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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Vol. 223 No. 4

Taxi Regulation Bill 2012: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

Debate resumed on Government amendment No. 23:
In page 15, to delete lines 14 to 47 and in page 16, to delete lines 1 to 42 and substitute the following:
11.—(1) Where a person who makes an application for a licence to drive a small public service vehicle is engaged in another occupation which involves driving a vehicle, the person when making the application shall—
(a) inform the licensing authority of this fact, and
(b) show to the satisfaction of the licensing authority, that he or she has informed in writing any employer of his or hers connected with that occupation, of his or her intention to make an application for that licence.
(2) Where the holder of a licence to drive a small public service vehicle becomes engaged in another occupation which involves driving a vehicle, the person shall—
(a) inform in writing the licensing authority of this fact, and
(b) show to the satisfaction of the licensing authority, that he or she has informed in writing any employer of his or hers connected with that other occupation, that he or she is the holder of a licence to drive a small public service vehicle and carries on the business of driving a small public service vehicle for hire or reward.
(3) This section does not apply to a vehicle used in connection with agricultural activities on a farm.

I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.

Amendments Nos. 24 to 26, inclusive, are alternatives to amendment No. 23. Amendments Nos. 23 to 26, inclusive, may be discussed together, by agreement.

Further consideration has been given to this matter by the Office of the Attorney General. On foot of advice from that office I am withdrawing the amendment to section 11, as tabled, and I intend to make the necessary amendment to the section at the next available opportunity on Committee Stage in the Dáil. Obviously Senators will have a chance to come back to the issue again. I will take on board all the comments made previously by Senators in respect of the section.

In regard to amendments Nos. 24 to 26, inclusive, having considered the matter in light of Senator Barrett's previous comments on Committee Stage, I have proposed an appropriate amendment to section 11. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendments, as proposed by the Senators. As I have said previously, this is an issue we will return to on Committee Stage in the Dáil.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his thoughts on the amendments. I was concerned at a possible breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and privacy but I am delighted to hear the Minister of State is thinking along those lines. I hope it augurs well for the rest of the afternoon. I thank the Minister of State.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 24 to 26, inclusive, not moved.
Government amendment No. 27:
In page 19, line 31, to delete “subsection (1)” and substitute “this section”.

This is a minor drafting amendment relating to the cross-reference in section 14 of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 19, to delete lines 40 to 45.

My concern is that the section may be unconstitutional. We have created a property right and the Constitution forbids us to place restraints on the transfer of that property. My view is that the licence should have no value. It was worth a lot more, at over €100,000, at one stage when the licences were scarce. They are currently selling for about €3,000, as advertised in the Evening Herald most evenings. The licences are property and we would be interfering with the right of people to transfer a licence which has constitutional protection. My wish is that licences were not treated as property and that they had no value other than as pieces of paper. If too few of them are issued, they then acquire this value and they then become the same as any other kind of property. I would be concerned about the constitutional implications of restricting the right of people to transfer that property. I wish they were worth zero but they are worth something. This section may interfere with the right to dispose of property under the property rights provisions in the Constitution.

The introduction of a prohibition of transfer of the SPSV licence is a recommendation under action 14 of the taxi regulation review report 2011. The underlying principle for this proposal is that a licence should determine a person's suitability to carry out the function and should have no monetary value or be traded in the open market. The Senator and I are in agreement on that point. I dealt comprehensively with this issue on Committee Stage. I will not be accepting the Senators' amendment as it asks me to go against the unanimous views of the taxi review group which recommended this action on the transfer of SPSV licences and to ensure it did not happen. A licence should be personal to the licence-holder. They should be awarded on the grounds of suitability and not on the basis of having bought out an incumbent operator. The taxi review group insisted on this provision and we dealt with it in great detail. In my view it is the way to create an industry that operates with consistency and regulation.

Article 43.1.2° of the Constitution states:

The State accordingly guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath, and inherit property.

I accept that the Minister of State has been given advice but I, too, have received advice. I wish to alert the House to the danger.

I am cognisant of the High Court ruling concerning the constitutionality of imposing controls on entry to the taxi market. Therefore, I have had the matter examined by a senior counsel at the Office of the Attorney General. I conclude from that advice that the underlying policy principle for this decision is sound. Furthermore, as there has been a gradual move towards full prohibition of SPSV licence transfer over a number of years, the measure could not be challenged successfully on grounds of it being an unforeseen or unduly severe regulatory change or imposition on the industry.

I should have added that the fear among the lawyers with whom I discussed this measure is that there will now be ingenious transactions. The licence will not have a value but it will come in a box which will be worth something.

