Before moving the Second Reading of this Bill I have to ask for the suspension of the Standing Orders. This is a matter of very great urgency. The position is that certain things and certain powers granted in the several undertakings mentioned in the schedule lapse, and unless we have this Bill passed through not alone here but also through the Seanad, all these undertakings would be placed in a very awkward position, and a number of them would not be able to carry on unless they were able to make the charges that they are making at the moment. I must apologise to the Dáil for the short notice, in the first instance, in presenting the Bill, and I can only offer as an excuse for that short notice the fact that it is not the fault of my Department, nor is it the fault of any of the other Ministers of the Cabinet. It is the fault of another Department. What did happen was, it was thought that the temporary Act was covered by the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. However, it was not covered by that Act, and the order expires on Wednesday next, and with a view to getting all the stages of this Bill through I am now asking the Dáil to suspend the Standing Orders.
STATUTORY UNDERTAKINGS (CONTINUANCE OF CHARGES) BILL, 1923.
I beg to second the motion.
I beg now to move the Second Reading of this Bill, and it is as well to say now what I said at the first stage. It was found, after the European war, that the maximum amount that the several undertakings mentioned in the schedule had a right to charge was not sufficient to enable these undertakings to carry on owing to the high cost of material, labour, etc., with the result that powers were given to the then Ministry of Transport to issue orders in certain cases enabling them to charge higher rates. The Bill now before the Dáil may be well described as an emergency measure seeking to give a further lease of life of ten months to the existing Act. That does not mean that the charges at present in existence by these several undertakings could not be altered in any way. There is a procedure in the Bill which provides that they may be revised under certain conditions, which means that the Rates Advisory Committee will, on instructions from me, in this instance go into matters raised by the several bodies empowered to raise them. For instance, local authorities in the case of tramways and Chambers of Commerce, or a number of traders in the case of canals, can raise the point or draw my attention, in the first instance, to any breach of the regulations, or to any cause of complaint that they may have as to the high rates in a particular undertaking. The procedure then is that I would instruct this Rates Advisory Committee, which, by the way, is not in existence at the moment, to investigate, and on their report it would be left to me to decide whether the charges are fair or not. I think that is all that is necessary, further than to say again that it is absolutely necessary to get this Bill through all its stages here to-day, and we will have to ask the Seanad to do the same when they meet on Wednesday.
I beg to second the motion.
I would suggest to the Minister, while recognising his difficulty, that he should recognise our difficulty even in a more practical manner than he has done. The suggestion is that this Act should only last for three months. We could consider then whether powers that are to be continued ought to be further continued, and then we could carry another Bill for another period. I think the claim that is made that we should repeat these Acts without having a chance of comparing them with the grievances they might create is rather too much to extend for ten months, and to meet the Minister I think we could agree to his claim if he would consent to allow it to exist for, say, three months, and then let the matter be brought forward again if it is necessary.
I do not wish to oppose the Bill, simply because of its temporary nature and also of its urgency. I desire, however, to take this opportunity to bring to the notice of the Minister many things that could be amended in the old existing British laws regarding their application to the control of railways, canals and other undertakings mentioned in the Bill. The increase in the tolls which was agreed to under the British regime was claimed to be justified, but it was not justified in my opinion because of the high charges for maintenance and for the work that had to be carried on. An increase on the basis of that claim was agreed to empowering the Canal Companies to raise their prewar charges and tolls 150% and the power to continue that increase is now asked for by the Minister in asking us to pass this Bill. Now, I have had reason to listen to some complaints regarding the state of the canals at a Commission of which I happened to be a member, and I may say it is not because I happened to be a member of that Commission that I am taking advanage of this opportunity to deal with the matter. A remarkable statement, however, has been made at the Canal Commission by a prominent public servant and by an eminent engineer, that a canal or canals are obsolete and should be discontinued. I realised, and perhaps some of those responsible for making such a statement realised, that that perhaps may help to turn the wheel of fortune on the Stock Exchange, as I believe it did, and that it occurred on the following morning in regard to canal shares. The canals were taken over under certain British Acts which practically compelled them to keep the canals and waterways in the state of repair that existed at the time they were taken over. It has been pointed out by certain classes of people, giving evidence before the Canal Commission, that practically no dredging or maintenance work has been done during the last three or four years. The effect of that has been that between certain sections of