Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 25 Apr 1934

Vol. 18 No. 16

Road Transport Bill, 1934—Second Stage.

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

The purpose of this Bill is to effect a number of miscellaneous amendments in the Road Transport Act of 1933. That Act, as Senators will remember, attempted to bring subject to regulation the business of carrying merchandise by road for reward. The Act was framed with great care but it was inevitable that, as soon as the Department of Industry and Commerce came to operate it, certain factors would arise which would necessitate amending legislation, because the available information concerning the extent of the business and the manner in which it was conducted was necessarily limited. It is a very widely scattered industry, carried on by a very large number of people, altogether different in the manner of its operation from the business of carrying passengers by road which had been brought subject to regulation by the Road Transport Act of 1932.

The main features of the Road Transport Act of 1933 were the sections which required that all persons engaged in the business of carrying merchandise for reward on the roads should, in the first instance, get certificates that they were engaged in the business during the qualifying period; and secondly, that they should be licensed to operate in the future. Senators will remember that last year we introduced the first amending Act, the sole purpose of which was to extend the period within which applications for existing carrier certificates could be made. That was necessitated by the fact that the big majority of people engaged in the business had failed to make application within the period specified in the original Act: that is, one month after the date of its passing. We found, however, that even at the end of the extended period there was still a number of carriers who had failed to make application. I was at first inclined to leave the position in that way; ruling these people out from the receipt of licences because of their failure to qualify under the Act; but when the number of them increased to 200 I felt that it would be unfair to penalise them to that extent because of their failure to get certificates and thereby debarring them from carrying on their business in the future.

One of the provisions of this Bill, therefore, is to extend the period within which application for these certificates can be made to the 1st of April in this year. The effect of extending the date to the 1st April will be to enable all those who applied subsequent to the 31st October of last year, the last date on which applications should have been made, but prior to the introduction of this Bill, to secure their certificates. It does not permit of any fresh applications in the future. We presume that by this time all persons interested in the business will have learned the nature of the legal requirements, having regard to the fact that extensive publicity has been undertaken by advertisements in the newspapers, by posters outside public buildings and Civic Guard stations and by broadcasting announcements, and also by reason of the fact that the date on which persons holding certificates were also required to have licences in order to operate had been fixed as the 1st February. There was, consequently, reason for believing that anybody who had failed to take notice of the existing legislation prior to that date would continue to act in a similar manner after that date. We have every reason to assume that all applications likely to arise are now in. The purpose of the extension is merely to enable us to deal with 200 applications which were late, and which otherwise would have to be excluded. The extension of the date in connection with the qualification certificates necessitates the cancellation of the order already made, fixing February 1st as the date on which the main provisions of the Act came into operation and the taking of power to fix another date after this Bill becomes law. That is done by Section 7.

Section 3 is a minor amendment, the purpose of which is to deal with a situation which was not foreseen. Apparently, it is the practice in many parts of the country to distribute newspapers to newsagents' shops in ordinary, passenger vehicles. It would be illegal for newspapers to be carried in that way under the terms of the 1933 Act, unless passenger vehicles were licensed under that Act. They were not eligible to be licensed, because they were not constructed for the carriage of goods. The purpose of the section is to make a passenger vehicle a lorry when used for the carriage of newspapers. The other main provisions of the Bill are to enable us to deal with certain difficulties which arose out of the administration of the original Act. It was frequently found that persons who had a lorry or lorries engaged in connection with road transport business had disposed of the lorry or lorries and purchased new ones. Where a new lorry was fitted with an Irish-built body it was sometimes found that the unladen weight was somewhat in excess of the weight of the old one. Under the terms of the original Act we could only issue a licence permitting business being carried on with lorries of the same total unladen weight as were possessed by the applicant during the qualifying period. Consequently, when the unladen weight was increased in that manner, the applicant was put in the position, in order to qualify, that he would have to dispose of the new lorries and get ones of the necessary unladen weight.

One of the purposes of Section 10 is to enable a certain element of discretion to be introduced where the circumstances are as I have described, and the unladen weight to be fixed, in respect of an application, slightly in excess of the unladen weight which would be fixed under the original Act, where, in the opinion of the Minister, it is desirable and just that that should be done.

