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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 23 Jun 1983

Vol. 344 No. 1

Postal and Telecommunications Services Bill, 1982: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 23:
In page 36, line 45, to delete "may" and substitute "shall as soon as possible after the vesting day".
—(Deputy De Rossa.)

This amendment seeks to substitute the word "shall" for the word "may" in section 66. That section provides that the company may, after consultation with the Minister, provide banking services including the service commonly known as the Giro System and including also the lending of money. As a matter of priority the company should set about providing these kinds of services but should set about also developing other services. I indicated that, for instance, the Post Office Savings Bank has been allowed die in recent years. The share of savings held by the Post Office over the last 15 years has fallen by 15 per cent to 3 per cent. This has taken place at a time when other financial institutions are in open competition with each other and are providing all kinds of new services. I see the development of the Post Office Savings Bank as a means of providing a highly efficient and competitive safe banking service. There is no reason why the Post Office should not be in a position to develop this service. Up to now the service has been allowed to wither away and has lacked the freedom to develop the kind of service which can be provided by this kind of office.

I understand that in Japan there has been a very important development in this particular area. I am told that the savings service there includes six kinds of deposit, ordinary deposit, monthly collection of deposits, savings certificates deposits, fixed time deposits, housing fund deposits and education deposits. Postmen are used to collect deposits for accounts. There is great scope here for this kind of service. The Minister should accept the amendment. It is still open to the Central Bank to adjudicate on a request by the company to provide technical services. The company should be obliged to provide those services and not be left with the option that they might or might not provide them.

This section relates to Post Office savings accounts. This will have to be developed by the new company. It has been relatively neglected up to date. There has been too much control by the Department of Finance and not enough control by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. It has had great difficulty to date. As the figures given in a submission by the Post Office Workers' Union outline, in 1965 the Post Office Savings Bank commanded 15 per cent of the total savings deposits and now only accounts for about 3 per cent. It is going down at the moment so I believe as much assistance as possible should be given for this particular area of savings.

I found in the Post Office that the actual difficulty was that the Postal service could not obtain finance from the Post Office Savings Bank. This is a great disadvantage to the company in developing the postal services. In many cases when the question of time safes came up for security purposes the Post Office had to get a loan from a hire purchase company to purchase those safes. There are quite a lot of deposits in the Post Office Savings Bank but the Department were not in a position to obtain funds from this particular section because all the funding has to go directly to the Department of Finance. I can see merit in The Workers' Party amendment. I am sure the Minister has in mind giving authority to the companies to increase the efficiency of the Post Office Savings Bank. I would like to hear the Minister's reply in relation to this section.

I am sure everybody recognises that the situation in the Post Office Savings Bank is far from satisfactory. The mechanism by which a person makes a simple withdrawal is very cumbersome. The amount a person can withdraw on demand does not induce people to go to the Post Office Savings Bank. The mechanism involved in the transfer to the next of kin when a depositor dies is very difficult. I know that certain safeguards had to be taken in the past to avoid abuse but now there are alternatives available. It should be possible, with the use of computers, to provide an up-to-date service.

Deputy De Rossa referred to the position in Japan where there is the largest savings bank in the world. There is no reason why the Post Office Savings Bank cannot develop in the same way. There are other sections in the Bill which give the Post Office a little more flexibility to develop counter services. I see the extension of the savings bank as a further extension of counter services.

It is necessary to make loans available to customers. If that cannot be done the Post Office Savings Bank will not be able to compete with the Trustee Savings Banks who have taken business from them. Now that the regulations are being amended to allow the Post Office Savings Bank the same conditions as the Trustee Savings Banks I have no doubt that its development will follow. The chief executive of the company has stated that he can provide a very low grade computer for each sub-office throughout the country. This would be a unique service because every village in the country is covered by the Post Office Savings Bank. No other banking institution can provide such a service. This is where the Post Office has a great advantage.

