In asking the Dáil to give a Second Reading to this Bill I shall have to relate somewhat of the intentions and go into some detail with regard to its general purposes and its needs, but I want to say right at the outset that this Bill is not presented in the expectation that when it is passed it will make any great revolutionary change, or add any great extent to the well-being of the masses of the people. Further, I want to say that it is not put forward in deference to any preconception regarding nationalisation, or State ownership, or collectivism, or anything of that kind. It is put forward in its present form in the belief that necessity compels action of this kind if the most is to be made of the nation's transport conveniences. It has been asked why there should be any attempt to press forward such a Bill as this is at this moment; why should we not leave things as they are? The answer to that is, of course, that the public, traders, agriculturists, travellers, are pressing for some action to be taken regarding the future of the railways so that they, particularly the traders, will know where they stand. They are pressing for changes, because they believe that changes would result in a reduction in rates. The railway companies, too, are uncertain of their future, and are holding up necessary development because of that uncertainty. The need for urgency was present in the minds of the Government eighteen months ago. At that time they appointed a Commission and instructed it to sit day by day, if possible, with a view to making recommendations with regard to the future of the railways. Recommendations were made, but, as announced in the Dáil, the Government were not prepared to accept them. They recognised still in January of this year the urgency of the problem, and they said that they would give the railway companies a certain period within which to bring forward their own proposals regarding consolidation, or amalgamation, or grouping, and if within that time no agreed proposals could be brought forward by the railway companies then the Government would be prepared to bring forward their own proposals. That time expired six months ago, and the necessity for action, from the public point of view, seems to be as urgent to-day as it was then, so that I think no excuse is required to be made for presenting this Bill as an attempt to meet the case put forward by many sections of the community, regarding the railway problem particularly.
I want to lay stress at this stage upon this point, that this is not a matter of railway policy alone. It is because the railway position is so closely associated with the general economic condition of the country, and its future economic policy is so much bound up with the railway policy, that I ask the Dáil to look on this whole problem, not from the point of view of railway policy, but from the point of view of national economic policy. I think the Dáil will realise the necessity, if they are looking forward at all, for having at least a faint idea of what they propose this country should be; have some idea at least of the lines of policy on which it is intended that we should develop. We have a country to make the most of, and the question really is, what are we going to do with it? The railway policy might well be directed towards satisfying the requirements, the desires, of the railway shareholders, and the country and the Dáil may say that we have faith in the natural genius of the people, and as a State, as a Legislature, all we have to do is to stand aside and keep order and let who will, do what he wishes, in the belief and faith that by allowing everybody to do as he wishes within the law that good must certainly come. That is quite an understandable policy, and it is a view held by many Deputies, and those who hold that view will object no doubt strenuously to any proposals such as are in this Bill, but the appeal I am making is to the Dáil to set before itself at least a conception of the future, and to recognise that the transport problem is clearly bound up with any conception of the future of the country. Really we have to decide whether transport is to be subordinated to general public policy, or are we to allow those in charge and control of transport so to order and govern their affairs as detrimentally to affect national policy, provided it satisfies the desires of those in control of transport?
I think it will be admitted that railway policy may conflict with national economic betterment, and the basic question I am putting to the Dáil is whether national economic betterment should be the primary purpose of transport policy, or whether transport policy should be so directed as to satisfy the desires of those interested in the transport business, irrespective of its effect on the national well-being. To come down to a concrete illustration, it would be good railway policy, for instance, to encourage the transport of bacon through Dublin to Leicester—it is a long journey—and to bring back boots from Leicester to Limerick. It would be good national policy to limit transport, and if other things were satisfactory to direct the bacon from Limerick to Carlow, and transport boots from Carlow to Limerick. National policy would be served by the second, while railway policy would be better served by the first. I ask the Dáil to agree with this proposition, that if railway policy conflicts with national interest, railway policy must be subordinate; but speaking purely in general terms one would require to consider how best to ensure that railway policy will be subordinated to national policy. That is really the problem to be answered in the discussion on this Bill. It may be said that there are a variety of proposals before the country for consideration. It is urged by some, perhaps not very many, that the present arrangements should be continued, that there is no need to make any change the companies will look after themselves, and incidentally the country will benefit. I think it will be generally agreed, here, at any rate, that that proposition is out of the question.
