Committee Reports::Interim and Final Report - Appropriation Accounts 1971 - 1972::02 May, 1974::MIONTUAIRISC NA FINNEACHTA / Minutes of Evidence


(Minutes of Evidence)

Déardaoin, 2 Bealtaine, 1974.

Thursday, 2nd May, 1974.

The Committee met at 11 a.m.

Members Present:








DEPUTY de VALERA in the chair

Mr. S. Mac Gearailt (An tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste) called and examined.


Mr. P. Ó Slatarra called and examined.

238. Chairman.—Paragraph 85 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead H.—Córas Tráchtála (Grant-in-Aid)

The total amount of grants which may be made to Córas Tráchtála was raised to £15,000,000 by the Export Promotion (Amendment) Act, 1971. The aggregate amount of grants issued to 31 March 1972, was £9,365,885, including £1,754,000 in the year under review. The accounts of Córas Tráchtála are audited by me.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph is for the information of the Committee. The accounts of Córas Tráchtála and its subsidiary, Kilkenny Design Workshops are, as stated in my report, audited by me and are presented to the Oireachtas. In the year under review Córas Tráchtála made £186,000 available to Kilkenny Design Workshops by way of grant.

239. Chairman.—Paragraph 86 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Shannon Free Airport Development Company, LimitedSubhead J. 3.—Housing Subsidies

Due to the introduction of a differential rents system on 1 April 1971 the final cost of subsidising the letting of houses at reduced rents for the year under review was not determined by 31 March 1972. The charge to the subhead, £110,000, represents a payment on account to the company; any necessary adjustment will be effected in the housing subsidy payment in the year 1972-73.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Subsidy payable to the company for each house or flat represents the difference between the economic rent, i.e. rent required to repay capital borrowed, interest payments and overheads, and the rent actually charged. Prior to 1 April 1971 calculation of the annual subsidy payable was comparatively straightforward as the rent charged to a tenant was a fixed sum. Under the graded rents system, however, the rent payable by a tenant is related to the household income for the year and consequently the final rent charge may not be determined until after 31 March with the result that the actual subsidy due for a particular year cannot be finally determined until after the close of that year. A final payment of £965 was made in March 1973 in respect of 1971-72 subsidy.

240. Deputy MacSharry.—This is in relation to the Shannon Free Airport?

—This is purely in relation to housing at Shannon Free Airport.

A similar thing is not done in respect of building for industrial workers throughout the country?

—This is exclusively a Shannon development.

241. Is the necessity for it still there?

—At Shannon, yes.

And it does not exist in other parts of the country?


I think it does?

—Not to my knowledge and certainly not in an area for which I would be accountable.

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—The necessity is there but not the subsidy.

—I was merely saying that the subsidy was not there.

242. Chairman.—Paragraph 87 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead O.2.—Interest Subsidy to Shipping Finance Corporation, Limited

In previous reports I referred to a Government decision that Shipping Finance Corporation could make loans to shipowners at preferential rates of interest to encourage them to have their ships built in Irish yards. To compensate the Corporation for loss of income, a subsidy was approved equal to the difference between the interest paid on its borrowings and the interest received on these preferential loans, plus a margin of 1 per cent. to cover out of pocket expenses and to allow a reasonable reserve to be built up. The charge to the subhead, £99,449, represents subsidy payments for the year to 31 March 1971 on four ships bringing the total outlay on the scheme to £244,826 at 31 March 1972.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph gives for the information of the Committee the basis for the arrangement whereby the Shipping Finance Corporation provides loans at subsidised rates of interest for the construction of ships in Irish shipyards.

243. Chairman.—Paragraph 88 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead S.—Rossmore (New) Collieries, Ltd.—Provision for Care and Maintenance Expenses

Rossmore (New) Collieries, Ltd. ceased operating in August 1970 due to financial and management difficulties. A supplementary estimate taken during the year 1971-72 made provision for the payment of care and maintenance expenses to keep the mine free from flooding as it was considered that the collieries could be made economically viable if the difficulties were overcome. Payments from the subhead amounted to £4,728. I understand that a liquidator was appointed in October 1972 who undertook, on condition that the expenses would be borne by the Exchequer, to continue care and maintenance with a view to selling the mine as a going concern. With the approval of the Department of Finance further payments had been made in the year 1972-73.”

