Seanad debates

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Taxi Regulation Bill 2012: Report Stage

 

4:45 pm

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Alan Kelly, to the House.

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

Amendments Nos. 1 and 71 are Government amendments and will be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 1: In page 7, line 14, to delete “PART 3 OF”.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Amendment No. 1 to the Long Title of the Bill is to accommodate the inclusion of a further amendment to the Road Traffic Act 2010 which is outside the scope of Part 3. Amendment No. 71 is required to bring into line with the new licensing provisions of this Bill the definition of "specified person" to ensure that the provision of the intoxicated driving licence offences under Part 3 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 also apply to the holder of a licence granted under section 9 of the Bill while driving or in charge of an SPSV.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 2 in the names of Senators Barrett, Crown and Quinn arises out of committee proceedings. I call Deputy Barrett to move the amendment.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 2:


In page 9, to delete lines 34 and 35.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I note the Minister of State has tabled 43 Report Stage amendments. He also introduced 44 amendments on Committee Stage. It is important that the Seanad has been of assistance to the Minister of State in progressing this Bill.

That is the spirit in which we conduct our business and I welcome the Minister of State in that light.

Amendment No. 2 addresses one of my key concerns with this Bill. Statutory instruments are crucial to this discussion, particularly SI No. 250 of 2010, which sets the industry on the wrong course. The statutory instrument should not have been used to limit numbers because it contravened four decisions by the courts on the right of persons to enter the taxi sector and the public's right to the services of such persons. I agree with the requirements that a statutory instrument or regulation should be published on the website when proposed and that representations should be considered. Section 3(3) states: "the Authority shall publish notice of their making and the regulations, rules or order or a description of them and reference to their statutory instrument numbers on its website." However, subsection (4) appears to undo that by stating: "The validity of any instruments made under this Act shall not be affected by any non-compliance with subsection (2)or (3)." In view of the importance of statutory instruments in this area, non-compliance certainly undermines their validity.

We have to debate these issues in Parliament. The section as it currently stands - I may have interpreted it wrong, and I welcome the Minister of State's judgment - appears to provide a get-out-of-jail-free clause for somebody who makes a mistake in drafting a statutory instrument. He can say, "That is okay, because anything I do here is not affected by non-compliance." I acknowledge the Minister of State's interest in the deliberations of this House, but it is a strange request to make of us - to say that if someone makes a mistake or errs in some way, it does not matter. All that was required under preceding subsections was that the proposed statutory instrument be published on the website with 21 days' notice, that representations be considered and that the regulations be made with or without modification. Why would anybody need to resile from such a commitment? I do not mean this in a partisan way, but the open government to which we all subscribe seems to be set at naught by this provision. Let us ensure our statutory instruments are subject to scrutiny, particularly given their importance in this area and the impact of the decisions made in SI No. 250 of 2010. We must be sure they are properly drafted.

This get-out clause is wrong and I am putting this forward for the Minister of State to respond to it.

4:55 pm

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I second the amendment.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Sections 3(2) and 3(3) provide that the National Transport Authority, NTA, will engage in a process of consultation on proposals for regulations made under this Bill and will publish rules and orders made. Section 3(4), which the Senators have proposed to delete, is a necessary safeguard to ensure any future prosecutions arising as a result of a breach of a regulation order will not fall foul of any legal challenge on the grounds that adequate consultation under sections 3(2) and 3(3) was not carried out.

The Bill sets out clearly the scope the NTA has in making regulations concerning PSV, public service vehicles, licensing, assessment of applications for licences and PSV regulations. However, were the NTA to make regulations ultra vires provided in the Bill, then this would be appropriate grounds for any legal challenge. The amendment proposed by the Senators is not appropriate and does not serve any purpose and will, therefore, be not accepted.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister's assurance on this. I hope we will have a full debate on the statutory instruments involved.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 3:


In page 9, line 39, after “Taxi Regulation Act 2003” to insert the following:“and statutory instruments under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003”.
This a development on what I was saying about the previous amendment. The House has helped the Minister to make nearly 80 radical changes to the Bill as originally presented. We support him on quality licensing. However, the quantitative restrictions in SI 250/2010, Taxi Regulation Act 2003 (Grant of Taxi Licences) (Amendment) Regulations, should fall as the Minister is repealing the 2003 Act under which this statutory instrument was made.

