Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 23 October 2007

Taxis Bill

COMMITTEE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

OFFICIAL REPORT
(Hansard)

Taxis Bill
23 October 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Patsy McGlone (Chairperson)
Mr Cathal Boylan (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong
Mr Trevor Clarke 
Mr David Ford
Mr Tommy Gallagher
Mr Samuel Gardiner
Mr Alex Maskey
Mr Ian McCrea
Mr Daithí McKay
Mr Peter Weir

Witnesses:
Mr John McMullan ) Department of the Environment
Mrs Adele Watters )

 

The Chairperson (Mr McGlone):
Are the witnesses happy to continue with the process that we used last week?

Mrs Adele Watters (Department of the Environment):
Yes. We have made available a short paper that addresses the issues that were raised on the earlier clauses. We can come back to that. I am happy to start with clause 22.

The Chairperson:
Any member who has any interest to declare should do so now.

Mr John McMullan (Department of the Environment):
Last week, we considered part 1, which refers to operator licensing, and part 2, which refers to the regulation of taxis. Today, we will move on to part 3, which refers to the regulation of drivers of taxis.

Clause 22 sets out a requirement that only the holder of a taxi-driver’s licence may drive a taxi. Contravention of that requirement will be an offence, carrying a maximum fine of £5,000. It will also be an offence, carrying a fine of up to £1,000, for a driver to drive a taxi if he or she does not hold a licence for that class of taxi. For example, someone may be entitled to drive a non-accessible vehicle, but not a stretch-limousine. Basically, that is the general requirement as set out in clause 22.

Mrs Watters:
Do you want to highlight the key issues, and I will respond?

The Chairperson:
It worked well last week when members raised any issues that they had with the clauses. Therefore, members can do that again. Does any member have anything that he wants clarified in clause 22, or are members happy to move to the next clause?

Members indicated assent
Mr McMullan:
Clause 23 is the main substantive clause in this part of the Bill. It provides that the Department shall grant a licence if satisfied that the applicant has been authorised to drive a car for three years prior to the application; is a fit and proper person; has undergone training; and has passed a test of competence to drive a taxi.

An important point to note on the taxi-driving test is that it will not apply to those who already hold a taxi-drivers’ licence immediately prior to the provision’s coming into effect. Therefore, it will apply only to drivers who are new to the industry.

The licence will be granted for up to three years; at present, it expires after five years. The licence will be granted for a specific class of taxi; for example, it may enable the holder to drive limousines only. The right of appeal, as it stands at the moment, is to a magistrate’s court.

The Chairperson:
Does any member have any queries regarding clause 23?

Mr Weir:
Is the switch from licences expiring after five years to after three years in order bring that area into line with Department for Transport best practice?

Mrs Watters:
Yes, both the Department for Transport and DOE are moving in the same direction on that issue. We were conscious that as drivers’ licences lasted for five years, they were not in line with the period allocated for criminal record checks. We thought that it was important to bring those into line. At approximately the same time that we were deliberating on that matter, the Department for Transport issued its guidance to the 350-plus taxi-licensing authorities in England and Wales. That also influenced our decision.

Mr Gallagher:
Why do UK criminal record checks not extend to the Republic of Ireland?

The Chairperson:
That is relevant to where you live, Tommy.

Mrs Watters:
I honestly do not have an answer for that at the moment. I will need to go back to check what occurs now, and whether any changes are proposed in relation to that.

The Chairperson:
That is an important query; so you can come back to us on that.

Mr Boylan:
One of the main issues regarding the switch from the five-year licences to the three-year licences is costs. That is one problem that was raised during the witness sessions.

Mrs Watters:
Two issues were raised regarding costs. The first one was that drivers will have to pay a taxi-driver licence fee every three years. The second one was that people were afraid that they would have to pay for a medical examination every three years, instead of every five years.

Taxi drivers were concerned about those two costs. The Department’s current position is that there are no proposals to change the requirement for taxi drivers to undergo a medical examination from every five years to every three years. Therefore, their fears about the level of increased cost are, perhaps, unfounded. The only change will be that taxi drivers will now have to pay a licence fee every three years rather than every five years.

The Chairperson:
You make the important point that for people with a lower level of educational skills, the Bill need not be amended to implement training. However, the Department must have given some thought to the fixed provision that will be made for training. Although it is not a critical element of the Bill, the Committee will need clarification in order to be satisfied with that provision’s detail.

Mrs Watters:
We touched on that subject last week when we discussed the project that GoSkills and the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) is to undertake. They are working with the Department of the Environment to tailor training to taxi drivers’ needs. Everyone who presents for taxi-driver training will be assessed, so GoSkills and DEL want to ensure that they are assessing drivers’ essential skills and determining their current level of learning. The first stage of the project will be to raise drivers’ essential skills to a level at which they could then undertake taxi-driver training. That is, by and large, the training provision that the Department sees itself creating. If prospective taxi drivers have a skills gap, we will work with them to address that skills gap and raise their skills level.

The Chairperson:
If members have nothing further to add on clause 23, we can move on, subject to the requested detail being provided to the Committee.

Mrs Watters:
OK.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 24 deals with the issuing of drivers’ badges. It states that the Department will issue badges and other evidence of identification to each person who has been granted a taxi-driver’s licence. The badge must be worn and identification displayed at all times for drivers to be acting in accordance with their licence, unless they are specifically exempt. Drivers of funeral cars or wedding cars, among others, may be considered for exemption. Failure to comply with the wearing of the badge will result in a penalty of up to £1,000.

The Chairperson:
No issues were raised, or comments made, about clauses 24 and 25. Are members happy to move on?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 26 is important. It gives the Department the power to suspend or revoke any licence under the Bill or to curtail an operator’s licence for any reasonable cause. Moreover, an operator’s licence can be suspended or revoked if the Department is no longer satisfied that the licence holder is a fit and proper person or if another condition or obligation imposed on the licence holder has not been complied with.

Should an operator’s licence be curtailed, the Department can remove one or more vehicles from the licence, or it can reduce the maximum number of taxis or the class of taxis that the operator can use.

The Chairperson:
If members have no points to raise, we shall move on.

