Wednesday, 24 April 1929
Dáil Éireann Debate
(1) That the excise duties chargeable under Section 13 of the Finance Act, 1920, on the mechanically propelled vehicles mentioned in the Schedule to this Resolution shall, as on and from the 1st day of July, 1929, be charged, levied, and paid at the rates specified in the Schedule to this Resolution in lieu of the rates specified in paragraph 3 of the Third Schedule to the Finance Act, 1926, (No. 35 of 1926).
(2) That on and from the 1st day of July, 1929, sub-sections (3) and (5) of Section 20 of the  Finance Act, 1926, shall have effect as if the rates of duty specified in the Schedule to this Resolution were rates specified in the Third Schedule to that Act.
(3) That every licence taken out under Section 13 of the Finance Act, 1920, in respect of a mechanically propelled vehicle of a class mentioned in the Schedule to this Resolution which is in force on the 30th day of June, 1929, and but for this Resolution would not expire until after that day shall expire at midnight on the said 30th day of June, 1929, and so much of the duty paid under the said Section 13 in respect of such vehicle on the taking out of such licence as is proportionate to the period for which such licence would but for this Resolution have continued in force after the said 30th day of June, 1929, shall be allowed as a credit against duty payable and actually paid in respect of such vehicle under the said Section 13 at the rate specified in the Schedule to this Resolution for the period or any part or parts of the period beginning on the 1st day of July, 1929, and ending on the 31st day of December, 1929, but nothing in this Resolution shall entitle any person to a refund of such first-mentioned duty or any part thereof.
(a) prescribing the method of calculating for the purposes of this Resolution the seating capacity of all or any of the classes of mechanically propelled vehicles mentioned in the Schedule to this Resolution, and
 (5) It is hereby declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution shall have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1927 (No. 7 of 1927).
|seating capacity for more than 6 but not more than 14 persons||£70|
|seating capacity for more than 14 but not more than 20 persons||£100|
|seating capacity for more than 20 but not more than 26 persons||£130|
|seating capacity for more than 26 but not more than 32 persons||£160|
|seating capacity for more than 32 persons||£5 for every such person.|
This is the Resolution imposing the additional duty on buses. I mentioned in my statement to-day why it was some time ago contemplated that the increased charge on motor buses should be imposed by means of a mileage tax. If that had been persisted in, each vehicle would have had to have a fixed time-table. The driver would have had to carry a log book showing the journeys that were being made by the car. He would have had to affix and cancel in the proper place on the log book the appropriate stamp in respect of every journey. The tax was suggested in that form not merely for the purpose of getting additional revenue for the Road Fund, which was the main purpose, but also because it was thought that it might be the basis of a system of better supervision of the whole bus traffic.
 However, the owners of the motor buses have made representations against the weight of the proposed tax. They suggested that a bus might travel nearly 1,200 miles a week, and might travel 50 weeks in the year. That seemed a bit high— to be higher than any information at the disposal of the Government would lead us to believe. If the bus owners' figures are correct undoubtedly the increase in the burden that would fall on them would be very sharp indeed. Not being able to arrive at any certainty in my own mind as to the real facts of the case I came to the conclusion that it would not be reasonable, pending the obtaining of better information, to put on the tax at the rate that had been proposed. It became a difficult question to put it on at, say, half the rate, but it was thought that the half rate would give much less revenue than had been anticipated, and it was not desirable to initiate a new scheme having regard to the trouble it would mean to the bus owners and the administration expenses which would be involved. In consequence, pending the obtaining of further, surer information, I have fallen back on the idea of simply increasing the amount of the existing scale by 150 per cent.
Up to the present, buses have paid something like 4.6 per cent. of the revenue of the Road Fund. It is very difficult to form a conclusion as to what would be a fair contribution but I feel certain that 4.6 per cent. or 5 per cent. is far too little. The bus owners were hardly out to admit that they ought to pay more but the impression I certainly gathered from them, in my interview with the deputation, was that they recognised that they ought to pay something more. The tax at the new rate will work out at something like £5 per seat. Of course, it will not just be that in every case but in general they will pay something like £5 per seat. If we look, at for instance, the Dublin Tramways and take into account the rates on their line, the way-leave and the maintenance of the roads—
Mr. Blythe: I was leaving that out of account. I was thinking of the road charges, the rates on roads, the payments to the Corporation for way-leave and the maintenance of the roads because the roads for 18 inches on each side of the line have to be maintained by the Tramway Company. The cost seems to work out at somewhere about £8 per seat per tram. The Tramway has a local monopoly but, of course, it is not so much a monopoly now having regard to the fact that the bus competition covers the whole line. It seems to me, taking that sort of basis, that an average of £5 a seat is not too much. Again looking at the weight of one of these buses and at the speed at which it travels, having regard to the fact that the road has to be made and maintained at a particular standard largely for the buses, a bus containing 20 seats or thereabouts is not paying too much at all when it pays £100 per year for the use of the roads for making profit, as its contribution towards the maintenance of the roads. I think this new scheme may not be the final scheme that will be adopted. It may not be quite as high as we should ever go. It may not be levied along the right lines; a mileage tax or something else might be better but I do think at any rate it is not too high and that the increase should be made. While admitting that the roads' position is somewhat difficult to size up, we are satisfied that the roads cannot be maintained at the standard at which they should be maintained especially having regard to the increased number of vehicles, with the present revenue of the Road Fund. This increase in tax will not go very far but it will go some distance.
