I wish to raise a few points on this Estimate. After all, the Department for Posts and Telegraphs ought to be looked upon as a big business concern and ought, as far as possible, be run in the interests of the State and the community generally. At the same time, I am afraid that the tendency of all Government Departments is to become impatient of criticism and not really, in some cases, to cater for the best interests of the people they are serving. Two years ago, on this Estimate I raised a few points and I should like to raise them again in the hope that these points will, at any rate, get some consideration from the Minister. The first matter I wish to raise has reference to the long-distance cross-Channel telephone. I do not care whether you look upon the cross-Channel telephone through London as a means of communication with the Continent, whether you look upon London as an international market or look upon the cross-Channel service merely as a channel for doing business in England but certainly, even at the present time, there is a very large volume of international business that has to be transacted through the cross-Channel telephone. Yet the delays are very considerable, not due to any lack of efficiency in working the telephone but simply to the inadequacy of the trunk lines. At some periods of the day you could not get on under an hour at least and possibly, considerably longer. It is no uncommon experience for a wire to be received making a telephone appointment and I submit to the Minister that at the present time, when we are considering the spending of considerable sums of money in the relief of unemployment, money expended on the improvement of these services would give profitable employment and would at the same time relieve the difficulties of doing business on this side of the water.
I think that the Minister ought seriously to consider increasing the cross-Channel telephone lines. Possibly the Minister for Industry and Commerce would bear me out in the statement that everybody in this country is more or less in competition with somebody somewhere else and the greater the facilities afforded people here and the greater the ease with which they can do their business, the better service they will give to their customers. I should like to approve of the matter mentioned by the Minister in regard to overhead wires. I take it, it is the policy of the telephone service to do away with overhead wires and substitute underground lines as far as possible. There is no doubt that these overhead wires are very liable to damage by storm. I should like also to say that in the main the telephone branch is conducted with the idea of giving the most efficient service. Of course, there are complaints from time to time. I suppose human nature being what it is, the human factor will from time to time make itself felt.
I should also like to make a few remarks in regard to the Post Office Savings Bank. The Minister did not quote exact figures for the Savings Bank but I take it there is a loss on that service. I should like to ask the Minister what is the idea of the principle on which the Savings Bank is run? Is it that it is a bank in which people can put their money in competition with the existing banking institutions of the country, or in what direction are the authorities working? If they wish to give efficient service I think that they ought to give the same services as an ordinary bank. If they cannot do that, they ought to consider whether they could not make economies in keeping the present Savings Bank open. We hear from time to time criticisms of the existing banks, but what criticism would we hear if an individual had to give three days' notice before he could get a cheque for 25/- cashed? I should like the Minister seriously to consider that. I suppose that if I said the Government was not good for 25/- I would be accused of trying to depreciate my own country, but surely times have changed since the present system was instituted under which the withdrawal of any sum over £I requires three days' notice or the spending of 4/- on a prepaid wire to the Postmaster-General, before one can get one's own money out. Surely if the Minister reviews the banking facilities that are available at present in other directions he will come to the conclusion that he should either modernise the Post Office Savings Bank system or make some economies in connection with it.
Now the next item that I wish to mention in connection with this Vote is the erection of a post office which, I understand, is being undertaken on the site at the corner of Trinity Street and St. Andrew Street in this city. As Deputies know, that is a very congested area and it is no uncommon thing to see a very considerable block of traffic there. Some people in the neighbourhood were a bit nervous that if owing to the present traffic difficulties post office vans were left outside the site in that congested area, it would mean practically closing up a very important sub-traffic artery. I notice that the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, speaking in the Seanad yesterday on the Town Planning Bill, stated: "That whatever could be done to encourage and induce local authorities to use the powers of the Bill to the full for town planning and for improving their localties would be done." In another part of his speech on the same occasion, the Minister said that "the traffic problem in their larger cities was due to the uncontrolled growth of these areas in the past. The need for proper planning was apparent on all sides, and local authorities would be well advised to have a plan prepared in their areas." Now I heartily agree with every word the Minister said, and I would like some Government departments to practice what the Vice-President preaches. Now, apparently, Government buildings are exempt from control by the Corporation. The City Manager was written to in the following terms:
"My Committee have had under consideration the post office which, it is understood, is about to be erected in St. Andrew Street, and are of opinion that if two or three post office vans are to be always in front of the building it will completely block the thoroughfare. My Committee would be glad to see the ground plan of the building to ascertain if adequate provision has been made on the roadway for the accommodation of vehicles."
