Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1951—Second Stage (Resumed).

When the House adjourned last night I was indicating that I am in wholehearted agreement with the policy of the progressive development of electricity and the production of electric current at the cheapest rate possible to the consumer. Cheap power is fundamental to any programme of national development. Everything that can be done should be done to bring the cost of production down to the lowest possible level. I have indicated that I felt uneasy about the high charge levied on the consuming public by reason of the high cost of money necessary to finance electricity development and I feel that the Minister should direct his attention to that matter. Deputy Dillon, in the course of his speech, indicated that he was in favour of the Central Bank issuing the necessary money for works of this kind. Personally, I think that there is something to be said in favour of such a policy. I have not so much enthusiasm as some Deputies have for the bringing back of money from abroad to this country. The money that is abroad is coming back quickly enough by reason of the annual deficit in our balance of payments. If we were to continue for three or four years having the same deficit in the balance of payments as last year, we would have no money invested abroad.

Notice taken that 20 Deputies were not present; House counted and 20 Deputies being present,

I am grateful to Deputy Davin for having provided me with an audience. Deputy Davin has not only the outward appearance but also the intellectual capacity of a newly-born infant. He possibly did not like my reference to the prodigal policy of the Government with which his Party were associated.

You supported it yourself.

I can claim the credit of having brought it to a speedy end.

Now we know where we are.

Deputy Dillon in the course of his oration last night returned to his age old attack upon turf producers in this country. I do not know what the unfortunate turf producers did to Deputy Dillon that he avails of every conceivable opportunity to launch a fierce onslaught on them. He told us that he does not know what the price of turf is, and he could not give us any indication of what price coal is likely to be for the coming year or what price imported fuel oil is likely to be. He is, however, very determined that the turf producer must be put out of action at any cost. It has often seemed to me that Deputy Dillon's one guiding principle is "burn everything Irish except Irish turf." He has followed that principle all through his political life and he managed in some way to impose that policy on the progressive Labour Party and the progressive Clann na Poblachta Party which always talks about developing our resources.

I believe it is essential that we should get our cost of production down to the lowest possible level and I would go all out in pressing on the Minister to seek all the ways and means at his disposal to bring down the cost of turf production as turf is an essential raw material for electricity development. Anything that can be done to make turf production more economic and more efficient should be done. There is a good deal of waste all along the line in regard to the production of turf even where it is mechanised. There is need for further mechanisation and there is need for covered storage for turf wherever it has to be stored for use. By ways such as these we can increase the value of this native raw material.

I am very much in favour of the steps indicated by the Minister for the further development of hydro-electric power. It is recognised that until development of atomic power reaches the stage that it can be utilised water is perhaps one of the cheapest sources of power available. I am not looking forward with any enthusiasm to the day when water power will be supplanted by atomic power. I am glad that the Electricity Supply Board decided to investigate and are in the course of investigating the possibilities of some of our Wicklow rivers.

I have often felt that the fast-flowing mountain streams and rivers of Wicklow are a potential source of electric power. I am glad that the Avonmore has been selected for investigation. We all know that that river must offer, by reason of its gravitation, very considerable possibilities. I have very often thought also that the Avonbeg river should offer possibilities for development. Of course it is impossible for any person without engineering experience to express an opinion on a matter of this kind.

I am hopeful that any scheme of development in this respect will not infringe on or interfere unduly with the life of the people in the villages and towns in the areas affected. I am hopeful in particular that the beauty spots of Wicklow which are in close proximity to the Avonmore river will not suffer as a result of this development. We know that Glendalough has almost a world-wide reputation and is one of the beauty spots of Ireland. We know, too, that the Meeting of the Waters, and the Avonmore and the Avonbeg have always been very highly spoken of, and so I sincerely hope that the Electricity Supply Board will not do anything to incur the displeasure of the late Thomas Moore by interfering with the beauty of Avoca's Vale where these two celebrated rivers meet.