Mr. Lemass: It is not our intention to come to any decision on this Resolution now although we are anxious to get additional information that would help us to make up our mind as to the attitude we ought to adopt on this Resolution when it comes up finally on the Report Stage. It seems to us that the Minister  for Finance ought to have given us more information than he has. In fact, he went to much greater pains to show why he did not adopt the mileage tax than to explain why the particular form of tax proposed in this Resolution was decided upon. We are all anxious to ensure that motor omnibuses should pay a fair contribution towards road maintenance, certainly a contribution that would be proportionate to the amount of damage to the roads for which they are actually responsible. The Minister, however, has not attempted to give us any estimate as to the proportion of damage attributable to the omnibuses. There has been, however, somewhat considerable discussion on the matter in the Press and elsewhere within the past few months, and competent engineers and others have given widely divergent estimates in the matter.
The Minister has informed us that the increase of 150 per cent. proposed in the bus tax will result in omnibuses generally contributing about ten per cent. of the income of the Road Fund. Is the Minister satisfied that omnibuses do ten per cent. of the damage to the roads each year, or is he satisfied that they do more than that? I think that we should get some statement from some of the competent engineers who are at the disposal of the Minister in the matter for the information of the Dáil before this Resolution comes forward for its final passing or rejection on the Report Stage. If he gives us an estimate he should go fairly deeply into the matter and let us have information as to what the estimate is based upon. This whole matter of the cost of the roads and the damage which particular classes of vehicles do to them is one on which everybody appears to be very largely ignorant, and when we are faced with a proposal to increase by 150 per cent. the tax on one form of vehicle we imagine that the Government should be prepared to put their views on the matter before us. That has not been done.
In fact, the Minister, in his statement,  occupied the greater portion of the time in telling us why he did not accept certain proposals which were suggested to him, and a very brief portion of the time telling us why he did accept the particular proposals embodied in the Resolutions. If he had given us a similar array of figures and arguments relating to this proposal as he produced in relation to the proposal which he did not put forward, then we would be much clearer in our minds concerning it. The Minister for Local Government may be able to give us some information on the matter which we would like to have. I think the last figures available concerning the receipts from motor licence duty applied to the year 1926. They were published in the report of his Department issued this year. In these returns the amounts received in licence duty from omnibuses are grouped with the amounts received from hackneys of all kinds, and as they appear here they are not 4.6 per cent. of the total receipts from licence duty, but 19.92 per cent. I should like to be informed if that position has altered in any way during the last two years. In the last statement issued by the Department of Industry and Commerce it was mentioned that there were 140 companies or proprietors operating omnibuses in the Twenty-six Counties, and that number represents a fairly substantial increase over 1926. If, therefore, hackneys, in which are included buses and taxi-cabs, in what proportion I do not know, contributed in 1926 £113,000, or 19.9 per cent., of the Road Fund, it is reasonable to assume that they, in fact, contributed a much larger sum in 1928. Whether that larger sum represents a greater proportion of the total receipts or not, I do not know. Perhaps the Minister for Local Government, who represents the Department concerned, will be able to give us some information on the matter. Certainly we think that some effort should be made to clarify the position in relation to the Road Fund between to-day and the date on which this Resolution will come up on Report.
 As one who has no special knowledge on the matter, and does not claim to have any special knowledge, I have been considerably confused by all the conflicting statements and estimates which have appeared in the Press from persons about whose qualifications to speak there can be no doubt. There are experts on both sides and one of them contradicts the other. The Minister has experts at his disposal who, whatever else may be said about them, cannot be alleged to have any particular axe to grind, and we should like to get their estimate as to the value of the damage done to the roads in each year and the proportion of that which is attributable to omnibuses; if the present income of the Road Fund is sufficient to compensate for the damage done, and what particular class of vehicle contributing that income is doing damage out of proportion to the amount contributed. Do commercial vans and other forms of commercial cars contribute to the Road Fund an amount equal to the damage they do? Do private motor cars contribute too much? I think we should get a statement as to the Road Fund and as to the roads position generally from the Minister before the Resolution comes up on Report, if for no other reason than to help Deputies to make up their minds as to how they will act in relation to it.
Mr. Davin: I must congratulate Deputy Lemass upon the very cautious attitude he is adopting in regard to this proposal. There does not appear to be very much difference between the attitude of the Minister, as disclosed in the Resolution, and the querying attitude adopted by Deputy Lemass. It is very difficult, I agree, to understand the quibbling and changing attitude of the Ministry. I have here before me a report of a speech made in Mallow on 9th December, 1928, in which the Minister for Finance in referring to this matter stated:—
It is the intention of the Government, not, let me say in  the interest of the small towns, but for other reasons, to oblige the buses to contribute more substantially to the cost of road maintenance in the country. It may surprise delegates here to know that buses and charabanes contribute only 4.6 of the total road tax that is paid. The buses actually pay less than five per cent. towards the Central Fund that is available for road maintenance and improvement, and I think that nobody here can say that they do not do a great deal more than five per cent. of the damage caused to the roads. The amount, as a matter of fact, that is paid disproportionately represents bus owners' liability.
