the same general powers of regulation and licensing in regard to vehicles that he undoubtedly has in regard to premises, ships and aircraft. In other words, the Minister must have the machinery for licensing. The Minister's power to fix the licence fees (if any) to be charged in particular circumstances by statutory regulations is already conceded in Section 6 of the 1926 Act. I mention this because representations have been received from certain quarters to abolish or reduce licence fees on car radios and this Bill may appear to be a rejection of these representations but that is not so. It will merely confirm the powers the Minister has been operating and under these powers he will still be free to deal with such representations on their merits.

We, on this side of the House, have no objection to this Bill since, as the Minister indicates, it does not prevent any representation we might like to make in the future in relation to the rate of wireless licence, whether in connection with vehicles or premises solely. The Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926, has operated fairly successfully over a long period and it is interesting to recall that when it was introduced the fact that Radio Éireann was constituted in the manner that it is, was due to rather an ad hoc situation. It could quite easily have been that an independent corporation would have been established at that time.

All lawyers detest retrospective legislation, and the less of it we have the better. It would be a wonderful thing for the taxpayer if, every time a mistake of this kind was found, the taxpayer could derive benefit from it by means of some reserve fund established by the Minister for Finance over a period of years so that there would be a little bit of luck in all these matters. That is an entirely frivolous observation and it is obvious that the collection of motor car licences must be validated. As no other matter can be discussed on this Bill, I understand, except this one question, may I say we have no objection to the Bill?

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining stages now.
Bill passed through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.