Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Jul 1985

Vol. 108 No. 13

Road Transport Bill, 1985: Report and Final Stages.

If I am not totally out of order I also endorse what Senator Lanigan and Senator Ferris said about Mr. Noel Conway. I was a colleague of his in reporting the proceedings of the Houses. I am very fully aware of his interest not only in accurate reporting but also in the workings, the traditions and the prestige of the Houses. I am also very interested in the fact that he was able to become an honorary life member of the Press Gallery and I wonder if such facilities might be extended occasionally to Members of the Oireachtas. All of us would welcome that and we would be in competition for that honour, if such were available.

We had a very valuable examination of the Bill by the Seanad on Committee Stage and a number of points were raised which I promised to have examined further. Senator Lanigan was concerned that the reference to "a financial arrangement" in a Department form might have unduly restrictive implications for genuine licence applicants who, for example, have merely an overdraft arrangement with a bank. I explained, and Senator O'Leary further elaborated on that occasion, that this was very much legal technical language. It deals with the case where a person has made an arrangement with creditors with a view to avoiding bankruptcy. I have had the question of using some other wording examined, but I am advised that this is the proper form. In any event, as I said the last day, the question relates only to an administrative form used in the Department and does not actually arise on the Bill. I have in the Department other representations about the establishment of suitable financial criteria and, when decisions have been taken, I will take steps to eliminate ambiguity in the Department's forms if it should be apparent.

I was also very impressed by the point made by Senators about the use of distinctive vehicle plates as an aid to enforcement. It was first introduced by Senator M. O'Toole and then by a number of other Senators. The specifications of vehicle plates are contained in ministerial regulations made from time to time under the 1933 Act. Various practical problems arise about vehicle plates. We took powers in 1978 to have them made of plastic or metal rather than just metal only as was the situation up to then. Unfortunately, the plastic plates are not entirely satisfactory because it is difficult in some cases to attach them to some types of vehicles.

The design of the plates will have to be altered anyhow when we get through the impending transitional period and have only two basic forms of licence. What I have in mind, having regard to the suggestions of Senators, is to continue with the old plates for the present, so as to avoid having too many types, but to have enforcement aspects especially considered, for example, as regards colour differentiation, shape or size when the new specification for vehicle plates is being prepared and, when of course, we have only two types to deal with. That would be the more appropriate time rather than during the intervening period, the two years' transitional period, specified in the Bill.

A point of considerable substance was also made by a number of Senators in relation to the obligations of licensed hauliers under the law. I want to make it clear that I would regard insurance offences, particularly if persistent, as offences which would bring into consideration the question of revoking a licence. I am satisfied that the text of the existing provision, which is merely being reenacted here from the previous law, would cover that case.

It would, however, copper-fasten the question if we provided that the licensee was expressly answerable for an insurance or other serious offence in relation to the vehicle. This point was brought up by Senator Lanigan. This might, however, deprive licensees of a certain flexibility as to the use of vehicles that they have, in fact, enjoyed since the 1933 Act — that is, under the present law — which does not require them to be the owners of vehicles used in their business. This means that borrowed, leased or, indeed, sub-contracted vehicles can be used if it suits the licensee. All of this could be a quite complicated matter and one in which other Ministers would be involved. Nevertheless, it will be further examined and if we can make better provision than exists now then an appropriate amendment will be introduced in the other House. As I said, it is an extremely complicated matter and it involves other Ministers as well.

There appears to be some impression that, in the case of a company, the licensee would be the designated manager and the company might thereby escape certain legal obligations. The licensee in such cases will always be the company. They will, of course, have a designated manager but the company will have the normal legal responsibilities of the licensee and will not be able to shift them to a designated manager except as regards managing the business.

Another suggestion as regards enforcement aspects was made in relation to the need for provisions for temporary detention of vehicles. This illustrates the value of a debate and, indeed, the introduction of a Bill in the Seanad even a highly complicated and technical Bill of this nature. These are the kind of things that might not be anticipated but certainly give food for thought. Major offences in relation to insurance and safety aspects are involved. I will suggest to the Minister for the Environment that he might consider introducing provisions in this respect in traffic law at the first suitable opportunity. All of us have an obligation to all road users — indeed to the entire community — to ensure that vehicles driven without insurance are not facilitated in any way and that they are put off the roads with the greatest alacrity. Of course, this applies to all vehicles.

I am satisfied after examination of the text of the existing legislation, particularly section 112 of the 1944 Act, that it would be superfluous and possibly confusing to insert a reference to "own goods" in section 9 of the Bill. I very much agree that the existing text is very difficult to follow. This, however, is one of the effects of legislating by reference to previous enactments and a further endorsement of the case for consolidation, a measure very clearly recommended by Senators and I know very strongly supported within my own Department.