I often feel that there are possibilities with regard to the development of electric power from fast flowing rivers, even though it may not be possible to do much in the way of providing storage. I have often wondered why electric turbines could not be installed on rivers where there is a fast current of water so as to use that power, even where it is not possible to erect a storage reservoir. That power, though it might fluctuate from season to season or from month to month or from week to week, would, at the same time, be useful in supplementing our national supply. Deputy Dillon referred to the possibility of actually turning the course of a river and forcing it to descend as in the case of the River Moy. I would not be one of those who would scoff at any proposal of that kind. It is a matter that could, at least, be examined by those qualified to do so, and even if, after a brief examination, it was found that the proposal was unworkable there would be no harm done. Any proposal designed to develop our resources and to utilise unused water power, tidal power or any other type of power, should be applied with the utmost vigour because we, as a nation, both industrially and economically, suffer a disadvantage by reason of a dearth of mineral resources, and particularly of mineral fuel resources. It is only right, therefore, that whatever resources are available to us should be harnessed and used to the maximum extent.

With regard to rural electrification, I think there is not much room for complaint as to the rate of progress which has been made in extending the system. I think that the Electricity Supply Board is doing a comparatively good job of work. While complaints may be made, and can very well be made, as to the small districts, or even large districts, which are put back in the order of priority, I think it is well to remember that, eventually, all of them will be reached. There is a case in certain areas for dealing with, perhaps, a smaller area than the 25 square mile area. I think that if a particular district offers possibilities and appears to be economic, even though it may not be as large as the regulations of the Electricity Supply Board demand, work could be undertaken in such an area.

There is one matter about which I have always been inclined to be rather puzzled, and that is why the Electricity Supply Board concentrate on obtaining the main portion of their revenue from fixed charges. We know that one of the problems which the Electricity Supply Board has to face is that, once a large portion of the country is linked up, there is a tendency at times, particularly when there is a shortage of supply, for the demand to exceed the supply, and so appeals have to be issued in the public Press to consumers requesting them to use the current more sparingly. I think that the whole system of charging is an inducement to consumers to use power extravagantly. If, for example, a consumer gets his premises linked up he has to pay a substantial flat rate charge. It may be £2 or £3 each two-monthly period. Having paid that substantial charge, he gets the electric current at a comparatively low rate of charge per unit. In these circumstances, having been compelled to pay a high flat-rate charge, there is a natural anxiety on the part of that person to get and to use as much power as possible so as to offset the heavy flat-rate charge. I think that if the charges were on another basis, that is a reduced flat-rate charge, with the charge per unit a little more, there would be a real incentive to practise economy in the use of the current.

That incentive does not exist at the present time. As a matter of fact, under the present arrangement, the incentive is to use current as extravagantly as possible in order to get as much benefit as possible from the high fixed rate of charge. I think that the Electricity Supply Board should consider the question of reducing the flat-rate charge and then, if necessary, compensate themselves by increasing the charge per unit. I think that one of the desirable developments in regard to the use of electricity is the low rate of charge for current used off the peak periods, that is, during the night-time. I think that is a very good thing. It enables current that would otherwise go to waste to be utilised, and it provides an amenity for people by enabling them to heat bedrooms and spare rooms so that the effect of dampness and cold may be to a certain extent mitigated. I think that is a good development. I am of opinion that the extent to which electricity could be used to improve the standard of living of our people is almost unlimited. For that reason, I think it is only right that the Dáil should be unanimous, and I think it is unanimous, in supporting this measure.

I hope that one of the things to which the Minister will turn his attention in particular is the cost of the money to finance this project. I feel very strongly on this matter and I regard it as a matter of very grave importance. There is no truth in the allegation, which I know is frequently made, that the present Government are against intensive development of our resources by the investment of capital in them, so as to make our country more productive. Everything that has happened during the past few months since the change of Government has indicated a determination to go ahead as quickly as possible with development of every available resource in the country and the development of electricity is fundamental to all other development because it produces a source of power for our industries—I will not describe it as cheap, but it is a native supply—and also produces an amenity for our people in their homes, whether in rural or urban areas. For that reason, the Minister will be complimented on every effort he makes to push this electricity development scheme forward as quickly as possible.

