Committee on Finance. - Vote 55—Industry and Commerce (Resumed).

Debate resumed on motion:
That the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration. —(Deputy Dockrell.)

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.

That is a good crossroads speech.

The statement which Deputy Davin made concerning the attitude of the chairman of the Great Southern Railways Company to the employees of the company was completely groundless. He stated here that Mr. Reynolds had adopted an aggressive and provocative attitude to the railway employees since his appointment. That statement is untrue and it has never been alleged by any representative of trade unions catering for railway workers.

Is the Minister sure of that?

I think that the reputation of Mr. Reynolds during his period as managing director of the Dublin Transport Company is sufficient of itself to refute Deputy Davin's allegation. If he has any doubt about it, let him ask the driver of any bus on which he may be travelling home this evening, whether he is prepared to agree that Mr. Reynolds' attitude towards the employees has been aggressive.

My information has been supplied by a trade union.

They were pulling the Deputy's leg.

The Minister should not be interrupted.

I am only making the point so that the Minister will not repeat the statement he made here the last evening that what I said was untrue.

I repeat that the statement made by Deputy Davin about Mr. Reynolds' attitude to railway employees is untrue. I repeat that no official of any union catering for railway employees has ever made that statement.

Are you sure?

I may say that in the recent negotiations in which I was personally involved resulting from the stoppage of work in the railway company's shops, the general attitude of the union's representatives was one of anxiety that Mr. Reynolds should take a personal part in the negotiations. He was unable to do so by reason of illness and, quite willingly, the union's representatives agreed that the negotiations should be delayed until he was in a position to resume duty. I may say also that shortly after his resumption of duty a settlement of the differences existing was effected and the workers returned to duty.

On that point, is it not a fact that the Minister said he could do nothing until he resumed duty?

No. I do not know in what circumstances such a statement could be made.

Is it not a fact that you said you could do nothing yourself until he resumed duty?

Nothing about what?

About a settlement of the dispute.

The function of my Department in relation to industrial disputes is to facilitate the negotiation of a settlement between the parties.

Did you make the statement?

I cannot even imagine in what circumstances a statement of that kind could be made.

Did you make it?

Not so far as I know. I have no knowledge in what relationship such a statement could have been made.

We know now where we are.

Perhaps the Deputy does; I do not. However, the position is, as I think the employees of the railway company must know, that the whole organisation upon which they are dependent for a livelihood is in jeopardy. There is no useful purpose to be served by concealing that fact from them. That organisation cannot be carried on indefinitely at a loss. It is making a loss and it will continue to make losses unless the general reorganisation which the Government contemplates and to which Mr. Reynolds referred at the annual meeting is successfully carried out. I cannot even guarantee that the efforts to accomplish that reorganisation will be successful but I can guarantee they will be made. Clearly, the service cannot be saved at all without the full cooperation of the employees of the company. The heavy wage bill which the company is meeting must represent value received by it. If the organisation cannot be put on a paying basis then clearly the livelihoods of the workers who are at present in its service are in jeopardy. They will remain in jeopardy until the successful reorganisation which the Government and Mr. Reynolds contemplate has been given effect to.

The present financial position of the company is very serious. Apart altogether from the major issues of policy to which Deputy Davin referred, I want to direct the attention of the House to the conditions created by the present emergency for that company. The rates charged for traffic have not been increased since the beginning of the war. With the rising cost of operation, and the heavy additional expenditure involved for the company in consequence of the bonus Orders made for its employees, it is clear that a higher revenue must be secured. The anticipated revenue of the company for the present year will not meet its working cost. Clearly, therefore, powers must be given to the company to increase its rates to such an extent and in such a manner as will enable greater revenue to be earned. It is obvious to people who are familiar with our transport problem that, in respect of some traffic, higher rates cannot be imposed, because the imposition of higher rates would not result in higher earnings, but to whatever extent it is possible to modify the exceptional rates now in existence so as to secure a greater revenue for the company, in order to meet the wages of employees and the cost of operation, the necessary powers will have to be conferred.

On the general question of railway policy, I merely want to say that I recognise that the efforts made, wholehearted though they were, to save the railways of the country by the legislation of earlier years, have proved insufficient. It is clear that we must go further than that. I think that we should not wait until after the end of the war to begin the process of reorganisation. It is necessary, in my opinion, that the process of reorganisation should be begun earlier. As Mr. Reynolds intimated to the company at the annual meeting, reorganisation proposals are at present being worked out and will in due course be completed. If it should be my function, they will then be prepared in the form of legislation for submission to the Dáil.

Is it not to be public ownership or public control?

The Deputy can wait and see.

He is throwing the policy overboard.

The Deputy never had a policy to throw overboard. In that respect he has an advantage over me.

Read the Transport and Communications Bill of 1923.

That was not a policy; it was a pious wish.

It is in the Library for you to read.

The Library is the right place for it. Deputy Dockrell referred to the question of post-war policy. He asked that some indication should be given of what the post-war policy was to be, so that traders could establish contacts with manufacturers and exporters in other countries and make their plans in the light of anticipated circumstances here. I am sure that Deputy Dockrell and other Deputies appreciate the difficulty of prescribing a policy for the post-war period in any detail at present. The post-war conditions, in relation to which that policy will have to be prepared, cannot at present be visualised.