In that speech the Minister went on to indicate that it was the intention of the Government, in putting into operation the new tax which he thus announced on behalf of the Government, to increase the revenue to the Road Fund by about £100,000. To-day we hear the Minister using language that would go to show that the speech which he made at that time was not really a speech outlining the intentions of the Government. I have heard it stated, and there appear to be good grounds for it—in fact I have heard it boasted of by some bus owners, or those who represent their Association—that the North Dublin election result had a great bearing on the alteration in the policy of the Government in regard to motor buses. The Minister for Local Government, who represents North Dublin, may be able to confirm or contradict that statement. At any rate, there is a certain change in the announced attitude of the Minister between the speech that he made at Mallow and the proposal which he makes in this Resolution. I consider that motor bus taxation, or the taxation that is imposed by the Government upon motor users, should have some relation to the use or abuse of the roads by these people. Under present-day conditions, as far as I can see, bus  owners mostly make use of what is known as trunk or link roads. As far as I can discover, the local ratepayers have to pay, roughly, 2s. 8d. in the £ for road maintenance all over the State. The contribution out of the Road Fund to the maintenance cost of trunk roads represents 50 per cent., and for link roads 33? per cent. The question is whether ratepayers should be asked to continue to pay 50 per cent. or less for road maintenance, especially as far as trunk roads are concerned.
If you compare the use or the freedom given to the user of the trunk roads to-day with the freedom he received on the trunk roads and the link roads ten or fifteen years ago, you will find that there is really no comparison. There is no comparison from the point of view of the danger to the average farmer who drives his cattle or his horse along the roads compared with the danger that exists on those roads in present-day circumstances. Remember the increase in the amount of the Road Fund will, as a result of the new proposals, only increase the Road Fund during the coming financial year by a sum of £45,000. What is £45,000 spread over twenty-seven administrative counties? What does that mean to the average ratepayer who complains that the cost of maintenance of those roads is excessive? The Minister for Local Government knows very well that in the county of Leix he issued an order holding up the payment of the Road Fund grant to that county because, in his opinion, or in the opinion of his advisers, the local ratepayers were not finding a sufficiently large amount out of the local rates for the maintenance and construction of roads in that county. By issuing that order he forced the county council to summon a special meeting to increase by a great amount the sum already provided at the ordinary roads meeting where the estimates for road service were framed for the current or coming financial year. Is the Minister going to satisfy the wishes of the local ratepayers in  that county by the announcement that his contribution for the greater cost of road maintenance, both trunk roads and link roads, in the coming financial year will only amount to £1,000 or £1,700 over and above the sum given last year?
The Government or the Ministry have not given any serious consideration to the question of the cost of the maintenance and the relationship between the charges that should be made on those who use the roads so far as motors are concerned, and the use ordinarily made of these roads by farmers and other road users.
Personally I hold the view that the responsibility for the maintenance of the trunk roads and the link roads— the main roads in the country— should be taken out of the hands of the local authority and should be taken over by the Local Government Department. Anybody who has had any contact with the Local Government Department in regard to the question of road administration or road maintenance must realise that the real and direct control over road maintenance is in the hands of the Local Government Ministry and I would very much prefer to see control taken out of the hands of the local authorities and handed over to the Ministry and let them be responsible for the maintenance of the roads and for the construction of the roads in future.
The Minister for Finance told us that “if the State assumed responsibility for the roads, higher standards and greater costs would ensure.” It may be that higher standards would ensue but I have great doubts that the cost would be greater on the farmers or the person who pays motor taxation. If the responsibility for the road maintenance or construction as the case may be was in the hands of the Department for Local Government, you would have a state of affairs existing in the country so far as the roads are concerned which does not exist to-day. To-day you have one county setting up a very high standard of road maintenance, whereas you have another immediately adjoining with  a very low standard. That is reflected in the decision of the Minister himself and which he announced to the local authorities in the present year.
In October last he sent out a circular asking the local authorities to give information as to the amount they were prepared to provide for road maintenance purposes, and up to a short time ago he only got thirteen replies from the twenty-seven administrative counties. I understand he stopped the grant in many counties as the result of the failure of the local authorities to provide sums out of the rates up to the standard of what was thought necessary for these local authorities to do. That shows that you have a varying standard all over the State. If a central department was responsible for road maintenance, you would have the same standard of road maintenance all over the State for the same type of road. That would mean a continuity of employment for a minimum number of road workers all over the area rather than the casual employment that there is in most counties to-day. And what is much more important to the taxpayer as well as to the ratepayer is that you would have a far better return for the money expended on road construction and road maintenance all over the State. You see road plant lying idle in some counties for nine out of the twelve months of the year, and in others for six out of the twelve months, whereas if you had a central authority, as I suggest, that plant could be used throughout the year to far greater advantage in any county or on any road where required rather than casually used, as the road plant is at the present time. The amount of money that would have to be expended by a Central Department that would have control of road maintenance in these circumstances on the purchase of plant would be gradually reduced. Therefore, I say, in the long run, both from the point of view of giving employment and of giving value for the money spent, the central authority is the proper authority to be in  charge of road maintenance and construction work.
I come back again to the Minister for Finance. He rather surprised me in the statement he made in regard to motor bus taxation. Talking of the figures upon which he arrived at the decision contained in this proposal he said: “Their figures”— referring to the bus owners' figures —“with regard to the actual mileage travelled by individual buses are not in accord with the figures upon which I relied. If the bus owners' figures are accurate I am satisfied that the mileage tax originally proposed would be too heavy.” Personally I agree that the mileage tax was a very foolish proposal because the cost of collection and checking would altogether outweigh the amount derived from it. Without suggesting that every bus conductor is dishonest you would have to have a fairly decent number of governmental inspectors— to watch the bus conductors so far as the keeping of the suggested log book would be concerned. That will be avoided in the methods proposed by the Minister now but what I want to know is this: does the Minister accept or doubt in any way the figures on which he is supposed to rely. These are the figures circulated to Deputies by the Department of Industry and Commerce giving particulars of road mileage and the revenue per month or three months as the case may be. And these returns which are circulated by the Department of Industry and Commerce, as far as I am aware, are supplied to that Government Department by the bus owners themselves. Therefore, why does the Minister accept the figures put before him by the deputation which waited on him previous to the North Dublin election result and admit that the figures given to him for this particular purpose at that particular period are different from the figures ordinarily supplied by the bus owners to the Department of Industry and Commerce. There must be something radically wrong or the Minister must have taken a very hasty decision on this matter.