Deputy Cosgrave, in opening the debate, and Deputy Dillon later, made reference to the relationship that exists between the proposal in this Bill to authorise a heavy capital expenditure on electrical development and the financial difficulties of the State to which the Minister for Finance has made frequent reference. I think that these references—both those of Deputy Cosgrave and the more irresponsible statements of Deputy Dillon—show that our efforts to get an understanding of the State's financial problems, so far as these two Deputies are concerned, have up to the present completely failed. The attitude of the Government has, I think, been clearly stated and can be summarised in a very few words.

We recognise that this country needs very substantial new investment in productive capacity. We feel, however, that with the savings of our people running at their present low level and having regard to the contraction which has already taken place in the available resources, to the extent that these resources are usable at all for investment purposes, we are going to find it barely possible to complete the investment programme we consider to be necessary. We know that it will be impossible if any part of our resources, either current savings as they arise or available reserves, is dissipated in financing Budget deficits, in tax avoidance or even in meeting the cost of desirable public services which are unproductive. Any measures which the Government may propose to the Dáil for the adjustment of the State's finances will be measures intended to facilitate and make possible the type of investment in productive capacity which this Bill contemplates.

May I say also that on these aspects of financial policy there is no difference whatever between any two members of the Government and much less between the Minister for Finance and myself? We know that Deputy Dillon finds it hard to understand how a normal Government works. He only had experience of one Government and his statements from time to time based upon that limited experience are, probably unconsciously, a revelation of what the procedure of that Government must have been. We do not regard Cabinet meetings as a battle-ground where Ministers with conflicting view-productive points endeavour to score victories over one another. We regard the Cabinet rather as a planning council, the members of which are all in general agreement as to what it is desirable to do and argue amongst themselves only as to how best to do it. In case anybody may have been misled by statements made by Deputy Dillon, I want to make it quite clear that the Minister for Finance is a most enthusiastic advocate of this Bill, and, in so far as electrical development is concerned, would be far more likely to criticise my efforts on the ground that they were not taking development far enough than attempt to be a drag or a brake to restrict its development.

Many Deputies expressed interest in the development of smaller rivers. Deputy Cogan has just referred to it and I should say that not merely am I personally very interested in the possibility of finding new sources of power in these rivers, but the Electricity Supply Board are also very anxious to proceed with their development. I explained that the difficulty they have is that their top planning staff, the limited number of highly experienced engineers in their service, are likely to be not merely fully occupied but heavily burdened with the problems of carrying through the programme for the building of main stations which I outlined in introducing the Bill. We got down to discuss how the capacities of that staff could be increased and there emerged from the discussion the possibility of bringing in outside engineering firms and entrusting to them the job of investigating each of these rivers, making a plan for the utilisation of their water power and bringing the preparation of that plan to the stage at which contracts for the construction of works could be placed.

When I mentioned that idea, Deputy Cosgrave apparently misunderstood it. He seemed to think I had suggested the possibility of entrusting the task of developing these rivers and the production of power from them to private enterprise, with the Electricity Supply Board coming in after, either as purchasers of power or of the plants when established. That is certainly not intended. When the plans have been brought to the point at which contracts for construction work can be placed, these contracts will be placed by the Electricity Supply Board and the stations will be constructed to their order and form an integral part of their production system. The board hopes, out of some ten or 12 schemes of that kind, to get an annual output of around 200,000,000 units. It will help Deputies to understand that each of these schemes will be of comparatively minor importance in the board's system when I mention that 200,000,000 units are the addition to the board's productive capacity which may become available in this year from the development of the Erne alone.

We have had a number of speeches concerning the utilisation of turf as a fuel for power stations—some critical, some enthusiastic. Deputy Cosgrave said he had doubts as to the economics of milled peat, that, while he had himself supported the development of sod peat as a fuel for power stations, his recollection of the discussions that had taken place concerning milled peat had left in his mind a doubt as to the economy of it. I think his recollection has let him down. There never was and is not now any doubt about the economics of milled peat as a fuel. In so far as the delivery of a tonnage of peat fuel off a bog is concerned, it can be done much more cheaply in milled form than in sod form. That is not a matter of speculation. Bord na Móna is producing milled peat at Lullymore at the present time to supply the raw material for the briquette factory. They have developed the machines necessary to produce it and they have costed every operation down to the last penny. They know what can be done in that regard and can enter into firm contracts with the Electricity Supply Board on the basis of present wages and prices, for the delivery of milled peat in a prescribed tonnage at a predetermined price. There may be and possibly will be some adjustments of the present techniques required to meet the circumstances of individual bogs, but these adjustments are not likely to give serious trouble.