In its analysis, the ESRI has stated quantitative licensing has been the crucial point in limiting numbers entering the sector. I have several reservations about it. My legal advice is that the use of such an instrument to limit access to the deregulated sector is suspect as it involved overturning High Court decisions by means of statutory instrument. If we are repealing the 2003 legislation, it should be understood that statutory instruments such as the 2010 quantitative licensing order that come under the Act should also fall. This amendment wants to make sure there is no power to impose quantitative licensing on this sector again.

I am most unhappy, as is Mr. Paul Gorecki, with how this was done in 2010. Deregulation of the taxi sector was a major benefit to the economy with Goodbody estimating the overall benefit came to €780 million. Indecon’s review never refers to this quantitative limit on entry into the sector which is crucial. On Committee Stage, we worked hard to get the Minister away from quantitative licensing to quality licensing.

I must press this amendment because it is the kernel of the issue. The statutory instrument was wrongly used. If the State disagreed with the High Court's decision, it should have appealed it to the Supreme Court. Introducing a statutory instrument to limit the number of people who could operate taxis was wrong and did not make any sense in economic terms. It was done on the basis of a misapprehension about policy which we can discuss. We need to get rid of the statutory instrument. It forms part of the 2003 Act that the Minister wants to repeal, on which we will support him. However, we must dispense with the statutory instrument which imposed limits on quantities in the licensing of the sector.

5:00 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The proposed amendments seek to revoke regulations made by the NTA under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003. The regulations concern the issuing of licences for wheelchair accessible vehicles only. The restrictions in the grant of new licences for these vehicles seek to ensure the proportion of such vehicles in the overall fleet is increased. The NTA is looking at further measures to promote the use of such vehicles. However, for the present, it is appropriate to maintain the existing restrictions on new licences. Therefore, I will not accept the amendments.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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With regret, I must press the amendment. We have tried in all of our debates on this issue to move the Minister of State away from restrictions on quantities. The policy was a major success, as is well documented. The incumbent licence holders wanted to restore a scarcity value for licences and they did this through a statutory instrument, not by way of debate in this House or by appealing a court decision they had lost. I recommend that the Minister of State read Paul Gorecki's ESRI papers on this issue. He is right in saying this is the back door method through which the Government has reintroduced limits on quantities, about which there is no doubt.

The Minister of State has imposed a barrier to entry, with the result that applicants must take the route of applying for a licence for a wheelchair accessible vehicle. Paul Gorecki estimates that this adds 91% to the cost of a vehicle and 27% to running costs. Whether the Minister of State likes it or whether he wants to admit it, it is obvious that this is what Statutory Instrument No. 250/2010 does. Licences are already acquiring a scarcity value and are on sale in the Evening Herald every night. This is what we are trying to prevent. The Minister of State's predecessor was so good at restricting entry to the taxi business that the cost of licences increased to over €100,000, just for a piece of paper. The Minister of State is restoring us to that position by confining entry. He knows the cost disadvantage he is imposing and has deliberately set out to do this. He has tried to say he is concerned about licensing to ensure quality, but this proves he is concerned with quantity in licensing because he will not allow new entrants in, unless they incur an additional capital cost of 91% and running costs of 27%. He knows he is protecting incumbents safely and that this goes against the decision of the High Court, that people have a right to enter this sector and that the public has a right to avail of the services offered by such persons.

I am pushing these amendments and the Bill falls. A man pretending to be interested in licensing to ensure quality at the first fence has confirmed to us that he is really interested in quantities in licensing and seeking to restore us to the ridiculous state the industry was in before the courts intervened in 2000. I commend the courts for their intervention, which was a splendid decision in economic terms. However, the problem was that licence holders never accepted the decision and neither did many civil servants because the change was introduced by the courts before they had thought of it. It is the tradition of the Department with responsibility for transport and the NTA to always obstruct competition, as is manifest in this instance, as we need new entrants.

This decision affects the running of the taxi labour market, as pointed out by Dan O'Brien. There is mass unemployment among those aged under 25 and 35 years, but the Minister is saying they cannot enter the taxi business with parity of conditions with incumbents. This sector added about 20,000 jobs in the years after deregulation. Shutting off a sector by placing a huge financial imposition on new entrants is unacceptable in economic terms. Therefore, I strongly push the amendment. The way proposed is the wrong way to go. It is in the anti-competitive tradition of the Department with responsibility for transport which always takes the wrong option. That tradition is followed in the Bill, as it was in Statutory Instrument No. 250/2010. It reversed a policy which had been a huge success. I do not know why it wrote out the Goodbody report or why it pretends this statutory instrument is not in place. It is not referred to at all in the report of the taxi review group.