 At any rate, looking over his speech on this particular matter, there seems to be some reason which he has not given to the House for taking this quibbling decision with regard to the method of taxation of motor buses. He states also “without coming for the present to a final conclusion as to whether or not buses should be taxed on a mileage basis, or what rate would be fair if a mileage tax were determined on, I have decided not to submit to the Dáil the proposals which I mentioned last December.” I have read from the “Independent” report—I daresay that report was supplied the night before the speech was made—the Minister's own language where he stated “it is the intention of the Government to introduce and to put into operation this new tax so far as buses are concerned.” What was the intention of the Government on the 9th December last at Mallow is certainly not contained in the proposal before the House in Resolution No. 4, and I suspect—I cannot prove it, of course—that the threat to hold a big demonstration, starting from St. Stephen's Green, a day or two before the voting took place in the North City by-election, had some effect in changing the attitude of the Minister and of the Government. I am sorry Deputy Murphy is not here, but I hope if that is so that the railway directors, or those who represent the railway companies in this House, will take a leaf out of the book of the motor bus owners, because if threats of that kind during a general election, or in or around by-elections, have the effect of changing a Minister's mind in the way his mind has been changed in this matter, then it would be a good thing for the railway companies to adopt the same attitude and tactics which have been adopted with success by the Motor Bus Owners' Association.
With regard to the whole question of motor buses, I do not want to be charged with prejudice or bigotry so far as the motor bus people are concerned. I believe there is room in this country for motor bus traffic, but I believe that if the motor bus  owners want the roads of this country to be put into such a condition that they will be able to use them in the way in which they are using them in certain places at the present time, they should pay their own fair and proper proportion of the road maintenance cost of the roads which they use and abuse. The railway companies, the people who subscribe the capital—it is all paid-up capital in the case of railway companies but not in the case of bus owners—have to pay for the construction of their permanent way. But the bus owners are in the fortunate position of having roads constructed for them out of moneys provided by the ratepayers and the taxpayers in this country. I think they should not grumble at being called upon to pay a proper tax for the maintenance of those roads which they use so freely and abuse much more than the ordinary person.
I wonder would the Minister for Local Government or the Minister for Finance, in addition to the information asked for by Deputy Lemass, when he is making inquiries and looking for the relative figures, ask for the nominal capital of all the motor bus companies of this country as compared with the paid-up capital, I wonder would be inquire from the Revenue Department what proportion of this nominal or paid-up capital is controlled by people outside the country. I make that point because the capital invested in the railways, which give far greater and better employment, is capital which has been all paid-up by Irish investors. I paid 5/- to the revenue people to have a look at the list of the shareholders of a certain bus company and I discovered—I dare say this applies in other cases—that the dominating financial influence in this particular bus company was a motor building firm in Sale, in Cheshire. They send the buses of this particular bus company, on the deferred payment system, over here at £75 per bus per time and they have also their share of the profit of that company. They supply buses which are hired for traffic on the roads of this country. Therefore, I think, it is  the duty of the Government to get at figures which will enable them to say to what extent the bus companies of this country are controlled by financial influences outside the country.
From the purely labour point of view, I think there is a case for fair play for the railways as against the buses. When the forced amalgamation of the railways came into operation in January, 1925, the only railway company practically that operates in the Free State employed about 18,000 men. Partly as a result of the amalgamation policy, but much more so as a result of this unfair road competition, the number of men employed has been reduced by about 4,000. Are there 4,000 new men employed by the bus companies operating in the Free State? If there are 4,000—I know there certainly are not—are they paid the same and working under the same conditions as those who were lucky enough to remain in the service of the railway companies? I certainly say not. You have one bus company—looking through the hours and conditions of service here some time ago; it was properly called the Pirate Bus Company—paying conductors £1 a week for 76 hours.
Mr. Davin: I hope they have been re-named and the conditions, as I found them at the time, changed. But you have bus companies all over the State paying their conductors from £1 to £2 compared with £2 10s. to £3 10s., the average wage of railway guards and ticket examiners which are the comparative positions. The maximum wage paid to bus drivers is £3 10s. compared with about £5 per week for railwaymen.
Mr. Davin: I was thinking that you would give me the same privilege as you extended to other Deputies on other motions. As far as I can see, the bus people pay nobody  for the regulation of the bus traffic. The taxpayers, as far as I can find out, are paying the Civic Guard for the regulation of this traffic while the railway companies are employing signal men to direct their traffic over the rails. I hope the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Finance, when they are looking for figures, will find out the nominal capital and the paid-up capital of the bus companies operating in the Free State, and they should have some bearing upon the treatment to be meted out to these people. I hope the Ministry some day before they go out of office will sit down and give serious consideration—that consideration which they have not so far given—to the whole question of motor buses and the taxation that should be borne relatively by them and by the farmer ratepayer who uses the road for his cattle and sheep and his horse and cart.
Mr. Good: Is it not refreshing to notice the interest that Deputy Davin has taken in those unfortunate capitalists who have money invested in the railways? It is a new and interesting role for Deputy Davin, and I hope we shall hear him speak again in this House on the same lines and with the same zest as he spoke this evening.