A great advantage of the milled peat process is, in fact, that it produces a much cheaper fuel than sod peat; but there are other advantages as well. Firstly, because it is completely mechanised, it permits of more satisfactory conditions of employment for workers and reduces the labour problem which Bord na Móna had anticipated might become serious and opens up the prospect, for the first time, of utilising for power purposes the Mayo bogs and other shallower bogs in the West of Ireland on which it had been decided that the heavy type of machinery needed to be used for the production of sod peat would be impracticable.

The question that arose, and the question which was submitted to the American experts who came over under the technical assistance project, related to the most suitable type of boiler equipment for the burning of milled peat. On that issue there was some difference of opinion. The report submitted under the technical assistance project indicated various types of equipment now in use for the burning of other fuels which were suitable for the burning of milled peat and the views of the experts who prepared the report upon these types of equipment. I think that issue is now completely resolved. In so far as Bord na Móna and the Electricity Supply Board are concerned, there is now no question that there is available boiler equipment suitable for the economic utilisation of milled peat and which will be constructed by the engineering firms that produce it under guarantee as to its performance. The Electricity Supply Board will undoubtedly have to make adjustments from time to time in the boilers constructed by them in order to get maximum efficiency, but they have to do that in relation to coal even yet, much less in relation to the newer types of fuel like oil or sod peat. Every installation of that kind undergoes a period of test and adjustment before its maximum efficiency is realised.

Deputy Cosgrave asked about the publication of the report that we received. I do not think that would be practicable. It would not be merely one report. The report was submitted and on it the Electricity Supply Board made various observations and submitted a list of queries. These observations were commented upon and the queries answered in a second report. Unless all three documents were published—which I think might be undesirable—the publication of the first or second report alone would not be of much use. In any event, the reports are so highly technical in their nature that only fully qualified engineers could understand what they are all about. I do not profess to have understood them. I was concerned only with the general conclusion arrived at—that there is no technical problem likely to emerge in the utilisation of milled peat as an efficient and economic boiler fuel.

Could the reports not be published in summarised fashion?

I do not think they could be summarised at all and the conclusions, in so far as the Deputy would be interested, are summarised in the phrase I have just used, that there is boiler equipment already being produced commercially by various firms in the world which can be utilised or adapted for the utilisation of milled peat and the makers of which are quite willing to guarantee their performance.

Mr. O'Higgins

This will not affect Portarlington, I take it?

No, the boilers there are designed for the utilisation of sod turf and cannot be utilised for anything else. The Electricity Supply Board may install at Portarlington the pilot plant to which Deputy Cosgrave referred, in order to have some of these calculations and adjustments made before the main plants—the first will be at Bangor Erris—come into use.

Deputy Dillon said he could not get any information about the cost of turf and suggested that information as to the cost of producing turf for the power stations was being concealed and clearly had in mind that it is so high that we think it undesirable to publish it. In fact, all the information that the Deputy could possibly desire is contained in the Tuarascáil of Bord na Móna for 1951. I would direct his attention to page 15 of that Report, which showed that the average cost per ton of all the turf produced from all the bogs operated by Bord na Móna in the year was £2 6s. 9d. That cost included all overheads and interest on the capital invested in the projects. However, I want to explain that figure slightly, as it is to some extent unfair to turf. The actual production cost at Clonsast in the year was £2 0s. 8d. That again is an inclusive figure, covering not merely all the cost of production but the overheads and interest charges as well. The average cost of all the turf produced by Bord na Móna in that year was higher than the Clonsast figure mainly because turf was being produced from a number of bogs which are not yet fully developed, and where the incidence of overhead charges per ton produced is heavier than it will be when these bogs are in full production. No doubt, costs vary from year to year, as Deputies know, but having regard to the known prices of other fuels in 1951, the average cost of £2 6s. 9d. for all turf and of £2 0s. 8d. for turf in Clonsast makes it quite clear that what I said by way of interjection to Deputy Dillon is correct, that the cheapest kind of fuel that we have is turf.

