Is the Minister making an introductory statement?
Postal and Telecommunications Services Bill, 1982: Committee Stage.
The Financial Resolution was agreed.
I would like the Minister to make an introductory statement.
It is not my intention to make an introductory statement, but as Deputy Leyden is anxious and with your agreement, I would be prepared to facilitate him.
On Committee Stage the practice is that we proceed section by section.
This Bill was prepared by a Fianna Fáil Government and the Second Stage brought before the House in 1982. As the Government are bringing forward the Committee Stage of this Bill, it would be helpful if the Minister would give an introductory statement which would express his philosophy. I intended making a brief statement when the Bill was introduced and then dealing with each section.
I am anxious to facilitate the Opposition on this because——
This is the Committee Stage of the Bill and while there would not be any objection to a short introductory speech by the Minister and other Deputies, especially having regard to the fact that the Committee Stage must conclude tomorrow afternoon, the Chair considers it would be undesirable to have a long Committee Stage which would deprive the House of dealing with the Bill section by section.
May we have a list of the additional amendments which issued this morning? Some of us did not get them because the post in certain parts of the city is not all it should be.
Would the Chair agree to a very brief statement by me?
I will, but I am drawing the attention of all Deputies to the fact that this is a very long Bill with a large number of amendments and under an existing order of the House, the Committee Stage must conclude at 5 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. A long introductory statement which would turn the Committee Stage into a Second Stage would not be in the interests of dealing with this Bill properly.
I promise I will be only two minutes.
I would agree to that. We have to finish this stage at 5 p.m. tomorrow and there will be no difficulty about that.
Does this apply to all Members?
It does. There is nothing to stop Members speaking as often as they like on Committee Stage, and on as many sections as they like.
I do not want to labour the point, but I thought that as this is the most important Bill to come before the House for many years, the Minister might make a short statement on a Bill which got a Second Reading in 1982 when Fianna Fáil were in Government and Deputy Wilson was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. At that stage there was a debate on the Bill. For the sake of the 30,000 employees in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs I thought the Minister might give a rough outline of his philosophy aand give us a theme to work to for the next few days. I will make a very short reply when he makes his statement.
Is it agreed that a speaker from each party will make a very short speech?
On a point of order, as the Minister and Deputy Leyden said, this is a most important Bill and there appears to be a certain amount of agreement between them, but there might be other viewpoints and I request the right to speak also.
I am advised there is no precedent for this. The Chair would advise against this because there are major sections in the Bill and there are sections which will give Deputies the opportunity to say anything they want to.
I suggest that on section 1 the Minister give a brief outline of the Bill.
A Cheann Comhairle——
Is this a point of order?
Arising from what Deputy Leyden has said——
If it is not a point of order I am putting the question from the Chair that section 1 stand part of the Bill.
It is the standard practice in Bills to indicate their Long and Short Titles. Essentially this is a drafting matter. The Titles are determined by the content of the Bill. A Short Title such as that in section 1 of this Bill is the one more commonly used in references to the Bill. The Long Title which is contained in the preamble to the Bill indicates the broad scope of the Bill's provisions. It is unamended and there is no proposal to amend it, as was originally proposed on Second Stage by the previous Government. Any changes to be made in the Bill will come up in the amendments and are mainly, but not exclusively, intended to meet points raised by trade unions and representatives of the employees of the Post Office. We tried to meet them as much as we could because we realise they have a major stake in this matter.
I am very pleased to see this Bill before the House. I welcome its reintroduction on Committee Stage on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party. I will be supporting its speedy passage through the House within the next two days. The Short Title is the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1982. In the tradition of this party I will continue to be consistent. In that spirit I am supporting this Bill as amended and I will be speaking on the amendments as we reach them. I have tabled some amendments and I would appreciate it if the Clerk of the House could circulate to Deputies a copy of the full list of amendments which I have not got as yet. My amendments have been circulated and I would appreciate it if Members of the House could be given a copy for their assistance.
We are transferring 30,000 people from the State to the semi-State side of Government. This will have a major impact on their future. Every effort must be made to protect the future of all those people and their families. I am very much aware of the strong representations which were made to me by all the unions involved in supporting and representing the 30,000 members of the staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
This would be more appropriate to some other section.
I support section 1.
The Short Title of this Bill is the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1982. There is broad agreement between the Government and the Opposition on this Bill. I am not sure what the approach of The Workers' Party is. The Committee Stage of the Bill is going through the House in two days. Deputy Leyden said he supports its speedy passage through the House. This Bill would have been best dealt with in a separate committee of the House which could give it a long, detailed and thorough examination. The Bill implements the White Paper Reorganisation of Postal and Telecommunications Services.
I hope we are not having a Second Stage speech.
We are not having a Second Stage speech. We will have a very detailed Committee Stage debate.
Relevant to section 1.
Yes. The postal and telecommunications system is being taken away from the State and given to a semi-State body.
I must rule that this is a Second Stage speech on the principle involved in the Bill and it is not relevant to section 1.
We are dealing with the Title.
We are dealing with the Title to the Bill but we are not dealing with the principle of whether the service should remain with the Department or should be changed to boards. That is obviously a Second Stage point.
To clarify it for your benefit I am not going into the full principle of the Bill. I am outlining what the Bill is doing and what the Title seeks to do.
There are many sections in the Bill with teeth in them, so to speak. The section we are dealing with now is merely the Title. I ask Deputies to please not mount a filibuster on it.
I am anxious to discuss this matter. It could have been dealt with by a separate committee of the House. The importance of this Bill is vast. The Title is of importance because, once we have established the Title to the Bill, we can proceed to the other sections.
May the Chair say this? The Whips of three parties and perhaps all parties — I do not know — have arranged that the Committee Stage of this Bill will be dealt with in two days. Deputies who serve under those Whips should respect the decisions made by the Whips and co-operate in them. It does not look as if that will be done here today.
I do not think that is a fair assessment. My viewpoint may not be the same as that of everybody else. Nevertheless a person is entitled to outline his views without the Chair entering into a discourse on those views.
The Chair will not intervene if Deputies want to make long speeches, provided the speeches are relevant to the section or the amendment before the House. The Chair does not believe that a long speech on the principle of the Bill is relevant to the section dealing with the Title.
I wish to co-operate with the Chair. I do not want to have a long discussion with him. I am pointing out — and I can come back to this again on other sections — that this Bill deals with 30,000 employees of the State. There is to be a complete reorganisation. Two separate bodies are to be set up. An Post and Bord Telecom Éireann. This is of vast importance.