It is not beyond the ability of the legal profession to design such mechanisms. However, we have had the discussion and I thank the Minister of State.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 29:
In page 21, line 7, before "the" where it firstly occurs to insert "if the holder is an individual,".

This is a minor drafting amendment to provide more precise text in section 17.

Amendment agreed to.
Government No. 30:
In page 21, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:
"(m) details of any revocation of the licence;".

This amendment provides that the register of licences maintained by the National Transport Authority under section 17 includes details of the revocation of a licence also.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 23, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

"(j) to encourage investment by new market entrants in vehicles and services and to issue new licences to ensure that investment is not diverted into the purchase of licences from incumbents.".

Advertently or inadvertently, the danger in what we are doing is that we will create a scarcity value for the licences the Minister of State mentioned in the last section. If one takes accounts of the estimates of Paul Gorecki of the ESRI, the way we have restricted entry since SI 250 of 2010 will create a scarcity value for licences. That means the investment is diverted to buying licences from incumbents. I share the Minister of State's view that the licences should have no value, but they will have a value because they will be scarce.

Taking account of the 2013 estimates from the National Transport Authority, there are 5,000 fewer people involved in the industry since its peak in 2008. We want to have an industry which has newcomers, not just incumbents who are always defending the status quo. In this branch of economics the incumbents are evil, while the new entrants are the heroes who keep an industry dynamic. There is far too much emphasis in the Bill on protecting the interests of the incumbents and keeping out new entrants. Today's finding from the ESRI that the burden of the recession has been overwhelmingly borne by young people is topical. Keeping new entrants out of a sector is very nice for the incumbents, as they do well out of it, but it puts the burden of the recession which everyone in the House is trying to correct on people who are outsiders in this insider-outsider labour market.

In many previous amendments we tried to move the Minister of State away from a system of quantity licensing, which is rigidly enforced. Paul Gorecki's estimate is that at the current pace it will be approximately 30 years before we have open entry again. That is preventing the growth of an industry which in the period after deregulation, as the Goodbody report showed, generated a substantial number of jobs. We seek some commitment from the Minister of State that he is not in favour of old-fashioned quantity licensing, as applied between 1978 and 2000 and which was overturned by decisions of the High Court, and that we will stop inventing new ways to keep out new entrants, which is what we have been doing on a macro scale in this country. It is something we will have to address across all Departments.

We have tabled an amendment to seek to have the Minister of State use the same formula suggested by the troika in regard to young doctors who wanted to take over patients in the general medical service, but he has rejected it. It is wrong if the person in charge of a sector controls right of entry in the interests of incumbents. We have had that situation since 2008 and it looks like it will continue for a very long time in the absence of a commitment from the Minister of State that he will take a more lenient view of new entrants, which means the burden of the adjustment will be borne by those outside the current licensing system.

Having new entrants is absolutely vital. In the past new entrants had to buy an existing licence at a time when a licence cost as much as six vehicles. We want transport to be provided; we do not want people to buy pieces of paper. The ingenuity of licence holders to devise ways to keep out new entrants and make a lot of money in selling licences under whatever guise their legal advisers tell them is a major obstacle.

We need to facilitate new entrants particularly if, as we all hope, the economy starts to grow again.

As the Minister of State will know, I am in favour of the outright revocation of SI 250 of 2010. I would be grateful if he would give some assurance that the Government has not shut down the sector for new entrants. That would be good news for younger people who have borne the brunt of the recession, as the ESRI said today. The incumbents are powerful and organised and have occupied buildings, including the regulator's office, and blockaded the airport. Parliament should not give in to that type of conduct but should recognise that every sector needs new entrants. They got a pretty raw deal under SI 250 of 2010 and, mostly, they got a pretty raw deal in the Bill and that is why I tabled my amendment.

I allowed the Senator a lot of latitude even though his amendment has already been discussed with amendment No. 17. I call on the Minister of State.

As the Acting Chairman has said, the amendment was discussed earlier so I shall not go over old ground. We have had a comprehensive debate.

I know where Senator Barrett is coming from because he has relayed his comments on numerous occasions. As he is well aware, the Bill proposes to create a regulatory framework. There is a capacity for new entrants. It was unfair of him to say that there is none because structures have been put in place. It has been consistently stated in the Bill that we are creating a framework to improve the industry. The Senator has also made consistent arguments on economic theories and the current state of the industry but I have opposed them on many occasions here. His arguments stem from the right reasons but the industry needs to completely change its regulatory framework. There is access to the market but we must ensure that those who operate in it and will operate in it do so in an acceptable fashion.