Mr. MacGearailt.—As stated in the report, further payments for care and maintenance of the mine were made under this arrangement in 1972-73. These payments amounted to £3,507 and represented the cost of care and maintenance from 1 March 1972 to 31 December 1972. The total outlay from voted monies to this latter date was thus £8,235. I understand that the liquidator has since sold the assets and the purchasers have assumed responsibility for care and maintenance with effect from 14 May 1973.

244. Chairman.—Paragraph 89 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Subhead R.—Appropriations in Aid

Following an inquiry made by my officers the Department sought legal advice on the interpretation of a State mining lease. The advice indicated that losses incurred by the mining company in a prior year could not be offset against profits in the computation of royalties due to the Minister under the lease. Accordingly a claim for £11,011 was made on the company in March 1972 and a remittance for this amount was received in May 1972. This payment was made without prejudice by the company who have sought an arbitration hearing under a covenant of the lease.”

Mr. MacGearailt.—I have nothing further to add to this paragraph except to say that I understand that the Minister has acceded to the company’s request for arbitration but that the hearing has not yet taken place.

—That is so. The legal proceedings are going on and the submission for arbitration has been prepared.

245. Chairman.—We now turn to the Vote itself. On subhead B.2—Post Office Services— there is a matter on which I should like to have your opinion. We have been asking the question here whether a lot of internal accounting and administration could be saved if general Post Office services were carried by the State in order to save the Post Office and cut out inter-Departmental accounting for postal services?

—I assume that the reason for having separate identification was to assist people like the members of the Committee in seeing exactly what amount of expenditure was being allotted to particular Departments and whether there seemed to be anything out of line in a particular Department.

246. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead C— Advertising and Publicity—what was the nature of the advertising in respect of Friendly Societies?

—There was a certain amount of advertisement entailed in connection with Friendly Societies, where, for instance it was necessary to advertise the cancellation of the registration of a society. About this time the Registrar of Friendly Societies had been undertaking a review of the existence of some of these societies who were nominally in existence but, in fact, were not active. He considered it desirable to wind them up and that resulted in an amount of unusual expenditure in relation to Friendly Societies. Normally we would not have that expenditure.

247. Deputy MacSharry.—On subhead E— Minerals Development—could we have an explanation of royalties not maturing for payment?

—Yes, largely because of the fact that the Ballingarry colliery went out of production. The basis of the arrangement—I mentioned this at a previous Committee meeting—is that it enables the Minister to pay compensation on a royalty basis but only where there is actual production. It had been expected that there would be production but, in fact, Ballingarry, which was the only mine effectively involved at that stage, closed and therefore no expenditure arose.

248. On subhead J.2—Shannon Free Airport Development Company Limited—Grants to Industrialists—industries coming into the IDA were on the increase and those coming to the Shannon Free Airport were not up to expectations?

—That is true. Shannon is, if you like, a specialised area. If you take the IDA, they have the whole range of the country to operate in; Shannon is one individual area and could, for that reason, perhaps, be more affected by adverse circumstances such as a recession elsewhere.

249. Chairman.—On subhead K.—Export Guarantee Arrangements under the Insurance Act, 1953 (as amended)—that is just a token vote?

—Yes, the reason for the token vote is that if there are payments arising they are made out of the Central Fund and then recouped in the following year.

250. Deputy Tunney.—On subhead M.— Irish National Productivity Committee (Grant-in-Aid)—there is one question which I had hoped to ask later on, but perhaps I could ask it now. Looking at the accounts here, I think that 90 per cent of it is composed of grants-in-aid, out of a total of £33 million. There is £27 million for the IDA, and then there is Córas Tráchtála. It seems that your Department is nothing more than the channelling agency for the handing over of sums about which we cannot look for any great detail. I do not know whether it would be fair for me to ask you to comment on this, but it seems rather strange that the actual amount handled and used by your Department constitutes less than 10 per cent of the total of £33 million.

—As the Chairman will recall, this issue was raised when I was last before the Committee in relation to the general question of the extent to which the Committee can supervise the activities of some of the State-sponsored bodies. From my position as Accounting Officer, I cannot take it further than that. The only point I would make in relation to the point you have raised is that, while these grants-in-aid do exist, the Department is not entirely outside the picture in the sense that when these organisations require funds, when they are budgeting for the following year, their estimates must be submitted to us; we vet the estimates in conjunction with the Department of Finance. Therefore we exercise a good deal of broad supervision on their activities in advance, admitting that, so far as the appropriation account is concerned, there is not a detailed supervision on the expenditure beyond what is entailed in the applications for funds out of the grant and in our Department’s satisfying itself that these funds are required at the particular time. We only issue on requisition.