The reply to that was:
"Your letter of the 29th has been forwarded by me to the City Manager. In reply, I have to state that an extensive site in St. Andrew Street has been leased from the Corporation by the Agricultural Credit Corporation, but no plans for the new building have yet been lodged. It is rumoured that the Post Office proposes taking portion of this site from the Agricultural Credit Corporation, but there is no civic control over what the Post Office may do."
Now I suppose the reason for that is that the Post Office on town planning would be like Caesar's wife, above suspicion, and I suppose the Jost Office realise that putting up a very fine building in narrow, mean streets detracts from the building. The Post Office authorities were written to in the following terms:—
"My Committee have had under consideration the proposed erection of a post office in St. Andrew Street, and would be glad to know if provision has been made to load and unload all vehicles inside the building, and if it will be possible for the ordinary public to stop a vehicle outside without completely blocking the thoroughfare. It is only the extreme urgency of the traffic problem in this portion of the city that prompts my Committee to write to you in order that the post office may not exacerbate the existing congestion. Could my Committee examine the plans?"
Now, what did the Post Office say in reply to that?
"Adverting to your letter of the 29th ult., I am directed by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to inform you that the reconstruction of Nos. 19 and 24 St. Andrew Street, to which, no doubt, your Committee refers, is being carried out by the Agricultural Credit Corporation and not by this Department."
Now, one has to assume from that that the Agricultural Credit Corporation are putting up a building, and that the Post Office are merely going to blow into it when it is finished, and without any regard to whether it suits their requirements or not. I should like to appeal to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to put his own house in order and to consider the provisions of the Town Planning Bill. He is rebuilding, or becoming a tenant of a building in St. Andrew Street, in which he must have some considerable say, and there ought to be some provision made for the exigencies of the traffic that it will be required to bear. Now, on the other side of the street is St. Andrew's Church. I hope that when we appeal to the Minister and point out to him that there is not any room between the church and the post office, he will not tell the citizens that they had better take down the church. I have brought this matter forward and dealt with it at some length, because I think that if Government departments are not going to set a headline in their regard for town planning and for the existing congestion in the centre of the city, we really have only wasted our time in passing this Town Planning Bill.
Passing from that, I should like to refer to another matter. On the 13th March I addressed a question to the Minister about charges on German parcels posted to the Free State. I will quote from the official records:—
Mr. Dockrell asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1) whether he is aware that parcels posted in Germany addressed to Irish Free State firms are subjected to London customs clearance charges made by a British firm acting as agents for the German parcel post; and (2) if he can make arrangements with the German Post Office authorities that only German and Irish transport and customs clearance charges shall be payable on parcels consigned to the Irish Free State.
Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Boland): Parcels posted in Germany can be forwarded either by the official Post Office service or by a semi-official service run conjointly by the German Post Office and certain private transport agencies in London. Parcels forwarded by the official service are examined and charged at the Dublin customs centre only, but when the semi-official service is utilised the parcels are subject to customs examination and clearance charges both in London and Dublin.
The service used is decided by the senders and is not a matter in which this Administration can interfere.
Mr. Dockrell: Arising out of the answer, am I to understand that parcels forwarded by the official German Post Office are not subject to any forwarding charge in London?
Mr. Boland: That is so, if sent through the Post Office and not through a private agency; they are not subject to any charge in London. It is a matter for the senders themselves which route they use.
I believe the Minister and I trotted back to my informant who had made the complaint to me, and I said to him: "You are entirely wrong; the people you are getting your goods from are sending them by some semi-official agency." The Minister courteously sent me a list of the charges made by both official and semi-official agencies. That was all right until, a few days ago, the party came in to me again and said: "One story is very good till you hear another. Here are all the documents that you require; here is a charge from the London, Midland and Scottish Company, and there is no doubt about that." The next is a letter to a German firm:—
"With reference to your invoice of 27th February, the parcel has now been delivered. Would you kindly let us know by what route you forwarded it. We are charged 11 marks 40 for postage. Was it sent by the official German parcel post? If so, ought it to be delivered free, or should we have to pay anything on delivery?"
Here is the letter from the German firm:—
"I have just received your letter of the 14th, contents of which I have duly noted. The parcel, as per my invoice of February 27th, has been forwarded by the official German parcel post and ought to be delivered free. I should be astonished if you had to pay anything on delivery, and, if so, you should request recompensation from your post office."
Now, I request recompensation. I would ask the Minister to look into that matter, because he was most emphatic the last time in stating that that could not occur. Will somebody have to go to London and watch the parcels post to see who is surreptitiously removing them from the official wagons? I hope the Minister will deal with those few points when he is replying.