The consequences of the banning of entrants would be extremely serious. I strongly oppose it because it would involve a restoration of 1930s-style economics.

5:10 pm

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I second the amendment.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Senator Barrett and I have been around the houses in this regard on a good few occasions. He knows that I do not accept his comments. The reason for this restriction has been laid out in numerous previous debates. I have outlined the qualitative measures being taken in the taxi industry on many occasions. They constitute the main thrust of what we are trying to do to improve the industry. I have made these arguments previously. I understand what the Senator is saying, but I completely disagree with his ethos in this respect.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I cannot allow Senator Barrett to make a third contribution on this amendment.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 29.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Sean D. Barrett and Ned O'Sullivan; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

5:20 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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On a point of disorder, let me say that I share Senator Barrett's distemper. I am undone. I am confronted by three buttons and know not which to press.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Norris is here long enough to know which one to press.

5:25 pm

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 4, which arises out of committee proceedings, has already been discussed with amendment No. 3. Is Senator Barrett pressing amendment No. 4?

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 5, in the names of Senators Barrett, Crown and Quinn, has been ruled out of order as it does not arise out of committee proceedings.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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Could I say a word about amendment No. 5?

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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It has been ruled out of order.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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Our briefing notes state the licensing income was €5.9 million and the expense was €3.9 million. When the commission moved into the NTA, it took assets of €20 million with it. I was trying to communicate some good news to our friend, the Minister of State, that it may not be necessary to come to the Oireachtas as there seems to be a lot of money in the licensing system.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Unfortunately, the amendment has been ruled out of order.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I realise it has been ruled out of order but good news should always be passed on even under extraneous circumstances.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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We cannot discuss it now.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I am aware of those figures.

Amendment No. 5 not moved.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are Government amendments and arise out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 6: In page 10, to delete lines 31 to 34 and substitute the following: "(a) the requirement for a licence to be held in respect of a mechanically propelled vehicle in order for it to be used as a small public service vehicle for the carriage of persons for reward; (b) the requirement for a person to hold a licence in order to drive a small public service vehicle for the carriage of persons for reward;".

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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These are drafting amendments to clarify and improve the wording in section 7(2)(a)(b) and (c) which concern the scope of the licensing regulations made by the NTA. Previously, these paragraphs simply referred to licences in respect of SPSV vehicles and drivers in respect of booking or dispatch services. The revised wording refers to the requirement to hold these licences. I am advised that this is a better legal drafting of the underlying intention which remains unchanged.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 7: In page 10, line 35, to delete "licences" and substitute "the requirement for a person to hold a licence".

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 8 is a Government amendment which arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments No. 8, 10, 14, 34 and 35 are related. Amendment No. 35 is an alternative to amendment No. 34. Amendments Nos. 8, 10, 14, 34 and 35 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 8: In page 11, to delete lines 20 to 25 and substitute the following: "(l) in the case of a licence for a small public service vehicle, the requirements regarding - (i) the ownership or possession of the vehicle, (ii) the rental of the vehicle, and (iii) any equipment associated with the vehicle;".

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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These amendments arise on foot of a review by the advisory council. The licensing requirements relating to ownership, possession or rental of a vehicle or rental of equipment associated with the vehicle is considered to be a matter that is appropriate for further elaboration by way of regulations made by the NTA. Amendment No. 8 allows for these matters concerning ownership, possession and rental of a vehicle or equipment to be included within the scope of the licensing regulations made by the NTA under section 7.

Amendment No. 10, introducing a new paragraph under section 7(2) dealing with prohibitions, restrictions and conditions relating to the renting or leasing of a small public service vehicle or equipment is particularly important in light of the recommendations of the taxi regulation review 2011 concerning the need for better regulation of the SPSV rental market and the implementation of full package rentals of SPSVs.

Amendment No. 14 is a drafting amendment to the relevant offence under section 7(6) bringing it into line with the wording of the new paragraph (n) in section 7(2) to include prohibition, restriction or condition.