The barrier that the Minister has created costs a new entrant 91% more for the vehicle and 27% more to run it. If his officials do not understand its impact by now then it is a poor look out for new entrants to any sector that the Government seeks to regulate. The provision has acted as a massive barrier because no general category taxi licence has been issued since 2010. One cannot enter the business because the incumbents have control of the Department and the National Transport Authority and have succeeded in keeping new entrants out. That is why licences have a scarcity value again. Therefore, I shall press my amendment because new entrants are vital to any industry. The absence of any undertaking by the Minister of State to respond to our repeated tabling of amendments seeking to allow new entrants is unsatisfactory. The effects were stated in the paper produced by Professor Paul Gorecki of the ESRI. I do not think that any economist in Ireland could support the suggestion to keep new entrants out of any sector in the Irish economy, particularly as the burden of the recession has been borne by young people. The incumbents have been so successful at keeping new entrants out and there is no doubt that is where the policy originated. There is very little economics involved as I shall demonstrate with later amendments.

Does the Minister of State wish to reply?

No. The amendment was discussed with amendment No. 17.

Usually an amendment is pressed rather than discussed again.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 32 and 33 not moved.
Government amendment No. 34:
In page 25, to delete lines 24 and 25 and substitute the following:
“(g) the regulation of the rental or leasing of a small public service vehicle or equipment associated with it;”.

Could I respond on amendment No. 34? Rental of vehicles is a financial transaction normally regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland and the financial services authority. Why are we regulating the rental of vehicles? What is the rationale for that? I refer to the Minister's amendment No. 34 which refers to the regulation of the rental or leasing of vehicles. Those are normal commercial transactions usually regulated by the Financial Regulator. Why does the Minister's Department want to regulate the rental and leasing of vehicles? It is a normal commercial transaction and I do not understand the reason it is in the amendment.

With all due respect to the Senator, amendment No. 34 was discussed with amendment No. 8 and has been agreed. Unless the Minister wants to respond-----

We have been down this road. The rental market needs to be completely changed. A certain television programme highlighted that not long ago.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 35 cannot be moved.

Can I reply? The television programme has obsessed the Minister of State. The reports of the Goodbody committee-----

It has not obsessed the Minister at all.

-----and of Paul Gorecki tell the real facts. I would not base economic policy on one television programme.

What the Senator has said is ridiculous and inappropriate. For the general public it exemplified the laissez-faire approach to the rental market, which was unacceptable and needed to be regulated. The Senator does not believe in proper regulation. I believe in proper regulation. I believe the taxi industry as currently constituted needed to be completely changed, hence the changes made here. Anybody who knows anything about the industry knows that the rental market has been all over the place, so to speak, and that the way one got the different components to be able to drive a taxi was unacceptable. That is why it needed to be changed.

Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 not moved.

Amendment No. 36a is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 are alternatives to No. 36a. Amendments Nos. 52a and 56a are related. Amendments Nos. 36a, 37, 38, 52a and 56a may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 36a:
In page 27, to delete lines 37 to 47 and in page 28, to delete lines 1 to 15 and substitute the following:
21.—(1) A person shall not drive or use a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place for the carriage of persons for hire or reward unless—
(a) the vehicle is—
(i) a small public service vehicle licensed under licensing regulations,
(ii) licensed to be operated or driven in that place, and
(b) the person holds a licence to drive a small public service vehicle of the category that he or she is driving or using.
(2) A person shall not ply or stand for hire with a mechanically propelled vehicle which he or she is driving or in charge of in a public place unless—
(a) the vehicle is a taxi in respect of which there is a licence in force for those purposes, and
(b) the person holds a licence to drive a taxi and to ply or stand for hire with the taxi in a public place.
(3) A person who contravenes subsection (1) or (2) commits an offence and, if that person is not the owner of the vehicle, such owner commits an offence, and is liable on summary conviction to a class A fine.
(4) Where a person is required under licensing regulations to hold a licence to act as a dispatch operator or provide booking services, a person shall not act as a dispatch operator or provide booking services, as the case may be, unless the person holds a licence in that regard.”.

Regarding amendment No. 36a, the amendments to section 21 of the Bill are drafting amendments which provide greater clarity on the prohibition on providing SPSV services without the required licence. The principle of the provision is unaltered.

Regarding amendments Nos. 52a and 56a, the amendments to sections 32 and 33 are consequential as a result of the drafting changes to section 21 to correct the referencing of the demerit offences associated with the offences of contravention of the prohibition on operating without a licence under section 21, as amended.