I want to express strong resentment of the suggestion made by Deputy Dillon that the utilisation of turf for power purposes is something in the nature of a relief scheme. It is nothing of the sort. It is good business. No doubt the cheapest method of producing electricity is by water power. That is true and that is why both the board and myself are keen to utilise every resource of that kind that we have. But, in so far as it is necessary to link in with any system of water-power generating stations a series of steam stations, then there is no doubt about the economy of utilising turf.

Mr. O'Higgins

I wonder would the Minister have any comparable figure for milled peat.

No. I would not like to attempt to give that figure now.

Mr. O'Higgins

I thought he might be able to give figures in regard to Lullymore.

The circumstances are different there. I was going to mention, as a matter of interest, that there was last year in this country a technical mission from Great Britain which was investigating the methods of producing turf for power purposes with the intention of applying it to power stations in Scotland.

A number of Deputies have made reference to the rural electrification scheme and criticised various aspects of it. I think it is necessary to refer Deputies back to the scheme. The legislation was passed by the Dáil following the presentation to it of a report prepared by the Electricity Supply Board as to the form that the scheme would take. It did not contemplate that it would be possible within the limits of the scheme to supply every rural household. The cost of doing that was calculated and shown to be prohibitive. It was proposed instead, and accepted by the Dáil, to proceed upon the basis of connecting only those households from which the fixed charge revenue bore a certain relationship to the capital cost of bringing in the supply. It was estimated that within that formula 69 per cent. of the rural dwellings would be supplied. According to that report, what the board had to get was an annual income equivalent to 12 per cent. of the capital charge of constructing the network.

I must, perhaps, say at the present time it would require something less than 12 per cent. The 12 per cent. calculation assumed an interest rate of 5 per cent. I do not want to get Deputy Hickey going on the question of interest. We assumed that 5 per cent. would have to be paid. In fact, the board has received advances for rural electrification at a lower rate of interest since, and probably about an 11½ per cent. return would be all that the board would require at the present time. I cannot calculate that exactly because, while the reduction of the rate of interest reduces the return the board requires, it also, of course, reduces the yield which the board itself gets on the reinvestment of its own reserves, so that an elaborate calculation would be required to determine the exact percentage return the board would need.

They have drawn interest on their own reserves——

I will debate this question some other time with the Deputy. It would be too involved a subject to get into now. It was quite obvious that the board could not get anything like the 12 per cent. from the fixed charge revenue payable under the Electricity Supply Board rural tariff and the proposition was to provide electricity on the basis of that rural tariff without an increase. That is where the proposal to give a free grant of half the cost from State funds arose. The costs have gone up, as I mentioned, at least 75 per cent. above the estimate prepared in 1943 when that scheme was formulated. It is now clear that even the 50 per cent. grant is insufficient to give the board the return on its expenditure that it needs. In fact, at the present time a 100 per cent. grant would seem to be necessary. We have not provided for that, as I mentioned.

Some part of the cost of rural electrification is at present being carried upon the board's general funds. I intend to look at that position again. I do not want to rule out the possibility that we may decide to allow some part of the cost of the rural electrification scheme to continue to be carried by the board's general receipts, but I would not like to take that decision until the full implications of it had been worked out, not merely with reference to the present time, when only one-fifth of the scheme has been completed, but in ten or 15 years' time when the whole scheme has been carried into effect.

When Deputies spoke about pockets of potential consumers in rural areas having been passed over, I assume they are referring to consumers whose houses were so isolated from the other residents in the locality that the board could not bring them within the limits of the formula set out in the scheme.

The houses in question are not so isolated at all.

I think that is the case some Deputies referred to and, in fact, Deputy Cosgrave suggested that the case of those isolated houses could be met by contributions from the local authority. So far as the board is concerned it will be quite prepared, I am certain, to bring the supply to any houses provided it gets the prescribed return, whether it be in the form of a contribution from the local authority or a higher fixed charge payment by the occupier of the house. As every Deputy knows, the board is prepared to bring the supply to any house provided they are recouped the actual capital cost.