Similarly, amendment No. 34 allows the NTA to make SPSV regulations concerning the rent or lease of an SPSV or related equipment in line with the amendments to the licensing regulations under section 7 concerning rental and leasing of SPSVs.

The related offence for contravention of these SPSV regulations is dealt with under subsection 19(4).

Amendment agreed to.

5:30 pm

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 9 is a Government amendment and is a drafting amendment.

Government amendment No. 9: In page 11, to delete line 26 and substitute the following:“(m) in the case of an application for a licence, or a licence held, by a company,”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 10 is a Government amendment which arises out of committee proceedings. Amendment No. 10 has already been discussed with amendment No. 8.

Government amendment No. 10: In page 11, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:“(n) prohibitions, restrictions and conditions relating to the renting or leasing of a small public service vehicle or equipment associated with it from the person who holds the licence relating to the vehicle;”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 11 was tabled by Senators Barrett, Crown and Quinn has been ruled out of order. The amendment does not arise out of committee proceedings so cannot be discussed.

Amendment No. 11 not moved.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 12 was tabled by Senators Barrett, Crown and Quinn and arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 12, 32, 33 and 36 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 12:


In page 12, to delete lines 2 and 3.
The amendment seeks to delete references to different circumstances and for different areas of the State. The entire sector was opened up to competition by a court decision. However, the Minister is attempting to reintroduce quantity licensing. Since 2003 local authorities have been removed from the sector. Here the Minister seeks different regulatory regimes for different areas in the State. It was a national regime when the Commission for Taxi Regulation was in charge. Yet again the Minister is unwilling to allow the markets to operate in a sector which has operated successfully. Yet again more restrictions are being imposed on competition within the industry. I move that he does not seek powers to prevent the market operating. The sector has operated successfully and increased in size. It generated €780 million of benefits that Goodbody calculated and provided extra employment. The sector did better without ministerial interference.

I endorse the recommendation made by the courts. I know that the courts and the Government are not exactly the best of pals at present but the courts were right about this issue. I see no reason to reintroduce a regime that did serious damage to the country until the courts opened up the sector. To return to a system which palpably failed based on untrue allegations about the success or lack of a successful deregulation is not the way to go. That is why I see the provision as needless regulatory creep and capture by incumbents rather than promoting an open market. The troika and everybody else has said that we should tackle the cost of sheltered sector services. The legislation seeks to protect the providers of sheltered services. The Minister is going in the wrong direction and that is why I tabled my two amendments.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I second the amendment. I remember well how bad the sector was. I have had experience in more recent years of travelling to Brussels quite a lot. The Minister must travel to Brussels quite a lot but he may have somebody to meet him. Let us say that a flight arrives at 9.30 a.m. at Brussels airport then one will have to queue for an hour for a taxi in order to arrive at a meeting at 10.30 a.m. in the city. The delay is due to the airport being in a different district from the city. Only people from the area are allowed to take passengers away from there. I learned quickly what one must do. One must go to the departures gate and as a car pulls up to let somebody out one must cheat by jumping into the car. It is most frustrating to have areas in control of their own area unlike the Irish system. As Senator Barrett has said, the courts decided to deregulate the sector. The current proposal will introduce regulation on a geographical basis which is not in the best interests of the public or the taxi business.

5:35 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I cannot agree to amendment No. 12. Section 7(4) allows the National Transport Authority to make regulations setting different requirements and conditions in respect of different categories and classes of vehicles, SPSV driver and licences as well as under paragraph (b ) for different circumstances and under paragraph (c ) for different areas of the State. These provisions restate similar provisions in section 34(8) of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003. Paragraph (b ) will enable the National Transport Authority to make regulations, if needed, to deal with items such as drivers operating in different circumstances, for example, providing SPSV services in areas of social need where there is a lack of public transport. I envisage a further amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage in the other House, dealing with this issue and I will return to this House for a further debate on that matter. Paragraph (c) enables the National Transport Authority to make regulations currently concerning the county areas where a taxi driver can stand or ply for hire. Such regulations include a requirement for taxi drivers to have knowledge of the area of SPSV operations. This is critical. It is important that the person picking one up in the taxi knows where he or she is going. That is the reason for the requirement. Under current National Transport Authority regulations there is no limit on the number of areas in which an SPSV driver can operate. They can operate in all 26 counties if the driver passes the area knowledge test for each area in which he or she wishes to stand or ply for hire. There is not a restriction provided they know where they are going. As I have already stated on a number of occasions this is not to provide for any plan to return to the system of licensing which was in place prior to liberalisation whereby the number of licences available in any area depended on the local authority area.

