Competition and Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission with powers to issue administrative sanctions against undertakings engaged in anti-competitive practices by amending the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014; and to provide for related matters.

I welcome the opportunity to introduce the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (Amendment) Bill of 2018 on First Stage today. This is a pro-consumer Bill and represents the second consumer protection Bill I have presented to the Dáil in recent months, the previous one being on the proper regulation of gift vouchers. It is clear that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, is missing legislative teeth as the national competition regulator to enforce breaches of competition law and to deter anti-competitive behaviour to the detriment of consumers. Currently the CCPC cannot issue administrative sanctions or penalty fines for breaches of EU and Irish competition law. In Ireland, fines can only be imposed following a criminal conviction in courts. Since 2014 only one such fine has been imposed, which amounted to just €17,500. However, the CCPC is "strongly of the view that the current competition law enforcement regime in Ireland is not fit for purpose as it does not provide for an appropriate range of effective and dissuasive sanctions for breaches of EU and Irish competition law".

The CCPC, in a submission to the Law Reform Commission, is strongly in favour of introducing administrative enforcement powers. The CCPC has stated "the absence in Ireland of civil or administrative fines for breaches of competition law very significantly undermines the CCPC’s ability to combat anti-competitive conduct". It also has stated this "means that there is little deterrent effect in such cases: industry knows that it may as well try to engage in such conduct, because even if the CCPC intervenes to stop it, they are not at a loss". In contrast, competition regulators in 21 other EU member states, including the UK, Italy, France and Denmark, can issue administrative fines, while Canada, New Zealand, Norway and Australia can also do likewise.

Anti-competitive behaviour by big companies, acting alone or in unison, can cause significant damage to competition in sectors and to consumers. Common forms of anti-competitive cartel activity include bid rigging and a practice known as cover pricing. Giving the CCPC the power to impose administrative fines on corporate entities in this Bill would significantly strengthen the regulator's investigations and sanctioning in sectors where anti-competitive activity is allegedly taking place. These powers would aid enforcement, given that the CCPC has previously investigated suspected anti-competitive conduct in the ticketing sector and the motor insurance sector, for example.

The Bill I am introducing today amends the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 by adding six new sections. It is lazy of the Government to state it would be unconstitutional to allow an authority such as the CCPC to issue fines for prohibited anti-competitive practice. The Supreme Court, in a Law Reform Commission report, has already recognised the need for certain bodies to be able to issue civil fines in certain circumstances. There is precedent, with administrative financial sanctions currently provided by regulatory bodies such as the Central Bank of Ireland, the Commission for Energy Regulation, and the Data Protection Commissioner. This Bill provides for the mechanism that is used by other bodies by making the CCPC confirm its decision to issue a sanction against an undertaking by applying to the High Court for confirmation of its decision. We provide for an appeals process, both for the CCPC decision to the High Court and the High Court decision to the Court of Appeal. This Bill allows the CCPC to issue a fine to a company of up to €100 million or 10% of its turnover in most cases. The 10% turnover figure is used in many other jurisdictions. We look forward to bringing the Bill to Second Stage, and we seek leave of the House to do so. We look forward to getting the legislation across the line in due course as a pro-consumer initiative.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.