Mr. O'Higgins

Is it not, in fact, what they are doing?

I am talking about houses outside the limits provided by the scheme.

Mr. O'Higgins

I understand at the moment they will do that.

Yes. They will, provided they get the prescribed return. The difficulty that other Deputies referred to arose out of the arrangement adopted by the board for choosing the areas for first development. It was perhaps reasonable enough for the board to say: "We will start in the areas from which we are getting the best return," which are the most economical from their point of view. They prepared this formula relating the total fixed charge revenue to be received to the capital cost of wiring up an area and made that known.

That is the basis upon which they are selecting one area as against another. It has been said that it favours the more wealthy areas and operates to put back the extension of the scheme to the poorer areas, the areas of lower valuation. That is why I suggested to the board the possibility of substituting for it the simple calculation of the percentage of total householders in the area that would accept the supply. The board showed me that that might not work out to the advantage of the poorer areas at all. In fact, an area like Spiddal in Connemara qualified quite early because of the number of households in the area willing to accept the supply and the short distance between them. My device might operate in favour of a rancher area with large houses scattered widely apart but all of whom were prepared to take the supply.

We have been considering whether it is possible to combine the two ideas, but the board are likely to decide that if there is to be a departure from the present arrangement it should be on the basis of taking the congested areas as a separate problem and laying down a different formula for these areas.

May I ask the Minister if it is in mind to deal with the congested areas specially?

I would want to get the board's view on that point before I could give a decision. Personally, I do not mind what the formula is so long as it is clearly known to everybody that it is the formula that is going to be applied impartially and that there will be no juggling around of areas.

Mr. O'Higgins

You will never achieve that.

The board have demonstrated to me that they can stick rigorously to the application of their formula. It is desirable that it should be governed by whatever formula is there, that it will apply the formula and that the areas that can come earliest under the formula will, in fact, be the earliest to be wired.

The argument against special arrangements for the congested areas is that there are areas in other parts of the country where somewhat similar conditions exist and which may be put back further, to their detriment, if there is a special scheme for the congested areas. In fact, it was a district in County Tipperary which emphasised the character of the problem to me personally. When I got the particulars of the case in that district I found that no less than 95 per cent. of the householders there had agreed to take a supply and yet, because of the peculiarity of the area, being a mountainy one, it did not come in under the scheme as early as another adjacent area where a lower percentage of the inhabitants had agreed to take a supply.

However, the main solution for many of the difficulties which have been mentioned in connection with rural electrification is to get on with the job as quickly as possible. Acceleration was secured by the Electricity Supply Board last year, and I hope they will be able to show still greater acceleration this year. In so far as their difficulty arises out of a shortage of technical staff, they have been urged to do everything possible to overcome it. They had supply difficulties as well, but they have been taking every possible measure to procure, well in advance, necessary supplies of transformers, wires and the other equipment both from home sources and from elsewhere.

Has the Minister taken any steps to suggest to the Electricity Supply Board that they should manufacture this equipment here at home?

The Deputy should be aware that I am most interested in that point. I think it is true to say that all the equipment required could be produced at home subject to the availability of raw materials. Factories are in production producing conductor, that is, wire or cabling, transformers and much of the equipment necessary. I should hope that that process of extending our own manufacturing activities on the basis of the Electricity Supply Board's programme will continue. I emphasised, in my discussions with the Electricity Supply Board, my appreciation of the fact that they are now one of the biggest economic forces in the country—one of the largest consumers of equipment of various kinds—and that the power that they have should be exercised, directly and intelligently, to help us in our task of industrial development.

Would the Minister consider, in connection with the development of industry at home, the making of parts suitable for the Electricity Supply Board, so that the board could set up its factories, if possible, in the West of Ireland? He has a chance at this stage to set up industries in congested areas.

I think there is scope for additional development which, I hope, will take place in the West of Ireland.

Not the congested areas but the undeveloped areas?

I do not think I would approve of the undertaking of that by the Electricity Supply Board directly. It seems to me they have enough on their plate without putting more on it. Factories for the production of equipment are already in existence and should, I think, with their present capacity, be able to meet the demand unless there is a very substantial increase.

