Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 24 Feb 1960

Vol. 179 No. 5

Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) (Amendment) Bill, 1959—Report and Final Stages.

Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I did not have the opportunity of being present for the Committee Stage of the Bill, but certainly I read the debate with interest and I appreciate also the distance the Minister went to try to clarify the various points raised by Deputies who spoke on all sides of the House. Deputy Cosgrave appeared worried about a certain type of vehicle, particularly furniture vans, and the Minister gave an indication that he would consider the position between then and the Final Stage.

These furniture removal vans are definitely in a peculiar position. For instance, if one purchases new furniture, it is often delivered in containers, such as boxes or bales, which would not be included in the unladen weight of the vehicle for the purpose of assessing unladen weight under this Bill. But strange as it may seem, once this furniture becomes secondhand, and is moved in a vehicle which has a furniture container carried thereon, the unladen weight of the vehicle includes the container itself. The Minister did express the view that such furniture removal vans were standard and were confined to haulage contractors of such class of merchandise and that up to the present such containers have been included in the unladen weight.

That may be so, but a practice has grown up of procuring containers which are merely placed on the chassis or the bodywork of the vehicle for the purpose of removing furniture. If the container is merely placed thereon and not affixed in any way by bolts or tied on with ropes, I wonder would the container be taken into consideration in calculating the unladen weight of the vehicle? It would cut both ways. It might be that owners of lorries might try to evade the purpose of the Bill by merely placing such containers on the vehicle, or again, you might find these bona fide hauliers who have contaiers attached or fixed to their vehicles, removing the attachment merely for the purpose of reducing the unladen weight. Perhaps the Minister would answer that point when making his final speech.

The Minister also went a good distance to meet some of the objections to the Bill by giving certain tax remissions where vehicles are used merely for a portion of the year. He mentioned particularly the containers used on creamery vehicles. There is one point which really worries me in that regard. The Minister said that where the container—I may be wrong about this—is used during a certain month and if it is not used for the remainder of the year, there would be a remission for the remainder of the year. If I am wrong in that—

That is the position then. Could the Minister state when the unladen weight of the vehicle would be ascertained. For instance, take a farmer using his vehicle at harvest time, merely for bringing in his crops, or take the creamery using its vehicle merely at the peak milk period of the summer months, would it be necessary, to procure the unladen weight of the vehicle at the beginning of the tax year? If that is so, then when one taxes the vehicle in January, one would be paying tax on it up to, say, September, bringing the vehicle out for the harvest and then, when the harvest is finished, one could get a rebate, say, from 1st October to the end of the year.

I think the Deputy has got it fairly right but I am not quite clear on what the Deputy is coming at.

What is worrying me is this. The Minister has gone a long way to make certain concessions to people who use vehicles for certain months and he particularly instanced the case of milk producers who use the vehicles merely in the peak periods and who in the winter months, would be entitled to a remission of duty on removing these containers from the vehicles. Is it at the beginning of the tax year that the unladen weight will be ascertained?

Is it the unladen weight with the attachment or without the attachment?

The unladen weight of the vehicle. Supporting a farmer intends to use a vehicle, say, from 1st January to 1st June merely for ordinary farm work, and from 1st June to October he intends to put on a container. If he taxes the vehicle from 1st January, will he have to tax it at the higher rate?

He will not, no.

Therefore, he could tax his vehicle for only a certain part of the year?

Not necessarily. He could tax it for the entire year.

And pay the additional tax?

Is that provision in the Bill?

I should not imagine it is.

Could the Minister give us some idea of the mechanics—I do not doubt him—of how that will be done? I am sorry. These matters might have been more appropriate to the Committee Stage but I am sure the Minister does not mind my putting them to him by way of question.

Undoubtedly, we shall specity this in regulations. We are already, although I have not got it to hand——

If the Minister tells me he intends to do it by regulation that is sufficient.

I think I did outline to a fair degree on Committee Stage, during the Deputy's unavoidable absence, the details of how that regulation is likely to work, but we are not final on it.

If the Minister tells me that after consultation with his advisers, he will make regulations, I am quite satisfied. I have no doubt that the regulations will be made.