Similarly, I cannot accept amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 36 which relate to section 19 of the Bill. I am not persuaded by the Senators arguments in support of their proposed amendments. These amendments provide for the National Transport Authority to make SPSV regulations also relating to different areas of operation of SPSV services or the operation of SPSV services in different circumstances.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Is the amendment being pressed?

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I regret the stand being taken by the Minister of State yet again. We will oppose other amendments. The spirit of what the Minister of State has said is to restore the industry to its pre-2002 position. He is using statutory instruments, which is what we caught him on the last time on the last vote, to undermine High Court decisions. Every time we try to see the liberal man who is opening up the market he always retreats. I will withdraw this amendment but I will press others because this is the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport at its worst with Neanderthal economics overturning policies on the flimsiest of grounds which have proven to be a success and he is going to restore a draconian regime. The worst part is that what is in the Bill is what the courts will be judging. The liberal sentiments that the Minister of State sometimes expresses do not have any standing in a court. This is restoring the old licensing system. The licences are already on sale in the Evening Herald each night for €3,500 whereas they cost €100,000 on the last occasion. The Minister of State is on a route on which I will not support him one inch of the way. I will withdraw the amendment but I will have to press other amendments because the economic policy he is proposing is going seriously off the rails.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Government amendment No. 13: In page 12, line 5, to delete "licence" and substitute "licensing".

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 14: In page 12, line 9, to delete "restrictions" and substitute "prohibition, restriction or condition".

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 15:


In page 12, line 20, after "knowledge" to insert the following:", including the use of global positioning systems,".
This amendment arose while discussing the reason the taxi deregulation in the Minister of State's constituency had the least impact of any county we examined. We said that perhaps people from the border areas of Kilkenny, Waterford and Limerick serve the area. The Minister of State expressed concerns that those people do not know the routes and so on. He said there was the possibility that a Limerick taxi driver going to Birdhill would have to go to Clonmel to do a knowledge test and this would happen for every county in the country. When we asked about satellite navigation and global positioning systems the Minister of State said that it was not an adequate substitute. I have asked people in the area if satellite navigation is a substitute for the written examination or if people need a PhD in taxi driving and geography lessons on each of the 32 counties to go anywhere. One professor of electrical engineering asked if the Minister of State was for real. He said that ambulances have satellite navigation, the Garda cars have global positioning systems and many of the commercial fleets use satellite navigation which are more than 90% reliable.

When the Minister of State made the statement on the last day I do not think he had seen his colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Sherlock, who promotes technology. People in the field cannot honestly believe the Minister of State's rejection of satellite navigation technology. We are not convinced. Ireland is a country which has engaged in modern technology and the technology is improving all the time. People can get it on their telephones. The system is better than requiring people to sit written examinations. I see the written examinations in the context of this Bill as another device by the Department to keep new entrants out. If the technology helps them to find houses on the tops of mountains and so on and is used by the ambulance service and the Irish Coast Guard, under the remit of his own Department, he should accept that satellite navigation is a substitute unless he wants to abolish pens and go back to the quill instead of abolishing calculators and examinations. The technophobia shown in the attitude to satellite navigation does not serve the Bill except to confirm again that the Minister of State is seeking new ways to keep people out. People in each county will lobby and succeed. The satellite navigation used by the Garda, the ambulance service and the fire service and from various companies, Garmin and TomTom, work. People find it incredible that the Minister of State insists on a written examination in this day and age. I will push the amendment to allow global positioning systems to be used to take people on taxi journeys. As it is used for everything else, I see no reason it cannot be used in this instance. I was not convinced by the Minister of State's requirement that a Limerick taxi driver on entering Birdhill would have to take a written examination on the geography of Tipperary.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I second the amendment. I could not repeat what Senator Barrett has said any better than he had done. He has made such a strong case that I urge the Minister of State to consider accepting the amendment.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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As I stated previously I am in favour of technological solutions that can assist in providing a better customer service. However, global positioning systems cannot provide a basis for lessening the standard of area knowledge required under the driver skills testing. This may happen over time as GPS technology improves the standard of reliability and effectiveness. In regard to amendment No. 16, I acknowledge that GPS might well play a role where SPSV drivers ask to provide a service to a destination outside of an area in respect of which he or she has passed an area knowledge test. However, I am not convinced there is a case for statutory provision requiring knowledge of global positioning systems. I am not technophobic. In fact, I am probably the most pro technology person in government and a graduate who has a masters in technology. One may wish to check that out before making such statements.

