It is slightly awkward that this Bill comes immediately after the discussion on the petrol duty. Senators are aware that we have felt it necessary most years that some sum should be voted at this time of the year for the carrying out of schemes which would relieve unemployment and distress. We feel it necessary, in spite of the difficult financial circumstances generally, that some money should be found this year. There has been a slight increase in the recorded figures of unemployment and there are areas too in which it is pretty clear that there has been such a shortage in the potato and oat crops as to cause some hardship. The general decline in prices too has caused some sharpening of the distress which in many areas we will always have in the winter season. The problem of finding the money has not been so easy. We did not feel that we should borrow for it. We felt we could only borrow for distress and unemployment if there was some enormous increase and that schemes far beyond anything we have ever carried out were necessary. If we had conditions which obliged us, shall we say, to spend one million or one and a half millions, then the most exceptional measures would be taken and the amount required would certainly be beyond what could be expected to be raised by taxation.
The amount that is being asked for this year is not exceptional. It is something like the amount that we have asked for in previous years. We felt that it is not consistent with reasonable Budgetary policy to borrow in order to find the amount required. On the other hand, we did not feel in the present state of affairs that we could impose taxation for the purpose. It was in those conditions that we looked to the Road Fund. We are not proposing actually to deprive the Road Fund of money that would normally be available for the purpose of the fund in the present year. So far as the Road Fund is concerned, it will have all the income that the road tax will give it, and all normal schemes of improvements, maintenance and repairs that should be carried out will be carried out out of that fund.
Senators, I am sure, are aware that there was at the time of the Treaty a United Kingdom Road Fund which was, of course, a joint fund and to the assets of which the Saorstát had a claim. For a very long time it was impossible to arrive at any conclusions in regard to the apportionment of the fund, but in 1927 the matter had proceeded so far that the British Government paid a sum on account of £200,000. It was not possible to get any further by means of negotiations and the two Governments agreed on the appointment of an arbitrator. Sir Henry Strakosch was chosen. The next step was to prepare an agreed statement of the facts. That took a very considerable time and a great deal of difficulty was found in arriving at agreement as to the facts. However, agreement was finally reached last June and the two Governments accepted a statement to lay before the arbitrator in regard to the facts. Then each Government had to prepare its own claim to the assets of the fund and to make its own case. The two cases have now been prepared and they are being exchanged. Each Government will prepare a comment on the claim of the other, and the agreed statement of facts, the claim of each Government and the counter statement of each Government will be ready to be laid before the arbitrator within a very short period. The three main documents are ready. When the arbitrator has received those and studied them he can either come to a decision on them or hear either Government verbally if the Government wishes it, or he can ask for additional information or additional arguments. But it is not anticipated, matters having reached the stage which they have now reached, that there will be any great further delay. The main difficulty that was experienced since the appointment of the arbitrator was in agreeing to a statement of the facts. It is anticipated, therefore, that most probably it will be possible for an award to be given within the current financial year, and even if it is not given before the 31st March next that it will not be delayed very much beyond that. We anticipate that there will be a payment out of the old Road Fund available for the Road Fund certainly within six or seven months and probably within a shorter period. The Road Fund has generally a considerable amount of cash in hands during the earlier part of the year, and it is anticipated that it will be possible to find this sum that is now being asked for out of the Road Fund and that the Road Fund itself will be recouped at quite an early date.
This money which will be received out of the old United Kingdom Road Fund was of course the proceeds of road taxation contributed prior to 1921. The people who contributed it probably in many cases are no longer motoring. A great deal, of course, has been done with the roads in various ways. For instance, in the repair of bridges that were broken down, undertaken by the 6d. rate, a good deal has been done and the extra point duty men who have had to be put on to deal with traffic have never been charged up to the Road Fund. I think there is no hardship involved in taking this £250,000 in anticipation of the special receipt which the Road Fund will shortly receive.