Mr. Good: Interesting as Deputy Davin's speech was, I rather incline to the belief that it was a little distant from the subject we are considering. The point I would like to lay stress on is the incidence of the taxation proposed in this motion. I have drawn attention in this House, on previous occasions, to the want of a limitation on the size of the buses, charabancs and motor lorries. Those of us who occasionally use the by-roads in some of the interesting places in our country  are horrified to meet these huge charabancs in some cases, and huge motor lorries in other cases, coming along these narrow roads. When they are coming in the opposite direction it invariably means a stoppage on the part of both parties and a conversation and a consideration as to how they are going to pass one another. That is a matter to which I have drawn the attention of the Minister in the past. What will be the effect of this motion as we have it here before us? The bus which only accommodates 12 passengers and which, in the view of most Deputies, will be a normal bus and more or less of a character that we ought to encourage, is going to pay a tax of practically £6 per seat. Turn to the bus of the character I have mentioned, which carries 32 passengers. It is only taxed to the extent of £5 a seat. In other words, the incidence of this taxation is in favour of the larger bus and will encourage the larger bus, to the detriment of the smaller one. That, to my mind, ought not to be. I would like to see the moderate-sized bus paying at a reduced rate, and tax out of existence, if you like, the larger bus, which, to my mind, in view of the size of our roads, should be debarred. That is only one aspect of this bus problem, but it is an aspect that is directly affected by the incidence of the taxation proposed.
I agree with Deputy Davin when he says that the control of buses is a bit wide in this motion. I think, generally speaking, buses need a much larger degree of control than they seem to be under at the moment. Not alone are they a danger to the passengers, but they are an absolute danger to the other road users. One would like to see a larger measure of control over that particular form of traffic than there is at the moment. I would also like to see more inspection, as to the suitability and the running of these buses generally. We know that in other countries they are subject to a much greater degree of inspection than in this country, and that has a connection with this actual motion which we have here, because we all know what  these large buses are like. They are growing larger every day. I saw one the other day in which people were supposed to sleep. I do not know whether they could sleep in it, but they were supposed to sleep in it; it was a bus of fairly considerable dimensions. If there is not proper inspection of buses of that size, and one of them happens to break down, as is not unusual with buses in this country on one of these narrow roads, the whole traffic on that road will be obstructed. For that reason I would like to urge, first of all, that this whole system of buses and charabancs, and to some extent the motor lorries, should be under more rigid control than they are at the moment, and that there should be some limitation placed on the size of these vehicles. Further, the whole question of the method of taxation should be more thoroughly inquired into than obviously it was before this motion was put forward.
Mr. Flinn: I feel really that I have no grievance whatever this particular day at having been present in the Dáil for I have shared, with other members of the Dáil, the extraordinary privilege and experience of hearing Deputy Davin in the role Rhadamantus. Judge Rhadamantus was to all, a just judge. The House, which for half an hour listened to that careful, judicial, well-weighed and carefully measured summing up of the merits of this question by Deputy Davin, could not possibly have suspected upon which side eventually he would come down in his decision. That splendid and masterly summing up, that remarkable impartiality and discretion with which he martialled the arguments for the bus owners and for their use of the roads, and the careful way in which he distinguished the rights of the various interests and the relation of these various interests to the benefit of the community, was really a model of judicial impartiality and judgment. If, for one single moment, he marred the perfect picture—I admit that this is hypercriticism, having regard to the extraordinary merits of the performance to which  we listened, and seemed to throw away the ermine of the judge and take upon himself the red tie of the partisan—it was when he made, in the face of this House, the outrageous suggestion that this Government, in relation to measures which it introduces into this House, can be influenced by a by-election. Scandalous! I am quite sure that Deputy Davin will be glad, through me, to take the opportunity of withdrawing such a suggestion, and, above all, in relation to North Dublin. I allude to North Dublin, because it was alluded to by Deputy Davin; which for two successive by-elections was the most remarkable example of self-restraint and abnegation of this Government in not introducing issues of that kind for mere party purposes.
Now that having been said, and Deputy Davin's apology to the Government for such a suggestion having been so acceptably made, I will come as near to the subject as Deputy Davin did occasionally. First, I would like to say a word about Deputy Good. You saw the picture yourself, the horrified expression on Deputy Good's face, that he told us expressed his feelings when on one of those by-roads he met one of those buses. If you want a companion picture to that I would suggest to you that you should see the faces of the ordinary people who were using that bus when they saw Deputy Good passing in his car.
Mr. Flinn: I say that, because the grievance which the ordinary user of the roads at the present moment has against the buses in the particular matter which Deputy Good has raised is that, momentarily, it interferes with his abuse of the road and with his abuse of the conveniences of the ordinary passenger. I was coming up to-day, and on parts of the road between Carlow and Kilkenny I was ashamed of the interference which I was making with the  comfort of the ordinary road user, and I was only a very moderate road hog. I was ashamed of the interference which I was making with the ordinary amenities of the roads due to the dust that was thrown up by my car and that was obscuring the vision and, I am afraid, endangering the use of the roads in the case of the ordinary pedestrian. If I might take upon myself for a moment the role of Deputy Davin. I would like to examine this question somewhat impartially. The first thing you have to face is that these buses are doing a definite service to the community. The fact that they have carried something like 20,000,000 people, that they have created that traffic and that they have brought that transport and transit to the doors of the people; that they have opened up whole districts from the point of view of the habitability of those districts by the ordinary people, has undoubtedly entitled that whole system to be taken out of the position in which certain people are trying to put it, a sort of pariah service.