Members indicated assent.
The Chairperson:
No issues were raised, or comments made, about clauses 27, 28 and 29. However, will you run through those clauses briefly, John? If any member wishes to raise anything, that is fair enough.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 27 complements clause 26. It outlines the procedure that the Department will follow for suspending or revoking a licence. If the Department decides to suspend, revoke or curtail a licence, it must give notification and grounds for its decision. Suspension, revocation or curtailment will take effect 21 days after notice is served. Why 21 days? That is also the length of the appeal period, during which a licence holder or operator can appeal against a revocation or suspension.

Clause 28 allows an operator to apply to have his licence varied to add a new operating centre or to remove an existing centre, and to vary the number of taxis that he may operate. Owners or drivers may also apply to have their licences varied, and all have a right of appeal to the magistrates’ court.

Under clause 29, the Department may also suspend or vary an operator’s licence where it is satisfied that an operating centre no longer meets the necessary requirements. The Department must give the operator notice of such a decision, which would take effect 21 days thereafter; unless, in the interests of public safety, it should take effect immediately.

The Chairperson:
Do members wish to seek clarity on those clauses? Is the Committee agreed on the content of clauses 27, 28 and 29?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 30 sets out all the various activities and services where the Department feels that it may have to prescribe fees. The fee regulations will eventually come before the Committee.

The Chairperson:
Are members happy with clause 30?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:
We move on to clauses 31 and 32. No key issues were raised around these clauses. However, John will give us an overview.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 31 is a typical clause found in Bills, and it relates to the production of documents. In this case, the documents include licences and certificates of insurance. Any other documents must be produced to an enforcement officer or to the police for inspection, and failure to do so would be an offence and incur a £1,000 fine.

Clause 32 deals with the return of licences. If the Department decides to suspend, revoke or curtail a licence, the licence plate or badge or other evidence of identification must be returned to the Department.

The Chairperson:
Do members want any further information? Are we agreed on clauses 31 and 32?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 33 deals with the register of licences. It places a duty on the Department to maintain a register containing the details of each licence issued under the Bill. The Department must make that register available for inspection to members of the public free of charge.

The Chairperson:
OK.

Mr Boylan:
The major issue was the cost of the changes. Will that cost ultimately go to customers? Will there be any incentives?

Mrs Watters:
There will be additional costs on operators and drivers, and some of them will be through licence fees and others through compliance costs. For example, if a driver does not have a taximeter and is buying one, it is expected that, ultimately, he will seek to pass any of those additional costs on to customers. If services and standards are being improved then, in a sense, the customer is getting more. However, we do not want operators to be in a position where they can put their fares up without limit, and that is where the regulated fares come in to play. The Department will set the maximum fares that the operator will be able to charge. We agreed that the Consumer Council will be involved in the setting of fares, and, therefore, consumers’ interests will be looked after. We are trying to get a balance. It will cost more to provide better services, and we will have to take account of people’s ability to pay.

Mr Weir:
I suppose this is the flip side of the coin. We have talked about the various penalties that could be put in place for non-compliance, particularly where people would be acting fraudulently in various ways, and new revenue will come in as a result of that. What happens to the fines that will arise? Do they simply go back into the courts?

Mr McMullan:
Yes, they go back to the courts.

Mr Weir:
Therefore, there is nothing from the Department of the Environment?

Mrs Watters:
No.

Mr Weir:
To take Mr Boylan’s point, in the case where there are costs, is it correct that additional fines could not be used to offset those costs?

Mr McMullan:
That is correct, the fines go back to the courts but the fees are what we use to run the system.

The Chairman:
Are Members in agreement on clause 33?

Members indicate assent

The Chairperson:
We move to clauses 34 and 35 for which there were no key issues, or comments made. John, please give the Committee a brief overview.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 34 covers appeals to the magistrate’s court, and sets out that an appeal to the court must be made within 21 days of receiving notice of the decision, and that the Department must inform the subject of their appeal rights and of the time limit when it gives that notice.

Clause 35 states that the decision of the Department will not take effect until the appeal has been heard, disposed of, or withdrawn. Therefore, the decision is in abeyance until the court hears the appeal. The clause is useful, as we have had certain drivers who cannot work during the time it takes for a case to go to court, which may be six months.

The Chairperson:
Are Members in agreement over clauses 34 and 35?

Members indicate assent

The Chairperson:
We will move to the clauses that deal with enforcement in part 5 of the Bill, starting with clause 36.

Mrs Watters:
The first table is not in relation to clause 36. There were many general comments relating to enforcement that did not relate to any particular clause, and those have been grouped together. Therefore, the table is not clause-specific but deals with how effective the Department is at enforcement.

The Chairperson:
Should we go through those page by page?

The Committee Clerk:
That may be a more useful exercise to do after we look at the document as a whole.

The Chairperson: 
As members wish; I am seeing the information for the first time.

Mr Weir:
It has been a long time since members have seen detailed legislation going through the Assembly. With our final position, in addition to having the power to make recommendations for amendments, may we make general comments?

The Committee Clerk:
Yes, you may make recommendations and general comments on enforcement.

Mr Weir:
I do not wish to be pre-emptive but I assume that the Committee is reasonably concerned about the lack of enforcement, or the lack of resources for enforcement.

The Committee Clerk:
Last week, certain general, rather than clause-specific, enforcement issues were discussed. The officials will address those when we come to the end of part 5. They have provided a document that addresses some of those issues.

The Chairperson:
As the document will address some of those issues, we may leave the discussion of part 5 of the Bill for now.

Mrs Watters:
It may be best to deal with the table later.

The Chairperson:
The Committee will now examine clause 36.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 36 covers enforcement notices and applies where a licensed operator has failed to comply with certain record-keeping duties covered by the Bill. The idea of the enforcement notice is that the person will be granted up to 21 days to put his books in order, rather than going directly to court. If the person still does not comply, the case will go to court. A person may also appeal to the magistrate’s court against an enforcement notice.

The Chairperson:
There were no problems with that clause during consultation, and if no one has further comments to make, we will move on.

The Chairperson:
Are members agreed on clause 36?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:
Clause 37 provides powers of entry to licensed premises. Did that power not exist before?

Mr McMullan:
The problem is that, previously, there was no operator licensing. Therefore, there was no provision for legal entry.

The Chairperson:
I see.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 37 provides that enforcement officers and the police might enter any licensed operating centre to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are complied with. Private dwellings can only be entered under the authority of a warrant.

