That Dáil Eireann is of opinion that Emergency Powers (Mechanically-Propelled Vehicles) (Scheduled Areas), Order, 1942, made by the Minister for Supplies on the 27th day of August, 1942, should be revoked.
I move the motion for the purpose of giving the Minister for Industry and Commerce or the Minister for Supplies —whichever is the appropriate Minister—an opportunity of telling the House what the proposals with regard to the use of private lorries and the reorganisation of transport arising out of the petrol shortage are, and to enable a matter which appears to be one of very great importance to be discussed by the House before decisions are made and actions taken which may not only have a very important effect on individual persons or particular classes of persons, but may have a very important economic bearing on some of the areas upon which the original experiments are likely to be carried out.
We do not know very much of what the Minister proposes, for the reason that apparently it was proposed to put this scheme into operation without consulting the House or discussing it with the House. All I know is that the Minister for Supplies
"is seriously concerned about the necessity, due to present conditions, for reducing the number of commercial vehicles which may be operated. To mitigate the consequences of such reduction, it is proposed to reorganise and extend public goods transport services and to reduce the number of private lorries. The reorganisation will take a considerable time to complete and it is important that some experience of the problems which will arise should be acquired at as early a date as possible."
That is all we know in any official way about the matter and that information was conveyed in a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary to us on 22nd September.
If the position is that the Minister has a proposal to reorganise and extend public goods transport services, on the one hand, and to reduce the number of private lorries, on the other, as conveyed in that official information, and if there is anything in the suggestion published in the Press on 28th August that, in the move he first contemplated in this matter, in relation to Mayo, virtually all the road goods vehicles in North Mayo would be taken and handed over to the railway company or to some licensed road haulier, I think the matter is of such great importance that it is very unfortunate that the Minister should have set out to put such a scheme into operation without consulting the House or the organised bodies concerned in the matter.
So far as we know anything about this scheme and can see what the effect of it is likely to be, it seems to me that in selecting the area of Belmullet, which is the area indicated in the newspapers—an area of something like 50 miles by 25 or 30 miles, or 1,500 or 1,600 square miles—the Minister is selecting the worst area in the whole country for wiping out private lorries and getting the transport business of the area done by the Railway Company's services. It is intended, so far as we know, to put private lorries off the road in a large area in Mayo as an experiment from which the Minister hopes to learn something that will enable him to make further progress in the taking of private lorries off the road and in the enlarging and reorganising of public goods transport services.
There is a body, the National Private Lorry Owners' Protective Association, which has been in existence on a county basis from about 1936. It spread throughout the country in 1938. It was considering the whole situation as it developed and as early as 4th April, 1941, it made representations to the Department of Supplies as to the importance of the petrol situation and as to the importance of grading the type of private lorries which were being used and assigning a particular importance to the work they were doing. It suggested the setting up of a body which would be representative of the Lorry Owners' Association, which would co-operate with the Department in the work of conserving petrol and providing adequate transport services and it urged the necessity for co-operation between that body and the Department. That was on 4th April, 1941, but nothing transpired in the way of the development of any co-operation between the Department and that body. I do not know of any co-operation between the Department and that body. I do not know that anything was heard of it until 20th May, 1942.
On the 24th April, 1942, Emergency Powers Order No. 147 was issued, which set out that commercial vehicles would require a permit, which permit would only be given when the necessary information was provided by the person applying for it as to what he wanted it for, so that the Minister had full opportunity for finding out the class of work required to be done, the amount of that work, and every possible scrap of information that might be necessary. The Guards were entitled to investigate on suspicion, and to seize, and generally the Order provided the Minister with full and adequate machinery for seeing what kind of work was done on the permit, and for judging whether there was any kind of leakage, objectionable practice, or wastage of any kind.
On 19th May, 1942, it was indicated in the Press that lorries might be further controlled, and that in fact they might be centralised and brought under more direct public control. On 20th May, 1942, the day after, the representatives of the Private Lorry Owners' Protective Association communicated with the Department of Supplies regarding their previous representations. They drew attention to the fact that they had offered the Minister co-operation and assistance before, and stated that they were ready to do so now. They pointed out that they had suggested a particular kind of arrangement before, and that they would be only too pleased to give any co-operation necessary.
It took the Department three weeks to reply to that letter. The nature of that reply was that the offer of the association to co-operate with the Department would be borne in mind in the event of its being decided to introduce a scheme for the pooling of the carrying capacity of lorries. On 19th June the association communicated with the Department of Supplies pointing out the position of transport in general and suggesting that it was desirable that the pooling scheme already suggested should be brought into operation and that the association, which was a national body, representative of the private merchant-owned transport of the State, expected a representative on the advisory board to be set up by the Minister. They also said that they considered they should be consulted and advised, and that they were ready to give advice on all the relevant matters.
It took the Department two weeks to acknowledge that. The reply stated that the matter was having attention. Then there were some 'phone calls and letters, and on the 4th August—six weeks after the letter of the 19th June —the association got a reply from the Department of Supplies stating that they had got the letter of the 19th June regarding the establishment of a transport pooling scheme and that the observations of the association had been duly noted. Things went on in that way, and it was only after representations had been made that Parliament should be given an opportunity of discussing this matter, so that the various interests would not get at loggerheads with one another, that the country generally might be informed of what was being intended so that it could judge whether it was suitable or not, and so that the Minister might get the fullest possible support for his scheme, if suitable, that—on the 8th of this month—arrangements were made whereby the Minister would meet the representatives of the association. If one thing is more important than another at the present time, it is the realisation that the only people who can carry this country through the emergency and its many problems are the people in the several counties, the people who stand over their jobs and co-operate with one another and with the Government. It is the ordinary people who are going to carry the country through any difficulties likely to arise. If there is not a general understanding of what is being done, general consideration of what is best to be done and a conviction that what is attempted is the most sensible thing that could be suggested, then a very considerable amount of friction will be brought into the situation and our work will be badly done, if done at all.
In this instance, it seems to me that we have simply a dark-room plan emerging from the Department of Supplies. The Minister was so prepared to put it into operation that he only agreed to have it discussed on the reassembly of the Dáil when it was indicated that the Leader of the Opposition considered the matter so important that he would have to ask to have the Dáil specially summoned to consider it rather than that a matter of such importance should be launched upon the country in an atmosphere that was not conducive to success. The Minister has approached this matter in a very wrong way in his treatment of Parliament, on the one hand, and of the organised body, on the other hand. He has since met representatives of the association concerned and he will, no doubt, be able to tell the House what he proposes to do in the light of these discussions. As regards the area to which this plan is to be applied—a plan by which all private lorries and vans run by merchants are to be taken off the road— it covers about 1,500 square miles with only about ten miles of railway. The public transport service is to be asked to organise itself over that area. I think that the area is the most unsuitable one that could be selected for this purpose. Everybody who knows the West of Ireland knows that the economy of the various districts has grown up in very difficult circumstances and has been hammered out over a long time by people living under difficult conditions. Many aspects of that economy are very delicately balanced. It has been injured in recent years as a result of certain economic experiments here. The transport system of such an area is fitted closely to that area. You have individual merchants with their lorry system closely knit into the area and serving people in a very detailed way. If you are going to take that sensitive machinery away and hand it over to a body which has had no experience of dealing with an area like that, the economy of the area will suffer, production will be choked and the area will probably be deprived of a considerable amount of consumable goods which it would otherwise get. By this system, you will injure production and consumption and hurt the local economy which has been pieced together as the result of generations of experience and as a result of people, living in difficult circumstances, pitting their wits against the problems around them. These are the points I wish to put to the Minister in moving the motion.