251. Chairman.—That is the point. There are two questions in this. First of all, there is the actual budgeting in the estimate. On that you exercise a fairly detailed control?


252. You want to know what the money is required for. The second question is: How much control do you exercise over the spending of that money, or, as Deputy Tunney asked: Are you merely the channel for paying over a lump sum to the body in question?

—We pay it over on requisition, but, of course, the Comptroller and Auditor General comes in at a later stage, because he audits the accounts of most of these organisations.

Do you pay the money over in bulk or as required?

—Only as required, generally at monthly intervals.

You know what it is required for?

—Yes, we know what it is required for. They must give a statement.

253. Then we have the peculiar position that the Accounting Officer here is really accounting for this money, but to this Committee he is accountable for only five per cent of it?

—In the detailed accounting, I think that is correct.

254. Deputy MacSharry.—In regard to the requests for money that are made to Finance by, say, the IDA, are they made to you and sanctioned by you and then you go to Finance for such a provision, or is it you and the IDA that go to Finance?

—The IDA submit their budget to us. We examine it and put it to the Department of Finance.

You and you alone?

—Yes. Our Department examine it. We put it to the Department of Finance, who, in turn, probably have consultations with us, if necessary, in relation to the detail. We then bring the IDA into this type of discussion, but the IDA essentially deal with us as a Department.

So, in effect, you are the first Department to finance the IDA?

—That is so.

255. Subhead P refers to the Buy Irish Campaign. Is it still going on?

—It has taken a different form. I mentioned when I was before the Committee last that the situation had been under review. The campaign now does not take the form of advertisements in shops to buy Irish, and so on. The emphasis has been shifted. The activities now come under three main heads. The first is to help small manufacturers to establish a home market base as a prerequisite to exports; the second is encouraging the retail trade to give reasonable prominence to Irish goods; and the third is to try to create a favourable consumer attitude. The objectives are being realised to a great extent by the use of the exhibition premises in Ireland House. The arrangement of exhibitions for small manufacturers, quite often on a county basis, have proved quite successful. I attended one of them myself and I was told by some people there that they had found it most beneficial. They had found as a result that within their own counties there were things being manufactured which they did not know of—things they could buy from fellow manufacturers in their own counties.

256. Deputy Crotty.—Would you not think that the sum provided is a very small one? I agree with the change in the campaign, but is the sum not very small—are we not only fiddling with it? There is a great necessity for it.

—I accept that the sum is very small. However, there are additional funds available to the NDA from manufacturers’ contributions. Still, I accept the amount is small. I mentioned the activity in connection with consumers and it could well be that, as a result of efforts in regard to consumer protection in other fields, greater attention will be paid to that area and it might result in additional funds being available.

257. Chairman.—On the note in regard to extra remuneration, there were ex gratia payments to officers. Were these in respect of accidents?

—Not quite. There were minor accidents in the Department. In one some damage was sustained to a bicycle in the bicycle shed. They are trivial things, nothing of consequence.

258. Deputy Crotty.—On the item in respect of weights and measures, what is the policy of the Department? This matter of weights and measures appears to have been run down in the last few years. Could we have an explanation on this?

—I am not aware it has been run down. There are two areas involved in weights and measures. One involves the Weights and Measures Office which has responsibility for verifying standards. The other is enforcement of legislation. In the Dublin area this is done by officers of the Corporation. Outside Dublin it is enforced by the Garda Síochána, who act as weights and measures officers. As far as I am aware, we have had no suggestion or complaint that the enforcement is not as strict as it should be.

259. Deputy MacSharry.—In the past, weights and measures officers went around checking weighing scales and so forth. Do they now go along and pay attention to checking?

—That type of spot check is carried out. It would not be a regular feature—it would be spot checks.

260. Deputy Crotty.—I know from experience that some years ago there was a regular check on weighing scales and on premises. I know this has not been done for a number of years in a number of areas. What I am trying to find out is whether the policy has changed?

—The policy has not changed and this is the first time I heard that there has been an easing off in enforcement.

There certainly has been. There is a policy in the marketing of packaged goods where to the eye one package seems to be the same as another but there might be a difference in width. The consumer is consequently fooled by such sharp practice in marketing by certain organisations. Even people who might like to keep within the law are tempted to go light on weights. I know from my own experience that the checking is not what it was some years ago —I would be going back some years, not the past three or four years.