On Committee Stage Deputy Wilson spoke about security and said there could be a problem there. I agree with him on that. There is a need to provide a more secure system. Structural alterations will have to be carried out to many of the premises which are not equipped for this business at the moment. If that is done I have no doubt that the Post Office Savings Bank is the one area where there will be great potential. I am sure this is where the Post Office will prove to be very successful.

I, like every other Member who has spoken, want to see the development of the Giro system in the Post Office. We missed an opportunity in the past in not having moved in that direction. I know the objections which were raised in the past and the opposition which still exists in the Department of Finance. This is one of the fundamental areas where it will be necessary for An Post to become successful. As Deputy O'Sullivan said, the strongest bank is in Japan but, even much closer to home, it has developed across the water to a greater extent. When it started it did not do very well. Sweden is an ideal example. Phenomenal profits have been made there in the post office Giro system. There are people who are afraid to say that the post office Giro system can be an alternative banking system. I do not believe many people would be against that because we need an alternative banking system. We have only to look at the extent of the risks taken by the existing banking network and the absence of risks in the debenture capital area as well as the other areas. The sooner we get the post office Giro system going the better. This will be fundamental to the development of An Post because as technology develops in the future letters will not be such a great product for them and their future must lie in the development of new services. This is one of the fundamental ones for them.

I urge the Minister to give every possible latitude within the constraints he is laying down to the company to enable the company to go ahead with this business. It presents certain problems from a security point of view but that problem already exists. As the security forces become more successful in combating bank raids the attention turns to the Post Office which has been more vulnerable in this regard. If the Post Office are moving along the road towards a banking system they will have to secure their offices. In this day of modern technology it is a very simple operation to put in a small computer in each office around the country and have it fed into a main computer in Dublin. Indeed, with the development of the telecommunications network it will be made even simpler for them.

There is much merit in the Post Office being used as an alternative banking system because their offices are located in prominent places in each town and village. They have a fine network which has been left unused for too long. This is one service which would raise their status. They are in a position to provide a better service than the banking system at present. They are open even on Saturdays. I endeavoured to promote this idea during my time as Minister. But I still have at the back of my mind — and perhaps the Minister would avail of this opportunity to allay some of the fears — that there is very heavy opposition within the Department of Finance to this development taking place. In fact at one stage they went to far as to tell me that, within the Constitution, they were the only people who could really handle the financial resources of this State. There may be a constitutional problem there; I am not a constitutional lawyer. However, it is indicative of the type of opposition there is to that type of development. I hope we shall see that removed and that the Post Office will be given an opportunity of developing that service, which will be vital to their future success, even existence. Any obstacles that can be taken out of their way by this House should be taken away to allow them go ahead with the job.

I cannot accept Deputy De Rossa's amendment. Section 66 is enabling provision for An Post to provide banking services. The section must be enabling rather than mandatory for the reason that it would be perverse to require An Post to provide banking services even if studies by the company indicated that such a course would not be a practicable or economic proposition. The company will have to give very careful consideration to the nature and scope of the banking services provided by it. Clearly they cannot be compelled to provide services which, in their commercial judgment, might not be justified. To do so would be to legislate for a situation which could damage the other services provided by the company. As the section stands, it provides full enabling powers to the company, subject to appropriate consultation, to establish such banking services as they consider will contribute to their progress and profitability.

If we were to force An Post to get into banking services which turned out not to be a commercially viable proposition and, in the process brought down the rest of the postal services, that could not be in the interests of workers. Therefore, the right thing to do is to have the enabling provision so that if, in the commercial judgment of An Post, they consider they should get into banking services — I see this as one area in which there is great scope for expansion and I said so on Committee Stage — they may, but we must not make it mandatory on them. We must just enable them, if the company consider it commercially right to do so.

I regret the Minister does not find it possible to accept this amendment; I thought it was one other he could quite easily have accepted.