There was nothing in the world to prevent Deputies from making speeches for hours on the principle and on their strong feelings on the motion to restore it to the Order Paper.
I note the terms of the section. I have to bow to the Chair's request and I will come back to it at a later stage.
On section 2 amendment No. 1 is in the names of Deputy Mac Giolla and Deputy De Rossa. Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 21 are related. Amendments Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 21 may be taken together by agreement. Amendments Nos. 4 and 6 are consequential on amendment No. 1. If amendment No. 1 falls, amendments Nos. 4 and 6 cannot be moved. Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 16 are consequential on amendment No. 3. If amendment No. 3 falls, amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 16 cannot be moved. Amendments Nos. 14, 17 and 18 are consequential on amendment No. 7. If amendment No. 7 falls, amendments Nos. 14, 17 and 18 cannot be moved.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 9, subsection (1), to delete lines 23 and 24, and substitute the following definition:—
"‘board' means An Bord Poist or An Bord Telecom established by this Act, as the case may require;" .bqe
I would like to indicate that our approach to this Bill has two main objectives, to provide for a comprehensive and efficient national postal and telecommunications service and to ensure that the employees under the present structure in the Post Office retain their present conditions of employment relating to pay, pensions, security of employment, promotion and so forth. The biggest danger we see in the proposals is loss of security of employment to employees. This is the reason we proposed this amendment.
The other danger we see in this is the possibility that unless the Bill provides safeguards in either the short term or the long term the Post Office or sections of it will be handed over to private enterprise and it will end up in a position similar to that of CIE where most of their profitable areas, where they could develop, are taken over by private enterprise. We seek to substitute in the amendment a statutory corporation for that of a company structure. It would provide more protection for employees and it would make it more difficult for the Post Office under the new structure to hand over its functions to private enterprise.
When a company are incorporated by registration for the purposes of State enterprise or, alternatively, when a State enterprise company are registered under the Act such a registered company will differ from private enterprise companies in two important ways. The relevant Minister has the ultimate sanction of removing the board and the memorandum and articles of association cannot be altered without the approval of the Minister. The danger to which I referred of the Post Office being handed over to a private company is referred to in passing by the report of the Posts and Telegraphs Review Group, 1978-79, where it says that a company rather than a corporation approach is possible should the body be constituted as a public company to permit private equity participation. A statutory corporation derives its powers directly from the parent company establishing it whereas the registered company looks to the memorandum and articles of association. It may well be argued that the company type organisation is more flexible because it may be less awkward to amend the memorandum and articles of association than to put an amendment Bill through the Oireachtas.
In the case of a State enterprise taking the form of a registered company the normal procedure would be that the company would have to obtain the permission of the relevant Minister to alter their memorandum or articles. Once the permission was obtained they could then be so altered. In the case of a statutory corporation there is the requirement of amending legislation. I believe the balance lies in favour of the corporation because I feel the security of the employees of the Post Office and the necessity to ensure that the Post Office services are not fragmented and hived off to private enterprise is more important than the possible flexibility that could be acquired under the company system.
The essential legal difference is that the State company would derive its authority from a memorandum and articles which would probably be altered only with the consent of the relevant Minister whereas the State corporation would derive its authority from the Oireachtas. I feel the weight of argument must be in favour of providing security of employment for the staff. For that reason, I urge that the Minister accept this amendment. It is of interest to note the position in the UK where the British Post Office is a State enterprise in the form of a public corporation. It has managed very effectively to develop the services there and to finance its development through its own self-generated funds. Despite the fact that at the moment the British Government are proposing to sell off sections of this Post Office service I feel the better protection for staff and for the Post Office is in the form of a corporation rather than a company.
I would like to make the Labour Party position clear on this Bill and the amendments now put before the House by The Workers' Party. In order to put it into perspective it is necessary to go back to Second Stage and to determine how we got on to Committee Stage. Fianna Fáil and The Workers' Party voted for the passage of the Bill on Second Stage. That is why I was amazed when I heard Deputy Leyden today ask about the philosophy of the Bill. There is a difference in detail but the basic philosophy is no different from what went through the House on Second Stage, voted through by Fianna Fáil and supported by The Workers' Party. While I welcome the support of Deputy De Rossa at this stage I feel it is a little late in the day.
The Workers' Party are expressing the fears of members of the staff but there is little we can do. The avalanche is on its way. It happened when the vote was taken on Second Stage. There is nothing anybody can do because the two major parties and The Workers' Party voted for and Deputies Tony Gregory-Independent, Jim Kemmy and the Labour Party voted against the passage of the Bill on Second Stage. I want to make clear the position of the Labour Party regarding this proposed company structure outlined in the Bill. We opposed the Bill on Second Stage as we do not believe the company structure is the best one which would achieve a balance between providing a service to the public while maintaining a public monopoly in postal and telecommunications services.
Deputy De Rossa referred to the British experience. I regret to say that even under corporation status in Britain the British Government are now attempting to hive off 51 per cent of these corporations. My colleagues and I in the Labour Party accept, despite our opposition, that Fianna Fáil with the support of The Workers' Party and the abstention of Fine Gael endorsed the Bill on Second Stage. Accordingly, all my representations to the Minister have concentrated on improving the proposed legislation for basically two reasons, ensuring that the public monopoly is maintained and ensuring the high quality of service to members of the public and, simultaneously, the protection of staff, and their rights regarding security of tenure and conditions of service. I still hope that the Minister, before this debate concludes, or on Report Stage, will give greater assurance for the workers in the postal service who now feel threatened as a result of this legislation. These are people who over the years have given loyal service. They feel that, as a result of what we are doing now, people who for many years enjoyed civil service status will no longer be members of that organisation. Having worked so long in the service they feel they are now entering an area with which they are not familiar. Some of these people have in excess of 30 years service and this will be a traumatic experience for them.
I hope the Minister will assure them in the course of the debate that they need have no fears about this Bill. There are some areas in need of amendment and I shall be so pressing in the course of the debate. But I cannot support the amendments of Deputy De Rossa because, with all due respects, I feel it is a little too late in the day.
The Bill has been introduced at this time by the present Government, consisting of the Fine Gael and Labour Parties. Deputy O'Sullivan cannot get away from that fact. We are offering Deputy O'Sullivan and his colleagues in the Labour Party the opportunity to support amendments which will protect the interests of the workers in the Post Office and the interests of the Post Office services. That is the plain fact of the matter. If Deputy O'Sullivan does not find it possible to support those amendments, then he must face his conscience in the matter.