A question was also raised on Committee Stage on what is now known as the hardship rule applied by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The Minister was asked a question as to the number of applicants who sought the application of the hardship rule and while he did not confine himself to any particular figure, he said that possibly between then and the Final Stage of the Bill, he might be able to give a figure. That was in reply to a question put by Deputy Norton. Perhaps the Minister might be able to give that in his final statement.

There is another matter in regard to which it is difficult for the Minister, I know, to assist people. It is a matter which is worrying. There are some classes of merchandise of a sterling value and fairly small which are carried but which occupy a considerable bulk. May I instance hay by way of contrast, say, with coal? A person who carries a lorry-load of unbaled hay requires very high cribs or creels as they are called in some parts of the country. There is also the transport of unbaled seaweed—a type of merchandise transport which is growing very much in the Minister's and my county. These commodities are not of very high sterling value but very high cribs or creels—what are called double creels—are necessary for their transport, whereas smaller and much lighter creels or cribs are required for the transport of a much more valuable commodity, namely coal.

It is unfair that the person who has to transport the cheaper commodity should have to pay a much higher tax by way of unladen weight on the mode of transport which he uses. I appreciate the difficulty for any Minister or his Department in trying to alleviate the burden on these classes of people. I merely mention them to show that there is a burden. Possibly while the Minister cannot do it in this Bill, he might, by way of regulation be able to do something to ease the burden on these unfortunate people.

The Deputy appreciates that, on the Fifth Stage, only what is contained in the Bill may be discussed.

I appreciate that. The Minister went a certain distance with me by telling me that regulations would be introduced. I am trying to suggest what might be incorporated in those regulations. The Bill enables regulations to be made and in that way I am only suggesting to the Minister what might possibly be done.

We had considerable discussion on Committee Stage on Section 3, subsection (1) (c), which deals with the obligation to carry a member of the Garda Síochána or a member of the local authority. What the Minister said on Committee Stage certainly worried the House, that the owner of a vehicle such as this might be compelled by this Bill, when this becomes as Act, to do something which would take him outside the scope of his insurance. We cannot compel insurance companies to give other than the cover required by the Road Traffic Act, 1993. We cannot go beyond that, but where the cover is limited, say, to the ownerdriver, or a named driver without passengers, if in the enforcement of this Bill, the owner or the driver is compelled to carry a member of the local authority or of the Garda and thereby breaks the law as laid down by the Road Traffic Act, 1933, there is something very dangerous in the situation.

The Minister did say that he or his colleague would introduce legislation later to cover the State servants compelled to travel on such vehicles. I have no doubt that the Minister will introduce that, but there is an interim period between the time this Bill will become an Act and the time the new legislation which he proposes will become law. That is really what is worrying me.

Let us go back—I do not propose to quote as this is not Committee Stage— to Section 3, subsection (1) which refers to a member of the Garda "suspecting." The Minister pointed out that the operative word there would be "suspects" a breach of the Act, in which case the Garda would be entitled to do certain things. The Minister says that all Gardaí are rational men. Of that I have no doubt but we have the exception and possibly nobody knows them better than a member of my profession. Unfortunately, we have got exceptions in the Garda who will always, when the question is put to them in cross-examination, say: "I suspect a breach of the law" knowing very well that they have no powers of intervention other than when they suspect, but to keep themselves within that ambit, they always suspect. In other words, they have a suspicious mind.

I should like the Minister, if at all possible, to suspend the operation of this section, pending the introduction of such legislation as he might consider it necessary to introduce to cover State servants. It was actually when dealing with this section that the Minister said there should be no stupid interpretation of the law. However, somebody has said that the law is an ass. Following that to its logical conclusion, the interpretation of the law might sometimes be stupid.

We must try to legislate for the exception as well as for the general rule. If we could manage to do that under this Bill, then I think we would be going a considerable distance. The Minister, when speaking on Second Reading, said the purpose of the Bill was not to collect additional taxation but merely to catch those people whom he described as interlopers, the gentlemen who strip their vehicles and try to escape their legal obligations, but I am inclined to think that one of the aims of the Bill is to try to augment the Road Fund by this extra £100,000.