I cannot agree to amendments Nos. 37 and 38. Subsections 21(1) and (2) are specific offences for providing SPSV services without a small public service vehicle licence and an SPSV driver licence. This is clarified in subsection (9), which specifies that these provisions do not apply to bus services.

I was hopeful that would be of assistance because it states that "A person shall not drive or use a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place for the carriage of persons for reward unless the person holds a licence to drive a small public service vehicle ...". There are two kinds, as the Minister of State said, but as it is worded it states that one cannot drive a bus unless one has a licence to drive a taxi. That is all I was trying to get across.

I understand the Senator's motives.

Go raibh maith agat. I will not press those amendments.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 not moved.

Amendment No. 39 is out of order.

Government amendment No. 40:

In page 30, lines 12 and 13, to delete all words from and including "and" in line 12 down to and including "paragraph (a)" in line 13.

Amendment No. 39 not moved.

Amendment No. 40 removes local authorities from the list of bodies set out in paragraph (c) the observations of which are to be considered by the NTA when consulting on maximum fares under section 23. The purpose of the amendment is to align paragraph (c) of the section with paragraph (a) which does not include local authorities. It is for the sake of consistency.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 41, 43 to 47, inclusive, 53 and 57 are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 41:
In page 31, to delete lines 23 and 24 and substitute the following:
"(4) The driver of a taxi shall not stand or attempt to stand for hire with the taxi —".

The amendments will have the effect that the offence under section 24(10) on the failure by a person to comply with a request to move on by a member of the Garda Síochána - previously an "authorised person" - will now only apply under section 24(7), that is, to a driver or a person in charge of a vehicle which is not a taxi standing or parking at an appointed stand. Previously, the offence under section 24(10) involved a failure by a taxi driver to comply with such a request to move on in the circumstances set out in section 24(3) to (6), inclusive, including standing for hire at a stand in an area the driver is not licensed for; standing at a rank that is full; standing on part of a public road adjoining or in proximity to a stand that is full, and standing at a taxi rank when the vehicle is not available for hire. The offence under section 24(9) will continue to cover contraventions of subsections (3) to (7), inclusive, by a taxi driver or other person in charge of a vehicle which may give rise to the imposition of a class D fine. However, under the amendments under discussion, there will not be a further offence connected with a failure to comply with a request to move on in the case of subsections (3) to (6), inclusive.

With due regard to the underlying policy concern over the availability of taxi ranks, about which I have taken much comment from drivers on board, there is justification for some leniency in the system of penalties for the regulation of driver behaviour at ranks without diminishing the core offences. The amendments which waive the extension of the offence for contravention of a request to move on will go some way towards minimising any risk of conflict and public order issues arising at ranks between enforcement officers and taxi drivers who may feel justified in competing for limited taxi rank space, particularly in the greater Dublin area. All Senators will know stories about such incidents. For the same reason, amendments Nos. 45 and 46 - on the reduction in fine levels on conviction for the offences listed under section 24(9) and (10) - aim to reflect the more lenient approach to this specific suite of offences. In proposing the amendments I am taking account of representations made to me by taxi interests.

Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 are intended to ensure demerits will not apply under Part 5 of the Bill to offences under section 24 concerning plying for hire or standing at taxi ranks. The taxi advisory committee has made representations to me to raise concerns about the attachment of demerits to offences relating to appointed stands. The committee said it was too harsh a penalty, leading to the suspension of a licence, given the lack of availability of taxi spaces relative to the number of taxis. On foot of these concerns, I have excluded the imposition of demerits for such offences. I have also taken on board comments made in the House.

Government amendment No. 44:

In page 31, to delete lines 38 to 44 and in page 32, to delete line 1 and substitute the following:

"(8) Where, in the opinion of a member of the Garda Síochána, the driver or person in charge, of a vehicle is contravening subsection (6) or (7), the member may require the person to move the vehicle from the appointed stand concerned.".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 42 not moved.
Government amendment No. 43:
In page 31, to delete lines 36 and 37 and substitute the following:
"(7) The driver, or person in charge of, a vehicle which is not a taxi shall not stand with the vehicle, or park it, at an appointed stand.".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 45:
In page 32, lines 3 and 4, to delete “class C fine” and substitute "class D fine".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 46:
In page 32, lines 5 and 6, to delete "an authorised person" and substitute "a member of the Garda Síochána".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 47:
In page 32, line 7, to delete "class B fine" and substitute "class C fine".
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 48 to 51, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 48:
In page 35, line 13, to delete "the Schedule" and substitute the following:
"subsection (3) or the Schedule, as the case may be".