With regard to Deputy De Rossa's remarks, I repeat that it is too little, too late by virtue of the fact that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael agree with the philosophy behind the Bill and that the numbers do not stand up. I would suggest that Deputy De Rossa is now indulging in a little flag-waving a little late in the day when the horse has bolted.
I find the ideological debate here between The Workers' Party and the Labour Party fascinating. Whatever about the situation to The Workers' Party in relation to this matter, the fact is that the Labour Party are partners in Government. Last year the Labour Party voted down the Bill on Second Stage. Indeed, the present Tánaiste, on 22 June 1982, at columns 1196 onwards of the Official Report said:
As my fellow members of the Labour Party have already outlined our objections and position regarding this legislation, I would like to lend my voice in support of them. For many reasons we are opposed to the changes outlined in this Bill. What we are seeing is the result of an inquiry which has not been sufficiently gone into.
He then went on to outline his objections to the Bill at that stage. Now we are seeing a major U-turn on the part of the Labour Party. They have sold out their philosophy and beliefs in order to participate in Government. I am referring in particular to Ministers who were opposed to and spoke in this House last year in total opposition to this Bill. It is worthwhile to place on the record their opposition voiced in 1982 when we were putting forward this Bill at Second Stage. The present Minister for Health and Social Welfare spoke against and voted against the Bill, as did the present Minister for Labour. So also did the present Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy J. Bermingham; the present Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Quinn; the Minister of State at the Department of Trade, Commerce and Tourism, Deputy Moynihan; the present Leas-Cheann Comhairle; the Labour Party Chief Whip, Deputy Taylor and Deputies Toddy O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison——
I do not mean to interrupt Deputy Leyden but I think he is moving away from the section.
The Minister can leave that to the Chair.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for your protection.
A very fair Ceann Comhairle.
So also did Deputies Eileen Desmond, Seán Treacy, former Deputy, now Senator Michael D. Higgins, Independent Deputy Tony Gregory, and Deputy Jim Kemmy. They all voted against this Bill at that Stage. Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan may come in here today and wash his hands of the Bill like Pontius Pilate. He might try to go down to Galway to appease the Post Office Workers' Union——
I think that expression "Pontius Pilate" would be better withdrawn.
Well, I will withdraw it; I do not think it really refers to Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan. He is a member of the Post Office Workers' Union and he is in a very unenviable position. Indeed, I must sympathise with him in the position he finds himself because, with all his efforts and those of the Labour Party, they were unable to persuade the Government to move away from this Bill. I might add I am pleased that they were not successful.
The Deputy should revert to the section.
I shall address my remarks to the amendment tabled by The Workers' Party in relation to whether we should have a semi-State company or a corporation. I have gone into this in consultation with my party, with the front bench and former Ministers of Fianna Fáil. After long discussion and a detailed inquiry into the whole matter we are satisfied that under the Bill as it stands, with the amendments tabled by the Minister and supported by us, a limited liability company will give the requisite protection to the staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. The argument for a corporation has not been gone into in the greatest detail. Certainly in the Report of the Posts and Telegraphs Review Group, 1978-1979, they opted for the limited liability company which forms part of this Bill. Therefore it would constitute a complete change of attitude by us in Fianna Fáil were we to move away from that approach to one in favour of a corporation. That is also why we cannot support the amendment by The Workers' Party. We shall support amendments of the Bill which will safeguard the future of the staff concerned, affording them every possible security they would have under corporation status.
I cannot accept the amendments tabled by Deputies De Rossa and Mac Giolla. I shall say a few brief words of explanation as to why that is so. In relation to this subject, and to many of the other amendments that will come up later, there are in excess of something like 120 amendments, a great number of which were tabled to meet the legitimate and very understandable fears of workers. Indeed, Deputy O'Sullivan played a major part in having those amendments tabled, in improving this Bill in relation to the protection of the workers. We have not been able to do all that he asked but we have gone as far as we could. I want to thank him for his help. I do not know whether I should thank him for all the pressure he brought to bear but certainly it was helpful.
In relation to the argument about corporation versus company, for some reason the idea has got about that a corporation is safer for workers than a company. For the life of me I cannot see any difference between them, except perhaps one, that is, that in the case of a company the shares could be sold to private enterprise at some future date, whereas in the case of a corporation that could not be done without amending legislation. In order to meet that situation one amendment I shall be introducing, No. 42 on section 22, is tabled specifically to prohibit the sale of any shares. That is the only perceptible difference, as far as I can see, between a company and a corporation. That amendment will place them on equal footing. In my view the company format carries major advantages.
Deputy De Rossa referred to the flexibility of being able to amend the articles of association of the company whereas the aims and objectives of a corporation would have to be established by amending legislation. Deputy De Rossa seems to think that that constitutes a threat to the workers. I take a completely different view. I see this as an opportunity for workers.
I believe there is a potential for a very bright future. There are all sorts of areas of expansion, such as financial services, express mail delivery, unaddressed mail in bulk, collecting money for different agencies. These are all possibilities. Various people at the moment exploit the assets of the Post Office. For instance, the 2,200 outlets represent a major asset. There may be new business opportunities that we do not see and if we omit these from the aims and objectives of the corporation there could be delays created because of having to await the passage of legislation. The bright future I see as a major potential in both these businesses is in the area of maintaining the volume of present business and going into new business. That is why I think the company form, with the safeguard of the prohibition on the sale of shares, is the best form. It is the best guarantee for the workers. That is a fundamental principle.
Here are two major businesses operated by the civil service. This is no longer appropriate and what we are trying to do is to place the business in a really commercial environment. I shall be making another change in the articles of association. Trade unions will have to be informed when changes are proposed and on the board of each company there will be one-third worker directors. That will be more than a safeguard.
I believe that the main danger lies in the sale of shares. Experience internationally has been that governments tend to try and offload an interest in these companies. We have examples of that in Britain and Australia. In the latter, Quantas is a public company, but the shares are wholly owned by the Australian Government. Now in the field of communications multi-national companies are seeking to do away with national and publicly owned telecommunication services and postal services. I understand IBM are seeking to establish a network system in EEC countries probably with the object of destroying international communications. There is great concern, and the strongest possible protection must be given to safeguard the security of employees while at the same time ensuring that the postal and telecommunication services are retained as a national service and are given the opportunity to develop as comprehensive a service as possible. I do not agree with the Minister. The 30,000 employees of the Post Office enjoy certain conditions of employment and they are entitled to assurances that these conditions will remain. The likelihood that they may change will be far greater under a company structure rather than a corporation structure. The Minister referred to an amendment he intends to introduce restricting the sale of shares.