Deputy Esmonde criticised the administration of the Electricity Supply Board generally, particularly what he described as their disregard for the interests of the farmers when erecting transmission lines. Deputy Esmonde has not been in this House very long, but I have been listening to that complaint for the past 25 years. I feel it is true to say that the Electricity Supply Board have been reasonably considerate of the problems of farmers and are conscious of the difficulties they are creating for them. It is true, however, that a transmission system must, in the main, be erected on a straight line. If the line were zig-zagging around the country it would not merely double costs but would create risks and dangers for the population. A straight line is a much more safe arrangement under story conditions than a zig-zagging one.

Mr. O'Higgins

The people do not get compensation?

If crops are destroyed, yes. The transmission line which Deputy Esmonde has in mind is the one from Waterford to Wexford, and the apprehension of the farmers in that area, which is a tillage area, is that the crops they sow now may be damaged by the activities of the Electricity Supply Board before the next harvest. The Electricity Supply Board will endeavour to keep damage down to a minimum and, should they create damage, they will compensate farmers to the full.

Mr. O'Higgins

There is no compensation for lowering the value of the land?

No, there is not. Deputy Hickey and Deputy Esmonde were critical of the arrangement under which the board was set up and thought that the board should be responsible to the Dáil for the exercise of their powers. I do not think that it would have been practicable to have set up the board on any other basis. Deputies who are interested in the matter may refer back to the debates in this House in 1926 and 1927, when Deputy McGilligan, who was then Minister for Industry and Commerce, put through the Electricity Supply Bill.

Mr. O'Higgins

And the Minister opposed it.

I do not think I was here at the time.

Mr. O'Higgins

The Minister opposed the Bill outside the House.

Many people are critical of the wide powers given to the board. The answer to these Deputies is really this: that the board has powers which the Dáil gave it. It is not acting in defiance of the Dáil or ignoring the rights of the Dáil but is proceeding to carry out the duties placed on it by the Dáil and using to that end the power which the Dáil gave it.

I do not think Deputy Hickey was correct in saying that Deputies have been refused information about the activities of the Electricity Supply Board. If the Deputy will examine the Order Papers of the last two days he will find a number of questions put down by Deputies relating to the activities of the board, all of which were answered.

I think that these Deputies in talking about making the Electricity Supply Board subject to the Dáil are thinking of more than the right of Deputies to ask questions. They are thinking of the Dáil passing a resolution to the effect that the board must not put up a pole in Tom Murphy's farm or charge more than a certain rate in certain circumstances, and that the Electricity Supply Board should obey the terms of any such resolution.

Deputy Cosgrave, amongst other Deputies, referred to the provisions of the Electricity Supply Board Act which prohibit a member of the board or an employee of the board from being elected to the Dáil, and urged reconsideration of it. That section of that Act could not be put into effect unless corresponding provisions were put into the Electoral Act. In subsequent measures where a similar provision was intended it was turned the other way round.

Mr. O'Higgins

It should be repeated.

It would be better to have the corresponding provisions in the Transport Act and in the Turf Development Act which provide that if a person is elected to the Dáil then he should cease to be a member or a servant of these boards. I think that is desirable. I think there are many reasons why it would be objectionable to have in the Dáil members of statutory bodies sitting as Deputies and speaking upon Bills affecting the activities of the board of which they were members, and perhaps influencing decisions that might affect their own personal positions. As Deputies know, one of the problems in adjusting the remuneration of Deputies and Ministers is that everybody has a feeling against people voting on their own salaries. That is the situation you would have if members of these boards were present here. The only suggestion I would make is that no members of the Dáil may be an employee or an official of the board.

Away back in 1946, on the Turf Development Bill, I said as contained in the Official Debates, Volume 100, column 203:—

"I should like to suggest to the Dáil that it is desirable that this whole issue of membership of this House by persons who are ordinarily employed by authorities or organisations supported out of public funds should be examined by an inter-Party Committee or some other tribunal of inquiry. Having regard to the different courses adopted in the past, to the fact that no uniform practice has evolved in the course of time and to the obvious implications of the issue, I think we should make an attempt to see whether we cannot get some agreed statement of principles that would apply in all cases."

