I wish to inform the Seanad that this Bill has been certified as a Money Bill, and the period within which recommendations for any alterations in it can be made by the Seanad will expire by Wednesday. That is, this day week. Consequently, if any recommendations have to be made they should be made this week. I have looked through this Bill and it appears to me to be a formal matter. It was not debated or discussed in the Dáil, and I think it is one the Seanad might be prepared to pass to-day. That of course is a matter for the Seanad. The motion before the Seanad is that this Bill be read a second time.
ROAD FUND (ADVANCES) BILL, 1924 (SECOND STAGE).
Could we have from the Minister a short statement as to what this Road Fund is, and how it is financed and distributed? Also could we have any indication of the Government policy as to the maintenance of main roads? The Commission on Agriculture has recommended that the whole of the charge of main roads, or what are euphemistically termed main roads—I do not think they have been actually classified—should be borne by the Central Fund and taken off the very sorely pressed agricultural ratepayers. I quite realise that if we could only get some indication of the policy of the Government in that respect it would also bear upon the purpose of this Bill.
I do not know whether the President has sufficient information about this Bill.
The Road Fund is made up from the receipt of motor taxes, and for a period of something like five years from the 1st of April, 1923, I think that that particular fund will be supplemented by a sum estimated at 6d. in the £ on the rateable valuation of each district in the country, to repair bridges and roads damaged during the disturbed period. That is the contribution which, under the Damage to Property Act, it was proposed to fix upon rating authorities throughout the country. But normally the income of this fund comes from the receipt of motor taxes, and in this connection I should say that the reason for this particular measure is that Government policy with regard to the roads, for a period of something like eighteen months or two years, dating from, I think, December last, has been to the effect that two million pounds should be spent, generally speaking, on the roads, with a reservation perhaps in respect of a quarter of a million, up to the 1st April, 1925.
This particular Road Fund will not be in a position to discharge all the liabilities in connection with that particular scheme until, I should say, the 31st March, 1925, and possibly even not then, because the 6d. in the £ will not have materialised, I believe, by that date, even in respect of the years 1924 and 1925, and this Bill is to enable a sum not exceeding £750,000 to be borrowed in order that the Government policy with regard to that particular service could be carried out according to the scheduled date.
I think that a question on the finances of the Road Fund would more properly come on the Estimates, but as far as this particular measure is concerned it is to enable the scheme to be carried into operation without interruption, by reason of the fact that the Fund itself would not be in a position to bear all the liabilities that it may be called upon to bear. A considerable sum of money is to be spent on steam rollers, and, I expect, other impedimenta in connection with road-making, and a considerable disbursement of moneys must be made, I should say, within the next couple of months. Some of it may have been already spent in that connection, but the measure is for the purpose of enabling the Minister for Finance to finance this Fund so as to discharge this liability up to the scheduled time.
We are very much obliged to the President for giving us this information about this measure. In my humble judgment it is an extremely good measure, and a very timely one, and I think the Seanad would be well advised in assisting it to come into operation as soon as possible. If there is one thing that we want more than another it is the repair of our roads. We are not now assuming whether this fund is to be applicable or is to be spent on main roads only. I presume that that matter will rest with the local authority, the Minister for Local Government, or whoever is responsible. But I think that whoever is responsible for the working of this Bill ought to give a preference to main roads. After all, these are the more important roads, and they are the roads which, under the old county council system, used to be scheduled as main roads. They lead to more important centres where there is a great amount of traffic, and I think that it might be well that some priority should be given in the application of this Bill to these main roads. I hope that the Seanad will agree to pass the Bill at once, and if I would be in order I would move the suspension of the Standing Orders with that object.
The first thing to do is to get rid of the motion for the Second Reading.
There was one point I missed in replying to Senator Sir John Keane. It was with regard to the manner in which the money is spent. I understand that the Minister is advised by a Road Board on which the motorists have representation, and I believe that they are keenly alive to their interests. So the Minister has informed me.
Would the President kindly say whether this is regarded as an urgent Bill, and, if so, why? The reason I ask you, Mr. President, is that because we cannot suspend the Standing Orders for the purpose of taking up the other stages of the Bill unless I am satisfied that it is urgent.
If I were asked offhand to express an opinion I should say that it would be urgent about the middle of July. Unless the Bill be passed by the middle of July it is possible that there may be some complications about that Fund.
We will be quite able to pass it before the middle of July.