Prohibiting the sale of shares. It is amendment No. 42.
Could the Minister explain what the merit of that amendment will be?
It would not be in order at this point. The Deputy may make a passing reference but nothing more.
No shares have ever been sold in any State company and there has never been any such guarantee. It has never been sought. In this case there will be a guarantee. Of course, some future Government could introduce legislation involving privatisation. We are putting in a certain guarantee here which does not exist in present legislation.
Deputy Enright rose.
I am not calling Deputy Enright for the simple reason that I want to call speakers from alternate sides.
I shall be very brief. It would be far more salutary if we looked at the scene here rather than looking over our shoulders at certain developments that may come about in a neighbouring island as a result of a very strong right wing philosophy which will obtain for another few years. I do not see any danger, and did not when I was on that side of the House, in the company status as distinct from corporation status except, as the Minister said, there is nothing you can do with a company that you cannot also do with a corporation. One point I would make is that there is a certain Luddite approach to this idea that change will necessarily be bad for the workers. My experience in talking to members of the unions representing the workers in the Department was that they were very anxious to meet the challenge and very anxious to get going on this. There has been strong criticism of the Department, some of it unjustified, and there are dedicated workers with very important skills anxious to get under this new régime and have the opportunity to prove they can provide a service as good as is being provided in Europe. I deliberately leave out the United States because I suppose it is the acme, particularly in the telecommunications field, of service.
In my contribution on Second Stage I was more than careful to stress that the rights and privileges of workers should be preserved. That having been said, we must remember that what we are trying to do here is to provide a service for the customers who, in the past, probably had very good reasons for complaining. All the warts have not been excised yet. While the workers and their conditions of work are very important and should be the object of care and consideration in this House, nevertheless what we are doing is trying to provide two boards that will give a first-rate service. I do not think any doubts people may have with regard to the status of these companies necessarily affect the conditions of workers in the Department.
I hope the idea of privatisation of these services will never surface in this country. If that is the real reason for the fears being expressed by some workers — I think they are exaggerated and have got a hobgoblin kind of status — those fears should be allayed. I do not think there is any danger of privatisation of these two companies at any time. Looking at what is happening elsewhere. I can see that doubts might arise that we were going on a mad privatisation jag and that as soon as one of these industries began to pay it would be siphoned off. Up to comparatively recently we have had a pride in the achievements of what we call semi-State bodies. It is getting a little tarnished now. Anyone in charge of a Department who has had to look at the scene in many of the semi-State companies in the past few years would have to be downhearted to a certain extent. Admittedly the economic conditions obtaining in the world have affected the performance of many of these companies and doubts may transfer to companies not established yet. I should like the House to think on that aspect when considering this Bill.
The right and privileges of the workers will not be affected by this Bill. Above all, there will be no inhibitions placed on their opportunity to give of their skills and expertise to produce two superb services for the community. The ideas An Post have with regard to development are bright. They are providing a good service as it is and that is not said often enough.
There is a belief that the existing postal and telecommunications systems must be taken out of the hands of the civil service. Apparently people believe that the structure of the civil service is not sufficiently adaptable to change and progress. I do not necessarily accept that point of view.
This Bill proposes the setting up of two boards with the aim of improving the existing systems. As the Minister said, they will have to cope with major changes in their present business and in their business in the future. It is the belief of the Minister and the spokesmen on the other side that the new boards will be better able to adapt to change and improved technology.
I have received considerable correspondence from staff of post offices throughout my constituency. I am as anxious as every other Member to ensure that the rights of workers are fully protected as far as is humanly possible. Everyone is anxious to ensure that the status, incomes and conditions of employment of the workers be maintained. One of the main objectives of the Bill must be to ensure that the customers of our postal and telecommunications systems get an improved service from the point of view of efficiency and economy. For a number of years there have not been any improvements carried out to these systems. There has been considerable delay in the installation of telephones, that installation has been costly and there have been delays in the delivery of mail. Consequently, people have become very critical of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the staff. A number of people sought a change and that change has been brought about by the Bill before the House.
I do not think any of the changes are necessary. Major improvements could have been made in the existing system with full co-operation from the staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Section 2 deals with interpretation. When I read the explanatory memorandum an alarm bell rang in my head. We are going to set up two State-sponsored bodies. The functions and powers of the Minister are laid down. The Bill provides for the establishment of an additional and separate statutory users' council for the postal and telecommunications services. Then we will have directors for each company——
Deputy, I hate to interrupt your contribution but the section we are dealing with is on the question of whether there will be two boards. I would be grateful if you would confine yourself to that.
Sir, I would like your guidance on this because I want to be entirely relevant. We are dealing with interpretation.
We are dealing with the section on whether there should be two boards or two companies. That is the kernel of section 2.
I would like to clarify this. If two boards are set up we will have to attach the functions of the Minister vis-à-vis the boards——
That matter is relevant to section 2 and will arise later in the debate. Later on you can contribute on those aspects.
I appreciate that this is Committee Stage.
We have a number of amendments and we do not want a long debate especially when we can talk about this later.
Because of having the two boards the ancillary services attached to those boards are as I am setting out. I have made the point about the numbers of the boards themselves, then there is the separate statutory users' council, the directors and there will be the post-master of one——
You can refer to those matters later on.
In regard to the appointment of these two bodies I want to ask the Minister if he believes the public will get a better service from An Bord Poist agus An Bord Telecom. Does he believe that they will get a more efficient and economical service? In other words, does he believe that costs will be maintained at existing levels or perhaps reduced by the setting up of these boards? Does he believe that overall the public will be better satisfied and happier with these two boards? If he can convince me of that he will be going a long way with this. Deputy Wilson made reference to the approach of a number of people to semi-State bodies and the problems which some of them have caused. In regard to these two boards I see a danger of having a hierarchy of a bureaucracy following on. If that happens the danger is that instead of improving existing services and making them more economical, more expense could be cause. I can quote many examples but I do not intend to outline them in detail now.
Regarding the amendments, I would prefer that of the Minister to the setting up of a corporation, but I have reservations about the whole section.