one of the principal canals, a journey which in pre-war days took 13 hours carrying 50 tons has now been increased to 19 and 20 hours, with a decrease of tonnage from 50 to 40 tons. If a canal was kept in proper repair, I think, that such a state of affairs would not exist, and I hope that the Minister will take that into consideration when he is asking us to give an extension of these powers to the Canal Company for certain reasons. The tolls that are charged at present have a very bad effect and have I believe been deliberately framed to have that effect, especially upon the extension of what is known as bye-traders' boats. I have been told of a case in pre-war times, and the evidence has not been contradicted, and I cite it here to prove to Deputies the way in which the Canals are trying to retard the development of traffic. An enterprising young man in Co. Kildare decided that he could safely invest a certain sum of money in the building of two new boats, for the purpose of carrying traffic between Dublin and certain points in Co. Kildare. The tolls charged by the Grand Canal Co. were at that time 2s., but immediately he launched on his new enterprise the tolls were increased to 2s. 5d., without giving any extra service for the increased tolls. I think the inference to be drawn from such an increase in that case, which, in my opinion, is not justified, is, that the tolls were increased to prevent him taking certain classes of traffic from the Canal Co. We have always been told, especially by railway companies and Canal Companies that nationalisation would practically destroy competition. If that is the case, I wonder why it has been found necessary for the Canal Co. to agree privately with a railway company not to enter into competition for certain classes of traffic, between competitive points, covered by both the Canal and railway companies. Under a private arrangement of that kind, one of the principal railway companies of this country had an agreement with the Grand Canal Co. not to compete for certain classes of traffic, and, as a result, the railway company paid the Canal Co. £4,000 per year. That is not, I believe, in the interests of the development of the country, and if they are in favour of that competition which they say would be destroyed by nationalisation, such agreement should not be authorised and should be stopped by the Government, if it has authority to stop it. We have been repeatedly told both by the Railway and Canal companies that the reason they cannot bring about any reduction in existing rates is because of the cost of wages and the high cost of materials. I am sure the Dáil is aware that the railway wages and the canal wages have been considerably reduced, and the cost of materials has also been considerably reduced. But notwithstanding these reductions, we find no general decrease in the rates of charges all over the country for railways and canals. The reason I mention this is, I understood from the remarks of the Minister, that it is his intention—I believe it is, of course, necessary, and must be done at once—that some kind of Rates Advisory Committee, or similar controlling body, will have to be set up, if the grievances under which bye-traders on the canal and the trading community are suffering are to be remedied so far as the railways and canals are concerned.
If there is any effective body to be set up it must be set up at once if such grievances are to be dealt with. It was possible under the British regime, under the Canal Control Board and the Railway and Canal Commission to make representations to these bodies to remove grievances that traders on the canals and railways are suffering from. Seeing that the operation of the Treaty removes, from a practical point of view at any rate, such bodies I would urge the Minister to see that some substitute body is set up at once to deal with the grievances existing for some time. I would suggest to him that if any Rates Advisory Committee is set up it should have very extensive powers and should control both railways and canals. The Minister said that people suffering under certain grievances can raise points and write to him, and that he can instruct a committee, which does not exist, to deal with them. I want to see that any committee or control board set up will not alone be able to raise points and write to him, but that the board under his authority will have real and effective powers. There is one other question arising out of the Bill, and that is in connection with the River Shannon Navigation. I understand that this is a Government concern, and complaints have been made that the charges for tolls, which are the same as for other canals, and that the revenue derived from such tolls, has been set aside for the purpose of building piers and harbours instead of the real purpose, the maintenance of the navigation itself. I think any charges for tolls over the Shannon Navigation should not be for the purpose of building harbours and piers, but purely for maintenance and whatever expenditure is involved in the payment of lock-keepers and other people who may be employed under the auspices of the navigation authority. I agree with Deputy Johnson that the period for which this Bill is supposed to operate is too long. I would urge the Minister when bringing in a Bill, as I hope he will at an earlier period than ten months, to take all the points I have mentioned into consideration.
I am certainly in favour of accepting the amendment if leave is given on the Committee Stage intimating that this Act shall remain in operation only until 31st May, 1923. I agree that it is a fair request in view of the way in which it has been rushed, but we simply want to get over the difficulty of the powers expiring on Wednesday next.
Motion made: "That the Statutory Undertakings (Continuance of Charges) Bill, 1923, be read a Second Time."