TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS BILL, 1923.—FIRST STAGE.

In asking the leave of the Dáil to introduce this Bill I desire to make a few preliminary observations describing the scope of the Bill, so that I can, with confidence, ask the Dáil to give it a First Reading. It is a Bill that fulfils, or attempts to fulfil, the promises of many people, not only upon these benches, but on other benches. It is a Bill, which if passed, will mean the Nationalisation of the Irish Railways, and the co-ordination of all the transport services of the country, including all communications, that is to say, railways, canals, roads, postal service, aerial communication and the like. It will be said that this is a considerable undertaking, and I agree it is; but it is not proposed in the Bill that all this work of co-ordination will be accomplished on a given date.

It is intended, shortly, that there shall be established a Ministry of Transport and Communication, and that that Ministry will be responsible to the Oireachtas for all the Departments that come within its scope, including posts and postal services. It would eventually mean the absorption of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs into the Ministry of Transport and Communication. It is intended that the railway undertakings shall be transferred on appointed dates to the care and charge of the Ministry of Transport. The Minister for Transport will be responsible to the Oireachtas. He may or may not be, as may be decided, a member of the Dáil. He will be a Minister, not a member of the Executive Council. The actual management of the railways will be undertaken by a Director of Railways, who will be in supreme command of the actual workings, subject to the Minister of Transport and Communication. The Director of Railways will be assisted and advised by a Council, or Board, representative of the interests concerned in the railway traffic, agriculture, commerce, manufacture and workers generally and the Treasury. The intention is that the transfer shall be on a basis to be fixed by a tribunal consisting of three persons, the chairman being one who has held a high judicial office and two competent accountants, one of whom shall be nominated by, or approved by the railway companies.

It is intended that railway stock will be issued by the State in exchange for present holdings, the stock being either in the form of redeemable stock certificates carrying 4½ per cent. or terminable annuity certificates carrying 4½ per cent. for the first five years and 4¾ per cent. for sixty-seven years. The financial effect of this option upon the State being identical, terminable annuity certificates being probably in many cases desired by the present stock holders, in other cases the redeemable certificates at 4½ per cent. with ¼ per cent. of Sinking Fund being preferred. It is proposed that the tribunal to be set up to decide the price at which the railways will be taken over by the State will determine the value according to all the circumstances, but imposing upon the tribunal a maximum price, such maximum to be based upon the average profits earned and distributed during the five years preceding 1914. It is calculated that the railways will by this means be enabled to carry on in such a manner as will allow of a reduction in railway charges, improvement in the services, dealing fairly with stock-holders, and generally serving the interests both of the community as a whole and the industrial, agricultural, and passenger interests at the same time. It is proposed to set up a rates tribunal, a rates tribunal being a semi-independent body whose functions will be to fix rates in such a manner as will pay the charges without seeking any margin. The rates tribunal proposition is one which, I think, should commend itself to all agricultural and industrial interests. It is proposed also that charges upon county councils or baronies in respect of those railways which have been guaranteed shall be removed and that the county councils shall be relieved of any liability in respect of their guarantees. The position of the employees of the railway companies is safeguarded on much the same lines as have been agreed upon and decided by the recent Bill passed in Great Britain touching the amalgamation of the companies over there. It is intended that, so far as respects the railways over which at present the Oireachtas has no jurisdiction, the date of transfer to the State shall be deferred until a decision is taken as to the transfer of those railways or such portion of them as may be decided upon.

The Bill, if it receives the First Reading, will be printed and a memorandum will be circulated with it describing succinctly the intentions of the Bill. I may say that we have been living for a year in expectation that the Government would have introduced a Bill to deal with railways in the Saortat. That hope has not been fulfilled yet, and we have sought therefore to fill the gap and to submit such a Bill as we would reasonably expect the Government, not a Labour Government, might themselves introduce.

This, I may tell the Dáil, is not a Bill which fulfils all the equities, as I would conceive them. It is very generous in its interpretation of the rights of stockholders. It is such a Bill as might, without any stretch of imagination, have been introduced by Deputy Hewat combined with Deputy Gorey. It is not, as I say, a Bill which fulfils all the equities as I conceive them, but it is a Bill designed to secure general support. Certainly such a Bill as I would like to see enacted would require a considerable period of education of the public, and the circumstances of the day do not justify, perhaps, experiments of a kind which might be risky. In introducing the Bill we have sought to avoid extravagances or experiments which would lead the public or members of the Dáil to shy off because of its experimental nature. If the Bill is granted a First Reading, as I confidently hope, I would ask the Dáil and the Government to consider very carefully the proposals of the Bill, and perhaps one may hope that it may even be taken over as a Government measure after the Second Reading.

We recognise quite clearly that a Bill of this kind, imposing a charge upon the State, cannot get beyond a Second Reading unless the Government is prepared to move the Financial Resolution which is requisite. I plead at least for careful consideration of the proposals of this Bill, and if it cannot be taken over as a whole that it will be considered as a serious attempt to meet the transport problem and a serious proposal for the co-ordination of all those services which are requisite to carry on the trade, commerce and social life of the community, those services of transport and communication. So far from the Bill being a real charge upon the community it will be, as I contend, a valuable asset, and will enable the credit of the community to stand higher, so that future loans may be floated on more favourable terms for the State. I beg to move that leave be granted to introduce "A Bill to provide for the acquisition by the State of Railways in Saorstat Eireann, for the management of such Railways and the Post Office, and for the co-ordination of Road, Motor, Aerial and other transport services and for purposes connected therewith."

I second the motion.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

It is not proposed to oppose the First Reading of this Bill. The feeling is that a Bill about which so many fine things have been said, and said at such length, ought to come into the hands of Deputies and that they should have their curiosity with regard to it satisfied. But Deputy Johnson made a somewhat longer statement than is usual on a First Reading, and I want to make it clear that the decision not to oppose the First Reading is very much without prejudice.

Question put and agreed to. Second Stage ordered for Wednesday, December 5th.