It is a service to the community, and we have to accept that as a fact; in exactly the same way we have to accept the fact that the railways are a service to the community, and we have, therefore, to accept that these two things together, and in some form of ordered co-operation, must be allowed to continue to exist and be developed in this country. The sooner you get out of the idea that this House, or any other place, is to be used for railway versus bus polemics, the sooner we will get a solution and the nearer we will get towards the solution of this question on ordinary lines. The taxation of buses, cars or anything of that kind is taxation upon transit, and that, broadly speaking, is undesirable. To obtain a revenue from the means by which people and goods are moved from one place to another is, broadly speaking, undesirable. To obtain taxation from that portion of transport which is used in the transport of goods from the place where they are produced to the place in which  they are consumed, is radically undesirable, because it is a taxation of portion of the process of production. Taxation of vehicles which move people in their ordinary business is, in the same way, radically and intrinsically wrong if taxation of production during the process of production is wrong; and that is generally regarded as undesirable.
Mr. Flinn: I will deal with that later on. That is simply a question of whether you should or should not tax distribution. Anyone who effectively distributes is a producer, and the extent to which you get revenue by the mere taxation of effective distribution, to that extent you tax production, and to that extent it is undesirable. Compare, for a moment, the car, the bus and the heavy solid-tyred lorry. You want money from each of these. You can conceivably take money from each of these under three heads. (1) for the replacement of the damage they do; (2) for the capital cost of the road they use, and (3) for taxation as a contribution to the State. If you take the ordinary light car, the amount which you can take for replacement is very small. I am perfectly satisfied that on a good road the average light car is actually a benefit to that road. I mean that the actual amount which you would charge to that car merely for damage, to a light car properly driven, would be negligible.
You are entitled to charge for light vehicles a heavy sum for capital costs because we have to provide, for the convenience and amenity of those who use light vehicles for pleasure, roads of a high quality and at a high cost. Thereafter, what tax you take from a light vehicle which is used for pleasure is not a question of principle at all. It is a question of convenience and policy. As far as the light car is concerned you take very light replacement value. You can take a very considerable capital value depending on the quality of the roads you provide and you can  take from the owner of that car any taxation whatever that you think will be electorally suitable. If you take the position of the bus you will see that in that case the position is reversed. In the first place the replacement cost is very high. Any of us who have had experience of an actual road before and after buses being put on that road can tell the difference. You can pick out a particular pot-hole and say the I.O.C. or the Contemptible or other buses have been on the road. The damage to the road visibly grows. The damage is there and can be seen. You have replacement cost and heavy capital costs. You have to build a heavy road to stand the impact and especially the impact on the sub-structure of that road over which rapidly-driven heavy vehicles pass.
But when it comes to the taking of taxation from it, merely on the taking of taxation you are taxing purely and simply the transport which affected that twenty million people in this country, and the fact that twenty million people in this country have reacted to it proves that it is an ordinary necessity of life. In replacement for the buses and under capital you charge a heavy figure, but under taxation you charge practically nil. Now we turn to the heavy lorry, that juggernaut of the road, that brute, and there is no word you could use too strong from the civic point of view in relation to the iron-shod lorry or its twin brother the badly-worn, solid-tyred lorry. The damage which that does is extraordinary. You have only got to make some of the very simple tests that many years ago we made. You do not need to go into elaborations which have since been introduced, rubber blocks, springs, seismometers, and so on. The damage which is done by heavy lorries on a road once the road begins to break at all increases geometrically, and if this State is going to put large capital costs into these roads it is bound to see, broadly speaking, that that kind of tyre is not used for anything in the nature of rapid transit on the roads.
 It is not a question of charging them that cost. No cost that you can put upon those things at which it would be commercially possible for them to continue to run, will repay the damage they will do—the cumulative and increasing damage.
As regards capital cost, you can impose a heavy cost on unsprung or badly sprung vehicles of that kind, but from the point of view of getting taxation from them, they will be carrying the crudest of things and the suggestion that you should obtain revenue for the State from that section of transport is, in any opinion, absurd. If it could be understood that every user of the road must replace the damage he does, that that is simply replacement and restitution and is not taxation at all, and that we should keep taxation off transport which was not purely transport for pleasure, but which was transport of goods or people for the purposes of their ordinary avocations, then we would be able to get some light.
The next question touches the actual amount of damage done. Up to the present, I have not heard the slightest suggestion from anybody representing the Government that there has been investigation along those lines. On what basis was the famous penny a mile put up? It may have been a guess or it may have some sound basis. I hope it has, and it will be to the credit of the Minister if he will produce such a sound basis. If he has not got some actual test or some good basis upon which to found that penny, if he has not some figures which will enable him to formulate a policy along the lines of replacement and restitution, it is simply fooling with the game to talk about this taxation. It is all pure guesswork unless there are definite figures there. The tax suggested here is in inverse proportion to the profitable use of the vehicle. You can reverse that and say that it is inversely in proportion to the use of the road by the vehicle. It makes no attempt to be proportionate in any way. The rate varies from a minimum of £5 to a maximum of £10—that is, on a vehicle  regularly used. It would seem that the less a man's profit out of the vehicle, the bigger the charge is going to be.
Deputy Davin said one thing with which I rather agree. He said that to a certain extent there should be more discrimination in relation to handing over the charge of national or main roads to the general community. I mean that the proportion of the maintenance of those roads which are paid for out of the Central Fund should increase. Take the case of a man coming in a car from Cork to Dublin. He comes along one of those roads because it is a well-maintained road. People from outside counties will, in the normal way, use such roads. The more those roads differ in quality from the ordinary country road, the more such a road will be nationally used as distinct from a locally used road. To that extent there should be a higher proportion paid for maintenance from the Central Fund.