Deputy Wilson as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, like his predecessor — and the present Minister no doubt will do so — gave an assurance to the workers that their jobs were safe. However, I regret that that has not been written into the legislation in terms that would allay the fears of the workers. Any of the three Ministers concerned, Deputy Reynolds, Deputy Wilson and even the present Minister, Deputy Mitchell, have not succeeded in convincing the Department that it must be in writing. Postal workers are in the habit of getting things in writing. They believe in the written word, which is a long tradition in that Department and I am fairly familiar with that aspect. To date this has not been done and I ask the Minister to ensure that there will be a re-think and that he will do something that will once and for all give to the workers what has been expressed time and time again by three successive Ministers and even by Deputy Leyden as Minister of State in that Department, with whom we broke bread at the annual conference of the Post Office Workers' Union and he said that their future was not in doubt.
That is right.
As yet no Minister has written that into the legislation. I appreciate the concern expressed by Deputy De Rossa, but the mechanics of the thing do not permit that at this stage, unless the Minister will take it on himself to write it into this Bill. The public monopoly is under threat. The desired quality of service can be achieved. Already in parts of the country phones can be got on demand due to the injection of capital down the years but equally important is the protection of the staff members and their rights regarding security of tenure and conditions of service.
We are dealing with section 2.
The difference between corporation and limited company is a basic fundamental issue of this Bill. Deputy O'Sullivan has this difficulty. Will he vote against the Bill at the end of the day? If he does not, that will be in contradiction of his statements today. He talks about the written word. I am a great believer in the written word also and, as he stated, so are the workers in the Post Office. Can they also comprehend the written word of the General Secretary of the Fine Gael Party on 8 June 1981 when he wrote to Andrew Coleman, 28 Gracepark Heights, Dublin 9? I mention his name because he is a union official——
Is this relevant to section 2?
It is because in that letter of 8 June 1981 from Peter Prendergast, General Secretary of the Fine Gael Party, he said:
I would like to assure you that in the event of Fine Gael being elected to Government that all Post Office employees will be consulted through their Unions before being moved into any proposed semi-State company. In addition such moves will not involve loss of Civil Service status.
I hope this helps you and your colleagues.
That is the written word of Peter Prendergast, on behalf of the Fine Gael Party.
Deputy, that relates specifically to section 42, not to section 2.
It relates to section 2, because we are debating companies. In relation to the amendment by The Workers' Party regarding commitments or promises made, it is relevant to point out that the Fine Gael Party in Opposition gave a clear commitment, which I hope they will honour, to the maintenance of civil service status in the Bill, which I tell the Minister is difficult to achieve. I sympathise with Deputy O'Sullivan. He is concerned that civil service status can be retained under either a corporation or a limited liability company. There is no difference as far as status of the staff under either a corporation or semi-State body is concerned. It is either civil service or semi-State. One can have the privileges and rights of being a member of the civil service but you cannot have it both ways. Let us be honest about it. You cannot be a member of the civil service and also of a limited liability company. We are trying to ensure that they will retain all the privileges and rights of civil service status and I hope we will preserve and maintain that situation and give them every possible security. In relation to those commitments, I will quote from a letter sent by Senator O'Mahony, National Director of Elections, to Mr. Andrew Coleman, 28 Grace Park Heights, Dublin 9. He stated:
Just a note to confirm the assurance given to you this morning on the question of the reorganisation of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. The Labour Party is committed to full and proper consultation with workers in the Department, through their unions, before any reorganisation takes place. We have always supported this process of consultation. We also confirm that any reorganisation must take into account the present status of workers within the civil service. That status will not be undermined.
Deputy O'Sullivan will have to reconcile himself to either supporting The Workers' Party amendment or that of the Government.
We are dealing with section 2 at present and you are talking about provisions applicable to staff transfers to companies which is dealt with in section 42.
Deputy O'Sullivan has already spoken on the subject.
I called his attention to the fact that the staff situation is relevant to section 42.
I think Deputy O'Sullivan was doing his carrier pigeon bit.
This is a very important Bill. Many Deputies wish to contribute to it and I shall be very grateful if we return to section 2.
The letter which Deputy Leyden quoted needs to be clarified because it could mislead the House.
It would be preferable if Deputy Leyden confined himself to section 2 and, when we come to section 42, it can be clarified.
Deputy Leyden quoted from a letter which he received from a member of the Post Office staff where members of political parties said they would consult with the unions involved. I should like to ask Deputy Leyden if this member belongs to a recognised trade union.
I understand Mr. Andrew Coleman is president of the engineering union.
Would you please return to section 2?
In page 9, section 1, we have a proposal by The Workers' Party in relation to corporations or limited companies. I am replying to comments made by Deputy O'Sullivan and I am illustrating the commitments which were given during election time and which have been broken by the Government——
Would the Deputy please confine himself to section 2?
The point in this section is in relation to a corporation or limited company. I am entitled to speak on this section. I have studied it in great detail and I am very concerned that this is the whole philosophy behind the Bill. The Minister made some comment about an amendment. Is he putting forward another amendment to strengthen the status of employees——
I reiterate that section 42 will cover staff provision in the two companies.
Basically, there is no major difference between corporations and limited liability companies because the Minister has given clear assurances which we gave when we were in Government, that a limited liability company would not be sold off. I want to make sure that it is written into this Bill, as clearly as possible, that a future Government could not sell off any part of that company without coming back here for permission to do so. In relation to Deputy Enright's point, anyone who has had the honour to serve in that Department will agree that it will be a sad day when this Department is hived off to a semi-State company. However, we cannot turn back the clock and you could not allow a situation to continue where a Minister or a Minister of State would have the day-to-day management of an organisation of 30,000 people. The interim boards have been set up and chief executives have been appointed for some years——
I am fully aware of that. In retrospect we will see who is right.
The semi-State organisations have been set up already and are functioning under two chief executives. This is as it should be and, in the modern business world, we cannot have every decision made in the GPO. With regard to that, it is ludicrous to think that a Minister for Posts and Telegraphs would be personally responsible for the appointment of cleaners in his Department. The public would wonder why a Minister is engaged in ensuring that a certain number would come from his constituency or that——
Please, Deputy, do not get involved in a cleaning operation, stay with section 2.
How could an organisation work if a Minister was occupied with matters like that?
Please return to section 2.
I have read amendment No. 40, which the Minister is proposing.
It is amendment No. 42.
The amendment dealing with transfer of shares is amendment No. 40.
No, it is amendment No. 42 at the bottom of page 7.
We will be discussing section 22 later. I am trying to get the Deputies to concentrate on the section before the House.