In conclusion, I should like to say that the suggestions made by the various speakers have been met by the Minister as reasonably as possible. I have no doubt that anything outstanding may possibly be met by him in the regulations which he and his Department will later draft.

It is really a pity that Deputy O'Donnell should have been unavoidably absent from the Committee Stage of this Bill because many of the points which he raised this evening were raised by other Deputies on that Stage. He has mentioned a few of the items already discussed at some length but possibly he has put a new complexion on them and for that reason I might say a few words in reply.

The Deputy mentioned the question of carrier vans that would not be bolted to the body of a truck which might be weighed without any fixtures whatever. The carrier might just rest on the flat body of a truck, and he said that would appear to be something which could be left out as far as weighing for taxation purposes was concerned. Possibly the Deputy put the point more as a question and the answer is that unless they conform to another section of the Bill, which says that if they are taken off or put on a truck at either end of the journey, in whole, and still loaded, they could be exempted. They are subject to that condition but if the container is tied, bolted, or just sitting on the body of the truck it will undoubtedly come within the terms of the taxation laws as we are now enacting them.

In so far as the question of the part-year charge and the question of any rebate or refund are concerned, that was dealt with on Committee Stage. Possibly they are scattered by way of question and answer but generally the information the Deputy seeks is to be found there. I just want to say again that in so far as the user of a vehicle with a container which is only required for a part of the year is concerned, unquestionably we are going to issue regulations which will cover such cases, and which will allow the owner to get a refund at the end of the period of usage of the machine with the container. These regulations will be put into effect to enable a rebate to be made to such owners so that the amount of taxation will not fall as heavily on them as was first anticipated.

The hardship rule raised by the Deputy is really within the province of another Department but nevertheless it is one which was mentioned by, I think, Deputy Norton on the Second and Committee Stages of the Bill. The number of applicants at that time, which was this day week, and we had to get them by telephone for Deputy Norton was——

Seventy, I think.

We had 80 applications according to my information—only 80 out of 900.

Only 80 had applied this day week for the additional 7 cwts. which they are entitled to get but for which they are obliged to make application. There were a further 80 applications—possibly they would be duplicates—under the hardship clause seeking more than the 7 cwts. which has been given generally in the Bill introduced this year by the Minister for Transport and Power. Those further 80 had been received under that head and of them, to date, only one has been granted. All the others had to be referred back for further information and are still under consideration. That information is a week old and I do not know what change has been made in the positions since, but I think the general pattern indicated was really to assure Deputy Norton on the point raised by him. The figures would incate at this stage that, to some degree, towards the end of February there is not any real hardship being caused generally to these licensed hauliers, particularly if we have regard to the numbers who have come forward to seek anything granted by the Minister for Transport and Power.

The question was mentioned by the Deputy of a light load requiring a large container. I think I appreciate what he is trying to get at. Possibly we differ in this but I think he may have taken instances of commodities with which I would certainly not agree. I do not agree that the hauling of unbaled hay is a process wherein a load can be carried better, more efficiently, and in greater quantity by virtue of crates being put on a lorry. In fact I think general experience with unbaled hay is that no crates are used and very often no sides or tail boards but, what is required above all, is somebody who can build the load which may protrude very far over the end and even over the cab of the truck. The same might be said of dry and semi-dry sea weed, but I dispute the actual cases instanced by Deputy O'Donnell as being good instances of light loads requiring crates, as compared with a load of coal which requires only a small container to carry a heavy weight.

I can appreciate the point made but I think the Deputy and the House will appreciate that this is the very essence of the taxation code. Certainly I did not institute it and I should have to have to try to smooth out all the little asides that one can see in it. The Bill is merely continuing the principles already enunciated and carried out over the years in other Bills in regard to taxation. Though a case can be made in various directions as to how the incidence of taxation may, for the purposes of one particular commodity, appear to bear more heavily on the owner of a vehicle carrying that kind of commodity, nevertheless I think it is fairly true to say that the general code of taxation is long established, well understood, and nothing that we are proposing to do in this Bill radically alters in any way the basic principles which have come to be accepted by the House and by the public generally throughout the country.

