Senators will no doubt have read in yesterday's newspapers that this new Telephone Capital Bill is intended to provide a further £6,000,000 to be raised as required for telephone development over the next four years. This is not as much as I would wish to spend if money were freely available but I must look for funds to the Minister for Finance and he has many other demands on the amount of capital he can borrow. As we all know, he has been unable to get sufficient money for all the desirable capital services which are normally financed by the Exchequer. The needs of the telephone service have had, therefore, to be weighed against those of the other capital services, such as housing, sanitary services, hospitals, etc., and it has been decided that, since there must be a general pruning of State capital expenditure, the telephone service should bear some share.
It is not, however, proposed to effect any drastic scaling-down of the amounts we have been spending on telephone development in the past; in fact, over the past three financial years, the average rate of expenditure has been of the order of £1,500,000 and it is at that rate we are proposing to provide for further expenditure under this Bill. Naturally, with the increasing demand for telephones and higher costs of materials we would in the normal way spend more but I cannot reasonably expect telephone development and particularly the extensive installation of private telephones to be met in full at the expense of housing and the other capital services to which I have referred.
The last Telephone Capital Bill, that of 1951, was for £8,000,000 and enabled us to carry out an extensive programme of development and improvement of the service. Over 35,000 exchange lines and 50,000 telephone stations were provided, and we now have some 120,000 telephones in service. The capacity of the trunk network was greatly expanded, particularly by the provision of coaxial trunk cables between the larger centres and delays have been eliminated over a large part of the system. The actual mileage of trunk circuits was more than doubled. In Dublin the automatic system was greatly extended, both by additions to existing exchanges and the establishment of new exchanges. In the provinces automatic exchanges were openeded at 21 places including Dundalk, Waterford, Athlone and Mullingar. In most other centres of any size the equipment was either enlarged or renewed. Hours of service were extended at many exchanges and some 97.5 per cent. of our subscribers now have 24-hour service. The scheme for providing public telephones in all post offices has been completed apart from two offices which are at present being provided with telephones.
Like most other telephone administrations, we still have a waiting list —now about 4,000—for telephones, despite the fact that we have been steadily increasing the number of new telephones installed. This has been due partly to a steady increase in demand particularly for private telephones; for instance, for the first five months of this year we received 44 per cent. more applications than in the corresponding period of 1954. The difficulty in overtaking this growing demand which has now reached a level about four times what it was pre-war has been aggravated by the general shortage of engineering staff which affects most organisations requiring staff for engineering and electronic work.
As I have said, the £6,000,000 will not be enough to meet completely the anticipated needs of the service over the next few years. It will, nevertheless, enable us to carry out a reasonable measure of development and there will, by and large, be no material variation in the volume of employment given. Broadly, this is how the money will be spent: Exchanges—new and extended (including buildings), £1,250,000; trunk service, £1,450,000; subscribers' installations (including underground development work), £3,300,000.
The provision under new exchanges will cover new automatic exchanges at Dublin, Drogheda, Sligo, Limerick, Galway, Longford, Naas, and a number of the other places. It also covers extensions to existing exchanges. In order to conserve capital expenditure it is proposed to defer the conversion of manual exchanges to automatic working in cases where there is no compelling need for conversion.
We will aim to continue the improvement of trunk services particularly on routes on which there are delays at present, but the programme will have to be a restricted one as compared with that which would be undertaken if there were no capital difficulties. We will, for example, try to substitute less expensive short-term relief works for more costly permanent schemes.
The amount of money to be spent on subscribers' installations and associated underground development work will be limited by the necessity to preserve a balanced overall programme. A big difficulty here is the substantial arrears of underground work still remaining in the Dublin. Although in certain areas long delays in providing service will be unavoidable, and there will probably be an increase in the waiting list, it is hoped to keep up the intake of subscribers to what approximately it has been in recent years.
To conclude, I should like to say that within the limited money available we will try to do the best we can for both urban and rural areas. Although it has been considered prudent to provide for a restricted programme over a four-year period, that does not mean that if there is a substantial improvement in the position, we will be tied to this programme. The Bill lays down no limit—long or short—within which the money should be raised or spent. The position will be kept under continuous review so that normal development may be resumed without avoidable delay as soon as circumstances permit.