Enforcement officers and the police can also enter unlicensed premises — again, under a warrant — where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person is operating a taxi service. On exercising the power of entry, the officers may seize and remove any items or equipment that may be required as evidence in court.

The Chairman:
Does anyone have anything further to add?

Mr T Clarke:
Someone suggested that an operator’s licence should not be given to someone who is operating the business from his or her home. Is the place deemed as licensed premises if the operator’s licence is for a private address?

Mr McMullan:
Yes.

Mr T Clarke:
Therefore, that place will be considered to be licensed premises?

Mr McMullan:
Yes, and because it is a private dwelling, a warrant will be needed before anyone can enter.

Mr T Clarke:
That is why I ask. What way are such properties dealt with as private dwellings or licensed premises? That seems to be a grey area. The point that I am trying to make is that to the taxi driver on the main street, clause 37 means that the Department has power to enter without a warrant. In the case of someone who deems himself to be operating a taxi business from a house, who has a taxi operator’s licence, the Department should not need a warrant. If a person is setting up a business up as licensed premises, there should be no need for a warrant. Running a business from a private house makes it more difficult to enter the premises.

Mr McMullan:
Our legal advice is that if the location in question is private premises, a warrant should always be obtained before entering. I take your point.

Mr T Clarke:
There is also the difficulty of issuing an operator’s licence to a private address.

Mrs Watters:
The Department recognises that a number of operators, particularly in rural areas, run their businesses from their homes. If we were to rule that it is inappropriate to have an operating centre in domestic premises, they would either go out of business or they would have to set up some sort of office outside their homes. It would have implications for a lot of small operators.

The Chairperson:
Are members agreed on clause 37?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:
At this stage, perhaps we can park our proceedings, so that the Committee can welcome back Mr Billy Armstrong. It is great to see you back in good fighting form. You went through a traumatic event.

Mr Armstrong:
I do not know about fighting form, but I am back anyway.

The Chairperson:
That is good. I am glad to see you in good health again.

Mr Armstrong:
Thank you very much.

The Chairperson:
There was nothing on clause 38; we had no issues with it. Please give us a run through it in any case, John.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 38 provides that enforcement officers and the police may stop and examine any licensed taxi. If they find that the condition of the vehicle is a danger to passengers, the officers may require passengers to leave the vehicle and the driver to make suitable arrangements for the passengers to be taken to their destination.

The Chairperson:
Are members happy enough with that?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Clauses 39, 40 and 41 are linked; they all have the same purpose. Under clause 39, officers may stop vehicles suspected of illegal taxiing, and may require drivers and passengers to provide information and documents as specified. Once an officer has stopped a vehicle in those circumstances, and he still feels that there are reasonable grounds to suspect illegal taxiing, he has the power to seize and remove the vehicle, as well as any other equipment or items found in it. As members will appreciate, seizure of a vehicle is a severe sanction. It must be tightly controlled, and that control is provided for in clause 41, which sets out conditions for removal of the vehicle, detention of it, release and disposal of it, notifying the owner, payment for release of the vehicle, and, where the vehicle is being disposed of, who gets the proceeds of the sale.

Those three clauses are similar, in that they all combat illegal taxiing.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with clauses 39 to 41?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 42 deals with taxi touting. The Committee discussed that matter a couple of weeks ago. Clause 42(1) provides that:

“a person who solicits any person to be carried for hire or reward in a taxi is guilty of an offence.”

That is a fairly broad statement, and when creating an offence of that nature, it must be decided whether anyone should be exempted. The Department considers that clause 42(1) should not apply to taxi marshals because the nature of their job involves almost touting for business. We are moving into a discussion about taxi marshals, and I am aware that we have provided a separate paper on that matter, which relates more to clause 20(2)(c) and the enforcement of order at taxi ranks.

Clause 42 makes touting for taxi business an offence, although there is to be an exception.

The Chairperson:
The public consultation did not throw up any issues relating to clause 42 or clauses 43 to 47, which deal with offences, obstruction and associated legalities. Will you give us a brief overview of those, John?

Mr McMullan:
Those clauses are typical to many Bills. False statements and forgery are regarded as serious matters and will result in a £5,000 fine. Equally, clauses dealing with obstructing an officer or a police officer typically appear in Bills.

Clause 45 is peculiar to the Taxis Bill and serves a useful role. There is a strong interrelationship between owners, operators and drivers. Sometimes, an offence may be committed, which may be the fault of the operator rather than the driver. Clause 45 states that someone else may be liable if an offence is:

“due to the act or default of another person”.

Clause 46 links back to the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 and makes it clear that individuals and companies can also be liable for offences under the Bill. Clause 47 is simply a directional clause.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with clauses 40 to 47?

Mr T Clarke:
Is the Committee accepting clause 42 at this stage?

The Chairperson:
Are we not accepting it?

Mr T Clarke:
I thought that we were going talk about taxi touts in more depth.

Mr McMullan:
The Department has prepared a separate paper on taxi touts and marshalling, which will be discussed later.

Mr T Clarke:
It is a grey area.

The Chairperson:
To my mind, touting is, potentially, an offence. How can it be said that marshalling and touting are similar? I am trying to establish a connection: one is supposed to be legal while the other is illegal.

Mrs Watters:
John was explaining that clause 42 recognises that some people will be present at taxi ranks in order to legally enforce order and may be soliciting by matching taxis to passengers and that such people will not be guilty of an offence. John was highlighting that there is an overlap in the provision as regards taxi touts and marshals.

The Chairperson:
I am getting a bit confused: the marshal would be performing a legal function, whereas touting is an illegal act.

Mrs Watters:
Touting would be illegal if it were carried out by anyone other than a marshal who is doing the job in an official capacity.

The Chairperson:
However, a marshal may not tout for individual companies.

Mrs Watters:
That is correct.

The Chairperson:
Therefore, marshalling would become touting when someone performs that role on behalf of an individual company.

Mrs Watters:
That is exactly right.

The Chairperson:
Therefore, a marshal who is doing his or her job should not be working for an individual company, in the same way that a policeman on the street should not be working on behalf of some of the security companies.

Mrs Watters:
The only people who should be inviting passengers to be carried in taxis are marshals who are working under the provisions of the Bill — under taxi marshalling regulations that the Department would develop.