Another sub-section of the same section introduces the element of discretion, where it appears that a lorry owned by a person applying for a licence was available in connection with his business, but was not in fact licensed during the critical period, or on the critical date. Senators will remember that an applicant under the original Act was required to state the number of lorries available for his business and licensed on a date selected by him during the qualifying period, a date described in the Act as "the critical date." Some persons engaged in this business had lorries available, but they were not licensed, because the business did not offer. They could have been licensed at short notice if there was need for doing so. This applies where the Minister for Industry and Commerce is reasonably satisfied that the situation was as I have described, and permits an unlicensed lorry or lorries, in the case of any applicant, to be taken into account in fixing the total unladen weight of the lorries or tractors as the case may be. These are the main provisions of the Bill and I do not think any of them can be regarded as controversial. They are really amendments of the original scheme, occasioned by the experience of the Department of Industry and Commerce in administering it.

This is another evidence of the disposition of the Government to go through the whole procedure of introducing Bills to suit a few people. All that need happen is for a small deputation, accompanied by a few influential Deputies, to go to Government Buildings to make a plausible case, and forthwith comes a Bill. We have an indication of that in the chopping and changing in the law in regard to motor taxation, which leaves the trade in the position that it does not know how it stands for two months. It is introduced with regard to this Bill. As everyone knows, the Act of 1933 took a considerable time to pass through both Houses of the Oireachtas. People who took the slightest interest in transport knew that that Act was passing through the Oireachtas, and knew the extent to which its provisions affected their interests. The Bill became an Act on June 12th. It was laid down that anybody that desired to apply for a certificate as a public carrier in order to get a licence for that purpose should make application not later than July 12th, 1933. That left a month. In order to facilitate them, an amending Act was passed, extending the period to October 31st, 1933, giving an additional three and a half months. Public notices were issued through the Press and appeared on public buildings. Anybody who allowed all that time to pass and ignored all these notices, and who still desired to have the fact recognised legally, that he was a public carrier, or who took the smallest interest in his business, all he had to do was to apply. Now, in order to meet that type of individual, the Minister comes along with another Bill, extending to April 1st a particular part of the law that should have come into operation on October 31st. What was the cause of these people being late? We are told that 200 have made application now, as against 2,043 who applied by October 31st, 1933. Clever people have been going around—racketeers, in other words—telling people with a few broken-down lorries of a splendid way of making money if they go the right way about it. Lorries that were lying under hedges, or disused for a good while, are to be resurrected now. The owners are seeking certificates for these lorries and licences as public carriers. They can put them on the road for a month or so and then apply to the Minister for an order requiring a railway or a shipping company to purchase them. The Minister may make an order that they shall be purchased, and a railway company or a shipping company have to pay for what is really a bogus concern brought into operation for the sheer purpose of levying blackmail on a legitimate transport concern. It is a new way of making money. The Minister indicated that there were 2,043 applications. Of these, 67 were withdrawn and 313 were not proceeded with. The applications were evidently only chance work. The owners hearts failed them after a certain period. Now we have 200 people coming along at this hour of the day, and this Bill is brought in specially—a second amending Bill—before the original Act is in operation in order to meet them. Of the 2,034, almost one-fifth desisted from pursuing their applications, showing what the provisions of the Act make possible.

I do not know what has been the procedure regarding the method of issuing licences, but every person seems to have got a licence to operate throughout the whole State, even though he has only two lorries. Obviously, such a person could not cater for the State as a whole. If he gets traffic he has the option of making a load and operating here, there and everywhere as a privateer, upsetting transport conditions generally, making it impossible to have anything in the nature of stability. If a railway company buys up transport in any area people in an outside area can swamp that area and make them buy them up, so that there is no prospect of finality, although the original Act was intended to have something like stability and solvency in transport. There is a provision here also by which the Minister may increase the unladen weight of these lorries by 100 per cent. Anyone who reads sub-sections (1), (2) and (3) of Section 10 will see that that is the case. Section 7 is really the most audacious of all, because it provides that a man who scrapped his lorry in July, 1931, and never intended using it again, can come along now and add it to his fleet, in order to get a certificate and licence for it, and he can include it in his claim when seeking to be compulsorily acquired, or to get a railway company to acquire him. Surely, there could have been some limit. There must be some good reason to include a man who dropped out three years ago. Otherwise, the vehicle was unroadworthy or there was no business. He cannot claim that he has done business since, seeing that he was not licensed within that period, and that traffic has certainly not increased in the meantime. Yet, he is allowed under this Bill, if he was licensed any time up to July, 1932—or it could be up to three years ago—to be treated as having had a new lorry according to the provisions of the Act.

