Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Livestock Freight Charges.

6.

asked the Minister for Transport and Power if he is aware of the decision of the B & I line to increase the freight charges in respect of cattle between Dublin and Birkenhead; and if in view of the concern caused he will make a statement in the matter.

7.

asked the Minister for Transport and Power if he is aware of the steep increase in the livestock freight charges on the B & I line; and if he will investigate the matter.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 7 together.

As I explained to the House on 12th November last in reply to questions in connection with the B & I Company's announcement of its decision to increase freight charges for cattle from 47s per head to 72s as from 1st January, 1969, the company had sustained heavy losses on their livestock carrying. These losses are still continuing. The proposed increase of 25s per head at that time was that calculated by the company to be necessary to enable the revised livestock services to be operated on a break-even basis without profit or loss. The decision was taken by the company in pursuance of their mandate to operate on a sound commercial basis and my approval was not required. However, in order to mitigate the impact of the increase on the livestock trade, I asked the company to examine the possibility of phasing the increase. The company in the circumstances deferred implementation of the proposed increase. The increase effected as from 21st April amounts to 16s per head. The company has decided to defer further the implementation of the full increase of 25s a head originally proposed.

I should point out that of the increase of 16s per head effected as from 21st April, 10s was the re-imposition of a reduction of that amount made by the company on 1st April, 1968. The overall increase as compared with the rate operative in March, 1968 is therefore 6s per head.

I should also point out that a comparison of the home market price and freight rates for store cattle shows that as between December, 1966, and the present time, market prices have increased by 39 per cent as against an increase of 21 per cent in the Company's freight rates.

Is the Minister aware that Burns and Laird and British Railways have increased their freight charges by only ten per cent, and that the B & I charges have gone up by almost 34 per cent.

For the Deputy's information, this whole matter has been under discussion in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and through frequent meetings with all the livestock trade associations for some months. It is due to a habit which is now prevailing all over Europe of concentrating certain kinds of traffic through one port. As the Deputy knows, there has been a very substantial change made in British Railways with regard to the carriage of cattle. They have ceased to use Fishguard. Cattle going from Waterford go to Holyhead. Cattle going from Dublin also go to Holyhead. The B & I was faced with the situation that rail wagons were no longer available at Birkenhead. This has resulted in an inevitable loss of traffic to the B & I and this was greater than anticipated. Even though the rate was reduced by 10s in April of last year in the hope of maintaining the traffic the service continued to lose ground because of the preference of cattle-dealers for rail borne traffic for cattle when they reach an English port.

There has been this very substantial change. The B & I have still in the first quarter of the year continued to lose traffic, although the service is satisfactory and the ships suitable for cattle. It is due to their inability to obtain rail wagons at Birkenhead. The position is continuously under review. All I can say is that the B & I are providing an alternative service to British Railways service, which has shown such traumatic changes in the last 12 or 18 months, and it is essential that the B & I provide an alternative service. If during the current year they lose something in the neighbourhood of £160,000 on cattle carrying, it will have to be offset by any profit they can make on the more profitable ventures—which I do not believe will be so offset. They may be making a contribution but I think the livestock trade understands the position which is still under continuous examination as between the two companies concerned and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the livestock trade.

Are British Railways trying to put the B & I out of business with regard to the carrying of livestock?

As I have said, the cattle traders naturally prefer rail services for a great part of the traffic.

When the Minister says that rail wagons are not available at Birkenhead, is he suggesting to the House that the B & I have control over the sea travel and not over land, and that, therefore, this service is doomed to failure eventually?

I cannot say if it is doomed to failure. They got about 20,000 cattle in the first quarter of the year but it was less than they anticipated. They cannot compel British Railways to supply rail wagons in Birkenhead and that is the position. As I have said, the situation is a changing one and will be examined in the light of providing the best possible service. It would be unreasonable to ask the B & I to make losses that would make them unable to remunerate the capital they have raised themselves without any State guarantee or any State intervention, and so the position will be examined in that light.

Question No. 8.

Have British Railways refused to provide rail wagons at Birkenhead?

That is the case and they have refused to provide them at Fishguard too.

Therefore the Minister is not in control.

I am not in control of what happens in Great Britain.

The Minister has proved himself a failure.

Have we all gone daft? Am I correct in believing that the Minister has said the B & I reduced the rate by 10s a head within the past 12 months and now propose to increase it by 26s a head? If that is sane management I am a Dutchman. Over and above that, if British Railways, a nationalised industry in Great Britain, suddenly announced their intention to disrupt the whole livestock trade between this country and Great Britain by an arbitrary decision to withdraw rail wagons from Birkenhead and Fishguard, has any inter-governmental discussion taken place between the Minister and the President of the Board of Trade with a view to restricting arbitrary conduct of that kind which is disruptive of a trade which has gone on for the past 150 years?

These negotiations take place in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and so far as I know they have taken every possible and conceivable step to have this matter examined in concert with British Railways and the B & I.

In concert with the British Board of Trade?

The reason why the B & I increased their price was that they got no advantage from the reduced price. It did not result in the stopping of diversion of cattle from the B & I service to British Railways because of the availability of rail wagons at Holyhead.

Has the matter been taken up with the British Board of Trade?

Question No. 8.