The Chairperson:
I have not entirely grasped this matter. Should the marshal be touting?

Mrs Watters:
The activity could be described as touting. Matching passengers to taxis becomes a difficulty only when it is being carried out by a person who is not working in an official capacity. Were somebody to carry out that activity on behalf of a particular company, it could well cause disorder at a rank. For example, a driver might object to the person who is telling passengers to get into taxis belonging to another company. The activity is fine if it is being carried out in a controlled and regulated manner. However, it would be illegal for such activity to be carried out in a partial fashion by drivers or companies.

The Chairperson:
Forgive me for pursing this matter, but why is touting being linked with marshalling when, under the law, marshals should not be touting?

Mr Boylan:
It is the terminology.

The Chairperson:
I know, but the terminology is critical to our examination of this matter.

Mr T Clarke:
It seems that we are going to be accepting that terminology.

Mrs Watters:
The term “touting” is commonly used throughout the UK. That is how the activity is being described and understood.

Mr T Clarke:
But we are legitimising that activity.

The Chairperson:
We are talking about illegal touting.

Mrs Watters:
Touting would be legitimised only if it were carried out by a proper official marshal.

Mr T Clarke:
However, that marshal could be touting for one particular business.

Mrs Watters:
No, that would not be the case.

Mr McMullan:
In clause 42, the Department is trying to set a wide net for the offence. The clause states that anyone who solicits someone to be carried for hire in a taxi will be guilty of an offence. In setting such a wide net, consideration must be given to whether too many fish may be caught. The one person that we do not want to be caught in the net is the one who is legally allowed to tell passengers to get into certain taxis, wait their turn, or whatever. We want the taxi marshal to be exempted from that provision.

Mrs Watters:
It is not a taxi marshal’s job to provide business to a particular company. His role is to enforce order and get people home as quickly as possible. In carrying out his role, there should be no sense of favouritism for one company or driver over another.

Mr T Clarke:
Who will marshal the marshals?

Mrs Watters:
They would be marshalled by whoever employs them. I am sure that the Department and the local councils would play a role in that. The marshals would be working under regulations.

The Chairperson:
I want clarification on another issue, which caused some confusion when it cropped up before. The marshals’ role is to enforce order, but the marshal has no enforcement powers — he can only call a taxi.

Mrs Watters:
The use of the word “enforce” again raises the issue of terminology.

The Chairperson:
The marshal’s role would be to facilitate a taxi service. That is about the height of it.

Mrs Watters:
They would be there to facilitate, yes.

The Chairperson:
They are not there to enforce anything.

Mr McMullan:
Whether the use of the word “enforce” may be unfortunate —

The Chairperson:
Their role is to facilitate order, but they cannot enforce it because they do not have the legal powers to enforce anything. That certainly seems to be the case, judging from what I have heard.

Mrs Watters:
Yes; a marshal would not have the enforcement powers that an authorised officer of the Department or a police officer would have.

Mr T Clarke:
We should be considering this matter with the enforcement section because we have all expressed concerns about it. In effect, a marshal would be a toothless tiger. Furthermore, at the moment there are five enforcement officers. How many marshals will there be who will have no real role to play?

Mr Weir:
Just to clarify; would the marshals be employed by individual companies?

Mrs Watters:
No.

Mr Weir:
Who would employ them?

Mrs Watters:
In GB, they are employed by local councils or city-centre community-safety group.

Mr Weir:
Therefore, town-centre management would employ them.

Mrs Watters:
Yes, exactly. It is that sort of role.

The Chairperson:
Therefore, they are more like managers of order than enforcers of order?

Mrs Watters:
Yes. Perhaps “management” is a better word.

The Chairperson:
The Committee has been given a paper by the Department on enforcement, which it has not had time to peruse. Perhaps we could park issues of overlap, marshalling and touting, and, if the paper on enforcement is satisfactory, the Committee could examine those issues in that context.

Mr Clarke is correct. We will park clause 42 and consider it again in the context of further information. Is the Committee content with clauses 40 and 41, and with clauses 43 to 47?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 48 deals with access to information. To facilitate the Taxis Bill, a database will be set up containing all licensing information. The Department hopes to provide the police with access to the database, which happens in other road-traffic matters. Providing access to information must be controlled, and that will be done through regulations. People will not be able to undertake a fishing expedition to discover information about people other than for the purposes of prevention, investigation or prosecution of taxi offences.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with the clause?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 49 states that:

“The Department may, with the approval of the Department of Finance and Personnel, pay such grants to such persons or bodies”

in relation to the Act.

The important words are “The Department may”. We are not saying that we shall, or will, do that. The clause simply gives us the power to do so if moneys become available.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with clause 49?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 50 gives the Department power to make regulations in relation to the training of any person in connection with the Bill.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with the clause?
Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:
No comments or issues were raised in relation to clauses 51 to 54, which seem to deal with regulatory matters. Perhaps John will give the Committee a brief overview of them.

Mr McMullan:
You are correct, Mr Chairman, these clauses are typical of those that finalise a Bill. Clause 51 links back to the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 and allows notice to be served by ordinary post.

Clause 52 tidies up existing legislation and states that any mention of taxis in previous legislation will not apply when the Taxis Bill comes into force. There is one important point concerning the Belfast Harbour estate. At present, the Department has difficulty with enforcement in that area because the estate’s roads are deemed to be private. Clause 52(3) changes that situation by stating that the roads are to be deemed as being roads to which the public has access. Therefore, our enforcement officers will be able to enforce taxi regulations in the Belfast Harbour estate.

Clause 53 is a typical clause allowing the Department to make Orders and regulations that are incidental, or complementary, to the provisions of the Bill.

Clause 54 also deals with Orders and regulations. There is an important point in that clause, because the question of whether Belfast should be treated differently has been asked more than once by the Committee. Clause 54(3) allows the Department to make regulations that may be limited in their application to a particular area. If, for example, the Committee were to conclude that circumstances in Belfast were different, the Department could make provision for that by limiting regulations to that area.

Mr Weir:
I appreciate what you are saying in that there might be a need for some sort of transitional arrangement. However, if the Department is allowed to make different regulations for different areas, does that not negate much of the core aim of the Bill, which is to have a system that applies everywhere?