In dealing with this aspect of the operations of the postal services we must bear in mind that, as Deputy Reynolds said, there are interests in our society who do not want an alternative banking system to develop. I have already said I see this as an opportunity for a comprehensive national banking system to develop. We must also bear in mind that a lot of the members of the boards to be appointed will be from the private sector, people with close links with the commercial banking system. Therefore I think it only right that this House should make it a mandatory requirement that the Post Office provide a banking system, including a Giro system, and money lending facilities. I have never heard of anybody lending money who does not make a profit. It is probably one of the only operations in this country which does make a very handsome profit. In fact, the lending of money is simply the lending of paper and requires very little capital to become involved. In my constituency there are unfortunate people who pay up to 70 per cent interest on money they borrow from moneylenders and there are all sorts of moneylenders in our society. The State, as a matter of policy and priority, should insist that the postal company become involved in the banking services. I do not think it should be left as a discretionary option for them to do so. There are far too many interests in our society who would be only too happy to see them remain outside the area completely, to allow the Post Office Savings Bank wither away.

Is the Deputy pressing his amendment?

Yes, I am.

May I just say that section 103 deals with the Savings Bank?

Question: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand" put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

If you would allow me, Sir, earlier this morning we dealt with amendments Nos. 1 and 4 which, following Deputy O'Sullivan's intervention about the interpretation of the word "domestic" I withdrew. I have since had an opportunity of consulting the parliamentary draftsman on the subject. He does not think that the construction that Deputy O'Sullivan put on it could be put on it. He thinks that the word "household" would be equally acceptable.

Therefore if the House is agreeable — and I have consulted the Opposition about this — in amendments Nos. 1 and 4 we would substitute the word "household" for the word "domestic".

If the House is agreeable we can recommit sections 12 and 14.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 1.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 13, line 45, to delete "and social" and substitute ", social and household".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment reported.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 4.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 14, line 43, to delete "and social" and substitute ", social and household".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment reported.

On a point of information, can the Minister say whether he can do anything further on the question of security of tenure?

I am committed to looking at it again. I have worked very hard on that section for many months.

Amendment No. 24 in the name of the Minister. As amendments Nos. 24 and 25 are related, by agreement, they may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 37, line 28, after "company" to insert "except in relation to the printing thereof at the request of the company".

Section 67 deals with money orders and postal orders. Subsection (4) reads:

(4) The Revenue Commissioners shall not have or exercise any functions in relation to postal orders or money orders issued by the company.

—as the poundage on such orders will not be State revenue. The Revenue Commissioners have certain statutory functions in relation to money and postal orders because the poundage thereon is State revenue. Such functions relate in the main to prosecution of offences in relation to such orders.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that subsection (4) will not prevent the Revenue Commissioners from having operational functions in relation to the printing of money and postal orders at the request of An Post. Such work is undertaken by the Revenue Commissioners at present on behalf of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. There is no reason why they should not continue to undertake such work if An Post want them to do so.

A similar amendment arises on section 68 of the Bill in relation to postage stamps. A somewhat similar provision for the Commissioners of Public Works is contained already in section 52 of the Bill. In fact it is just to enable the Revenue Commissioners to print.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 38, line 2, after "company" to insert "except in relation to the printing thereof at the request of the company".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 26 has been discussed already with amendment No. 19 which was lost.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 39, to delete lines 23 to 37.

Is the Deputy pressing his amendment?

Question: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand" put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 27 in the name of Deputy Leyden. Amendments Nos. 28, 29, 30 and 31 are related and, by agreement, may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 40, line 23, to delete "may by order empower" and substitute "shall give exclusive power to".

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that An Post will be responsible for the collection of television licence fees. Up to now licence fees for television sets have been collected by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs by their staff throughout the country and for some time RTE have been pressing for the power to carry out this collection work. I would object to RTE being given this responsibility because I believe it would mean setting up another organisation to collect the licence fees. At the moment the situation is not satisfactory with regard to the amount of outstanding licence fees but I believe responsibility lies with the Department because the allocation of staff for the purpose of collecting licence fees has been totally inadequate. We have had highly publicised campaigns for short periods. It is obvious to people who do not pay their licence fees that each campaign will only last a certain time and in that period there is the possibility that they can evade paying the fee. An Post should have responsibility in this matter and that was the reason my amendment asks for the insertion of the word "shall". There should not be any doubt or ambiguity about the position. However, it has created a considerable amount of concern among the staff.