I would have thought that the Department when considering licences would see whether the business was carried on with reasonable continuity as provided in Section 3 (5) of the principal Act. It is laid down that, in order to get a licence, the Minister would have to be satisfied that the business, having regard to its nature, was carried on with reasonable continuity. It is alleged by people in the business that licences have been given to those who have not carried on business with reasonable continuity during that period. I daresay the Department is largely at the mercy of individuals, but there are wholesale complaints that the Act has been abused in a very serious way, and that information placed at the disposal of the Minister, and alleged to be correct, was not correct. I think there requires to be some speeding up in connection with this matter. As far as railwaymen are concerned, this Bill comes along at a most unfortunate time, when they are engaged in negotiations with the railways, and when they are asked to agree to cuts in salaries and wages. Because of the effect this will have, the railway companies profess to have most serious views, saying, that this is getting behind the spirit and letter of the original Act, and is going to neutralise what were stated by the Minister and believed by the companies to be the good effects of the principal Act. If that is the case it is a matter of very serious concern for railway employees and it could not have come at a more unfortunate time than the present.

I think that the proposals in the Bill are very wise. They seem to strike a middle course. I have listened to Senator O'Farrell, who is the greatest advocate in this House of regulating other people. Unlike Senator O'Farrell, my idea is that there should be no time limit at all on the right of a person who is entitled to apply for a licence. In the original Act, a very short time limit was prescribed. That time limit had to be extended. It is proposed—and rightly proposed—to extend it again to the 1st April of this year. My view is that there should be no time limit. However, the Minister has thought fit to introduce a time limit. Now, he is attacked by Senator O'Farrell because he would not deprive of their just rights people who, because of ignorance or because they had not a radio, did not apply for a licence in time. There are two points of view in this House in respect of this question—one favours the regulating of everybody and the other would afford to ordinary people ordinary freedom. As between these points of view, the Minister has taken the middle course and this Bill is a reasonable one. Why should Senator O'Farrell use arguments such as he has used to-day? What evidence has he that there are racketeers going about the country resurrecting old lorries? That is a serious charge. Particulars of a charge like that should be given. What evidence has the Senator that blackmail is being used against the railway companies? The Senator does, very efficiently and well, advocate the cause of the railway companies and their employees, but he ought not to go too far. Notwithstanding the extension of time, 200 persons entitled to licences did not apply for them in time. Are these 200 persons to be deprived of their living and of their rights? Has Senator O'Farrell no confidence in the Minister? Does he think that the Minister will grant licences where racketeers and blackmailers are attempting to resurrect old lorries? There are businesses which, during part of the year, are very flourishing and, during another part of the year, are practically idle. As I know myself, some lorries did not happen to be in use during that particular time and the Minister has very properly taken account of them.

Another point made is that power is taken in Section 10 to make allowance in respect of weight to the extent of 100 per cent. What the Minister has said is that he is taking power to make allowance in a case in which the unladen weight of a lorry is increased because an Irish body is affixed. Will any sensible man say that is wrong?

That is not in the Bill.

The Minister said that.

The Bill does not say it.


Sub-section b (2).

When we are dealing with the Bill in Committee we can discuss the section. All I say is that the Minister has made a certain statement. What he has said is perfectly reasonable.

It is not in the Bill.

We shall deal with it in Committee if it is not.

You cannot, because it is not there.