Mrs Watters:
The idea that Orders and regulations could be limited in their application to a particular area is something that we thought applied across the whole of the Bill. In fact, the provision was written into the Bill before the Department was addressing directly whether a two-tier system could be retained in Belfast. When that issue was raised, we looked at the Bill to examine whether we could provide for it if a strong case were made. However, that was not the reason why that provision is in the Bill. It was included for more general applications; for example, where we may wish to do things slightly differently in some areas.

The Chairperson:
There was the issue of shared fares and the concept that you introduced of zoning areas in Belfast in which certain taxis could operate. Does clause 54 make provision for zoning?

Mrs Watters:
That is not how we would provide for zoning.

The Chairperson:
How would you provide for it?

Mrs Watters:
It would be set out under the taxi-sharing scheme, which is a form of regulation. As regards zoning, it would be a case of having areas in which taxi-sharing schemes would apply. Other normal types of taxi services may also apply there. The idea would be, for example, that the centre of Belfast could be divided into north, south, east and west areas. Taxis could go to each of those zones, and the cost would be the same in each zone.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with clauses 51 to 54?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Clause 55 is the usual clause that appears at the end of a Bill. It sets out the words and phrases that have been used in the legislation and provides definitions for them. Clause 56 allows schedules 2 and 3 of the Bill to come into effect. Clause 57 is the commencement provision, and it allows us to introduce provisions on particular days. Clause 58 relates to the short title of the Bill.

Schedule 1 sets out the offences and penalties in the Bill that will be inserted into the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. Schedule 2 covers all the minor and consequential amendments when making legislation, whereby one must consider the knock-on effect for other legislation. Schedule 3 sets out the repeals of existing taxi legislation that will cease to apply when the Bill comes into force.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with clauses 55 to 58?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:
This is detailed stuff, so it may be helpful if you give us an overview of the schedules, John.

Mr McMullan:
Schedule 1 sets out all the offences and penalties in the Bill, and will be inserted into the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 for use by practitioners. That is where one will find all offences and penalties relating to road traffic legislation.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with schedule 1?

Members indicated assent.

Mr McMullan:
Schedule 2 sets out minor and consequential amendments. New legislation always has a knock-on effect on existing legislation. Schedule 2 tidies up legislation in which taxis are mentioned.

Mr T Clarke:
Schedule 1 reminds me of our discussion on whether convictions have been spent. It has been said that some convictions are never spent. What is the difference?

Mr McMullan:
All convictions come under the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. Certain convictions will never be spent, such as life sentences or sentences that have lasted more than 30 months. Other convictions will be spent. When we ask taxi drivers whether they have any previous convictions, they are not required to state spent convictions.

Mr T Clarke:
Would they be required to state whether they have had a sentence that has lasted more than 30 months?

Mr McMullan:
Yes. Schedule 2 set out minor and consequential amendments to other legislation that may contain some reference or relevance to taxis. It tidies up all the other legislation as a result of this legislation coming into effect. Schedule 3 deals with legislation to be repealed.

The Chairperson:
Adele, will you please take us through the summary table of responses?

Mrs Watters:
Yes. We apologise that the Committee has not had an opportunity to read it. First, I will deal with the Consumer Council’s involvement and its suggestion that the Bill should be amended to include its role on a number of matters. As we have set out in the paper, this will have implications for clauses 3, 16 and, potentially, will require a new clause in Part 6.

We met the Consumer Council on Friday and talked through its suggestions. The Department is happy to go along with amendments relating to passenger complaints, fares and passenger information. The Consumer Council, as a statutory body, is in a position to give expert recommendations to the Department on all those issues. The Consumer Council is interested in accessibility standards for vehicles but is not really a statutory body in that regard — many groups would be interested in accessibility standards. The Consumer Council is content to be consulted about those standards in the normal way and that its role should not be specifically outlined in the Bill.

The Department is happy to go along with a proposed amendment at clause 3(9) that will ensure that the Consumer Council will be involved in the complaints procedure that will be set out in regulations. The Department sees merit in a proposed amendment to clause 16 that would require the Department to take the Consumer Council’s recommendations into consideration when determining the maximum rate of fares.

The Chairperson:
Adele, I apologise for interrupting you. Your paper states:

“to ensure that the Consumer Council is involved in the complaints procedure”

Any of us could, potentially, be involved in the complaints procedure. How would one be involved, and to what extent? I would be surprised that if, during the course of your conversation with the Consumer Council, its role — rather than its involvement — would have been discussed.

Mrs Watters:
The Consumer Council’s recommendations would be taken into account when the Department is setting out instructions for operators on what they should be doing as regards their complaints procedures. Moreover, we would take into account the Consumer Council’s recommendations about who should consider complaints after they have been dealt with by an operator and have not been resolved.

The Chairperson:
Forgive me for asking about how individual deliberations or views would be taken into account. I am trying to get a handle on what shape the outworkings might take.

Mrs Watters:
The Consumer Council deals with complaints from passengers who use other modes of road transport, and it is anticipated that it will be the official body that will deal with taxi passenger problems. Obviously, that will have a resourcing issue for the Consumer Council, and we are unable to resolve that problem at this stage. The Consumer Council is content to be consulted when we are designing best-practice guidance for operators on handling complaints. We will consider the council’s recommendations on who should deal with complaints if the operator is unable to resolve them — which will be either the Department or the Consumer Council.

Wording in other legislation is often that the Consumer Council’s recommendations will be taken into account. The Consumer Council has a consultative role and is content to be described as such.

The Chairperson:
Is the Consumer Council happy with that?

Mrs Watters:
Yes.

Mr McMullan:
The Consumer Council has a lot of experience in dealing with complaints. The Bill might state that the Department will consider recommendations made by the Consumer Council. However, when we would be making regulations, we would consult with the Consumer Council on the best way to deal with individual items such as complaints. For instance, the Consumer Council would have ideas about time limits and how long someone should expect to wait before receiving a response. The Department would build those points into the legislation. Alternatively, as Adele said, the Consumer Council might want to be the complaints body, and if that were the case, it would be set out in subsequent regulations. However, that would depend on the Consumer Council’s resources.

Mr T Clarke:
If the Consumer Council is to be involved in the setting of fares, then I would be concerned that it would be acting in the interests of consumers and not the industry. There must be fairness for the industry. I would be concerned that the set-up is geared too much to the benefits for consumers.

