Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Mar 1965

Vol. 214 No. 9

Committee on Finance. - British & Irish Steam Packet Company Limited (Acquisition) Bill, 1965: Money Resolution.

I move:

That it is expedient to authorise such charges on and payments out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof and such payments out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas as are necessary to give effect to any Act of the present session to approve of an agreement between the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Transport and Power and Coast Lines Limited for the purchase by the Minister for Finance on behalf of the Government of all the issued shares of the British & Irish Steam Packet Company Limited, to provide for the carrying out by the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Transport and Power of the provisions to be performed by them of the said agreement and to provide for matters arising out of or consequential on the matters aforesaid.

There are a few matters I should like to raise on the Money Resolution rather than on individual sections on Committee Stage. Can the Minister say if it is proposed, after the company is acquired, to retain the old name of British & Irish Steam Packet Company Limited or the initials B. & I.?

In connection with freight rates, is it proposed to have a tribunal or body to which complaints in respect of freight rates may be made and investigated or will freight rates be subject to review under the Prices Act or by an ad hoc body appointed either by the Minister for Transport and Power or by the Minister for Industry and Commerce under the Prices Act, or will the freight rates be subject to review from time to time?

Is it proposed that the company, when acquired, will engage in the car ferry service? If it engages in that operation, will it have the right to load and unload cars at the proposed new terminal at Dún Laoghaire? Will the rights there be restricted entirely to British Railways and, if it is proposed to restrict rights to that service to Dún Laoghaire, will any review be made of the charges? Is it intended in these matters that the companies will have exclusive rights in respect of particular places or is it intended to allow competition in respect of a service of that sort between one company and another?

Is it proposed to improve the present services? Can we take it the Minister will make every effort to improve these services about which there have been so many complaints over the past few years? Can we take it that whatever improvements will be planned will be planned in time so that we will not be told, when the tourist season comes along— and that will be fairly soon—that no effort can be made this year because the time is so short and we will have to wait until next year, the Minister assuring us that he will have the matter dealt with next year? That is preferable to leaving it over for 12 months and having the same litany of complaints next year as we have been receiving over the years.

In reply to Deputy Tully, the new Board will only enter on their activities some time in April. The B. & I. have actually made some improvements for second-class passengers using the service before the present season. If there are any minor improvements which it is possible to effectuate in time for the season, I am quite sure the Board will attend to them.

Major improvements, I think.

The Deputy will appreciate time would be required for major improvements.

In reply to Deputy Cosgrave, the name will continue to be the British & Irish Steam Packet Company Limited and will be known, I hope, by the public as the B. & I., the name by which it has been known in the past. The name is well known to tourists who come here and there will be no change in the name for the time being at any rate. Any change of name would be a matter of long-term policy.

The question of a tribunal to examine freight rates does not arise on this Bill at all. The actual fact is that the B. & I. will have to carry out their operations on a commercial basis. The idea that the Minister for Industry and Commerce would conduct a rate review seems to me to go beyond reality. The B. & I. rates will naturally be private because they are in competition with British Railways. British Railways have been making improvements recently in their shipping services, both for passengers and freight. Therefore, any changes made in the B. & I. rates will have to be private. They cannot be disclosed to the House.

However, it will be my duty as Minister in charge of the British & Irish Steam Packet Company to make inquiries of the Board as to their progress, to make inquiries in regard to how far they are able to offer attractive freights to exporters on a package deal basis, and to examine the productivity of the company in relation to their costs and revenue. I shall give a general statement to the House on the occasion of the Estimate in exactly the same way as I do in connection with other State companies. For example, in the case of CIE I gave a mass of information to the House on the general profitability of CIE in its different sectors. Equally, I have been able to tell the House how far I regard the air companies as being efficient bodies. I have given information to show that the costs per ton mile of Aer Lingus, whether freight-carrying or passenger-carrying, I regard as being competitive with other air lines.

Obviously, there is a difference between the B. & I. and CIE in that CIE are the only company engaged in internal transport services in this country. I have been able to give more information about the profitability of various sectors — for example, the number of bus services in Dublin running on a profitable basis — than I could in connection with the B. & I., which would be in competition with a considerable number of services, specialised container services, general cargo services of all types and with the various services operated by British Railways. For that reason, anything in the nature of a tribunal to examine rates would make it impossible for the B. & I. to do their work as effectively as they should.

As the Deputy knows, there has been a change in the pattern of cross-Channel traffic with the advent of containers. The character of the traffic has shown revolutionary changes in the past three or four years. Any company engaged in carrying goods across the Irish Sea has to adjust its rates to ensure it can make adequate profit on the goods that will bear those rates, at the same time doing its utmost to provide the most reasonable rates possible because transport costs are of great importance. Therefore, it is a kind of mixed picture of varying rates on varying types of commodities. All that has to be examined by the B. & I. They are obliged to operate on a commercial basis. I hope they will be able to pay a dividend on the shares which will relate in some degree to the rates at which the Minister for Finance has to borrow in order to secure capital. That is all I can say about it. It would be quite impossible to have a detailed investigation into individual rates as it would destroy the possibility of the B. & I. being run as a commercial proposition.

Will they have any rights to the car ferry at Dún Laoghaire?

I am sorry I forgot to mention that. The B. & I. will naturally examine the whole question of transporting cars across the Irish Sea. At the moment, in the height of the season large numbers of cars are brought on the Munster and the Leinster and on two additional cargo vessels which are chartered for that purpose. The question of whether they can improve that service will arise for consideration by the new Board. There would be no point in considering Dún Laoghaire harbour because the terminal at Holyhead is owned by British Railways, and you would hardly expect them to allow any other company to use it. Therefore, the only other alternative route from Dún Laoghaire would be to Liverpool, and that would not be a practical proposition. In fact, the potential for car traffic lies within the ports of either Preston or Liverpool, where people coming from the northern parts of England will bring their cars. I do not think, therefore, that the question arises at all of the use of Dún Laoghaire.

Does that not cut both ways? They will not allow the Irish company to use the terminal over there but we allow them to use the terminal here. Surely there is a bargaining position there?

I do not think it is a practical proposition. I do not think there is any point in the B. & I. competing with British Railways on the routes they are developing. The B. & I. have their own routes to develop. There is an enormous hinterland of population adjacent to Liverpool, all the towns of northern England. They should concentrate on developing this traffic. It would be very unwise of them to enter into competition with British Railways. Even if the Board of Works agreed to allow them use the two harbours, I think it would be most unwise for them to engage in that kind of venture.

Question put and agreed to.
Resolution reported and agreed to.