At the moment there is a proposal to centralise the collection service in the main head office of the Department linking it by computer to the regional computer centres. The proposal of the chief executive of the interim board, Mr. Tom Garvey, should be followed. That was to have mini-computers located in nearly all the offices of the Department throughout the country and particularly in the main offices in the regional areas, for instance, in the main post offices operated by staff in the Post Office Workers' Union. If necessary, the offices could be linked to the main computer.

At the moment the service is underutilised and under-financed. There is not enough incentive given to the staff to operate it. There are perhaps 200,000 unlicensed television sets: the Minister may comment on the numbers involved. The people who have not paid their television licence fees are depriving RTE of much needed finance. If everyone paid his fair share the licence fee would be less than it is and RTE would be able to finance their operations more successfully.

The reason RTE are pressing to take control of this area is that they are not satisfied with the situation at the moment. They consider they would do a much better job. That may be so, but they would only do a better job at a higher cost. The position could be greatly improved. Even before the new board take over there should be consultation with RTE with regard to co-operation. RTE are in a position to provide the necessary advertising campaign — they do this very effectively — to encourage people to pay their licence fees. If RTE were given this responsibility they would have to have more staff and they would deprive the Post Office of much needed work, particularly in rural areas.

It is my view that the work should be retained by An Post, that the collection system should be improved and, in the interim, the Minister should have another look at this matter. I know he has taken a certain interest in it and that he is not satisfied with the numbers who have been evading paying their licence fees. The Minister should give an assurance to the staff that he has no intention of allocating this work to any other State or semi-State organisation. To date the work of the Department has been as satisfactory as it could be having regard to the finance available to them. I have had discussions with staff in many areas in relation to this matter. If they were given more time, if the campaign lasted for a longer period and if one or two officials were appointed on a full-time basis to oversee the work, we would have a far better success rate. Without the finance coming to them, RTE are not in a position to finance their operations and, in turn, the public are losing out by not getting the service to which they are entitled.

I am glad Deputy Leyden has tabled the amendments even at this late stage. I take it he is speaking on behalf of his party?

I know now that the work will not be taken from the Post Office. When I suggested this at an earlier stage I got very little support from that quarter. Now the majority party have given an indication that they are prepared to say the collection of television licence fees should remain with the Post Office and I am happy that this is on the record of the House.

Many high-ranking officials in the Department should be charged with negligence. Vast sums of money have been left uncollected simply because nobody would take a decision to put people on the job on a permanent basis. That was before the days of an embargo on recruitment when there was ample opportunity to get more staff. The campaigns that were carried out were not effective and, as a result, the licence fees were not collected. Now another semi-State organisation are saying the Post office are not doing their job. This charge cannot be levelled at the employees but at their superiors who had a responsibility in the matter and who failed dismally. I have no doubt that if a new approach is adopted and if people are put on the job on a permanent basis the outstanding amounts will be collected. I welcome the remarks of Deputy Leyden because it is important that the major Opposition party have indicated clearly where they stand on this issue.

On a point of clarification, earlier when the Minister was speaking on section 44 he said that perhaps he would bring forward amendments to the Seanad. We have been asked to agree to the final motion to put the Bill in one question. However, if the Bill goes to the Seanad and if amendments are put down at that stage the Bill will have to come back to this House if there are different amendments in it which have not been debated here. We have given considerable time to this Bill in the past two weeks on the basis that it had to be through the House but if it goes to the Seanad and has to come back to this House it is more than probable that this House will not be sitting at that time. This will mean the Bill will be delayed until the autumn. Before we agree to put the Bill in one question I want to know the position. It appears to me we are defeating the whole purpose if we wait until the autumn. Perhaps the Minister would clarify the position.