Mrs Watters:
Although the Department will take account of the Consumer Council’s recommendations, the council does not have the final call. The Department wants to set fares by developing a taxi cost index that will examine the costs associated with running a taxi business and making a living from it. Significant increases in that cost index — from licence fees or an increase in fuel costs — must be taken into account. It is important that the consumer’s voice is heard but does not override everything else.

The Chairperson:
We will move on to issues relating to passenger information.

Mrs Watters:
The Bill does not mention rights to, or duty and responsibility for, passenger information other than information relating to fares. That is why the Department is recommending the need for a new clause in Part 6 that will enable the Department to make passenger information available to taxi users following the consideration of the recommendations of the Consumer Council. The Department will be seeking advice from legislative counsel on whether that is the best way to proceed. This demonstrates the Department’s willingness to give the Consumer Council a role in guiding it on the best way of producing passenger information and on what the contents should be.

The Chairperson:
The Committee agrees with the principle, but what wording do you recommend?

Mr McMullan:
The wording will have to be negotiated with legislative counsel. Everyone agrees with the principle, but one must consider how it will fit into the Bill. From an administrative perspective, the measures could be carried out, but it would be useful to have them included in the Bill. The wording will have to be right, and, following discussions with legislative counsel, we will establish where the provision would be best located in the Bill.
The Chairperson:
We shall move on to discussion of the two-tier appeals system.

Mr McMullan:
During the oral evidence sessions, there was a suggestion that instead of always requiring persons to go to court, the Department should consider the appeal in the first instance. We were not opposed to that, and a two-tier system of appeal is proposed in clause 11 of the Bill.

The Committee wanted to know how that would work in practice. At the moment, that system works in other transport appeals, such as those connected with road freight operators’ licences and bus licences, whereby the first appeal is to the Department. The Department sets up an internal review panel comprising three senior officers who have no connection to the decision-making process.

The issues of the case are discussed with the appellant, who is usually accompanied by a legal representative, and the panel makes its recommendations to the Department. In practice, such recommendations are always accepted, and very few cases go to court after having been through the departmental panel process. We feel that that is a template that we could use for taxi appeals. If that principle is accepted, it will have a knock-on effect for those instances in the Bill in which it is stated that there is an appeal to the magistrates’ court. We might have to build in provision for an appeal to the Department, followed by an appeal to the magistrates’ court, if dissatisfied. That is the way in which we envisage that process working.

The Chairperson:
Is the Committee content with that?

Members indicated assent.

We shall move on to clause 16, which deals with the regulation of fares.

Mr McMullan:
There were some comments last week to the effect that clause 16 should be tightened up. The Committee discussed maximum and minimum fares, and that discussion became somewhat convoluted. We examined the instructions that we had provided to counsel, and we asked counsel to provide a clause that would cover the maximum initial rate, subsequent rates and rates based on time and distance. A maximum fare is not just one rate; it is a combination of tariffs. At the time of drafting, counsel were content that they had provided tight wording. However, because we were already going back to legislative counsel with other amendments, we decided to run the clause past them again, just to be sure that the provision was open-ended.

The Chairperson:
OK. As there are no questions on that matter, we shall return to the matter of taxi marshals. I will get my head around this yet. [Laughter.]

Mr McMullan:
I was hoping that Adele would deal with this subject. [Laughter.]

Mrs Watters:
I can make a start on it.

The Chairperson:
It is a Mexican stand-off, marshals included.

Mr McMullan:
As Mr Boylan has said, the starting point is the terminology. Clause 20(2)(c) gives the Department regulation-making powers in respect of: 
“enforcing order at and regulating the use of places referred to in paragraph (a);”.

In this case, “places” means ranks.

There is a distinction to be made, and the phrase “enforcing order” may cause confusion. The taxi marshal will not be given any enforcement powers under this Bill. As members can imagine, the enforcement officer must have detailed knowledge of all the licensing provisions in the Bill. He or she also needs technical knowledge of vehicles in relation to matters such as roadworthiness. The marshal does not have an enforcement role under the Bill. That role is more about managing or facilitating. We do not envisage the marshal having any role other than trying to get people into taxis at busy times of the day.

The Chairperson:
Are you going to drop the phrase “enforcing order” from that paragraph?

Mrs Watters:
The wording of that paragraph is intended to provide for the setting up of marshalling schemes. However, it also gives the Department other powers in respect of enforcing order at ranks, including, for example, the conduct of drivers at ranks; it is not simply concerned with marshals.

The Chairperson:
Our discussion is dealing specifically with marshals.

Mrs Watters:
OK.

The Chairperson:
We are dealing specifically with taxi marshals in respect of clause 20(2)(c). It appears to me that the term “enforcing order”, in the context of a taxi marshal, is not applicable. Their role will be to manage order, perhaps, but they will not be empowered to enforce. The term “enforcing order” is misleading.

Mrs Watters:
In respect of the marshals?

The Chairperson:
Yes.

Mrs Watters:
Are you suggesting that there should be a separate power for managing order?

The Chairperson:
I do not think that that needs to be clarified that distinctly.

Mrs Watters:
The marshal’s role would be a management role, rather than an enforcement role.

Mr T Clarke:
We need to make it clear what their duties are.

The Chairperson:
That would not be a primary legislative matter.

Mrs Watters:
The marshals’ duties would be set out in regulations.

The Chairperson:
Is the Committee content with that?

Mr Boylan:
I think so. We must be very careful about whether or not the taxi marshals have powers. They would require a limited power to put people off the street, but they cannot enforce anything.

Mr T Clarke:
The notes before us state that the marshals’ enforcement role is “limited”, which indicates that they do have some enforcement role.

The Chairperson:
We are returning to the question of what their role entails.

Mrs Watters:
It is really a management role.

Mr T Clarke:
However, the briefing notes state that the enforcement role is limited. The word “enforcement” should not even be mentioned.

The Chairperson:
Have accepted that point, Adele?

Mrs Watters:
Yes. We understand why the wording is causing some difficulty.

The Chairperson:
OK. We shall move to clause 21.