I am surprised at the attitude in relation to this issue. I have had personal experience of taxis using satellite navigation who could not take me to my destination. The systems may be 90% accurate but they are not foolproof. Given that a service is being provided for which one must pay one's hard earned cash, the person behind the wheel of the vehicle should be able to take a person to his or her destination and should have an area knowledge that meets that requirement. In some cases it can be supplemented by a piece of technology such as this. Unfortunately it is a requirement and I stand over the need for it. I am surprised at the way in which the amendment is being pressed because common sense would suggest that a driver behind the wheel of a vehicle who has to take a person to his or her destination as quickly and as cheaply as possible, which satellite navigation does not necessarily guarantee, would know that is not foolproof and one cannot use the system to get around everywhere. If one used satellite navigation on a regular basis one would be aware of that.

5:45 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Common sense alone ordains that somebody who is behind the wheel of a vehicle and who has to get a passenger to a destination as quickly and cheaply as possible, which satnavs do not necessarily guarantee, would know that satnavs are not foolproof and that they just cannot be used to get around everywhere. I am sure that if the Senator used a satnav regularly, he would know that himself.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 29.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Sean D. Barrett and Feargal Quinn; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 16 not moved.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 17, in the names of Senator Barrett, Crown and Quinn, arises from Committee Stage proceedings. Amendments Nos. 17, 22 and 31 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 17:


In page 12, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:"(3) In making regulations under this section the Authority shall not take into consideration the short-term or long-term economic viability of the licence applicant or the short-term or long-term economic viability of any other licence holder.".
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Alan Kelly, back to the House. The purpose of amendment No. 17 is to allay fears that the legislation is going in the wrong direction and represents a case of regulatory capture by the licence holders over the Department. I remember the Minister saying the industry was full of tax evaders and social welfare fraud. The task force of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, found one person with a forged driving licence. We were told the industry was the subject of serious consumer dissatisfaction. In 2001, there were 601 consumer complaints, which number was down to 175 by 2010. As we said to the Minister on Committee Stage, that are far fewer complaints by many factors than the number of complaints to the Ombudsman about governance in general in the State. The number of offences was down from 117 to 33 over the same period, with the application of the Probation Act going from nine cases to zero. Fines fell from €84,000 to €14,000.

Listening to the evidence of the Minister of State, it appears that what is going on here is the reintroduction of quantity licences. Nothing that has happened in the debate has reassured us on that. The legislation is highly protectionist in nature. It happens. Producers in most sectors are far more powerful than consumers. The consumer benefits have been ignored in any analysis which has taken place and the regulatory impact assessment appeared six weeks after the Bill was published. The Department was making it up as it went along and never attempted seriously a regulatory impact assessment. This as a sheltered sector of the economy which has achieved control over the Department, which is a situation that is not unique.

The formula we propose for the amendment is taken from the IMF-troika agreement on opening up the market for general practitioners in the State as provided for in the Health (Provision of General Practitioner Services) Act 2012. This will undoubtedly go to law and the assurances of the Minister will amount to nothing unless he changes the Bill to show the troika that this is not another sheltered sector which has the Government doing its bidding and that we will not take into account the long or short-term financial viability of the licence applicant or the impact on other people in the industry. The proposed provision is taken straight from what the Government has already agreed under the 2012 Act. I certainly require an assurance that we can have a quality-only market and that the Minister and National Transport Authority will not take into account the factors which we have listed, including short-term or long-term economic viability of the licence applicant, or short-term or long-term economic viability of any other licence holder. One is entitled to enter a sector in which one does not eventually make money.

The Government should not walk itself into an impasse whereby it guarantees the income of self-employed people during a recession. It cannot be done. That was the purpose of SI 250 of 2010 and it had that impact. The thinking behind the statutory instrument permeates the Bill and requires us to move the amendment to show that this is about quality licensing, not quantity licensing or protectionism. Protectionism is in every syllable of the Bill.