I can assure the House that I am very anxious that the Bill be enacted before the summer recess. There has been too much delay already. I was asked late last night to consider again the new formula of words. I said, without commitment, that I would consider it and if I thought it possible to improve the formula I would consider moving an amendment in the Seanad. If that course were adopted, this Bill would have to come back to this House but I could only contemplate that on the basis that it would come back to this House before the recess.

I accept what the Minister said. It will be impossible for this to happen because there are already a number of Bills before the Seanad. It would not be possible for the Minister to bring in an amendment in the Seanad unless we leave the Bill over until the autumn, and this would be very unfortunate because this bill has been with us for 18 months and the Labour Party dragged it through Second Stage for several weeks. If we want to put the question at 5 o'clock, and we are happy to do so, it will be on the assumption that that is the end of this Bill in the Dáil.

I cannot anticipate what points will be made in the Seanad and it would be wrong for me to give a commitment in advance that I will not accept any proposals in the Seanad. I adopted the attitude in this House that constructive suggestions, and there were many, should be facilitated. Naturally I will have to take into account what the Opposition Chief Whip said and I will also take into account the time difficulty.

I would like Deputy Ahern to clarify what he meant by the Labour Party dragging this Bill through the House.

That is not a point of order.

Perhaps he would enlighten me.

We will get back to amendment No. 27.

I cannot accept amendments Nos. 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31. Section 75 provides enabling power for the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to delegate to An Post certain TV licensing work and such other licensing work as might arise in the future under the Wireless Telegraphy Acts in relation to receiving apparatus and which it would be appropriate to delegate to that company. There is a reason why section 75 must be enabling and not mandatory as the Deputy suggests. The Minister has statutory responsibility for these matters under the Wireless Telegraphy Acts and therefore must reserve the right to make the best arrangements for the collection of the State revenue involved and for the performance of other work arising in relation thereto in the most effective way possible. Such work involves a number of different functions and accordingly section 75 is divided into separate subsections for each.

The Minister's chief responsibility in this matter in the public interest is to ensure that television licence revenue is collected to the maximum extent. The practical situation is — and I can assure the unions of this — that there is no question of the collection work being done otherwise than by An Post in the foreseeable future. It will be in the company's interest to ensure by its performance of the work that the work will remain with it and I would expect that to be the case. However, the potential for flexibility in the future if the situation should require it should clearly be retained.

This year we are having two television campaigns to track down people who are evading paying their television licence fees. We are computerising records within the next few months and this will greatly increase the ease with which these people can be tracked down. This will relieve a number of staff from clerical work to tracking work. It is my intention when bringing in legislation on broad-casting and wireless telegraphy in the autumn to increase the fines for evasion. All these measures taken together should greatly reduce the number of evaders.

I would like the Minister to reassure us that An Post will be the sole collectors of the fee. That was my reason for putting down this amendment. The Minister has not told us the number of evaders there are. I know it would only be an estimate, but he must have some idea of the number of people who have television licences and the number of television sets in the country. As regards the computerisation of the licence work, I hope this will not result in any loss of work at head offices. Many staff members have expressed concern about this.

In my view the Department made a mistake when they had two campaigns to catch evaders. This should be an ongoing campaign. It is very disturbing for people who pay their licences on time and hear of so many people using the service but who avoid paying for it. As I said, I put down the amendment to ensure that that service would be retained in An Post and that the Minister had no intention of handing it over to RTE.

I can give that assurance.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 28 to 31, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 41, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:—

"(2) The company shall not terminate the operation of a sub-post office without giving at least two months' notice of its intention to do so by means of advertisment in newspapers in circulation in the area served by that office and by means of public notices at the sub-post office concerned and the head post office of the area concerned. The foregoing provisions shall not apply to the temporary suspension of business at any sub-post office for reasons considered necessary by the company".

Section 79 deals with an operational matter. It empowers An Post, after consultation with Bord Telecom Éireann, to determine the hours of business of telegraph offices under its control. In the event of a dispute between the two companies about this, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs shall decide the matter.