—As you probably know in another area, not strictly under the heading of weights and measures, various steps are being taken to improve the degree of consumer protection. One of these has been, in cases of certain consumer goods, to fix standard sizes and also to introduce a system of unit pricing so that, regardless of the size of the package, the consumer will be informed that the cost is so much per lb or so much per ounce. Thus the consumer can make comparison. This is the beginning of a new development in consumer protection and we expect that during the coming year there will be further developments in relation to legislation on consumer protection.

261. Chairman.—That is all on this Vote. The main question that really concerns us here is the one put by Deputy Tunney, the vexed question of how you account for the external bodies who are receiving grants-in-aid.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. P. L. Ó Colmáin called and examined.

262. Chairman.—Paragraph 99 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:


A test examination of the store accounts was carried out with satisfactory results.

In addition to the engineering stores shown in Appendix II as valued at £3,564,541 on 31 March 1972 engineering stores to the value of £14,309 were held on behalf of other government departments. Stores other than engineering stores were valued at £550,403 including £151,841 in respect of stores held for other government departments.

Including works in progress on 31 March 1972 the expenditure on manufacturing jobs in the factory during the year amounted to £59,400, expenditure on repair work (other than repairs to mechanical transport) to £190,955, and expenditure on mechanical transport repairs to £24,834.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph reports to Dáil Éireann that the store accounts kept by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs were duly audited by my office in the year 1971-72 as required by statute and that adequate regulations for control are being enforced. The paragraph also gives the value of engineering and other stores on hands at 31st March, 1972, including stores held on behalf of other Departments.

263. Chairman.—Paragraph 100 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:


A test examination of the accounts of postal, telegraph and telephone services was carried out with generally satisfactory results. The estimates of Revenue for 1971-72 and the net yield for the years 1971-72 and 1970-71 are shown in the following statement:—



Net yield of Revenue









Postal service




Telegraph service




Telephone service








£36,550,000 was paid into the Exchequer during the year leaving a balance of £1,521,845 at 31 March 1972. Sums amounting to £11,618 due for telephone services provided in previous years were written off during the year as irrecoverable.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph reports to Dáil Éireann that accounts of the revenue from Post Office Services have been examined with satisfactory results. It also gives the net yield of revenue from each of the three services in the year under review together with comparative figures for 1970-71.

264. Chairman.—Paragraph 101 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

“In the course of audit I noted that a number of telephone accounts had been outstanding for considerable periods. The Accounting Officer has informed me that the treatment of outstanding accounts fell seriously into arrears in recent years owing to continuous increase in telephone business, to shortages of staff, to pressure of work caused by the Bank closure, to changes in Post Office charges and to decimalisation. Extra staff has been assigned to the claims duty and it was hoped that the work would be brought up to date in the current year.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph deals with overdue telephone accounts which came to light during the audit in 1971-72. We have had a further look at the position recently and while it has improved it would appear that there are problems still remaining unsolved.

265. Chairman.—What problems have you with this?

—The problem is almost entirely one of lack of experienced staff and the quick turnover of staff. The rate of turnover of staff in the Post Office, and I suppose in other Departments, has increased enormously in recent years. One needs fairly experienced staff for this work. Secondly, when there is a shortage of experienced staff we like to use those we have to the maximum extent possible on the most profitable work, the speedy collection of this £37 million revenue, rather than on what is very often a vain pursuit of lost causes. We did reduce the number of outstanding cases quite materially in the year 1972-73 but the amount of old debts recovered was only £19,000 which is very little.

266. How soon do you cut off?

—Normally we would cut off on an account which was not disputed in the second quarter but people sometimes query accounts and we are reluctant to cut them off until the query has been settled.

267. Deputy Crotty.—Is it not surprising that you have a big backlog like this in an organisation which has a monopoly of the situation? You do not reconnect people until they pay up their bills?


268. Are there a number of people who would remain without the telephone rather than pay their bills? Is that what this amounts to?

—It is a matter, in many cases, of firms having gone out of business. We have about 500 cases with our solicitor to pursue. Many of them are instances of firms in liquidation rather than private individuals. Private individuals, if they need a phone, will find some way of getting the money and getting the phone back.