If we take merely the question of baronially guaranteed lines we are faced with a problem which must be solved, and which can only be solved, by some change. Representatives of those counties which have baronially guaranteed railways will not be satisfied to allow matters to remain as they are. The second proposition is that we should allow the absorption of selected lines by English companies. No legal change is required for that. Certainly no legal change is necessary. It can be done by Stock Exchange operations. I do not know how many members of the Dáil there are who will agree that that will be a desirable development. Then we have the views of the Farmers' Unions as indicated by their witness before the Railway Commission—that there should be a continuation of the present ownership, that there should be no restriction upon any body of persons coming together who would like to build a new railway in competition with existing railways, and that the present railways should not be allowed to continue their monopoly but that there should be an authority set up to control rates. That, I think, is a short and fair summary of the attitude of the Farmers' Union through their spokesman, Mr. Young, of Stradbally. I do not know whether that view of railway economics is likely to be acceptable. The proposition that any group of men should be free to build a new railway anywhere and that the Legislature should not exercise any control in such a matter, whether it is largely supported in this Dáil or not, certainly would not commend itself to men of average experience in economic matters. Then we have a proposal that we should leave the railway companies to enter into voluntary amalgamation, allowing them, if they desire, to leave aside, out of the amalgamation, the non-paying companies. I do not think that that either would commend itself to the Dáil. Non-paying companies have been set up by Acts of Parliament, and, rightly or wrongly, they are part of the transport system of the country and must be considered, and I do not think that the Oireachtas would agree to voluntary amalgamations which allowed the non-paying companies to be left entirely outside. Then there is the proposition which, it is suggested, was once, at least, the policy of the Government, that there should be compulsory amalgamation. Such schemes would have to be submitted to the Oireachtas for consideration and approval, and then there is the scheme of State ownership and ultimate control. The proposal which I have put before the Dáil is, of course, the last, and it is not by any means a new proposal. It is neither revolutionary, radical, bolshevik, or anything of an abnormal nature.
It has been recommended by the most staid conservative Commissions, and no one will allege at this stage that State ownership of railways has anything of a radical or revolutionary character about it. There have been Commissions on this question of Irish railways running from 1836, 1865, 1881, 1906 and 1922, and, without exception, these Commissions have recommended State intervention of one kind or another. They have recommended changes in the administration of the railways, recommending Government action of one kind or another, and in reporting the history of railways in this country one reads the refrain, "No Government action was taken." Commission after Commission, and Inquiry after Inquiry, and still the continuous refrain, "No Government action was taken." I have a sort of notion that if Government action is not taken the railways will get into such a position in this country as detrimentally to affect the course of development. I have said that this proposal is not revolutionary, nor is it new. Even Adam Smith wrote so many years ago, "The tolls for the maintenance of a high road cannot with any safety be made the property of private persons." John Stuart Mill said: "The charge made for services which cannot be dispensed with is, in substance, quite as much compulsory taxation as if imposed by law. This applies to the case of a road, canal or railway. These are always in a great degree practical monopolies, and the Government which sets such monopolies in the hands of private companies is in much the same position as if it allowed individuals or associations to levy any taxes they chose for their benefit on all malt produced in the country, or on all cotton imported into it." The opposition to the proposal in this Bill is, in the main, an opposition to the principle of State ownership. It is, I would point out, not an opposition to the principle of State subsidies. Most of the opponents of the proposal, whether within railway circles or within mercantile circles, do not oppose, but rather suggest, the necessity for State subsidies in one form or another.
They vary in their suggestions regarding the amount of control which such a substitute would carry with it, but none is consistent in taking this line that the State should neither have anything to do with railways financially nor in management. I am very doubtful whether an efficient railway system can, in this country, be provided without some form of public assistance. While I believe that is true, it is not intended in this Bill to provide for such public assistance. We are suggesting that every effort should be made within State control to provide a railway service on commercial lines without any subsidy, leaving the users of the railways to pay all the charges that are incurred in the running of the railways. Whether that will succeed or not, either under State ownership or under private ownership, is a matter for the future. I will say this though, that the State has, as a matter of fact, in Ireland, come to the assistance of privately owned railways to the extent practically of seven million pounds. Most of it, no doubt, has been refunded, but the fact remains that State assistance, to the extent of £6,873,653, a sum equal to over fourteen per cent. of the total capital of the railways, has been provided by the State. These figures are taken from the Scotter Commission Report, which Commission concluded its labours, I think, in 1910. Of course we must bear in mind in speaking of the question of the ability of railways to maintain themselves without external aid, that there was pre-war for many, many years that kind of assistance, which arose from the underpayment of the railway servants. Every witness practically, on the railway side, admits that before the war railway servants were underpaid. True, they say, they were only in line with the rest of the community. Nevertheless, the conclusion is that shareholders obtain their dividends by virtue of the fact that railways servants were underpaid.
