The recommendation comes from the Seanad to delete Section 29. On that the Parliamentary Secretary finds himself incapable of any argument. The section is one which deals with the reduction of duty on certain mechanically propelled vehicles. This clause appears in a Finance Bill under the auspices of a Party which dubbed itself as the pro-railway Party. I think that is a correct description of them according to their professions, but whether these professions were sincerely expressed or not we do not know. At any rate the Seanad recommended that this section be deleted and the Parliamentary Secretary, without any argument, says it is regretted that this recommendation cannot be accepted. The argument cannot be used this time of loss to the Exchequer. The clause itself means a loss to the Exchequer. The Government are, therefore, deprived of the argument on which they mainly rely—that this would mean a loss to the Exchequer. There is no other way of recovering the money.
This is the Party that promised to recover £2,000,000 this year—to reduce taxation by that amount. Being a pro-railway Party, they have decided to reduce the taxation imposed upon buses. That is the main effect of Section 29. They do that while professing themselves to be a pro-railway Party. When any argument has been put up against this section we are told that this applies to all buses whether they are owned by the private hauler or by the railway company; there can be no force in any argument used that this is anti-railway. The people who use that contention have no appreciation of the railway situation as expressed by railway companies. I am not speaking of the transport situation, but of the railway situation. The contention of those who are concerned about railway matters in this country is that all goods and all passenger traffic carried by road, whether by rail-controlled buses or privately-controlled buses is a loss to the railways and is, therefore, another step on the road to the ruin of the railways and the disemployment of a certain number of railway men. It is, we are told, not a sound argument. That is countered by saying that this applies both to the railway-controlled buses and the privately-owned buses. If this diverts traffic from the iron road to the ordinary road it is a loss to the railway companies. They will tell you that the bus traffic which they run is run, in the main, at a loss and, in so far as traffic is diverted from the railway lines to their own bus companies, it means reduced revenue—reduced moneys for distribution amongst their shareholders and their employees.
The Government attitude on this recommendation shows distinctly that there is no appreciation of the railway situation and it shows that without any appreciation of the transport situation the Government have simply decided that they are going to remit taxation on buses. There has been no argument made that the taxation on the buses is inequitable, judged by any standard which we have upon which to base our judgment. It has not been argued that the taxation on motor traffic of all descriptions is heavier than what is warranted in view of the expense necessitated by the running of these vehicles upon our roads. An argument can be used that, as between the different classes of motor users, the private car owner is treated harshly in comparison with the heavy vehicles carrying passengers for hire or carrying goods at rates. An argument can be used with justice that the private car owner is paying more than he should and that the heavy bus for passenger use or the heavy lorry for goods use is not paying as much as those two classes of vehicles should pay if one takes into consideration the damage they do to the roads and the expense entailed in the upkeep of the roads for their benefit. No argument of that type has been used. We are simply told that on examination it appeared that this taxation was iniquitous and therefore was to be reduced. I should like the iniquity of the tax to be shown by figures. There must have been some examination made, if the thing was properly considered, and I should like to have the results disclosed. What, for instance, is the damage done to the roads by this type of vehicle? What money is collected for the upkeep of the roads from this type of vehicle in comparison with the private motor owner, who does very little damage to the roads? However, that argument is not being used. We are to make this leap somewhat in the dark for the amelioration of the bus and lorry traffic, and, to my mind, therefore, to the disadvantage of the railway companies who do not want to have either goods or passengers carried on the roads, but who want to have them carried on their own permanent way. There one comes up against a mentality in the railway companies which must be changed if transport is to be run properly here. It is not going to be changed, however, by this sort of reduction of taxation without proper examination.
The contention I was personally responsible for putting up to the railway companies was that they must show themselves capable of entering into the new situation. The new situation, as it appeared to me, and as I described it to them, was one in which the railways were to be kept as the main transporters of goods and passengers for long distances, but that they must be fed by road transport vehicles, and that I preferred to see these road transport vehicles, in the main, under the control of the railways because they had the advantage of terminal points, of knowing how the services of the railways were scheduled to run. They had the best situation of any company in the world to convey the combined types of transport necessary to us. One could demand from them a better degree of organisation and a better degree of efficiency in the running of this combined transport service. However, the railway companies previously, to my mind wrongly, concentrated upon talking about what they vaguely described as restrictions put upon their arrangements and upon their actions in regard to transport. It has been pointed out to them from time to time, and I think pointed out effectively, that under the system of the Railway Tribunal, as it holds at the present moment, the arguments that they put up with regard to restrictions are not of very much effect. They have their effect with regard to, say, hygiene in connection with the carriage of goods. But, at least a year ago, it was pointed out to them that arrangements were being made to ensure that the same hygienic regulations would apply to goods vehicles on the road as applied to goods vehicles on the rail. Why they have not been put into force recently I do not know, because I know they were on the point of completion and should have been promulgated and made operative months ago. Once that was done, the railway companies' arguments with regard to restrictions adverse to them and not to their competitors were considerably weakened.
On the other hand, I say that the new situation has gone very definitely against the railway companies from another point of view. Certain transport measures were introduced in this House and an administrative policy was outlined under these measures. That administrative policy had its relation mainly to passenger traffic. It was pointed out that the policy then was to throw all passenger carryings by road into the three big companies under the control of the Great Northern Railway, the Great Southern Railways, and the Dublin United Tramways Company. The situation, to my mind, has been worsened for three companies by the fact that the administrative policy outlined last autumn and winter has not been carried out under the new system of licences; that what was estimated to amount to an effective monopoly for the railway companies for passenger carryings by road has not in fact been brought about. A considerable number of private companies have been allowed to amalgamate and have been licensed for the carrying of passengers over certain routes. To that extent, the railway situation is worse than it was last year. In addition, we must bring to our consideration the present and the future effects of the policy that has been persevered in in this matter of the economic war. Carryings are undoubtedly going to drop everywhere, for passengers and goods. Under these circumstances, that we should have this foolish clause persisted in shows a complete lack of appreciation of the situation in which the railway companies were prior to the economic war, and the frightful situation into which they have now got.
This, in a sense, may be the salvation of the railways. I think a point has been reached where, if the railways are to be saved, the railway directors must be given complete and entire control of the transport situation. They should be given complete and entire control for about two years. They should be put on trial for two years. They should be told that they have the whole resources of the country; that they can tap whatever they like and charge whatever price they like for passengers and goods; that they are free from everything in the way of restrictions that applied to them in the past. If, at the end of two years, they have made their way they deserve our congratulations and deserve to be continued in existence. But if, in two years, they do not make good, then there has to be some change made in the method of direction of the railway companies. I hope we shall never come to the point in which we will have consideration of or giving in to the policy of nationalisation of transport in the country. But the situation has come to the point now when the railways are so badly hit by everything that it is no time to insist upon old-time regulations of any type. They should be wiped out. We have to trust the transport situation to the railway directors whoever they may be.