Before the Leas-Cheann Comhairle came into the Chair, we were discussing the privatisation——
The Deputy can make a passing reference to that, but I do not want the discussion on section 22 to continue.
We were discussing the question of whether or not it would be a company or a statutory corporation, to protect from privatisation. The Minister indicated that he was introducing an amendment which would preclude him from transferring or selling his shares in the company.
Under section 22, is it?
No. The Minister referred to the fact that he would be introducing the amendment which would preclude him from selling shares. We were arguing that part of the reason for a corporation was the danger that the companies could be sold off to private interests. The Minister indicated that he was introducing the amendment to preclude his selling off the shares in the company. While that is good in itself, it does not prevent the Minister, without the need to refer back to the Dáil, from allowing the companies to change their articles of association or memorandum. The danger is still there. Given the economic climate here, in Britain and elsewhere in the EEC and also in the US, there is a general movement towards privatisation of State companies. The purpose in the amendment put down by The Workers' Party was to ensure that, as far as humanly possible, the interests of the people in general and of the employees in particular be protected and at the same time ensure a comprehensive and efficient service.
I remind the Minister and the Labour Party that they have committed themselves to providing for statutory corporations in their joint Programme for Government. This is point one under the heading of Telecommunications.
An Bord Telecom and An Bord Poist, after full consultation with the trade unions and staff associations before vesting day, will be established as statutory corporations.
That is a clear commitment made between the Fine Gael and Labour Parties in coming together to form a Government. If they felt then that this was an important assurance to give to the workers in Posts and Telegraphs, it is equally important now. Nothing has changed in the meantime and for that reason I press the amendment.
Could I take up a point made by Deputy De Rossa? The situation has changed, indeed. When that agreement was made, The Workers' Party and Fianna Fáil told us in this House that we could not introduce a statutory corporation.
Who said that?
It is on the record.
In regard to one of the points made by Deputy —— I am on my feet. May I proceed?
Deputy O'Sullivan is play-acting.
Deputy Wilson, please.
I would like to remind the Chair of something which he said, too.
I ask Deputy Leyden to be a little more serious and less facetious. There has been enough slagging in the House this morning and this debate should be allowed to proceed without any further attacks on the Minister. The Deputy's point was irrelevant.
I do not think that Deputy Leyden is being facetious.
The Deputy's point with regard to cleaners is not relevant. He could clean up his own house a little. That might be no harm at all.
I do not understand what Deputy Enright is talking about.
Deputy Wilson is a shrewder man than that. Regarding the question of the semi-State bodies already set up, examples were cited in some papers in regard to offices being made available and their very sizeable cost. The figure is somewhere around £900,000, but I have not the exact amount. No normal commercial company could afford that but the taxpayer is being asked to pay it. I know it is because of the progression in the setting up of these two bodies over a long period. I accept that there have been difficulties but — let us be frank — that should not happen. Someone has to put a knuckle on semi-State bodies that are allowing such waste. It should not be allowed to continue.
It was the Government that the Deputy supported that was the cause of the delay and I know that. I have dates and statistics.
Deputy Wilson's Government set up this body and floundered around.
Deputies, would you please be relevant.
It is not true to say that we floundered around.
Deputy Wilson, please. I would be grateful if Deputy Enright confined himself to what we are talking about.
We have a long day ahead of us. This is a very important Bill and Members are most anxious to contribute, but if we are going to diversify into other areas, valuable time will be wasted.
A momentum has been built up in regard to the setting up of these two bodies which are now in existence. We have been far too quick to rush into setting up semi-State bodies. I will be very brief in making this point.
There is no point in the Deputy's being brief if he does not confine himself to section 2.
I am confining myself to that section.
The Deputy is deviating from it.
No, I am not.
I think the Deputy is.
These semi-State bodies are unnecessary and we must ensure that——
The Deputy is returning to Second Stage debate.
He is going back to 1979.
I would much prefer if the Deputy dealt with Committee Stage. We are dealing with section 2. I have an amount of patience, but it is dwindling and dwindling fast. I would be very grateful if you would confine yourself to the principle of section 2 and not go back into history. What the Deputy is saying has been dealt with on Second Stage. We are now on Committee Stage.
I have made my point fully.
I regret having to return to this point. When I spoke last, I made the point that the present Government in their joint programme in December of 1982, the end of last year, agreed to introduce a statutory corporation. There is no way in which The Workers' Party, Fianna Fáil or anybody else could prevent the Labour Party and Fine Gael from introducing a statutory corporation if they chose now to do so. The Workers' Party are offering this amendment in support of those in the House who are introducing a statutory corporation. I cannot see how we have prevented the introduction of a statutory corporation, when we now have an amendment down to seek to do that very thing.
On Second Stage, when the Labour Party put before the House that a corporation be set up, it did not get the support.
The Labour Party did not put the amendment down. They opposed the Bill.
Yes, we opposed it. That is what we wanted to do. Like Deputy Enright, we did not want this Bill in the House. It was forced upon us. We had no choice.
I shall try to answer some of the points put by the Deputies. Deputy De Rossa's point about the Government programme is quite correct. When I came into office I examined the situation and discovered that if we were to have a statutory corporation it would be a matter not of amending the Bill but of introducing a completely new Bill. That would have taken at least six or eight months, which would have delayed proceedings. Even that delay might have been acceptable if something could be achieved in that manner which could not be achieved in the manner of the present legislation. The one major difference between the two was that the corporation have no shares and therefore they cannot be disposed of without further legislation. That is why I am introducing the amendment to which I have referred. All the other provisions in the Bill are as if it were a statutory corporation. There is no difference whatsoever. We have met the point in principle.
Deputy Wilson earlier on in the debate mentioned the privatisation question. The Government and I have no intention of privatising anything. W have no plans for privatisation. In fact, I would be very much opposed to that. That is why I am delighted to move the amendment prohibiting the sale of shares and delighted to hear Deputy Wilson make that clear. I am opposed to the amendment.
Will Deputies claiming a Division please rise in their places?
Deputy Mac Giolla, Deputy De Rossa and Deputy Gregory-Independent rose in their places.
As fewer than ten Deputies have risen, I declare the amendment lost. The Deputies' names will be recorded as dissenting. I would remind Deputies that this is a confined debate which must conclude by 5 p.m. tomorrow. There may be numerous divisions during the debate and I am asking that Deputies who wish to leave to leave quietly after each division.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 9, subsection (1), between lines 24 and 25, to insert:—
"‘the Companies Acts' means the Companies Act, 1963, and the Acts which by virtue of any enactment are to be construed with it as one Act;".