Mr McMullan:
The provisions of clause 21 would have come forward, regardless of the Taxi Bill. First, it clears up an anomaly that currently exists, namely that DRD has policy responsibility for where taxi ranks should be sited, but legislative responsibility rests with DOE. We are placing the legislative and policy role with DRD. The result of that will be that DRD has control of the new traffic attendants. Through the Taxis Bill, we were considering whether traffic attendants could have a role, because they are already on the streets. However, that role would not include power over the licensing requirements that are laid out in the Bill, but they could handle parking infringements on the ranks or at a distance from the ranks, or any general parking offences by taxis. That would be very useful.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with that?

Members indicated assent.

The charging of separate fares is covered by clauses 5 to 11 of the Bill.

Mrs Watters:
The Committee asked for clarification on the concept of charging separate fares for taxi journeys, and how the proposals in the Bill to regulate the charging of separate fares will be enforced. There were concerns about how that would be policed.

Clauses 5 to 11 of the Bill provide for taxi sharing at separate fares in three circumstances. The first circumstance is when a taxibus is in operation, whereby a taxi operates in the same way as a bus, picking up and setting down passengers at stops along a route, and to a timetable. The second circumstance is the taxi-sharing scheme that is being set up by the Department. The third circumstance is when an advance booking has been made whereby all the passengers have agreed to share the taxi.

In particular, the Committee wanted to know how the Department could police situations other than those specified in the Bill whereby a number of different people want to travel in the same general direction by taxi, and pay separate fares. One basic premise of the Taxis Bill is that when someone hires a taxi, they have the right to the exclusive use of that taxi, which means that they cannot be expected to share it unless they wish to. Another fundamental principle of the legislation is that all fares should be regulated and charged according to what is shown on the taximeter. There are certainly circumstances when it is in the interests of both taxi users and drivers for passengers to agree to share a taxi and pay their own fares.

However, the Bill aims for — and the Department wants to see — the regulation of such situations. Otherwise, taxi drivers may not give any discount — and certainly not the full discount — to passengers, who will then complain to the Department about being ripped off. In all three of the circumstances provided for in the Bill for sharing — the taxibus, the taxi-sharing scheme, and advance booking — every passenger has agreed, explicitly or implicitly, to share. In return, they should have a right to a cheaper fare.

In taxibuses, passengers will pay a flat fare. In a taxi-sharing scheme or an advance booking arrangement, the Department will insist that the driver gives each passenger a discount on what the metered fare would have been, had they had hired the taxi without sharing. That amount would be regulated by the Department and would depend on how many people share the taxi. We have provided the Committee with an example of a shared-fare table, which I will return to.

Taxi drivers will also benefit from that arrangement, because the total fares that they receive from the passengers will be, not to play on words, a fair bit more than if they had only one passenger. In that scenario, everyone wins — not just the driver. How can that be policed? That is largely down to the passengers and whether they know their rights — that they have a right to exclusive use of the taxi, and that the meter should always be on, unless separate provision has been made.

If all the passengers agree to pay a separate fare that is more than that for which the Department has regulated, they can accept that. However, if someone feels aggrieved at having been forced to share and pay more than the regulated fare, they can complain to the operator, the Department, or the Consumer Council, and that complaint will be investigated. If shared-fare arrangements are not controlled, the principle of having regulated fares in the first place is completely undermined.

The Chairperson: 
You said that, in all three of the circumstances provided for in the Bill, each passenger will have agreed either explicitly or implicitly to share the taxi. What do you mean by agreeing implicitly?

Mrs Watters: 
When using a taxibus, no one asks the passengers whether they have agreed to share, but everyone knows the deal is that there will be a number of people in the taxi, and each passenger will pay their own bit. However, no one actually states that.

The Chairperson: 
That is an interesting concept.

Mr T Clarke: 
I made my opposition clear last week. I have no problems with taxibuses or the designated scheme, but if taxi drivers pick up two fares, with two different drops-offs, when they are on way from Belfast, the driver will lose out. My reason for asking about the Consumer Council earlier was because of the Department’s response to the Committee’s discussion on the charging of separate fares:

“It is the Department’s strong view — and one which is shared by the Consumer Council — that allowing taxis to pick-up passengers going in a general direction” —

The best interests of the consumer are then referred to. Again, the taxi driver is not mentioned — it is always the consumer.

The Chairperson: 
I can understand why that is so, in those circumstances. If taxi drivers have one or two extra passengers going the same direction for the same 10 miles, they will gett extra money.

Mr T Clarke: 
I look at it from a different perspective. If I were a taxi driver who was not getting any extra money to pick up a double fare, I would leave the last fare standing for my mate to collect them, so that he would have more work. This issue has to be examined from a taxi driver’s point of view. What incentive is there for the taxi driver to pick up the two fares? If there is a double fare that he can pick up from Belfast to go in a general direction, with two different drop-offs, surely it is better to leave the second fare for someone else to pick up.

Mrs Watters: 
That fare would not then be part of that driver’s income. If the taxi driver takes the two fares, he gets more money than if he had picked up one.

Mr T Clarke: 
If the taxi driver leaves the second fare for his colleague Mr X, then Mr X will leave a fare for him the next day.

Mr Weir: 
If you scratch my back, I will scratch yours.

Mrs Watters: 
That fare will be long gone by the time the other driver comes for them.

Mr Weir: 
The drivers may not be too bothered about an individual fare, but if, for example, I let Trevor pick up the next fare on a Thursday night, perhaps he will return the favour a couple of nights later.

Mr T Clarke: 
To take it a step further, if a passenger is not willing to share a taxi, the person asked to pay the fare twice was going to have to pay the fare anyway to take the taxi on their own. How is the consumer losing out?

Mrs Watters: 
They are losing out because they have to share. When a passenger gets a taxi on their own they are paying for a different experience than when they have to share with several other people. That is a different proposition.

Mr Ford:
The Department appears to be addressing some of the concerns that I expressed last week. However, I cannot make head nor tail of the table of sample fares that has been submitted.

Mrs Watters: 
That table is wrong.

Mr Ford:
More fundamental is the matter of people’s sharing taxis. If I remember correctly, in the example that Trevor Clarke and I discussed last week, we assumed that, of two people sharing a taxi, one person was going to Ballyclare and the other to Glengormley. You have not addressed the issues that would arise from that scenario.

Mrs Watters:
The driver would still make more money from that deal, even if he did not take every passenger the full distance.

Mr Armstrong:
That is not 100% true, because the driver must stop and, if he stops, it costs more.