Amendments Nos. 48 to 51, inclusive, aim to rectify an omission in the Bill concerning the application of mandatory disqualification in the case of a person with a conviction for offences which correspond to the road traffic offences specified in section 28(3). For example, a person with a corresponding road traffic conviction from Northern Ireland who has an application for or holds a PSV licence in the State will be subject to mandatory disqualification under section 28. This corrects an anomaly and provides a basis for fair treatment of nationals and non-nationals.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 49:
In page 35, to delete lines 27 to 30 and substitute the following:
“(c) a corresponding offence to an offence specified in the Schedule (other than an offence mentioned in paragraph 20 of Part 2 of the Schedule).”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 50:
In page 36, line 27, to delete “or”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 51:
In page 36, line 29, to delete “2010,” and substitute the following:
“2010, or
(f) a corresponding offence to an offence mentioned in any of the preceding paragraphs,”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 52 and 56 are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 52:
In page 40, line 30, to delete “19(4)” and substitute “19(4)(a)”.

These amendments provide that demerits, under Part V of the Bill, will only apply to substantial breaches of the SPSV regulations under section 19. Representatives of the taxi industry indicated their concern about attaching demerits to minor breaches of SPSV regulations. Their view is that it could potentially, very quickly, lead to suspension of SPSV licences for what are minor matters and that it was too harsh. I have reviewed the offences and sought to provide a degree of proportionality to the application of penalties for breaches of the SPSV regulations under section 19. The amendment allows the NTA, in regulations, to specify what it considers substantial breaches of the SPSV regulations. With regard to breaches of the SPSV regulations that warrant demerits, demerits will only be applied on conviction. Such substantial breaches will give rise to a prosecution before the courts. The imposition of a fixed fine is inappropriate to such breaches.

Government amendment No. 52a:

In page 40, line 30, to delete “21(5) or (6)” and substitute “21(3) or (8)”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 53:
In page 40, line 31, to delete “24(9) or (10),”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 54:
In page 40, line 38, to delete “section 47” and substitute “section 46”.

Amendment No. 54 is a technical amendment and does not change the intended meaning of the provisions. It seeks to correct a typographical error in the cross-reference in section 33(1) to section 46, rather than section 47.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 55:
In page 40, line 40, after “offence,” to insert the following:
“(other than an offence specified in column (2) of the Table to this section at reference number 6 or 8)”.

This amendment is very technical in nature and provides for precision in the table on page 42 in section 33. It follows from the fact that offences under section 19(4)(a), for substantial breaches, and section 21 (5) or 21(6) of the Bill are not fixed payment offences and will therefore only incur demerits upon conviction before the courts.

Government amendment No. 56.

In page 42, to delete line 41.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 56a:
In page 42, line 42, to delete “21(5) or (6)”and substitute “21(3) or (8)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 57.
In page 42, to delete lines 45 and 46.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No 57a:
In page 46, line 8, after “premises” to insert “or place”.

This is a drafting amendment to clarify and improve the wording of section 38. In paragraph 3(a), the word "premises" is changed to "place".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 57b and 57c are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 57b:
In page 46, line 45, after “licences” to insert “, records”.

These are drafting amendments to clarify and improve the wording in section 38. In paragraphs 38(3)(g) and 38(3)(h), the amendment provides for the inclusion of records among the list of items that can be inspected or removed by item by authorised persons in the course of their enforcement duties.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No 57c:
In page 46, line 48, after “licences” to insert “, records”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 58 to 60, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 58:
In page 50, line 9, to delete “or directions”.

Again, these are drafting amendments to provide for more precise text in section 43 by deleting the text, "or direction", in all instances where it occurs in the section. There is no provision in the Bill, as drafted, in respect of the issue of directions.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 59:
In page 50, line 23, to delete “or direction”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 60:
In page 50, line 31, to delete “or direction”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 61 and 62 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 61:
In page 52, line 5, after “prescribe” to insert “, in accordance with subsection (5),”.

