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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 May 1934

Vol. 18 No. 18

Road Transport Bill, 1934—Report and Final Stages.


I rule amendments Nos. 1, 3 and 4 out of order as being outside the scope of the Bill as read a second time. The Minister for Industry and Commerce will explain amendment No. 2:

New section. Before Section 9 to insert a new section as follows:—

9. Section 9 of the Principal Act is hereby amended in the following respects and shall be construed and have effect accordingly, that is to say—

(a) by the substitution in sub-section (2) of the said section of the word "merchandise" for the words "on a merchandise road transport business" now contained therein;

(b) by the insertion after sub-section (3) of the said section of the following additional sub-section, that is to say—

"(4) Where a person is proved to have carried merchandise by way of merchandise road transport, such person shall for the purposes of this section be deemed to have so carried such merchandise in the course of a merchandise road transport business carried on by him."

The purpose of this amendment is really to effect a drafting change in the Principal Act, and by doing so to remove doubt which has arisen as to whether the provisions of Section 9 are sufficient and able to ensure enforcement of the licensing system. Sub-section (1) of Section 9 makes it an offence to carry merchandise in any area in Saorstát Eireann except under licence in an exempted area. The words used in the sub-section are:

"In the course of such merchandise road transport business only in such area or such area and other exempted areas,"

and it was necessary to bring in various definitions in the new sub-section (2). The penalty provided under sub-section (2) of Section 9 applies to the carrying of merchandise in road transport business and it is necessary to alter that to read:

"Where a person is proved to have carried merchandise by way of merchandise road transport such person shall... be deemed to have so carried such merchandise in the course of a merchandise road transport business carried on by him."

The purpose of the amendment is to effect a drafting change in Section 9 and to remove any doubt that the penalty applying in sub-section (2) applies to the matter in sub-section (1).

Question put and agreed to.
Question—"That the Road Transport Bill, 1934, be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Following the discussions on this Bill, by rejecting the amendments of Senator Wilson we have now given, practically, a complete monopoly to the railways and other transport companies in Saorstát Eireann. We have done that with our eyes open. We were under no delusion as to what we were giving the railway company. Before the Bill passes the final stage I would like to have an assurance from the Minister for Industry and Commerce that in view of the big monopoly that the companies have now got, he will see that we get a proper service and that rates are not unduly raised. I reluctantly supported this Bill, and opposed the amendments of Senator Wilson, on the ground that I thought it necessary to pass this measure in order to save the railways. We cannot do without the railways. Although it was inconsistent for me to do so, I supported this Bill because I always opposed the high rates charged by the railways all my life. I have, to a great extent, in conjunction with the cattle trade, encouraged transport companies to create opposition; and it may be said that it is very ungrateful on my part now to turn down those pioneers who helped to create that position and to reduce the rates. We had experience of transport companies before, when they had monopolies. During the war, when they raised their freights 200 per cent. and when the price of our produce fell 50 per cent., they still kept the same freight up to 1928 and 1929. In all that time we were agitating for a reduction of rates, and we were pointing out to the Government of the day that the farmers could not afford to pay the transport charges imposed on them by the railways and other transport companies. We then set about trying to create a little competition, and we succeeded in getting these people to come in as pioneers into the transport business. We have turned them down now, and I hope the railway companies, when buying them out, will treat them decently.