If it is not, put it in and support it by reasonable arguments. Do not make statements such as have been made here: that there are blackmailers and gangsters going around the country——

The only erroneous statement made was made by the Senator himself.

Everybody is not of the same view as the Senator—that those who now want to get licences for lorries are gangsters and blackmailers. I think that the Seanad should not accept the allegations made by Senator O'Farrell without further proof. In my opinion, the Bill is a reasonable measure and ought to be accepted.

Senator O'Farrell said that it was alleged—he was careful to say that he himself did not allege it—that licences are being given to people who have not carried on a road transport business with reasonable continuity during the qualifying period under the terms of the Act. I merely mentioned that to draw Senator O'Farrell's attention to the fact that sub-section 3 of Section 24 of the original Act provides that "the Minister may at any time, of his own motion and at his full discretion, revoke a merchandise licence if he is satisfied that such licence was obtained by fraud or misrepresentation."

I invite Senator O'Farrell to ask the people who have made these allegations to furnish to the Department of Industry and Commerce any evidence that people have got licences who are not entitled to receive them under the Act or that people procured them by fraud or misrepresentation. I assure him that if such evidence is forthcoming or if such allegations are found, upon examination, to be sustainable, licences so issued will be revoked. I do not think that the Senator's statements are correct, because the Department of Industry and Commerce have exercised very considerable care to ensure that only persons qualified to receive certificates and licences should receive them.

This Bill was not introduced following a meeting with a deputation or representations from anybody. I did not receive any deputation in connection with this Bill. The Bill was introduced mainly because the departmental records showed that there were 200 applications for certificates from persons who claimed that they were entitled to these certificates under the terms of the Act as they had been engaged in carrying on road transport businesses with reasonable continuity. The Department could not deal with these applications because they were received after the appropriate date. I think that justice and fair play require that we should empower ourselves to deal with those applications and not disqualify those people or deprive them of their businesses because they either failed to take note of the terms of the Act or were not informed of it. This is a very scattered business as I have said. It is conducted by people all over the country—some of them in a very small way—and the possibility of these people not being familiar with the terms of a complicated statute is not a remote one. It may be that they were not able to find out exactly what was required in time to enable them to comply with the Act. I do not think that any of us would like to see the transport position regularised and the position of the railways made stronger at the expense of what would be an obvious injustice to a number of people. Even though they may be poor people, doing business in a small way, they were dependent upon this business for a livelihood.

The suggestion made by Senator Comyn, that there should be no time limit for the making of applications by persons qualified under the terms of the Bill, is one which, while it might commend itself from one point of view, is impracticable because we must fix some date on which we will say: "There are so many qualified to engage in this business to whom we are prepared to issue licences for the future and who will come within the provisions of the statute both in respect of the regulation of their services and in respect of the compulsory acquisition clauses." I do not believe that anybody has alleged seriously to Senator O'Farrell that people took old lorries from under hedges and proceeded to set up a road transport business——

It was alleged at the railway negotiations this day week.

I am sure that at railway negotiations things are alleged from time to time that do not impress anybody present at the negotiations. If it was alleged that a substantial cut in railway wages was necessitated by the introduction of this Bill, the railway company must think that the trade union officials with whom they are dealing are very green indeed.

I wish you would assure them of that.

That was a rhetorical flourish.

Nobody who knows the terms of the Bill could take that allegation seriously. First of all, a person must qualify as an existing carrier before there is any question of a licence. Before there is any question of determining the unladen weight of the lorry which he is to operate, he must first get a certificate. That certificate is proof that the Department of Industry and Commerce have accepted his contention that, for the qualifying period, he was conducting with reasonable continuity a road transport business. If he was not engaged in conducting such a business during that period, the applicant will not get a certificate. If he does not get a certificate it does not matter how many lorries he has, or whether they are new lorries or picked out from under hedges, he cannot engage in road transport business, nor can he get a licence to engage in it. The statement that persons are getting licences to operate over the whole of the Saorstát is, of course, correct. Under the terms of the Act, as it passed the Oireachtas, the Minister for Industry and Commerce is bound to give a licence to any applicant to operate in any area the application may define. The applicant, of course, makes himself subject to the terms of the Act, which require him to undertake common carrier obligations in respect of the classes of goods and the area he has himself defined. If he fails to meet these obligations, he is subject to penalties of various kinds. The rest of the Senator's remarks were directed towards the provisions of Section 10. Let us get clear what these provisions are. First, what are the circumstances in which a person may get included in the standard weight of his lorries or tractors an additional unlicensed lorry or tractor? First he must show that it "was the property of such licensee on a critical date specified in the application for such licence and (2) was not duly licensed on that date and (3) was duly licensed at any time during the 12 calendar months ending on the 1st day of July, 1932." It is clear, therefore, that the lorry could not have been lying in a hedge for a long time because it must have been licensed at some time during the 12 calendar months ending July, 1932.

