It is clear on the face of it what it means, but it leaves certain aspects of the Minister's policy in relation to transport anything but clear. As the Bill was introduced, we saw it as a scheme for the establishment of a State board which would be obliged to relate its services to its revenue and which would be given rather drastic powers to curtail services and to alter fares and charges without reference to any authority other than itself. Following upon the Second Reading debate and the views expressed by Deputies during that debate, the Minister proposed to alter his Bill by taking back from the board these drastic powers of curtailing services and altering charges which he originally intended they should have. He now asks the Dáil to agree instead to the establishment of a transport tribunal to which the Córas Iompair Éireann Board must go for authority when it proposes to alter fares or cut services and the tribunal must have, in the exercise of the function conferred upon it, regard to the provisions of Section 14, as amended by the Minister.
At a still later stage the Minister made it known to the Dáil, on the occasion of the Supplementary Estimate debate, that the Government contemplated that any loss incurred by the company in any year, any financial consequence of a failure on its part to keep its cost below its revenue, would be offset by an Exchequer subsidy. I do not think the Minister can hope to make effective an injunction of the kind indicated in this amendment while the prospect of a subsidy, if they fail to do so, is held out before the company. I think the Minister cannot hope to follow two diverging lines of policy. Under the 1944 Act it was contemplated that Córas Iompair Éireann would pay its way. Certainly it was intended that the company should operate upon the basis that it was expected to pay its way. There was no provision for subsidy and, in introducing the Bill to the Dáil, I made it quite as clear as words could make it that there would be no subsidy; that I was strongly opposed to the principle of transport subsidies and that, if circumstances arose in which transport was not able to pay its way, some remedy other than an appeal to the Exchequer would have to be found for that situation. If the Minister had proceeded on these lines it would be understandable.
You might have doubts as to the practicability of that policy in present circumstances but it was a possible line to follow. That is the line which would necessitate such an amendment as is now proposed. When it is made known to the Dáil and to the people directing Córas Iompair Éireann that the prospect of subsidy is there—that, to any extent they fail in any year to make their revenue equal their costs, the taxpayer will meet the difference—then this injunction loses its power altogether. If we are to follow the line of subsidy, we should forget this aspect of the business and let the question of the extent to which transport is to be subsidised by the Exchequer be settled in accordance with public policy and, with the intention of providing the type of transport service which we think the country needs, leave it to the board managing the undertaking to avoid waste, to secure efficiency in that sense but not feeling under any obligation to stop necessary developments or to impose uneconomic economies merely to avoid expenditure which, in other circumstances, would be considered desirable.
My difficulty in this matter is that, having read the Milne Report carefully and having come to the conclusion from the facts set out there that it is impossible for this undertaking to break level, that on the most favourable assumptions made by Sir James Milne a loss of some £500,000 a year is certain, I think we are driven to the conclusion that until transport is completely reorganised some such help from the Exchequer will be necessary. The only means by which I can visualise transport being put upon an economic basis, in a position to earn from its fares and charges enough to pay its way, involves far heavier capital expenditure on the reorganisation and re-equipment of the undertaking than I know the Government is prepared to contemplate. On the basis of limiting its capital development, on the basis of imposing upon it this new idea of a tribunal, in relation to all the known facts, it is clear that it is an unreal proposal to ask the company to conduct its business so as to provide the interest and sinking fund charges on its capital. It cannot do it. There is no use in pretending it can do it. The company, knowing that if they do not do it, the Exchequer will make good any loss they incur, cannot even be expected seriously to try to achieve that operation. I have no objection to making it clear to the board that even though there is going to be a subsidy there must be no wasteful expenditure, no overlapping of services; that there is no retention of equipment long after it has exhausted its utility; that there is no retention of services which are completely uneconomic merely because of possible public agitation if they are withdrawn; that we expect them to approach their task in managing this undertaking as businessmen, but telling them that our main concern is a proper transport service which will serve public convenience and which will provide reasonable conditions of employment for its staff and workers and that we regard these aims as more important than the narrow financial one indicated here.
My trouble in discussing this amendment is that I am not quite clear yet upon which of the diverging roads the Minister would like to travel. I know he cannot travel both of them simultaneously. He has said much but I do not know which is his preference and which he is forced along by pressure from different quarters.