As amendments Nos. 22 and 37 are consequential, they are being taken, by agreement, with amendment No. 2.
This amendment is purely technical. It is adding to the interpretation of the Companies Acts.
I move amendment No. 6a:
In page 9, subsection (1), after line 36, to insert the following definition:—
"‘staff' will be taken to incorporate postmasters in sub post offices, and all provisions for protection of employees will include postmasters in sub post offices;".
I am moving this amendment because I believe that the postmasters in sub-post offices should be given equal protection under the Bill with the staff of the Department. In a sense these postmasters are sub-contractors to the Department but they have provided distinguished service to the Department since the foundation of the State. They are located in every village in the country. At the beginning of January of this year the total number of these sub-post office postmasters was 2,068. They are providing a tremendous service at a very low cost. The small income provided for many of them is amazing — less than £2,000 per year. Very often the postmaster is regarded as a man of substance in his area, but the reality is that he would not need to be relying on the Department for any wealth he might have.
I am asking the Minister to accept the amendment in the spirit in which it is being proposed and thereby to ensure that this group of people will be given equal protection with the staffs who are represented by other unions.
This amendment is not acceptable. Postmasters are not employees. They are contractors and their position will be protected by section 39 of the Bill. That section provides for a continuation of their existing contracts after the operation of the postal and telecommunications services is taken over by the State-sponsored board. A later amendment in the name of Deputy Leyden relates to this also.
We all appreciate that sub-postmasters are contractors and, while there is protection for them in another section of the Bill, would the Minister not envisage a situation in which after the new boards take over the whole position will change dramatically? Therefore, would he not consider it important to think in terms of what the situation may be in five or ten years' time?
What I consider to be a very wise principle was adopted in drafting the Bill. That was the principle of no more and no less. The Bill seeks to transfer into the semi-State situation precisely what exists in the civil service situation. In other words, neither more nor less in terms of the monopoly situation or of the security of employment situation that exists is being proposed. The same applies to the status of postmasters. Under the new arrangement it will be neither more nor less that what is their present situation. Whatever changes may be proposed later — and any such changes would have to be considered at such time — there is no change envisaged in the status or contractual arrangements concerning postmasters.
From discussions I have had with the chief executive and with the board I am aware that a much wider and more extensive role is envisaged under the board for sub-post offices than has been the case up to now. Consequently, I am glad that this matter is being aired here as a result of Deputy Leyden's amendment. With the aid of the small computer and so on, the chief executive of the board intends to increase the business of sub-post offices in a marketing sense. Therefore, it is important that the House should at least take cognisance of the necessity to protect the position of postmasters in these sub-post offices.
The Minister's commitment is welcome. The change from State to semi-State is historic and over 2,000 postmasters require extra protection in relation to their status and security of tenure. That is why I feel that "staff" should incorporate "postmasters" and I will be pressing my amendment to a vote.
I am sure the Minister agrees that it is clear that the role and status of postmasters will change in time. It is part of the strategy of this new board that they will develop new wide-ranging services. Is this not where the whole future of the network will be strengthened and improved? Does the Minister not envisage a situation where the board may consider that sub-contracting may not be in the best interests of the board? Does the Minister not envisage a situation where postmasters will be taken in as staff at a later stage and, if they are, where will they stand at that stage? This proposal should be seriously considered now as there will be great developments in the network which will lead on to the development of other services which will complement and supplement the postal services.
I agree that the potential is there but it would be wrong to make changes now. It is up to the companies set up to propose changes as they become necessary. However, there is provision in the Bill to elect a postmaster director to the company. The postmasters' contracts will not be affected. They are protected in the Bill. In relation to the point about employees, it would be open to the board to decide whether post offices will be run by employees rather than contractors. There is no change in status so I am opposed to the amendment.
Is that the same protection that is extended to the other staff?
They will have the protection that they have now.
There is a big difference.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Barrett, Sylvester.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Brennan, Paudge.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- Browne, John.
- Burke, Raphael P.
- Byrne, Hugh.
- Byrne, Seán.
- Calleary, Seán.
- Colley, George.
- Collins, Gerard.
- Conaghan, Hugh.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Coughlan, Cathal Seán.
- Cowen, Bernard.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Fahey, Francis.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Faulkner, Pádraig.
- Fitzgerald, Gene.
- Fitzsimons, Jim.
- Flynn, Pádraig.
- Foley, Denis.
- Gallagher, Pat Cope.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Charles J.
- Hilliard, Colm.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Kitt, Michael.
- Lemass, Eileen.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lyons, Denis.
- McCarthy, Seán.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- MacSharry, Ray.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Morley, P.J.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Noonan, Michael. (Limerick West)
- O'Keeffe, Edmond.
- O'Malley, Desmond J.
- Ormonde, Donal.
- O'Rourke, Mary.
- Power, Paddy.
- Reynolds, Albert.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Walsh, Seán.
- Walsh, Seán.
- Wilson, John P.
- Barnes, Monica.
- Barrett, Seán.
- Barry, Myra.
- Begley Michael.
- Boland, John.
- Bruton, John.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Burke, Liam.
- Carey, Donal.
- Cluskey, Frank.
- Collins, Edward.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Coogan, Fintan.
- Cooney, Patrick Mark.
- Cosgrave, Liam T.
- Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
- Coveney, Hugh.
- Flaherty, Mary.
- Glenn, Alice.
- Gregory-Independent, Tony.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Harte, Patrick D.
- Hussey, Gemma.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Keating, Michael.
- Kelly, John.
- Kenny, Enda.
- L'Estrange, Gerry.
- McCartin, Joe.
- McGahon, Brendan.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- Mac Giolla, Tomás.
- McLoughlin, Frank.
- Manning, Maurice.
- Mitchell, Gay.
- Molony, David.
- Creed, Donal.
- Crotty, Kieran.
- Crowley, Frank.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Deasy, Martin Austin.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Desmond, Barry.
- Desmond, Eileen.
- Donnellan, John.
- Dowling, Dick.
- Doyle, Avril.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Dukes, Alan.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- Enright, Thomas W.
- Farrelly, John V.
- Fennell, Nuala.
- FitzGerald, Garret.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Naughten, Liam.
- Nealon, Ted.
- O'Brien, Fergus.
- O'Brien, Willie.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- O'Toole, Paddy.
- Owen, Nora.