These amendments will provide for an upper limit on the amount the National Transport Authority can prescribe as a fixed payment for any of the offences specified as such under section 46. In the case of fixed payment offences, under road traffic legislation the Minister prescribes the fixed payment amount which, in principle, should be a fraction of the fine on conviction for the offence, with due regard to the economic circumstances of the person concerned and, of course, his or her ability to pay. Therefore, the amendments will provide parameters within which the National Transport Authority will have the power to make regulations specifying the fixed payment amounts for each fixed payment offence which will be no more than 10% of the fine applicable on conviction. This also will provide reassurance for the industry with regard to the ability of individuals to pay the fees involved and has taken on board some comments I, as Minister of State, have received.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 62:
In page 52, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
“(5) Where the Authority prescribes the amount of a fixed payment, the amount shall not exceed, where the fine to which a person would be liable on summary conviction of the alleged offence is—
(a) a class A fine, €500,
(b) a class B fine, €400,
(c) a class C fine, €250,
(d) a class D fine, €100, or
(e) a class E fine, €50.”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 63 to 65, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 63:
In page 53, line 11, to delete “person” and substitute “holder of the agreement”.

Again, these are drafting amendments to provide more precise text in section 48.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 64:
In page 53, line 14, to delete “person” and substitute “holder”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 65:
In page 53, line 18, after “guidelines” to insert “by notice to the holder of the agreement”.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 66 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 67 to 69, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I cannot accept these amendments. Amendments Nos. 67 and 68 are unnecessary and, therefore, not appropriate inclusions in the text of the Bill. Section 58 provides for balanced representation on the advisory committee, including representation of consumers, business and tourism. The Competition Authority is, in fact, represented on the committee. It is also a function of the authority, under section 18, to promote competition in the industry. Furthermore, it is an express requirement under section 18(3) that the authority be independent. The subsection states: "Subject to any policy direction under section 26 of the Act of 2008, the Authority shall be independent in the exercise of its functions under this Act". This embraces the regulatory capture issue raised by Senator Barrett.

As for amendment No. 69, as I stated previously on Committee Stage, an express objective of the National Transport Authority as regulator in carrying out its functions in the licensing and regulation of the small public service vehicle, SPSV, sector is to encourage and promote competition in services offered by SPSVs. The taxi regulation review report, in recommending the future approach to taxi regulation, supports qualitative improvements in industry standards, as well as enforcement of the regulations. These matters are the focus of the Bill. The courts have already dealt with the issue of quantitative restrictions and there is no proposal in the Bill for the imposition of such restrictions. I acknowledge that we have been up and down this road a number of times. It is an express function of the authority, under section 18, to pursue the continued development of a qualitative licensing system.

First, I apologise to Senator Sean D. Barrett. I should have called him first.

The Senator just gave me the nod.

For the information of Members, it should be noted that amendment No. 66 was ruled out of order.

Having heard my answer, the Senator can give me the question.

I thank the Minister of State. On amendment No. 66, my intention was to praise the Minister of State. I was at the meetings of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications attended by the new chairman of Shannon Airport and the new chairman of the Port of Cork. It is a suggestion this appears to work and if the Minister of State thinks it is a good idea, it might also apply in this case.

I will leave that to him to address.

With regard to amendments Nos. 67, 68 and 69, my concerns remain. They are expressed most strongly in Mr. Paul Gorecki’s recent paper on this subject, published by the ESRI. The use of SI No. 250 of 2010 to overturn four High Court decisions was inappropriate. I refer to one's ability to enter the industry if one has the necessary skills and training. We risk the same fate as was evident in the Supreme Court last Thursday regarding the control of electricians. The incumbents were judged by the Supreme Court to have far too much say. We checked the records today. SI No. 250, which reimposes quantity licensing, was never discussed by the Oireachtas. It is part of the judgment that the Supreme Court gave against similar arrangements with regard to electricians. It is stated the function of legislation cannot be delegated by the Oireachtas to any other body. What occurred was a deliberate attempt to overturn the High Court decision on open entry to the sector. It has not been discussed in the House. The ban has been maintained with the 91% capital cost disadvantage and the 27% running disadvantage. There is a four-year delay in getting cases to the Supreme Court. My legal advice is that it was wrong that a statutory instrument was used to overturn a court decision. The Minister should have appealed the High Court decision to the Supreme Court and allowed the legal issues to be worked out there.

Sufficient regard has not been had to competition law. It illustrates regulatory capture. One could count the number of times the Minister of State said the taxi industry told him to do this or that, but he never made any reference in any of his speeches to the fact that the independent evaluation showed €780 million in benefits from opening up the taxi industry. As frequently happens in Ireland, the sector is frequently dominated by the producers, and the consumers are excluded and not being heard.