Deputy O'Donnell then got on to a point, with which some play was made on Committee Stage, in regard to paragraph 2 of subsection 1 of Section 3 of the Bill, which obliges the driver or owner of a vehicle to carry a member of the Garda Síochána in his vehicle to a weighbridge where that vehicle's weight has been the subject of challenge or is suspected of being over-weight from the point of view of the taxation code. I should say, first, that I did not say exactly what Deputy O'Donnell gathered, or seems to have gathered, that I was introducing legislation to cure this matter. Actually what I said will be found at Column 432, Volume 179 of the Official Report, where it states:

"However, we shall have regard to it in impending legislation and we hope to rectify even that little matter.

That is not a commitment; it is not even regarded as a necessity or essential to be dealt with in regard to the Bill. The reason I direct the attention of the House to that paragraph is that it is not clearly established on the evidence that any such amendment is absolutely necessary or essential, whatever about being desirable. Examples of a similar provision will be found in Section 16 and Section 98 of the Road Traffic Act, 1933, and again in the Emergency Powers (No. 386) Order, 1945. As I pointed out here on the last occasion, since they came into operation, none of these provisions has given rise to any difficulty nor has any doubt ever been expressed in regard to them.

I have also been advised that compliance with a statutory requirement of the kind in this section does not invalidate an insurance policy or upset the protection afforded by it to a third party. While I am quite happy about the position in regard to this matter and the question of liability, I would not object to a specific provision being made to confirm the position and put an end to any of the arguments that may arise, although, as I have said, they have never arisen in the past.

The place for these provisions is in the Road Traffic Bill, which I hope to have before the House during the course of this year. As I said, over the years nothing has transpired to make it appear that this provision is actually necessary, but if for no other reason than to put an end to the arguments about it, when the Road Traffic Bill comes before the House, I shall give consideration to the inserting of a provision in it clearing up the matter once and for all.

Deputy O'Donnell said he appreciated to some degree what I said about the purpose of the Bill being to catch interlopers. I do not think I actually used that word, but it is a good word to describe those who have been in the habit of stripping their trucks in order to reduce the weight and then, as soon as the truck has been taxed putting on the standard equipment which should have been weighed. While that is the plea I make for the Bill, the Deputy was inclined to think that its purpose was to acquire additional aid for the Road Fund to the extent of £100,000. If that had been the purpose, no such Bill would ever have been introduced by me. The Bill was introduced because experience has shown that there was a leak from the Road Fund by virtue of these manipulations of the weighings for tax purposes and that that leak was becoming greater and was likely to increase substantially in the future. Rather than wait until the bottom had gone out of the sack altogether, we in the Department felt it was incumbent on us to recommend to the Government that measures should be taken to stop the leak. That is the sole reason the Bill is before the House.

May I ask a question? There is a hardship on lorry owners in Kerry who have to take their lorries to Tralee, sometimes 50 or 60 miles, in order to get them weighed. Could the lorries not be weighed a little nearer home?

There is a new provision in the Bill which gives power to appoint weighbridges other than the local authority weighbridge which, in the past, was usually the only one used in each county. As a result of that, we hope to improve the situation and obviate the undoubted hardship on truck owners of having to go 60 or 80 miles to have their trucks weighed, even if it is only once a year.

Will it be incumbent on the local authority to set up those weighbridges?

It will not be obligatory on the local authority to set them up. We are giving power to the local authority to appoint weighbridges other than the weighbridges that own ownership. They may, in fact, appoint any public weighbridge that conforms with the normal weights and measures regulations. The reason for that is twofold. There are a number of such weighbridges in different centres in various counties. The provision of quite a number of additional weighbridges by the councils themselves for this purpose only would seem to be rather wasteful and would not, I think, be accepted by the councils. However, there are quite a number of public weighbridges not in council ownership, and we are giving the councils power in this Bill to appoint such weighbridges for the purposes of the functions hitherto carried out only by the council.

Question put and agreed to.

This Bill is certified by the Ceann Comhairle to be a Money Bill within the meaning of Article 22 of the Constitution.