Upon the outcome of hostilities, upon the course of events which will lead to the cessation of hostilities, will depend the shape of the post-war world. None of us can at present attempt to forecast what form it will take, what international relations in that period will be, or in what circumstances international trade will be carried on. It seemed to me, however, that Deputy Dockrell was looking more for information as to the prospective tariff policy of the Government than as to its post-war industrial programme. During the war, because of the circumstances created by the war, a very large number of tariffs and other restrictions upon imports have been suspended. I ask Deputies to note the word "suspended". They have not been removed. By Emergency Powers Orders of limited duration they have been put out of operation. On the expiration of the period mentioned in each Order they will automatically come back into operation again. It will then be for the Government responsible for national affairs at the time to decide whether it is desirable to continue them, to modify them, or to remove them. I may say I am convinced that, unless we restart our industrialisation drive as early as possible after the conclusion of hostilities, we will condemn ourselves to another period of stagnation and retrogression from which it may take us a long time to recover.

Deputy Dockrell gave us an example of the point he wanted to raise. He gave as an illustration the position in respect of fabricated steel. He said steel cannot be obtained now, and he asked if it can be obtained at the end of the war, will we import it fabricated for use or in its raw state for fabrication here. In my opinion, there is no possibility of the Government considering the importation of fabricated steel or other fabricated articles which could be adapted for use, fabricated in the form required, by our own workers in this country. It is my belief also that, unless we start off on that basis, we will lose ground very rapidly, ground which we may not be able to recover. Clearly, therefore, in so far as I can meet Deputy Dockrell's request for information concerning post-war policy at all, I must indicate that, in general principle, if the people of the country and the House follow the advice of the present Government, it will be similar to that operated before the war. It will be designed to secure that the maximum degree of manufacture will be carried out in this country by our own workers, and that we should limit our imports to the raw materials which cannot be provided from our own resources. I recognise that abnormal conditions will prevail for a long time after the conclusion of the war, and that we may not be able to get the materials we require in the form that we require them, but I think it is far more likely that we will get unfabricated material than fabricated material, because the productive capacity of the main industrial countries will have been seriously impaired, and their own requirements will probably involve the full utilisation of whatever productive capacity remains to them.

There is one other point with which I want to deal before I conclude. Deputy Dillon raised again this old issue which he has raised on previous occasions, the maintenance of restrictions upon the importation of certain goods since the outbreak of the war. I know that Deputy Dillon is unable to distinguish in his own mind between the maintenance of legal restrictions upon imports and the refusal to take goods which are available. He appears to think, in so far as we have maintained quotas in operation, or licensing systems in respect of the import of certain goods, that that meant we were refusing goods. That has never happened. While a very large number of quota Orders and tariff Orders has been suspended, others have been retained. They have been retained for a good reason. They have been retained because the Government believes that their retention will facilitate rather than impede us in getting supplies at the present time.

Does that apply to superphosphates?

It certainly applies to superphosphates.

Did it apply when superphosphates were available?

It did. In fact, in respect of some classes of goods from which all forms of control were removed, we had to reimpose them in order to confine the in-flow of the goods concerned to the traders who normally engage in the handling of those goods. Those restrictions were designed to eliminate the speculators who always emerge in times of scarcity for the purpose of trading, to their own profit, in the goods that are scarce. The maintenance of those restrictions upon import was designed to secure that the limited supply available would be diverted into the channels of legitimate trade, and not become merely the raw materials of another black market. Deputy Dillon, I know, has always failed to appreciate that fact. He never has been able to understand that the Government's policy is based upon the intelligent application of principles to certain circumstances, rather than on vague generally-worded cliches such as he resorts to, and consequently he cannot face up to those realities at all. It is untrue to say that any substantial quantity of goods has been lost to this country by reason of the maintenance of those restrictions. It is far more true to say that the importation of available supplies was greatly facilitated by them. As the House is well aware, in respect of the most essential goods, we had in fact to set up special central purchasing organisations in order to explore fully the possibilities of external markets, and of preventing prices being driven up against ourselves through competitive buying for limited supplies by one Irish trader against another. However, I think it is a useless task to try to teach Deputy Dillon sense, and I will not continue it further.

Those were the main points raised in the discussion, and I do not propose to say anything more. While, in moving the Estimate, I dealt with all the subsidiary Estimates for the Department, I do not think any point was raised concerning those subsidiary Estimates which requires a reply from me at this stage.

During my remarks in connection with the transport question, I drew the attention of the Minister to a portion of the statement made by Mr. Reynolds at the shareholders' meeting, in which he said that the railway workers were overpaid and underworked, and that there were too many of them in the concern. Would the Minister agree that railway workers employed in his own constituency at a rate of wages under £2 a week are overpaid?

Mr. Reynolds made no such statement.

I think it is a scandal for the Deputy to put into his mouth words which he never said.

I quoted.

The Deputy did not quote and could not quote any such statement made by Mr. Reynolds.

Certainly.

The Minister, in the course of his statement, referred to the difficulties we have experienced in getting newsprint, and indicated that the quantity available is far below our requirements. A particular daily newspaper appears to have cause for complaint about the issue of newsprint. Will the Minister say on what basis the allocation of newsprint is made; and why this particular paper is not getting its fair quota?

The allocation of newsprint amongst daily papers is on a basis agreed to by all the papers.

Since when? Was that within the last month?

No. The agreement was made last year.

Was this paper a party to the agreement?

It was a party to the agreement.

Question put and declared negatived.
Vote put and declared carried.