The Minister of State referred to a laissez-faire regime applying. That has very obviously not been the case before this Bill. If one takes the previous regulator's speech in Lisbon on 13 July 2010, one will note she listed item after item of regulatory developments. Page 6 of her speech referred to ten quality improvements made under her term in office. Page seven lists another five, page 8 contains another 15, and page nine contains another five. What the regulator did and what the Goodbody report stated have received pretty short shrift in these proceedings. Let me describe what the Minister of State considers a laissez-faire regime. The previous regulator's document states:

– national taximeter area introduced

– national maximum taxi fare […]

– national vehicle licensing system

– one vehicle, one licence

– colour coded tamper proof discs

– requirement to issue receipts

– requirement to carry guide dogs

– requirement not to unreasonably refuse fares of 30 km or under

– roof sign requirements clarified

– vehicle standard requirements

– National and secure driver identification cards introduced

– National register of vehicle, driver and dispatch operator licences established and maintained

– Dispatch operator licensing system introduced.

– Wheelchair accessible vehicle register established

– Joint administration of the driver licensing process with An Garda Síochána. […]

With regard to compliance, the document states:

– Dedicated enforcement team

– Fixed charge penalty system

– National prosecutions function

– Joint operations with other enforcement agencies

– Consumer complaints investigated

– Collect and disseminate statistical data relating to compliance levels in the SPSV industry in Ireland.

On quality standards, reference is made to vehicle standards having been introduced for new entrants since 2009 and to a skills development programme having been introduced in May 2009. On examining the list, one will realise it was not a laissez-faire industry; it was being regulated. The difference recently has been the reintroduction of quantity licensing. The industry is captured by the producers, who dominate the committee and Department. The Department has spent a lifetime preventing competition – in the bus sector, for example.

The justification given by the Minister of State and his supporters for its position was that the industry was associated with social welfare fraud and crime.

Let us look at what the previous regulator said about that. Between 2008 and 2010 the number of consumer complaints reduced from 601 to 175. That is for 77 million journeys. The number of fixed charge penalties was reduced from 258 in 2008 to 129 in 2010. The number of prosecutions reduced from 106 to 32, while the number of offences reduced from 117 to 32. The danger in this legislation is that the part the Minister of State is retaining and has refused to change, despite all the amendments that have been tabled, is rigid quantity licensing. It will take 30 years before he secures the quota for wheelchair accessible vehicles and before it becomes open entry. We know from jurisdictions throughout the world that this means the taxi licences acquire scarcity value, those with them are in a monopoly and the standard of service declines. To overturn a decision that benefited the Irish public through the creation of approximately 20,000 extra jobs and generated time savings worth €780 million, as calculated by the Goodbody report, and to never even refer to the Goodbody report but to work from a document prepared by incumbents who do not like new entrants is wrong. It is the wrong way to carry out economic policy in this country.

I will regret it if this Bill goes forward in its current form. It is not the way to proceed. When we sometimes get economic policy right, it is good to persist with it. We have enough economic policies that need reform and this is not one of them. The evidence from what Kathleen Doyle and the previous regulator said in 2010 shows it was not an area of tax evasion and social welfare fraud. One forged driving licence is what the Minister for Social Protection found in a thorough investigation to clamp down on social welfare fraud. Ditto the views of the sector against part-time people, given that in a business that is so heavily concentrated between Thursday and Saturday part-timers are a normal economic response. However, the producers have dominated this, as they dominated the sector between 1978 and 2000 until the courts overturned it. What we have been doing here is unpicking a decision of the courts. I am sure this will return to the courts at some stage.

Incidentally, it is not just me saying this. It is what the previous regulator said. Scant regard has been paid to her role in this. It was not a laissez-faire industry. She was regulating but, as part of the programme for Government, her functions were moved to the National Transport Authority. It has assumed it took over a sector which was some type of wild west show, but it was not. I was anxious to put those numbers on the record. The sector was not laissez-faire but was performing a viable function. That function is not furthered at all by what we are doing here. We still cannot get the clarity that we can move this Bill away from quantity licensing to quality licensing only. That is the reason for tabling the amendments. I am disappointed but not surprised that they have all been rejected. That is the way the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport operated with regard to air transport and still operates with regard to bus transport. If it sees competition, it tries to stop it. This sector was a success. I presume the main fault as far as the Department is concerned is that the success was not due to the Department but to the four learned judges who opened up the sector.

I wish the Department had a better view of open markets and competition, as would almost everybody in economics. This is the wrong way. It allows sheltered sectors to get regulatory capture over the Government and to get protection at all stages. It is about time we introduced legislation in the interests of the wider public, not just producers.

Is there a seconder for the amendment?

I will not move the amendments. I just wish to put it on the record that if this Bill is passed, it is a sad day for Irish economic policy.

The Minister of State wishes to respond.

