This Bill is intended to remove certain doubts that have been raised about the powers conferred on the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926. The doubts have arisen by reason of a recent decision of the High Court under which it was 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. In the course of their judgment, two of the judges expressed the opinion—and they emphasised that they were giving merely an opinion—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 and has been committing an offence, 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 quoting from the long title:—"... for the regulation and control of wireless telegraphy on land, at sea and in the air ..."
Moreover, under Section 3 of the Act the following provision is made:—
"... 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 one 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 the vehicle is ordinarily kept.
Section 3 provides for the retrospective operation of Section 2 and for the validation of the statutory regulations 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.