I should like to renew that suggestion.

Mr. O'Higgins

The Minister invented the phrase "inter-Party."

It had not dawned on me. I shall not take credit for it.

Mr. O'Higgins

I think this matter should be gone into.

Some references were made to the pension provisions in the Bill and I think I might make some reference to what was said in order to clarify the position. Deputy Cosgrave is apparently under the impression that the increase in pensions for which the Bill provides operates only in the case of transferred officers, that is to say, employees of the board who are transferred to its service from the service of local authorities. That is not correct. In so far as any member of the board's staff was affected by the limitations of wages up to 1946, that position is being rectified retrospective to 1949 in the provisions of this Bill.

Deputy Cosgrave also mentioned the position of men who entered the board's service rather late in life. In the Act of 1942 I made provision to meet that case. The board got the right to establish a pension scheme for its staff by that Act and there was clearly recognised that there were likely to be difficulties, as there always are, in bringing a contributory pension scheme into operation for the first time in an established organisation. It is a contributory pensions scheme—one half being contributed by the employees and the other half by the board. For men over 40 years of age it was realised that the contributions necessary to provide a reasonable pension on retirement would be very heavy under the provisions of that Bill, so the board was given power to provide supplementary pensions free of contributions to men who were then over 40 years of age. Deputy Cosgrave thinks that there were men under 40 years of age who were rather harshly affected by that limitation. There always will be the borderline case. I do not think he recollects the Bill made other provisions also.

It is open to any member of the board to buy back past service. In other words, to increase his contribution so as to get a higher benefit on retirement. In fact, the board was bound to pay into the fund its contribution in respect of the whole of the service so that, even if an employee does not elect to increase his contribution, he still gets credit for half his service prior to the establishment of the pension scheme. That works out in the borderline case to which Deputy Cosgrave referred. A man who was 38 years of age in 1942 and who had 14 years' service prior to that, and who has 27 years' service yet to run before reaching 65 years—he would have pensionable service of 34 years—will get a pension equivalent to 34 eightieths of his pay on retirement. That is a more favourable position than, in fact, exists in the public services. People who enter the public service rather late in life, such as professional men, do not get pensions on that basis and can never qualify under any arrangement for a full pension.

I would normally agree with Deputy Cosgrave, but it is undesirable to appoint members of the Electricity Supply Board for short periods. It is true that, for a number of years prior to 1948, members of the board were appointed from year to year. I explained at the time that I was entertaining the idea of having a different type of board from the present arrangement of a board consisting of three or four full-time members associated with an equal number of part-time members. It was in anticipation of a possibility of a change of that kind and because of certain other considerations which applied then that these year to year appointments were made. But while I agree with Deputy Cosgrave that it is not desirable to have short-term appointments, I would not say that we should put in a minimum period of appointment in the Bill.

It was Deputy McGrath who referred to another problem in relation to the Electricity Supply Board staff. There are men on that staff who came into that staff from other employment, and I do not think that the Electricity Supply Board can take responsibility for service in determining pensions with other employers except in connection with local authorities where the question of compulsory acquisition arose. If a man entered the service of the board from Fords in Cork, we cannot expect the board to carry responsibility in respect of that service which was not itself pensionable.

The point I was making was that when the age of retirement came a man's pay was much smaller, practically half, than it was when he actually retired.

In so far as pension is concerned, if the man was over 40 years of age in 1942 when the pensions scheme came into operation, then the board have the right to give him anex gratia addition to pension payable under the scheme. In so far as people who were under 40 years of age at that time were concerned, they have half their previous service calculated without any additional contribution. They have also the right to make contributions in arrear.

Had they that previous to this?

Yes. That has been the position since 1942. The scheme of course is a contributory scheme. It is a fund which is managed by a committee and which is fed by equal contributions from the staff and the board. It was prepared on an actuarial basis and of course we could not start putting additional charges on the fund without altering the whole basis of the scheme.

What about making the board answerable to the Dáil?

The Deputy was talking with a colleague when I was dealing with the matter.

Does the Minister agree with the suggestion?

There are very few things on which I agree with the Deputy.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 21st February, 1952.

When must the amendments be in?