I have a great deal of experience of railway companies and there is a danger of their getting back to the attitude they adopted previous to the passing of the Principal Act. Recently the Great Northern Railway took over the Catherwood service which ran between Dublin and Belfast and which was a very efficient service. I was approached by people who had children coming to school in Dublin, and they complained to me that after the railway company had taken over the service they were not getting proper hours for their children. I interviewed the manager and pointed out to him that it was represented to me that the service was a half an hour too early in the morning and an hour too late in the evenings. I also pointed out that there had been an increase of between 15 and 25 per cent. in the fares. I then approached the Minister for Industry and Commerce and he asked me to write his Department. I did so. I mentioned in my letter that the only way I could suggest for securing a proper service was that we should move a motion in this House requesting the Minister to license another company in order to secure a proper service. That was the only thing that had effect upon the railway. We got a remedy so far as the hours were concerned, but the rates are still 15 to 25 per cent. higher than they were. If this continues I think the Minister should take steps to remedy the matter without leaving it to the Railway Tribunal. I have very little confidence in the Railway Tribunal. I say, from my experience of it, there is very little help to be got from it and it costs a lot of money if one has to come before it. For that reason I think we should have some assurance from the Minister that may prevent those increases in rates which I am afraid will occur otherwise.

There are three sets of charges to which the Senator's remarks might apply—railway freight charges, road merchandise charges and charges for the conveyance of passengers in omnibuses. As regards the first two of these, the Minister for Industry and Commerce has certain rights of audience before the Railway Tribunal and is charged with seeing that all relevant considerations are brought to the attention of the Tribunal when matters are under consideration by it but the fixation or regulation of charges is not in his hands. The Oireachtas has decided that these powers are to be exercised by the Railway Tribunal, which is a judicial body set up under Act of Parliament and charged with certain duties in connection with railway and road transport services. In so far as railway charges are concerned, these are fixed by the Railway Tribunal on a particular basis. The Railway Tribunal determines what the net revenue of the railway company is to be and has an estimate prepared of the amount of transport business likely to offer. Having regard to this estimate of the amount of traffic and the net revenue fixed by it, it determines what the charges will be that will enable the railway company to earn this net revenue. The railway company is entitled, without reference to the Tribunal, to charge 40 per cent. below the actual charges fixed by the Railway Tribunal but it cannot reduce its rate more than 40 per cent. without application to the Tribunal. Public notice of application to the Tribunal for revision of charges or for permission to make special charges is given and all interested parties are entitled to appear before the Tribunal and to make representations. Once the Railway Tribunal has decided, there is no redress, nor is there any power in the Minister for Industry and Commerce to intervene.

The procedure is somewhat different in the case of charges for the transport of merchandise by road by a railway company. In that case, the Railway Tribunal fixes maximum charges only. Again, public notice of the intention to fix these charges is given in the Press and all interested parties can appear before the Tribunal. The railway companies can charge below the charges fixed by the Railway Tribunal, subject to the condition that whatever charges they decide upon and the benefit of which they give to one person seeking to use the service, must be given to all parties seeking to use it.

Has not the Minister power to license a road service?

Only when a railway company refuses to provide it. The railway company cannot reduce its rail services without an order from the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Whatever rail services the companies were running in January, 1933, must be maintained unless an order permitting of their reduction is made. A railway company is under obligation to provide road services. One of the conditions of the licence which a railway company receives is that it will provide services in a manner satisfactory to the public. If it declines to do so in any particular district or in relation to any particular class of traffic, then, and then only, is the Minister entitled to issue a licence to other persons to provide the required facilities. The licence issued has the characteristic that it cannot be revoked or compulsorily acquired by the railway company. If a licence of that kind is issued, it is issued in perpetuity.

The third series of charges relates to passenger transport in omnibuses. In respect of this matter, regulations have been made by me fixing maximum charges. Omnibus companies are required to conform to these maximum charges. The position, therefore, is that in respect of charges for rail and road transport by railway companies the Minister for Industry and Commerce has no power of regulation or control. In respect of services he has. In respect of omnibuses he has certain powers of regulation in respect both to charges and services.

Would the Minister say if there is any machinery available to the public for pointing out deficiencies in services? I am thinking of my own area, where previously we had a three-minute bus service. Now the service is a long drawn-out one.

The only machinery required is a sheet of paper. Any person who feels aggrieved with the service which the railway or tramway company provides can make representations to my Department directly or through a Deputy or any other person he chooses.

Question put and agreed to.