I genuinely do not doubt the Senator's sincerity, but I believe he is in a minority of one with regard to some of his views on this. I take on board everybody's views.

To be fair with regard to the points the Senator has made during my four or five visits to this House, I have taken on board some of his comments and we have made a number of changes based on all of the comments made in the Seanad, which is the way it should be. At the end of the day, however, I have a job to do, and that applies to taking on board everyone's views. It would be inappropriate if I did not also take on board the views of those who are acting in the industry. If anything, I get criticised in most cases for not taking them on more than I do.

I also have to take on the views of consumers, whose views are quite clear. After the Senator's soliloquy, I want to make the point that it is quite clear the consumers of this country did not feel the industry was in the position it should have been in during recent years. Anyone who walks down any of the main streets in Dublin on a Saturday night will see an industry that is not fit for purpose and is not at the level it should be at, yet in many parts of the country there is market failure on top of that, with no taxis available.

I inherited an industry that was not at the level it should be at. That is why I set up the committee, why I chaired it myself and why I made all of the recommendations that I made. When I came into the position, the enforcement of regulations was not in place, there was no joined-up thinking in regard to enforcement, the standards were not at the level required and the issues of people with disabilities and wheelchair accessibility had not reached the standard they should have. To be honest, I was not very happy with the standard of knowledge for those who had acquired certain licences, and I have had direct experience of this myself, so it was something we had to deal with. There are concerns in regard to consumer safety and taxi driver safety, and there are also concerns in regard to criminality and fraud, which is why parts of this Bill deal with those issues. That is the simple fact of the matter. These are genuine concerns. The Senator can shrug his shoulders all he wants but that is what people are saying, and it must be accepted.

We have to accept we need an industry which is fair and which can allow a person to make a living. That is an appropriate consideration. There are people working in the industry and they have to be able to make a living in a fair and acceptable manner. I do not necessarily believe that is what existed heretofore.

The Senator referred to the rental market, which is an issue that concerned me. I accept there is a need for the rental market and that will always be the case. Unfortunately, however, the standards and regulations in this regard were simply not acceptable. When I took over as Minister of State, some of what I heard in regard to the rental market was completely unacceptable, which is why the Bill focuses on that space in particular. I believe that by having the proper regulations and following up with the proper enforcement afterwards, and by changing that side of the industry in particular, we will be able to deal with a large majority of the issues we have faced in recent years.

Did Senator Barrett say he was not moving amendments Nos. 67 to 69, inclusive?

That is correct. Some 96% of the people cited in the Goodbody report said they found deregulation had benefited them. On incomes, it was found that incomes were lower than the average industrial wage but higher than the minimum wage. On safety, there was no dimension because that is regulated by the insurance industry and the per kilometre charge for driving a taxi is the same as for any other vehicle for insurance purposes.

So many of the things that have been said would not stand up if people had read the Goodbody report or had read Professor Paul Gorecki. I have to say to the House that a picture has been invented which is not confirmed by the Goodbody report, which thoroughly investigated the sector. People in the other House or people in the courts, when this goes to the courts, will have to decide on that, but much evidence was not called upon in the preparation of this Bill. The neglect of the Goodbody report is particularly serious because all of those points were dealt with, although they were ignored in the way the Bill has been put through the House.

Amendments Nos. 67 to 69, inclusive, are not moved.

Amendments Nos. 67 to 69, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 70 is out of order.

Amendment No. 70 not moved.
Government amendment No. 71:
In page 60, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
60.—Section 3 of the Act of 2010 is amended in the definition of "specified person" (inserted by section 9 of the Road Traffic (No. 2) Act 2011) by substituting for paragraph (d) the following:
"(d) is the holder of a licence to drive a small public service vehicle granted under section 9 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, while driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a small public service vehicle when the vehicle is being used in the course of carrying on business,
(da) not being the holder of a licence to drive a small public service vehicle, purports to be or acts as such holder, while driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a vehicle for the carriage of persons for reward, or".".
Amendment agreed to.

Before concluding Report Stage, I ask the Acting Chairman to direct the Clerk of the Seanad, in accordance with Standing Orders, to make a correction to the Bill in order to rectify a technical printing error that occurred in the reprinting of the Bill as amended in committee. The correction is that section 15 should appear before section 14 in the order in which the sections are arranged.

The correction is noted. Thank you, Minister.

Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 12.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.


  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Aideen Hayden and Michael Mullins; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Kathryn Reilly.
Question declared carried.

When is it proopsed to sit again?

Ar leath uair tar éis a deich, maidin amárach.