269. Do you not get a subscription or payment from them on installation to cover a situation like this?

—No. In certain categories of cases, which I will not recite, where we regard customers as being in a rather dubious or shaky business we look for big deposits but we do not normally look for big deposits. Our loss rate is below 0.05 per cent. We would not wish to offend private citizens by looking for this money in advance when, in fact, we do not lose much money. It is good business.

270. Chairman.—Paragraph 102 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Post Office Savings Bank

The accounts of the Post Office Savings Bank for the year ended 31 December 1971 were submitted to a test examination with satisfactory results. The balance due to depositors, inclusive of interest, amounted to £183,703,645 (including £43,805,562 in respect of liability to Trustee Savings Banks) on 31 December 1971 as compared with £173,323,964 at the close of the previous year. Interest accrued during the year on securities standing to the credit of the Post Office Savings Bank Fund amounted to £13,741,527. Of this sum £7,489,302 was applied as interest paid and credited to depositors, management expenses absorbed £891,582 and the balance £5,360,643 remained as a provision against depreciation in the value of securities.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph gives information on the operations of the Post Office Savings Bank in the year under review with comparative figures for the previous year. It will be noticed that the balance including interest due to depositors shows an increase of £10,380,000 approximately on the previous year.

271. Chairman.—Is that favourable trend continuing?

—Fairly well. It is liable to fluctuate. Interest rates were increased in the last year to attract more business.

272. We now come to the Vote itself. On subhead A—Salaries, Wages and Allowances— you seem to have less staff, significantly, than you budgeted for?

—There was a saving because the expansion of the engineering branch staff was less than we had provided for. If Deputies recall, there was a cutback in capital expenditure on telephones at about that time and we had to reduce the intake of staff.

273. Deputy Crotty.—On subhead C— Accommodation and Building Charges—how do you reconcile that with the cutback in engineering staff?

—What particular point does the Deputy have in mind?

Buildings went up as did costs but the staff did not expand as you had hoped and for this reason I should like to know if there was not a cutback on the whole Department?

—There was a cutback on capital expenditure, but most, if not all, of the building charges that came in course of payment would have been in respect of commitments entered into in earlier years.

274. Chairman.—On subhead I—Losses— would these be losses of stores?

—Not solely. Many of them are compensation for loss of or damage to parcels. There is a classified schedule of them on page 132.

275. On Losses of Stores—you have difficulty with telephone booths?

—We do, but this is a problem that is worldwide. We are trying by various means to reduce the amount of vandalism simply by making it harder for people to take away the coinbox, but if somebody goes in and cuts the cord, there is little we can do. We are experimenting with a device which may help to reduce the incidence of damage by enabling us to catch more of the offenders, but we shall have to see for a year or two how that will turn out.

276. There is a question which has come up at the Committee on practically every estimate: You charge every State Department for its telephone services and they have to account for their telephone usage to you. Is that right?


277. At first sight it would appear that this is an unnecessary administrative complication, seeing it is all the State. On the other hand, one Accounting Officer said that this mechanism would actually facilitate your accounting. The question one would like to ask is: Is this procedure, by which every Department is charged as external clients by you and you account for them, complicating the machinery, or would it be more complicated for you to take the whole charge on yourselves, giving the service free in other words?

—It is simpler for us in its present form, but there are a number of considerations, some of which affect other Departments and which I think were the original cause of this arrangement in regard to telephones, namely, that it was hoped that the fact of their having to provide in their estimate for the expenditure would encourage economies within the Departments. However, about 1964 we extended the arrangement to mails—it had not previously applied to mails—to bring more realism into the accounting system of the Post Office. The question has been raised from time to time, as everyone is aware, whether the Post Office should have a greater degree of commercial freedom. That matter was under discussion at the time—of course it is a policy matter—but it was felt that a step in the right direction would be to introduce the maximum degree of realism into the accounts and to eliminate so far as possible charges for services rendered and make them cash payments instead.

278. Does this present arrangement involve any duplication of accounting in Departments and in your Department?

—I think not. It does mean that there is a physical payment by the other Departments instead of a note in their account which would otherwise appear in respect of services rendered. But I would imagine that where they are paying a quarterly bill the extent of the effort involved would be quite small, and it might help them to realise that they are spending money.

279. Do they ever query a bill?

—I have not heard of any query on such a bill in recent times.

Is the inference from that that the accounting is effectively done in your Department?

—Yes. I think that is a fair comment.

And, naturally, the Comptroller and Auditor General is quite satisfied that the accounting is in order?

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—Yes.

