In the course of the debate upon the Estimate for the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy Davin made what purported to be a considered statement of policy on behalf of the Labour Party on the matter of public transport services, with particular reference to the part which the railway companies play in serving transport needs. The formality with which Deputy Davin raised the issue, the special notice that he gave of his intention to do so, the motion which he put upon the Paper, all indicated that this was a tour de force. on behalf of the Labour Party—an effort to prove to the House and to the country that, at least in respect of this one matter of public transport, they were capable of producing a constructive policy. Unfortunately, however, Deputy Davin's performance fell far below what we were led to expect. This constructive statement upon transport policy—a statement which the Deputy assured us in advance would be a constructive statement—was confined to a very vague suggestion of nationalisation. Deputy Davin did not attempt to indicate even what should be nationalised. I know that there is in the minds of the Labour Party an unbounded faith in the efficacy of slogans, and, presumably, Deputy Davin thought that his announcement of a new slogan, or his resurrection of an old slogan, in relation to public transport was a constructive effort of no mean magnitude. As we have the Labour Party committed to one positive idea, however vague, I think that we should urge them to go a bit further and state precisely what they mean.
Deputy Davin told us that his statement was official, that he was announcing Labour Party policy, and that his was a constructive attempt to deal with an important issue of national concern. Apart from his vague suggestion that something should be nationalised, we learned nothing from him. He did not even attempt to indicate which of the transport organisations of the country should be brought under national control, whether all of them should be brought under national control; whether his proposal was limited to the Great Southern Railways Company, or whether it included the Dublin transport service. He ignored completely the problems which we all know exist in applying any system of national control to those transport services which operate on both sides of the Border. No doubt, mere difficulties of that kind can be ignored by a Party which can take other things within their sweep as easily as can the Labour Party, but, as we were offered what was described as a constructive effort to deal with our transport difficulties, we should have been told how this particular problem of nationalising the cross-Border services should be faced.
It was evident from Deputy Davin's remarks that he had failed completely to understand the essential facts of the railway position and of our transport problems. Having thrown out his vague suggestion of nationalisation, he proceeded to deal with a number of insignificant details which had no relation to transport policy at all and he gave no indication of any attempt on his part or on the part of his Party to face up to what are the realities of the transport problem or the realities of the position of the Great Southern Railways Company. Deputy Davin confined his remarks entirely to the affairs of the Great Southern Railways Company. It is quite clear from the facts, as we know them, that the position of the Great Southern Railways Company is such that any measures to remedy it will be beyond the capacity of private industrial enterprise. The measures necessary to ensure the survival of that organisation cannot be initiated by private enterprise. It may even be doubtful if these measures can, in fact, be initiated by national enterprise, either. The outstanding facts, to which Deputy Davin failed to refer, except in so far as he quoted extracts from a speech made at the annual meeting of the company by the chairman of the company, are that the railway system under the control of the Great Southern Railways Company was designed to serve a transport problem vastly different from that which exists to-day, that its organisation and equipment are obsolescent and that there must be a vast reorganisation in its method of working and a complete modernising of its equipment if it is to survive at all. The carrying out of these reforms could, no doubt, be undertaken by a national control board or any such organisation as Deputy Davin has in mind. They could, conceivably, be undertaken by the present company if it had the resources. The reason why I referred to the impossibility of these reforms being carried out by the present company is that, as conditions now stand, it cannot obtain the resources necessary for the purpose. When Deputy Davin comes here to make a statement upon transport policy and fails to advert to the obvious, outstanding features of the problem, he merely indicates the complete inability of his Party to deal with facts at all. No doubt, that Party may delude a number of people into the belief that they are thinking constructively when they throw out a vague suggestion of nationalisation but, to those who know anything about the matter, they merely reveal their bankruptcy of ideas.
Nationalisation would be a good policy if it helped to effect the changes necessary. I have stated my belief that, in present circumstances, private enterprise will be inadequate for this purpose. The capital invested by private investors in the Great Southern Railways Company, represented, as it is, by closed branch lines, a general system ill-designed to serve present-day transport needs and rolling stock which will, in large part, have to be scrapped and replaced, is already, in large measure, lost. The fact that a large portion of that capital had to be regarded as lost was the basis of the legislation enacted some ten years ago to reduce the nominal value of the company's stocks. Clearly, under the circumstances which now exist and which can be contemplated in the future, private investors will not provide the vast sums required for the reorganisation and re-equipment of the Great Southern Railways Company's services on the lines which the Government has in mind. Deputy Davin made a completely unwarranted attack on Mr. Reynolds, the chairman of the company. Mr. Reynolds, in his speech at the annual meeting of the company, was facing facts. The Labour Party's inclination to run away from facts was demonstrated again by Deputy Davin here last week. Deputy Davin misinterpreted the realistic review of the company's position which Mr. Reynolds gave to the annual meeting of the shareholders as an indication that the company was doomed. He failed to realise that the preliminary to any serious attempt to effect the changes which will mean a survival of the undertaking must be a facing up to the facts of the situation. What Mr. Reynolds was trying to do, and what he succeeded in doing, outside the ranks of the Labour Party, was to get the facts made known to the people whose livelihood is involved in the maintenance of the company as well as to the general public.
The first step in the vast task of reconstruction which faces this undertaking is a clear statement of the facts of the situation. These facts disclose a serious state of affairs—a state of affairs which cannot be remedied by mere tinkering. Clearly, if this House is, at any time, to be called upon to pass legislation to deal with this matter, it must appreciate the seriousness of the state of affairs which exists. No doubt, the situation of the Great Southern Railways Company and other large transport undertakings was equally serious some ten or 11 years ago when the present Government came into office. In 1932, the railway system of this country was on the point of complete collapse. We made an attempt to save it by the legislation enacted in 1933 and 1934. That legislation served its purpose. The collapse which was then imminent did not take place but it is now clear, as a result of the experience of the past ten years, that the difficulties which beset the railway organisations of the country were of much deeper root than they then appeared to be. Although the action of the Government in 1933 did keep the railways going until now and although their services are still available to meet the essential needs of transport in present circumstances, it is clear that we must now be prepared to apply more fundamental treatment to the whole problem. I think that the incapacity of Deputy Davin, as disclosed in the speech he made here last week, and of the Party of which he is a member, to deal with the realities of the situation, and their inclination to hedge themselves round with vague and general phrases, is an indication that they are not going to be of any use to the country in tackling this problem.