This amendment incorporates the basic principle of an amendment tabled by Deputy Leyden on Committee Stage. It also makes allowance for the temporary closure of sub-post offices, for example, where a postmaster dies or retires or where a postmaster is suspended following discovery of irregularities in the conduct of the business of the sub-post office. If this amendment is agreed the title of the section will be amended to "Hours of business of certain telegraph offices and closure of sub-post offices".

I would like to thank the Minister for including the amendment I submitted on Committee Stage. It will allay the fears of postmasters in relation to their security of tenure. I do not want to see any office closing and I take this opportunity to appeal to the incoming administration of the Post Office to recognise the great contribution which postmasters have made at more than 2,000 sub-post offices. I know the new chief executive, Mr. Garvey, had discussions with the unions and that he will have due consideration of their position. There will be no danger of any office closing because the proposals the chief executive and his board are discussing about the mini-terminals in the sub-post offices will ensure extra work; there will be contract work from other semi-State organisations and work arising from negotiations with the ESB in connection with the collection of electricity bills. The offices will be viable and will prove to be a great success. This is a section which will give due warning and make allowances for any objections which would arise in the event of any closure.

I welcome this amendment and compliment Deputy Leyden on prompting it. I do not want any part in his glory on this occasion.

I thank the Deputy.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 42, line 2, to delete "12" and substitute "6".

This would bring the boards into operation at a much earlier date than proposed. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the final boards would be established within the shortest possible time after vesting date. I appreciate that the interim boards have gained great experience to date and that they will be involved in the transition from a Department to a semi-State situation.

The six month period would be more satisfactory and there would be clearcut responsibility vested in the new board, whose directors would be elected by the unions and the postmasters. At the moment the unions are represented in the majority by the secretary of the union. In this instance, the electing process should take place at the earliest possible time. I am suggesting that it be reduced from 12 to six months, which would leave quite enough time to set up the organisation and get the machinery working.

I must oppose this amendment. Section 80 subsection (6) requires elections to be held for postmaster directors within 12 months after the vesting date unless the company and the recognised unions and associations representing the postmasters agreed to postpone the elections to a later date. Experience of elections under the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Act of 1977 shows that it is unreasonable to put a time of six months into the legislation. There is nothing to stop the first election of postmaster directors of An Post within six months after the vesting day if that proves to be practicable. It is a matter for the company and the postmasters. For example, it would only be necessary to arrange for postmasters to vote if more than one candidate were duly nominated. It is my intention that in the interim and afterwards, there will be a postmaster director as there is effectively at the moment.

In view of the Minister's comments, I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 34 in the names of Deputies Mac Giolla and De Rossa was discussed with amendment No. 19.

I was not aware of that. I move amendment No. 34:

In page 45, to delete lines 10 to 12.

Question: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand" put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 35 in the name of the Minister was discussed with amendment No. 20.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 45, lines 22 and 23, to delete "loss, damage or injury suffered by any person" and substitute "loss or damage suffered by a person in the use of a service referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c)".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 36 was also discussed with amendment No. 20.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 45, line 24, to delete ",neglect".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 37 was also discussed with amendment No. 20.

I move amendment No. 37.

In page 45, lines 32 and 33, to delete "loss, damage or injury" and substitute "loss or damage."

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 38 is in the name of the Minister.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 45, to delete lines 34 and 35.

Section 87 (3) provides that no refund of any rental or charge shall be payable by Bord Telecom Éireann in respect of any losses, damage etc. arising in the operation of the telecommunications services.

It has been represented to me that this provision would preclude the company from making any ex gratia refund etc., even where the company felt that such refund would be justified. That was not intended. It was envisaged that the existing arrangement for ex gratia refunds etc., notwithstanding the Minister's immunity from liability, would continue. By deleting the subsection, this amendment removes any doubt about such refunds etc. in the future.