280. Chairman.—There is one other question. You have very large stocks of stores?


And if I read your figures alright, the losses were only £1,700. That is a small percentage.

—A very small percentage.

I think that indicates a very good control.

—We think the control is pretty good.

That is very satisfactory.

281. Deputy Crotty.—The Department is very much controlled by the amount of revenue it gets, but to the ordinary person some of its activities do not seem to be satisfactory in regard to the laying of lines, especially in urban areas where it tears up streets every few years. Has the Department given any consideration to laying down a large network of lines at once so that it would not be necessary to impede traffic so often? The telephone service is expanding and a number of telephone exchanges recently constructed are already out of date. Is future planning sufficient? Should these matters not have been taken into consideration in the Department’s thinking?

—As regards digging up paths, this should not happen except very infrequently in urban areas. I saw this morning at Nutley, where a road is about to be widened, that our men were at work there laying conduits. The policy is to lay down conduits and to draw in cables as required during the years. I am sure Deputies have not seen O’Connell Street up in a lifetime.

Chairman.—O’Connell Bridge has been.

—But not the street. The conduits carry the cables. We have put down 48 conduits outside the GPO.

282. You did seem to be putting in conduits on O’Connell Bridge.

—Yes, and we increased capacity. As regards exchanges, it can happen that the exchange provided is not sufficient to meet future needs. We are very conscious of it. It is our object to see that a building will serve over 20 years or so and with additional space to go beyond this. It can be very difficult to get a suitable site in a particular place and we may have to go ahead to put in an exchange which we know will last only a few years. I have a particular case in mind where if we had not done it we would have been held up for four or five years. Our policy is to provide buildings that will last for long periods ahead. The equipment is provided much more closely to time.

The witness withdrew.


Mr. P. A. Ó hEidhin called and examined.

283. Chairman.—Paragraph 106 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

“Overpayments of Social Assistance and Social Insurance Benefits

Sums recovered in respect of overpayments of social assistance charged in prior years’ accounts were:— £26,681 in cash credited to appropriations in aid and £21,065 withheld from current entitlements. Overpayments amounting to £16,431 were treated as irrecoverable. Assistance overpayments not disposed of at 31 March 1972 amounted to £128,094 as compared with £101,458 at 31 March 1971. Overpayments of benefits from the Social Insurance Fund outstanding at 31 March 1972 were of the order of £181,000 as compared with £120,000 at 31 March 1971. Sums recovered during the year amounted to £36,292. Fifty-seven individuals were prosecuted for irregularly obtaining or attempting to obtain assistance or benefits. Convictions were secured in fifty-three cases.”

Mr. Mac Gearailt.—This paragraph gives information regarding overpayments of social assistance and overpayments of social insurance benefits.

284. Chairman.—I suppose overpayments and underpayments are a chronic problem?

—They occur quite frequently. The problem was accentuated in recent years because we had to depend quite a lot on junior staff. We have a very high turnover of staff. Girls come in after the summer examinations and leave us before they are properly trained. We have had a high dilution by inexperienced staff.

285. Deputy Crotty.—For such a large Department the overpayments are very small. From your experience, can you say if measures are taken to see that overpayments do not subsequently cause hardship, taking into account the type of people we are dealing with?

—It is most important to get payments out on time. There are normal precautions. Our first concern is to get the payments out and to see that they are accurate. Sometimes errors occur which are outside our control. For instance, somebody will die but his pension order will be cashed. Where we can, we get money back if a person is overpaid. We are not too stringent—we are not unduly hard. We try to temper the wind to the shorn lamb.

I have always got co-operation from the officers of the Department but I had the idea that the regulations were a bit harsh. I know you have to do a job but this is a special situation concerning special people and I do not think you should be too hard in regard to irrecoverable moneys.

—Where we can we get them back by instalments. We try to be as careful as possible and of course if we were too lax the staff might get careless in which case the Comptroller and Auditor General would be on my doorstep.

286. Chairman.—We now turn to the Vote itself. In regard to subhead C, you incur big expenditure for post office services. Do you in any way account for these payments or do you simply accept the Post Office bills and pay them?

—The Post Office make the estimates for us of postage costs and we accept that. We pay the telephone bills.

287. The Committee have no further questions. There is efficiency in the discharge of your duties.

—Thank you. Perhaps I should say that I was not Secretary during the period under examination.

The witness withdrew.

The Committee deliberated.

The Committee adjourned.