Mr. Flinn: I would like to repeat my appeal that this question be not regarded—unfortunately it has been so regarded—as pure polemics between two interests. I bought railway shares for no other reason than that I read a speech of the Minister for Industry and Commerce in Cork which satisfied me that there was a pro-railway ramp on. Immediately after that we found two things happening. First of all, the railways were relieved of £75,000 a year in rates. Then the Minister for Local Government would not allow any of the district councils to appeal against an apparently illegal bargain. There was behind the doors an arrangement which was not contemplated by the law. All that was directly after that speech. I am not attacking the speech of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. It was the best speech I ever heard from the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Reading through it I said there was  only one meaning of that speech—“Buy Great Southern and buy them at once.” On top of that you had the Minister for Finance saying at Mallow: “We will put another £100,000 a year on to the buses in order to drive the people back to the railways.”
Deputy Davin said that roads were variously maintained and there were various standards. Surely the lowest of all the standards is the maintenance of the roads by the railways. The next time Deputy Good goes out to horrify the buses he will agree with me that he can close his eyes and tell when he is passing over that portion of the road which is maintained by the railways. They simply seem to do the minimum amount of work. This is a national problem. It is a problem which should not be made controversial. There has to be co-operation, and the principles of that co-operation have to be worked out by engineers who will examine the amount of damage that is being done by particular vehicles. They will find out the advantages of a particular vehicle in relation to the traffic of this country. There will be expressed in the taxation of that vehicle something which will represent the amount of damage done to the roads. There should be co-ordination amongst the two essential and necessary systems—bus and railway traffic. The information which will be got by examining the relationship of those different kinds of vehicles to the different kinds of traffic in this country will have an important bearing on the future of transport in this country.
Mr. Anthony: I want to make a few remarks on the Resolution, but before doing so I want to know if I would be entitled to speak on Resolution No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5, but I do not intend to speak on Resolution No. 4.
An Ceann Comhairle: The procedure is that when the Minister for Finance makes his statement he proposes the first Resolution and then the Leader of the Opposition may make a general statement, but the  general debate is postponed until the last Resolution, in this instance No. 5. is reached.
General Mulcahy: Most of the speakers to the Resolution emphasised the fact that a certain part of our roads problem must be taken as a national problem and that more or less the financing of the road system, and, perhaps, its administration, must be centralised. Whether you change the system by actually administering road work by the county councils as at present or not, the fact is that to a large extent there is a national financing of our road system. The grants for maintenance alone, as compared with the whole expenditure on roads of all kinds in the country for the current year, is one-quarter of the whole expenditure. A similar amount will come from the Road Fund for the general improvement of roads, so that there is a very considerable national shouldering of the financing of the road problem at present. I agree with certain Deputies that to a greater extent, perhaps to a varying degree in different counties, the counties must be relieved of a further part of the expenditure in regard to roads. A figure of 50 per cent. over the expenditure for the maintenance of roads in 1914 was suggested some time ago as a figure which we might expect the county councils to provide for maintenance. A certain number of county councils have not provided that, while a certain number have been providing considerably more. If there has been adispute recently between the Local Government Department and the county councils in connection with this particular matter it has arisen out of the policy of the Department pursuing its responsibility in the matter of roads  and with a view to seeing that an equitable burthen of the cost is borne as between the county councils and the Government. I agree that more money will have to be provided from the Road Fund for the maintenance of certain classes of roads.
When we come to the consideration of buses in regard to this Resolution, I find a current going through certain speeches to the effect that if it were not for the tax on private cars and other private vehicles the roads which are used by motor buses would not have been provided, and that the roads which are provided to-day for the extensive bus traffic were provided by the owners of ordinary motor cars and vehicles previous to the advent of these buses. The question arises whether the buses are to pay the actual amount of the damage which they do to the roads. Neither my technical advisers nor I find ourselves in a position to state explicitly the amount of damage which the buses do to the roads. Certain figures have been quoted, but, while quoting them in a bona fide way, I do not think that it would be fair to rely upon them as there has not been a sufficient amount of examination. I do not know whether it will be ever possible to state in actual figures regarding the damage which buses do to roads and, to a certain extent, I do not think that it is material. I do not agree with the argument that the contribution which the bus traffic should make to the Road Fund should be based entirely on the extent of the damage, or even in great part on the consideration of that damage. It has been pointed out that the Tramways Company have to maintain a permanent way and to pay way-leave for that privilege, and also that the Railway Company have to maintain the permanent way and to pay rates in respect of their undertakings. We cannot leave out the analogy completely, when we have a very important transport system all over the country, between the bus traffic and the railways and tramways in respect of the roads over which they run. The Minister for  Finance has been queried and, to some extent, criticised, because, having spoken of a mileage tax earlier in the year, he now speaks of increasing the amount of licence fees which the buses will have to pay. I think the House must convince itself that, in whatever form moneys are taken from the bus transport system for the upkeep of roads, there must be some relation between the actual use of roads by the buses and the amount taken up. There must be some relation between vehicle-mile traffic and income.
General Mulcahy: In whatever form it comes, because there is an abnormal use made of the roads at present by all classes of transport. In the first place, it is made by new carrying companies which are springing up all over the country and which are carrying goods for profit just as the buses are carrying passengers for profit. In the second instance, there is the bus traffic itself. If anyone put flanged vehicles on the railway for his own use they would be regarded as abnormal. In the same way it would be regarded as abnormal if put on the tramway systems of Dublin or Cork.