I welcome this amendment. The present provision would put the company in a very difficult position. As the Minister is aware, at the moment in circumstances where there would be a major dispute or breakdown in services a refund for the period would be allowed. In those circumstances I certainly welcome this amendment.

I would like to welcome this amendment. Firstly, I am very concerned that even where overcharging by Bord Telecom Éireann is established or where somebody's phone is out of order for a period of weeks and they seek a rental rebate a situation would have been created where the board were legally prohibited from making any such payment. So far as that prohibition has been removed. I welcome it. I would liked to have seen the Minister go somewhat further in ensuring a legal obligation on the board to make repayments, not merely an enabling provision which removes prohibition from doing so.

The Minister's amendment, taken together with the amendments which he has made in the context of the Users' Council, makes it reasonable to take the view that, if a dispute arose between the board and a user of the telephone services and it was established through an arbitration system operating through the Users' Council that somebody had been overcharged and was entitled to a refund, the board would act and make repayments. In welcoming the amendment I might also say in this context that the removal of subsection (3) of this section has a general relevance to the entire section 87. Might I draw attention in the context of subsection (3) also to subsection (4) (b) of the Act and urge the Minister as soon as possible after this legislation becomes operative to ensure the implementation of section 39 of the Sale of Goods Act — which will provide an extra degree of protection for the consumer and will be brought into operation in connection with the telephone service by virtue of a ministerial order. I would urge the Minister to make such an order as quickly as possible after this legislation comes into force, to ensure that consumers are fully and promptly protected.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 39 has been discussed with amendment No. 19. Is the amendment withdrawn?

No. I move amendment No. 39:

In page 46, to delete lines 1 to 14.

Question: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand" put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 40 was also discussed with amendment No. 19. Is that amendment being pressed?

Amendment 40 calls for the deletion of a complete section. I feel that some further brief discussion would be merited on it.

That would not be permissible, Deputy. With the agreement of the House it was discussed with amendment No. 19.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 54, to delete lines 5 to 49.

Question: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand" put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 41 is in the name of Deputy Leyden. Amendment No. 45 is related. Amendments 41 and 45 are to be taken together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 55, line 28, after "office" to insert "for return by post of completed ballot papers".

Briefly, to clarify the situation, the vote will be a postal vote, not to be brought direct to the office involved. It will be an actual vote posted to the returning officer of the election. If there is an election for director it should be by post to facilitate employees throughout the country.

I cannot accept the amendment. An "election office" designated by the returning officer for the purpose of employee director elections would have functions additional to the receipt of completed ballot papers. For example, an "election office" would have lists of eligible candidates and voters on display and would deal with the actual conduct of the elections, including the issue of ballot papers. There is nothing to preclude postal voting. Amendment No. 46 is similar.

As long as the Minister clarifies they may vote by post——

They may, yes.

That is important. It would be part and parcel of the agreement for the arrangements and conditions under the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 42 and 46 may be taken together.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 56, to delete lines 36 and 37, and substitute the following:

"(2) Nominations shall be made in the following manner — any employee in accordance with paragraph 11 shall be eligible for nomination if nominated by 10 or more employees.".

The reason for this amendment is that the procedure to nominate a representative to go forward for election to the boards is not clear. The reason I put down the amendment is that it would allow for an individual to be nominated by ten colleagues.

I cannot accept this amendment. Paragraph 12 (3) of the First Schedule — Part I provides for the nomination of candidates for employee director elections by recognised trade unions and staff associations. This is the same provision for nominations as in section 11 of the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Act, 1977. I consider that the electoral procedures for both the employee directors of the two companies and the postmaster director of An Post should follow closely the 1977 Act.

I pointed out on Committee Stage in relation to earlier sections of the Bill bearing on employee and postmaster directors that I understood that the worker participation legislation was being reviewed at present by the Minister for Labour in consultation with the social partners and I undertook to bring points made in the debate to the notice of the Minister. I am prepared to do the same in regard to the point made in this amendment.

In the circumstances I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 56, line 40, after "entitled" to insert "both".

Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 are similar. Part I of the First Schedule contains detailed provisions for employee director elections. Paragraph 12 deals with the nominations of candidates. These are purely drafting amendments and are in response to staff representations. They ensure conformity of wording with paragraph 12 of Part II of the First Schedule in relation to the nomination of candidates for postmaster director elections. They make it clear that a recognised trade union or staff association cannot both nominate one or more candidates of its own accord and nominate one or more candidates jointly with another such body or bodies, that is, another trade union or staff association. Both words are absent from paragraph 12 as it stands. The provision about nominations by recognised trade unions and staff associations is taken from section 11 (2) of the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Act, 1977.

I am not opposing the amendment. The Minister is to be congratulated for the many amendments he has accepted through the course of the debate on Committee and Report Stages. This is in contrast to some other Ministers — the Minister for the Environment who pushed through his Bill word for word and the Minister for Finance who did likewise. It is an indication of how the House can work together on a Bill. I had hoped the Minister would have been able to come back at this stage with a tighter alteration of the security of tenure issue which was debated——

Is the Deputy speaking on the amendment?

The only amendment before the House is amendment No. 43.

I thought it was Nos. 43 and 44.

Could we agree to the amendments and then proceed to the general debate?

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 56, line 42, before "body" to insert "such".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 not moved.
Bill reported with amendments.
Title agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass".

In view of the time I shall be very brief. As Deputy Mac Giolla said, it was an example of how a good legislature operates. I very much appreciate the constructive suggestions made by all Deputies. I have adopted an open approach so as to improve the Bill. This important work is not the kind that makes the headlines. The row and allegation make the headlines as I know only too well. The passage of this Bill has been marked by a very personal storm. I thank Deputies for their contributions. There is an extremely bright future for the postal and telecommunication services given the right environment and commitment by all concerned. I will do everything I can to ensure the right environment is created.

I thank the Minister for accepting so many worth-while amendments to the Bill. If the Minister, after further consultation with his officials and union representatives, can come forward with a further wording for section 44 it would allay the fears of the workers. I would support him fully in that. I hope that will be carried out as quickly as possible because it is vital that the Bill be passed before the summer recess and that both boards are operational before the end of the year. I express my thanks and appreciation to all those who were involved with the Bill, the officials, the Secretary of the Department Mr. Ó Ceallaigh and the former Secretary Mr. Ó Reagáin. I wish success to the incoming chief executives, Mr. Tom Murran and Mr. Tom Garvey and to all members of the boards. The passing of this Bill is an historic occasion.

The Workers' Party completely support the principle of the Bill. We believe these boards can be made efficient and profitable. We regret there are a number of basic issues that have not been solved — the security of tenure for staff, the issue of superannuation and the issue of licences which could erode and destroy the integrity and concept of exclusive privilege. In view of this we will have to vote against the Bill although I accept the principle of it.

I do not wish to indulge in point scoring at this stage and I should like to compliment all Members for the manner in which the debate proceeded. I regret more time was not available to discuss such important legislation which concerns so many people. At the outset my party were opposed to the introduction of the Bill and the fact that there were so many amendments — thankfully they were accepted in the spirit of the debate — highlighted the fact that there were defects in the original Bill. I expressed, on behalf of my party, the concern we have with regard to security of tenure. I have put a certain wording to the Minister and I hope Deputy Aherne's intervention today will not prevent him accepting an amendment. I hope a parliamentary device is not used to prevent the Minister accepting the wording which was presented to him late last night. I should like to thank the Minister, and his staff, for their courtesy throughout the debate. From time to time we have had cross words but the debate was carried out in a dignified manner.

I should like to thank Deputies and to be associated with the remarks of Deputy Leyden in congratulating and thanking the staff who worked for so long on this legislation. I wish the new boards, and their future employees, every success.

Question put and declared carried.

I am anxious that Deputy Mac Giolla and I are noted as having voted against this Stage.

That statement will appear on the record.