That is why we had to table the amendment. It brings a sheltered sector service, which has achieved regulatory capture, into the overall attempt to recover the economy. We have too many sheltered sector activities and they damage national competitiveness. The formula was used in previous occasions and we have adapted it to apply to this sector. No sector should be able to have new entrants excluded on the basis that incumbents are not making enough money; it is called the market. Even though there is a deep recession in the country, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and its agencies are encouraging new entrants and entrepreneurs. We need the assurance there will be that facility in the sector, as there was when the number of vehicles doubled between 2000 and 2008 and the number of drivers increased in similar proportions. It worked well and the allegations made against it are disproved in a paper presented by the regulator, Ms Kathleen Doyle, in Lisbon on 13 July 2010.

Everything in the Bill confirms it is an exercise in protectionism and we want that excluded. The licence holders have had far too much power and the consumer interest and competitiveness interest have been neglected. Consumers need reassurance and I am happy to propose the amendment.

5:55 pm

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I am happy to second the amendment. Amendments Nos. 17 and 22 strengthen our ability to introduce competition in the area. Since having taken an interest in this, I am amazed at any movement to go back to where we were in the past. The Minister of State may shake his head but that seems to be what we are doing here. When I was in the grocery business, I would have loved to see a grocery Bill applying the same measures. It would have placed limits on those who could open grocery shops and would have taken into account whether one would be viable. That was done in Holland, because of the influence of grocers, when one needed a licence to open a shop. It ended up in the most outrageous situation where there was a limited number of grocery shops, with one in each town or area. The cost of food increased and the service was outrageously bad. The amendments tabled by Senator Barrett will protect the customer, the citizen and the Irish economy. The amendment provides that, in making regulation under this section, the authority shall not take into consideration the short-term or long-term economic viability of the licence applicant or the short-term or long-term economic viability of any other licence holder. It makes sense. The measure in the Bill is exactly what the union or body representing the taxi drivers would love to see but it does not make sense for the citizens, the taxpayer and for our economy. I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendment.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The unions are not endeared to me at the moment so I do not think Senator Quinn's suggestion is accurate. The comparison he made is not relevant to the industry we are discussing. I will not accept amendments Nos. 17 and 22. There is no justification for the proposed inclusions. I am not clear on the intention of the Senator. The regulatory framework provided for in the Bill is clearly oriented towards maintaining appropriate quality standards in the industry in terms of suitability and expertise of persons to become SPSV drivers and providing for appropriate vehicle standards. There is no provision relating to assessment of economic viability.

I cannot accept the proposal with regard to non-discrimination. In an industry such as this, the imposition of regulatory change may well require discriminatory treatment where there are new requirements of incumbents and where there is change. This is a common feature of regulatory systems where incumbents retain grandfather rights while new entrants are required to meet the standards over time. This is being done with new licences in respect of wheelchair accessible vehicles. It also arises in the context of more demanding area knowledge requirements, where there has been change over time.

With regard to amendment No. 31 to section 15, the prohibition of transfers is precisely aimed at ensuring the SPSV licences relate to a person's suitability to hold the licence and do not have a monetary value. This is in line with action No. 14 of the taxi regulation review report. As such, the possibility that funding will be diverted into the purchase of licenses does not arise.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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The whole background to this is that licence holders did achieve regulatory capture of the Department and successfully pleaded that they could not make money in an open market. That is why we are trying to close it off. It is in every line of the taxi review group report. The taxi representatives won the debate that day but they did not win it with me. People insisted that we must control new entrants because incumbents could not make any money, which was a factor in the framing of the Bill. This approach succeeded, and it is how SI 250 of 2010 came into place.