I should, perhaps, have made it clear to Senator Lanigan that the contents of sections 11 and 12 are determined in all the essential respects under relevant provisions of the European Community law and we cannot, therefore, make any significant departure from what the law provides. Therefore, sections 11 and 12, as we have them here, are just about as far as we can go to deal with the special cases. I can assure the Senator, however, that in the case to which he referred, a person or a company left high and dry by the unexpected departure of a designated manager would not, in practice, be required to cease business at once. EC law gives some limited discretion in this respect. The firm concerned would be pressed by the Department to rectify matters as quickly as possible. If there were undue delay or unwillingness about doing so, then the question of revoking the licence would come up. It would, incidentally, be an offence for the firm not to notify the Minister of the departure of the designated manager. Within that context and taking into account the European law that exists, there is sufficient flexibility to meet the case mentioned by a number of Senators during the discussion.

I hope Senators will be satisfied that I have given their points the consideration I promised. Indeed, I was very glad to consider these points. I can never understand the resistance by a Minister in either House which sometimes is apparent. I am not talking about any particular regime but I have seen down through the years a sort of resistance to any new ideas that came up during the course of a debate which might have been received with alacrity if they came up during the actual planning period. It is a very false position from which to operate.

I am always delighted to hear good points being raised during a debate and the Seanad has a variety of Bills that are particularly suitable for that type of thing. I have given consideration to these. Most of the items called for either clarification or action of an administrative or regulatory nature outside the scope of the Bill. Some, indeed, deal with the forms that are used in conjunction with the existing legislation and will be used in conjunction with the new legislation. I will follow up on the lines I have indicated. I will be giving urgent consideration to the possible amendment of the Bill in relation to the legal responsibilities of licensees.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We are on Report Stage. A Senator can speak only once and his remarks should be relevant to what the Minister has said. I do not like interrupting later.

I will not have very much to say later on. I thank the Minister for the comments he has made in relation to the queries we raised on Committee Stage of the Bill. The Minister has covered most of the queries that were raised and he has promised that anything that has not been clarified now will be clarified by him and his officials before the Bill goes to the Dáil. On Report Stage, we have very little to say about the Bill except that we are thankful the Minister took note of what we said. I sincerely hope that the other House will be able to carry forward the suggestions which we made and that at the end of the day the Bill will be the type of Bill which is needed to reorganise the road transport system in this country.

I compliment the Minister on the way he has examined our queries. He has been very methodical. We are here to legislate. Very often in this House Ministers resent the fact that we try to bore holes in legislation. It is our duty to do so and to give the best legislation to the people. That is what we are doing. The Minister, Deputy Nealon, has examined every point methodically. It is evident from his remarks that he is on top of his work. I would like to compliment him sincerely for doing that. I would also like to compliment the members of his staff who, I am sure, were very helpful in bringing about reasonably explanatory replies to the many questions we raised. We do not get that type of treatment from all Ministers in this House. I am sure the Minister did not get it himself in his time. This is a breakthrough. I compliment the Minister on the way he has examined and tackled this and it is a credit to him. I hope the Ministers who will come after the present Minister will take cognisance of the way that he methodically examined this legislation with a view to providing the best legislation. We are happy with the Minister's explanations. With regard to the queries we have raised with the Minister for the Environment, such as the identification plates, we know that the Minister will pursue them.

I note what the Minister has said with regard to a point that I raised in connection with section 5, that is, that the holder of the licence will, in fact, be the registered company and as such will be held responsible for any offences which they might commit under the Road Traffic Acts or any other relevant legislation. I am grateful for that information. I also note that the Minister is to give further consideration when introducing this Bill in the other House and, indeed, when considering the question in the road traffic context, to making the absence of insurance a very special type of offence which would give rise to disqualification from the operation of a carrier's licence. I support the Minsiter very strongly in that regard.

The other points that have been raised by Senators on the other side, and particularly by Senator O'Toole, regarding the shape, size, description and identification of the carrier's licence are also very important. I am sure they can be looked after in ministerial regulations made under the Principal Act. It is important that they should be raised here and ventilated. This is our opportunity to do that.

I am similarly impressed with the Minister's open approach to the matter. I realise that it is not always easy to explain to Members of the House the full background to the decision to make a particular section operative and to draft it in a particular way. The Minister has gone as far as we could reasonably expect him to go in ensuring that, for a technical piece of legislation like this, we are satisfied that it is now in a sufficiently good state to send it to the other House, confident in the knowledge that they, in their usual efficient manner, will also examine it and that it can be enacted as a piece of legislation which not only has had the benefit of the parliamentary draftsman's input and the ministerial input but has had the benefit of the input of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister is to be congratulated on that.

Agreed to take remaining Stage today.

Bill received for final consideration and passed.