From July, 1931.

Surely no one licensed a lorry and then proceeded to dump it in a hedge. It was licensed in that year. A lorry can be included in the calculation of the unladen weight if the owner is able to satisfy the Minister that such claims are well-founded. He must procure a certificate that he was an existing carrier and carried goods in the qualifying period. He must then prove that the additional lorry he wants included in the calculation of the unladen weight was owned by him on the critical date, and although not licensed on that date was licensed during the year prior to July, 1932, and he must prove his claim to have that lorry included as a well-founded claim. The same provision applies to tractors. The next case is where a lorry the unladen weight of which was taken into account in determining such standard weight had become unserviceable and has been replaced by another the unladen weight of which exceeds the unladen weight of the old. This is a provision that enables us to deal with the fact that the new body might be of Irish material and might be heavier than the old. There is another provision that enables us to include in the unladen weight a lorry ordered from the manufacturer before the date when the Act was passed and not delivered to the road transport operator until after that date. That lorry could also be included in the unladen weight. All these provisions seem to be fair. We found many cases of hardship that would remain a hardship if we decided to adhere to the terms of the old Act and not to amend it. It would be impossible to eliminate these cases of hardship if we had not done so. We might take the view that all those 200 people who had failed to take the necessary means to ascertain the law should be deprived of their business, but that is a punishment that would have been too severe, having regard to the fact that for the first time we are bringing this industry subject to regulations of this kind.

Two other cases of hardship are those which arise in connection with the fixation of the unladen weight. One case is where a lorry was ordered before the Act was passed but was not delivered till after; we include that lorry in the unladen weight. The second is a lorry that complies with the proper conditions but was not licensed on the particular date. If we are satisfied that the claim that the lorry was available, and fit for use, in connection with the owner's business in a short period, we provide for the inclusion of the lorry, and the third case is a new lorry of the actual carrying capacity but of greater weight than the old one. I do not think anyone can say that we are unreasonable or that we are doing anything that would impinge upon the principle of the original Act. The principle of the original Act is not touched in the slightest. Very great care was taken to ensure that nothing in this Bill would alter the principle of the original Act. Various representations made in favour of the alteration of the original Act have been rejected. Railway companies, shipping companies and those interested in such operations would take an unreasonable view if they contended that the passage of this Bill would affect their interests in a detrimental way. The railway companies had no reason to anticipate that 200 persons entitled to carriers' certificates would fail to apply. If they had applied, the position of the railway companies would be the same as it will be after this Bill is passed. They could not hope to gain anything by the hardship and the injustice which the absence of these various provisions would mean in connection with fixation of the unladen weight. The contention that apparently has been made that the operation of this Bill was going to prove detrimental to the railway business is so preposterous that I do not think anyone need take it seriously, and I am quite certain that it had no influence upon the other parties to the negotiations. The total increase in licensed carrying capacity under this Bill would not amount to one day's carrying on the railways of the Saorstát.

At present I understand under the Bill a licensed carrier who would have four lorries and one tractor might find himself in a difficulty. Would the Minister accept an amendment to say that that particular carrier might have three lorries and two tractors, provided that the unladen weight was the same in both cases?

I do not want to answer that question at the moment because certain representations made in that connection are under consideration. I think it is most unlikely that we could agree, but perhaps I should not commit myself until we have had the opportunity of considering the representations made.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 2nd May.