Now let us assume that the proposal for State ownership is not accepted, and that we are bound to the principle of unification. Without public ownership it is the only practical alternative to the proposals of this Bill. I have referred to the baronially guaranteed lines. The railway companies' view of that is expressed by the General Manager of the Midland Great Western, speaking on behalf of the companies as a whole, and not merely of his own company, that if the railway companies were to be expected to take over the baronially guaranteed lines then there must be a subsidy from the State. They also have the view that that subsidy shall not carry with it any representation on the board or any control over the management. Even the minority of the Scotter Commission advocated a State subsidy. Now, I am stressing this case, because I want you to have in mind, when you are thinking of the merits of this Bill or the principle involved, that the alternative is some form of railway organisation which involves a State subsidy. It is suggested that there might be some kind of control over the rates by means of a Rates Commission, some kind of control from outside. That is the view of the representatives of Chambers of Commerce, Farmers' Unions and the trading public generally, from all one can hear. It is urged on every hand that there must be a tribunal to determine what the rates on merchandise shall be, that a body may be set up to make representations. Rather in the language of the Scotter Commission minority they might make representations to the companies regarding the adjustment of rates. On that I would like to stress the evidence of a very high authority, Mr. Acworth, who is a member of the minority of the Scotter Commission reporting against nationalisation. He wrote in a book called "The Railways and the Traders" these words:—
"For every shilling cut by an expeditious tribunal off a rate, it is easy for the railway companies, if they are agreed to act in harmony with each other, to withdraw two shillings' worth of facilities; and the traders may make up their minds that this is what must inevitably happen if the railway companies are confronted with lower rates, simultaneously with the rapid rise of working expenses."
"Assume that your tribunal can fix a reasonable rate, what is the use of it unless it can schedule to its judgment a minute specification of the quality of service to be given in return for the rate? The railways can bring down troops of expert witnesses. How can the tribunal refuse to hear them when every student of railway economics knows that the reasonableness of each particular rate depends not merely on its own individual circumstances, but on a comparison with all the other rates and a consideration of the company's business? But for a farmer or shopkeeper, with the assistance possibly of the local attorney, to undertake to fight trained railway experts with a lifetime's experience and with every fact and figure at their finger's ends, is only to court defeat."
The Railway Rates Tribunal, which is merely an attempt to adjust rates on merchandise, is a broken reed, entirely unfitted to secure the needs which the trading community desire. The late Chairman of the Brighton Railway Company goes so far as to declare that even successful action is futile before a Rates Commission. He says:—
"The Companies could easily retaliate, under a sense of injury, by measures which no control could prevent unless it was prepared to take on itself the entire responsibility of the detailed management of the line."
There is the classic case of the Chatterly Colliery Company:—
"Thinking they were illegally overcharged by the North Staffordshire Railway Company, they took them before the Railway Commission, proved their case and secured an order confining the railway within the legal maximum. Thereupon the railway company flatly declined to carry the traffic of the Chatterly Company. They were again taken before the Commission and at once ordered to resume the traffic, subject to a penalty of £50 a day for refusing. They complied with the letter of the order, but `under as awkward and inconvenient circumstances for the Chatterly Company as the railway company could possibly arrange.' And Sir Alfred Hickman declares that though, technically, the Chatterly Company won everything, they could not compel the railway company to afford them ordinary facilities such as were necessary to carry on their business, and they were obliged to compromise the matter upon worse terms than the Commissioners had allowed."
That is the experience, I think, of many traders, even in this country. I am quoting this case to show that the reliance upon the Railway Rates Commission to ensure that the traders' interests shall be safeguarded against the railway companies' attempts to make fish of one and flesh of another, in their efforts to make traffic pay, is quite unsatisfactory so far as influence on privately-owned companies is concerned. I ask the Dáil to conclude from that that the interests of the mercantile community, the manufacturing community that may come, the agricultural community, and the general travelling public cannot be secured by outside control. The logical end of that argument is that a public service, such as the railway service, should be publicly owned and controlled in the interests of the public.
I hope that every Deputy has carefully examined the provisions of the Bill and satisfied himself or herself as to where the defects, if any, lie. Some, no doubt, will say the defects lie in the principle of public ownership. Others will say that they agree with the principle of public ownership, but that the methods of control and management are not satisfactory.
Others will say that, granted the desirability of public ownership, the method of acquiring is not satisfactory to their views, or that the price to be paid is too generous or the method of fixing the price unfair. I hope that Deputies will give vent to their opinions on these various points before the Bill leaves the Dáil. In the main, I would like to say that we have taken the lead of the Minister for Agriculture in regard to the financial proposals of the Bill. We desire to be at least as fair as the Government. We acknowledge that they set us a very good example as to the method of acquisition and the terms of purchase and rate of interest.