General Mulcahy: I suggest that that would be regarded as abnormal —certainly if put on the railways. When our roads are taken by profit-making companies we will, I am convinced, have to relate the moneys which they take from these concerns for the upkeep of the roads to the vehicle-mile aspect of their work on the roads. That is why I say that the damage from my point of view is rather immaterial, although I do not say that it is entirely immaterial. The reason that the taxis put on in this particular way as distinct from the vehicle-mile tax, is because it is imposed now. It is quite clear that the buses, ought to pay more than  they are paying at present. I think it will be found that the licence fees collected from buses of different classes at the present moment are only about £4 per licence greater than they were in 1922 while at the same time there has been a considerable increase in the licence fees charged in respect of vehicles conveying ordinary goods. As I say, it is clear that buses must pay more and that is the principle enshrined in this Resolution. If after further consideration of the matter, and of every aspect of the bus traffic, and in view of the road needs, a vehicle-mile tax were decided upon, it would be possible to replace the present system of taxation by a different system, whereas if, without any further examination, a system of vehicle-mile tax were adopted the machinery you would have to set up for it, while not as elaborate as Deputy Davin suggests, would be a particular type of machinery and could not be as easily set aside as the present system of increased licences. We have to bear in mind in connection with this question of the bus traffic, that if we compare January, 1929, with January, 1928; in January, 1928, the total number of vehicle-miles travelled was approximately 968,000 whereas in January, 1929, the total number of vehicle-miles travelled was 1,859,000, so that the number of vehicle-miles had doubled within the twelve months. The number of passengers carried in January, 1928, was 1,908,000 as against in January, 1929, 3,515,000, while the gross passenger receipts were given in January, 1928, as £35,000 as against in January, 1929, £54,000.
Exception has been taken to the statement of the Minister that he does not rely on those figures and that he is more inclined to rely on others. I think a very good case can be made for not relying entirely on those figures. In the first place, it must be difficult for bus companies to provide through their servants absolutely accurate figures. It seems to me that there has been a tendency, at any rate since the idea of a tax per vehicle-mile was introduced, to manipulate figures, and we may be  in a position ultimately when we come to deal with the matter when we may have to take a guess-work figure. A figure is known as a guess-work figure when a case cannot be made for it, but intuition can bring one very often to the right figure. A tax of 1d. or 1½d. per vehicle-mile, may be a very sound and a very satisfactory tax to impose on buses, even though a very strong case cannot be made for it now. As I say, the Minister for Finance cannot exactly be blamed when he states that he does not entirely rely on these figures. These figures are provided by the Department of Statistics from returns supplied by the bus companies themselves. The figures are issued monthly, and if we take the returns for April of last year, we find that the total receipts per vehicle-mile, in respect of the City of Dublin and suburbs, were approximately 8¾d. In respect of Dublin and other points—that is, for a bus travelling between Dublin and Athlone, for instance—the receipts per vehicle-mile were about 11½d. In Cork they were 9½d. Generally the average all round would be about 9½d.
The receipts fell in practically all these cases to about 7d. per vehicle-mile between April of last and January of this year, in spite of the fact that there has been a very considerable increase in the number of passengers carried. The converging of prices to a particular point suggests in the first place that there cannot have been, both in Dublin and in other places, a fall from 11½d. per vehicle-mile, in April, 1928, to 7d. per vehicle-mile, in January, 1929. Furthermore, the differences between the various classes of buses in April, 1928, have all converged to the practically identical figure of 7d. at the beginning of this year. We may not be able, as I say, to get absolutely accurate statistics, but we will have to come to the conclusion that the taxation of buses must be related to their use of the road. Another factor that has to be taken into consideration is that the total mileage of roads in the country is 44,700. Of these 4,223 are trunk roads. The  total road mileage over which bus routes extend is 4,388, so that the whole of our trunk road system at the present moment is being utilised for bus routes. We have to realise how widely spread bus traffic is at the present moment, and we have to put it into its proper perspective both in relation, to the cost of the roads and the contribution to the cost given by other vehicles and in relation to other transport systems in the country.
General Mulcahy: I think the Deputy will find that there are systematic restrictions on the size of buses. Following on the report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Traffic, in respect of which legislation has to be introduced, in so far as under our regulations we could take steps to control the size, dimensions, and the different safety devices with regard to traffic, under the powers we had already, these regulations have been introduced. So far as heavy traffic using roads is concerned, I think outside the City of Dublin regulations exist which would prevent vehicles of more than nine tons using any road. In respect of any class of road under the control of a county council, the county council can, for any reason that seems proper, restrict the weight and the capacity of the vehicles using such roads. In case of action like that on the part of a county council, I believe that it would be necessary that the Minister for Local Government should hold an inquiry into the matter to see whether the action of the county council should be upheld or not. In so far as dimensions are concerned, regulations have been issued regarding these, and so far as the use of any road or any abnormal traffic on a road is concerned, that matter is entirely in the hands of the county councils, except that a nine-ton limit of weight is, I believe, general.
General Mulcahy: As far as buses for passenger traffic are concerned, we govern these by regulations. I would not be prepared to say right off as to the dimensions of ordinary goods-carrying vehicles whether there are regulations that will govern these from every aspect that the Deputy would like, but I think the position is that county councils can prevent by order any class of traffic which they consider improper from travelling over any road, subject to confirmation after inquiry by the Minister for Local Government.
|Last Updated: 16/05/2011 15:11:09||Page of 36|