- Prendergast, Frank.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Ryan, John.
- Shatter, Alan.
- Skelly, Liam.
- Spring, Dick.
- Taylor, Mervyn.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeline.
- Timmins, Godfrey.
- Treacy, Seán.
- Yates, Ivan.
As an enlarged role is envisaged for the postmasters I will have something to say on Report Stage about security and so on.
Amendment No. 10 in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 105 and 114 are related and all three amendments may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 10, to delete lines 30 to 32, and substitute the following:—
"3.—Every order (other than an order under paragraph 2 of the Second Schedule) and every regulation made by the Minister, the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism under this Act or made by the postal company under section 81 * or by the telecommunications company under section 94 * shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as".
Section 3 of the Bill requires that certain orders and regulations made by Ministers under the Bill must be laid before the Dáil and Seanad, after which both have 21 sitting days in which to annul the order or regulation in question.
This amendment has two purposes. First, it provides that orders made by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs under the Second Schedule to the Bill, to enable either Bord Telecom Éireann or An Post to acquire land compulsorily, will not require to be laid before the Dáil and Seanad. Such orders are of an administrative nature and not subordinate legislation for which section 3 was designed. Similar ministerial orders made under the Gas Act, 1976, in favour of Bord Gáis Éireann are excluded from such a requirement whereas ministerial regulations made under that Act are required to be presented to both the Dáil and Seanad. Second, it extends the requirement to any regulations which An Post may make under the new section 81, being inserted by amendment No. 105, to regulate their staff in the matter of opening etc., postal packets in the course of their duties, and which Bord Telecom Éireann may make under the new section 94, being inserted by amendment No. 114, to regulate their staff in the matter of interception of telecommunication messages in the course of their duties.
Any regulations which the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs may make under the new section 94 in regard to the use of overhearing facilities in relation to any apparatus attached to the telecommunications network of Bord Telecom Éireann, of course, will be subject to the requirement of section 3 to be laid before both the Dáil and Seanad.
The laying of such reports before the Houses of the Oireachtas gives a certain security because it will allow the Members to debate these matters. In those circumstances I accept the amendment because the more reports of this kind that come before the Oireachtas the better.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 10, before section 4, to insert the following new section:—
4.—(1) A person guilty of an offence under—
(a) section 45 of the Telegraph Act, 1863,
(b) section 6 of the Telegraph Act, 1869,
(c) section 11 of the Post Office (Protection) Act, 1884,
(d) section 53A (inserted by the Fourth Schedule) or 62 of the Post Office Act, 1908,
(e) section 13 of the Post Office (Amendment) Act, 1951, or
(f) section 35*, 60, 81*, 83, 94* or 95** of this Act,
shall be liable—
(i) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £800 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both the fine and the imprisonment, or
(ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding £50,000 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both the fine and the imprisonment.
(2) On conviction of a person on indictment for an offence to which subsection (1) relates the court may, in addition to any other penalty, order any apparatus, equipment or other thing used to commit the offence to be forfeited.
(3) Section 13 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, shall apply in relation to an offence to which subsection (1) relates as if, in lieu of the penalties provided for in subsection (3) of the said section, there were specified therein the penalties provided for in subsection (1) (i) of this section, and the reference in subsection (2) (a) of the said section 13 to the penalties provided for in the said subsection (3) shall be construed and have effect accordingly.
(4) Where an offence to which subsection (1) relates is committed by a body corporate and is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of, any person (or any person acting on his behalf) being a director, manager, or secretary of such body, that person or the person so acting, as the case may be, shall also be guilty of that offence.".
The purpose of this amendment is to substitute a comprehensive new penalties section for section 4 of the Bill in order to provide up-to-date penalties for a number of serious offences affecting the national postal and telecommunications services. The existing section 4 deals only with telecommunications fraud for which it provides a fine of £500 and/or imprisonment for six months.
The proposed new section provides for each category of offence separate penalties for persons convicted after summary proceedings, and much higher penalties for persons who are convicted on indictment.
Subsection (1) lists the statutory provisions which create the offences to which the proposed penalties are to apply. The penalties to be imposed in any case are at the discretion of the court and may involve a fine or imprisonment or both, subject to the maxima set down in the subsection.
Amendment No. 12 is an alternative to this amendment; amendments Nos. 13, 19, 136, 139, 140 and 150 are related and may be taken together.
We do not propose to move amendment No. 12 in view of the Minister's amendment which goes even further than our amendment. We felt there was a need to differentiate between the various offences and for that reason we sought to introduce different penalties for the various offences. In particular we were anxious to ensure that offences that breached the monopoly of Posts and Telegraphs would carry severe penalties. That has been met by the Minister's amendment.
I agree with this new provision. It is merely updating the fines and other penalties in the context of this day and age. As time goes on we will probably find that the provisions may not be adequate and I wonder if the Minister can make provision for amending the penalties or the bringing in of amending legislation. In ten years this may be out of date in view of the inflationary spiral. At this time it is only right that the penalties should be increased. If the need arises later the Government of the day will have to bring in amended legislation.
I welcome the amendment, which is to copperfasten the monopoly position of the company. Recently we have had a growth in private courier companies for postal services. We had a recent happening in Dublin when quite a substantial amount of mail was found undelivered. This cannot be allowed to continue. I have reservations in regard to the penalties in respect of disclosure of the information but I will raise it on the appropriate section. The fines proposed by the Minister are a welcome development. The prison sentences on indictment are welcomed but I agree with Deputy Leyden that these penalties should not remain static. If it is not possible to build in some sort of escalator clause, the position should be reviewed at intervals according to the rate of inflation, because in ten years these penalties may not be such a deterrent.
We all welcome the updating of the penalties so that they will match the offences but I do not think we should rely altogether on fines as a deterrent or to put courier services out of business. What should be done is to make the postal services as efficient as the others. When I was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs I said that the quicker we could have a task force to match the courier services, the better. We should not be waiting to give them the opportunity to develop their services and then come too late in the day to take them on. That is basically what happened. I looked for an arrangement which I did not get at that time. I had hoped that a task force would be sent out immediately to take on the courier services, and who better to do it than the Department through their very wide network, with vans and all the other facilities to provide good services, a more efficient one and a cheaper one? That would have matched any courier who wanted to start from scratch. I welcome the penalties because I always felt that the law should be strengthened and brought up to date. However, efficiency should be the name of the game.
We are having a complete new section. There are four amendments but what happens if any one of them is not accepted? Will we be back again to section 4?