The troika has commented on Ireland's tradition of interest groups controlling matters. They certainly controlled this one through two blockades at the airports and occupation of the regulator's office. These actions worked a treat because the Government caved in and gave them this Bill. Everyone knows that. For the sake of the country, we should include a section, such as the amendment proposes, for every sector that comes in here looking for special treatment. I thank the IMF for giving us the formula we used. That special pleading and special interest groups, not to mention the banks that walked out with €64 billion, always get their way is part of what brought this country onto the rocks. We are trying to give some legal protection to society at large and to say that moan-ins in Departments looking for special treatment, bans on new entrants and bans on satnavs must be balanced with the consumer interest. Some of the responsibility when people are no longer economically viable rests with the people concerned. Some new entrants will also make mistakes. The State cannot guarantee any set of self-employed people a living. The numbers in the Goodbody report show it did not happen but the taxi people have always resented new entrants. Hence, the blockade of airports, the occupation of buildings and the High Court cases to have them removed. That how is how the legislation came about but we must have measures to protect the consumer.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 29.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Sean D. Barrett and Feargal Quinn; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

6:05 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Government amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 18: In page 13, lines 6 to 8, to delete all words from and including “The” in line 6 down to and including “regard.” in line 8.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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These are technical legal amendments on foot of a review by the advisory council. They clarify the additional information, including medical assessments, that can be sought by a licensing authority under section 8(5) for the purposes of the subsection, namely, assessing the physical or mental capacity to hold a licence to drive an SPSV.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 19: In page 13, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:“(6) The licensing authority may, for the purposes of subsection (5), require further information (including medical assessment) from the applicant for, or the holder of, a licence, as the case may be.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 20: In page 13, lines 9 and 10, to delete "National Disability Authority" and substitute "Road Safety Authority".

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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This amendment was originally proposed by Senator Sean D. Barrett and provides for consultation by the National Transport Authority with the National Disability Authority on guidelines concerning the physical or mental capacity of a person to hold a licence to drive an SPSV under section 8(5). Following review of the section, it is the case that the statutory power in respect of the medical fitness of drivers is with the Road Safety Authority under section 4 of the Road Safety Authority Act 2006. The national programme office for traffic medicine was recently established by the RSA to take the lead in the development and implementation of the national framework on standards in traffic medicine. The office recently published general guidance in this area and plans to develop sector specific guidance. Hence, this change is being made.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response and wish the Road Safety Authority every success in this important field.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 21: In page 13, line 10, to delete "compliance" and substitute "ensuring compliance".

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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This is purely a drafting amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 22 not moved.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Amendment No. 23 is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 24 to 26, inclusive, are alternatives. Therefore, amendments Nos. 23 to 26, inclusive, will be discussed together.

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.”.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Following the debate on Committee Stage, the Attorney General's office reviewed section 11 concerning the obligation of applicants or the holders of a licence to drive SPSVs to inform licensing authorities of any additional occupation involving the use of driving licences etc. While the policy principle underpinning the section concerning the regulation of SPSV drivers is to ensure passenger and road safety, some aspects of section 11, depending on how it is interpreted and applied, could give rise to a legal challenge concerning a person's rights. Furthermore, targeting the provision wider than road vehicles gives rise to a level of complexity not required to address the core policy objective of passenger and road safety.

I thank Senator Sean D. Barrett for his contribution on Committee Stage during which he raised concerns about the application of section 11, which I have considered. I also thank other Senators for their contributions. The amended section 11 will oblige a licence holder or an applicant to inform the licensing authority and give evidence of other employments, thereby putting the NTA on notice that a licence holder has another occupation. The amended section will be limited to occupations which involve driving vehicles. It will relate to the powers of the NTa under section 17(1)(a) to make SPSV regulations concerning the period of time a driver may drive an SPSV, which applies to both whole-time and part-time taxi drivers and the intervals of rest between driving an SPSV and another vehicle in the course of another occupation.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. However, I am concerned that a problem remains. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, every person has a right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and correspondence. Does the requirement for the applicant to disclose information to his or her employer breach that right to privacy in a context which has no bearing on his or her employment as laid down in a contract? It is a pity some of my legal colleagues are not in the House. Do part-time drivers have protection under European Community law? Does the problem which previously arose in the High Court with Mr. Justice Roderick Murphy arise in this instance, namely, that of anti-competitiveness where people who may be non-nationals have two part-time jobs? Mr. Justice Murphy did not like that aspect. Paragraph (b)states the applicant must inform any employer of his or hers in writing. I appreciate that the Minister of State was keen to confine this provision to driving. However, it is not unusual for people to have two part-time jobs. Such persons enjoy protection under the convention on human rights. They are also particularly valuable in this industry because as the research indicates, 85% of business is done between Thursday and Saturday. It is for this reason that we need part-time workers. I know they are disliked in the tenor of this legislation, but they are proof of efficiency.

Debate adjourned.