Mrs Watters:
OK.

Mr Ford:
If you try to drive through Glengormley these days, you will get stuck anyway.

Mrs Watters:
The reason that we submitted the sample fare table was to illustrate that the more passengers there are in a taxi, the less that they pay individually, although, ultimately, the driver is paid more, depending on the number of people that he carries. That fairly extensive table is based on figures that were provided by the Public Carriage Office in London. The idea is that the Department or the licensing authority will be seen to be regulating the levels of discounts. Based on the number of people in the taxi, each passenger should be capable of examining the meter and calculating his or her discount.

Mr T Clarke:
In the example of the metered fare of £1·80, I would prefer to be the fifth passenger because I would pay less than everyone else.

Mrs Watters:
The discount depends on the number of people who are sharing; it does not apply progressively to passenger 2, passenger 3, passenger 4, etc.

The Chairperson:
Perhaps we should scrub that table.

Mrs Watters:
I am afraid that the table seems to complicate the issue.

The Chairperson:
Can you clarify that it is not an accurate guide, and that the statistics might be misleading?

Mrs Watters:
I agree that the statistics might be misleading.

Mr T Clarke:
Was the table drawn up to convince us?

Mrs Watters:
To confuse you. [Laughter.]

Mr Gallagher:
You would not go to Glengormley in the cars that are included in the table.

Mrs Watters:
The figures are purely indicative.

The Chairperson:
For clarity: as a result of these proposals, will more people share taxis?

Mrs Watters:
Yes. We will certainly make provision for, facilitate and regulate taxi sharing, which should mean that passengers will be happier with that concept, and that it will become more popular. Currently, enforced taxi sharing is sometimes very unpopular.

Mr Ford:
Can we assume that the penultimate paragraph of your submission refers to something other than the three scenarios of taxi sharing that you originally outlined in your presentation on the proposed Bill? That appears to be the case. In the third sharing scenario, people agree to share a taxi in advance; however, “in advance” may mean only 30 seconds before stepping into the taxi.

Mrs Watters:
The key phrase in the final paragraph is:

“with the driver charging fares at his discretion.”

We would not be happy for drivers to make things up as they go along. The Department and the Consumer Council are supportive of regulated and controlled shared-fare arrangements.

Mr Ford:
No one sitting around this table is in favour of drivers making up fares. That is one thing that we are trying to get away from.

The penultimate paragraph of your paper creates a fourth sharing scenario — or adapts the third scenario — whereby the agreement to share occurs, literally, as people step into the taxi.

Mr McMullan:
That is outside the terms of the proposed Bill.

Mr Ford:
In order to get it right, should that scenario not be provided for in the Bill? I agree with Trevor Clarke, and I suspect that, for most of the week, such circumstances will be rare. However, I am considering the problems that might arise on Friday and Saturday nights, when the system will be attempting to deal as quickly as possible with large numbers of people who are on the streets. Taxi marshals could probably lend a hand in that.

Mr T Clarke:
I suggest that it is stated in the Bill that David Ford and Trevor Clarke agreed. That would be positive. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:
I do not think that we can legislate for that.

Mr Boylan:
There are two arguments: Trevor Clarke is arguing for the taxi operator, but there is also an argument to be made on behalf of the consumer. Taxi sharing is about consumer choice. If the consumer wants to use the sharing system, that is fair enough. The only fear, as Trevor Clarke has said, is that there may be a reduction in the number of taxis that are required because there may be fewer taxis picking up single passengers. Surely to God, though, taxi sharing provides consumer choice, and that is why it should be introduced. Customers could decide whether they wish to share or not, but I take Trevor Clarke’s point.

Mr T Clarke:
When a taxi leaves Belfast, for example, the passengers would know that they are sharing it, and if they do not wish to share, they should not get in the taxi. That is their choice.

The Chairperson:
That is Mr Boylan’s point.

Mr Boylan:
Yes, it is up to the customer whether to share or to hire a taxi on their own. I take Trevor Clarke’s point that two people might take the same car, and the taxi driver may charge them individually.

The Chairperson:
What could be done about that?

Mr Boylan:
That is understandable, but it is up to the consumer whether to get into a shared taxi or not.

The Chairperson:
Does the Committee agree on this element of the Bill — the concept of taxi sharing?

Mr T Clarke:
Could you summarise what we are agreeing to?

Mrs Watters:
The Department does not propose to make any changes to the provisions of the Bill on shared fares.

Mr T Clarke:
I cannot agree to that.

The Chairperson:
For complete clarity, Trevor, what is your reason for not agreeing to the provisions of the Bill on shared fares?

Mr T Clarke:
My reason is that that system would work for the consumer, but not for the industry. The taxi industry clears the streets of Belfast, but the Bill proposes to penalise taxi drivers for picking up two fares in one go, which would be deemed illegal.

The Chairperson:
A balance must be struck between the interests of the consumer, and those of the industry. If a taxi travels in one direction on one journey and charges duplicate fares to more than one person, what is wrong with the concept of taxi sharing and allowing people to travel in that taxi at reduced rates?

Mr T Clarke:
The Committee was told last week that a taxi-sharing scheme would only work with designated stops.

The Chairperson:
People could choose places inside designated zones. Taxi drivers could choose to operate in those areas.

Mr T Clarke:
When two passengers are travelling in the same direction from Belfast to Antrim, the journey is straight down the M2. However, if a passenger travelling from Belfast to Antrim were to share a taxi with a passenger travelling to Glengormley, the taxi would have to go off the M2. That would not result in the same fare as the journey from Belfast to Antrim.

The Chairperson:
I am not entirely sure about your main concern — could you run through that again?

Mr T Clarke:
All the representatives from the taxi industry have told the Committee that there are not enough taxis in Belfast on a Friday or Saturday night. A taxi driver with a queue at his rank outside a busy nightclub in Belfast on a Saturday night currently has a possibility of picking up two separate fares. Under a taxi-sharing scheme, two different passengers would realise that they were sharing a taxi, and were going to two different places, but the taxi driver would not be allowed to charge the fare twice. However, if those two customers had had to wait for an individual taxi, they would have had to have paid that fare anyway. The consumer does not lose out under the existing arrangements.

The Chairperson:
The consumer would not lose out under the shared-taxi scheme.

Mr T Clarke:
The shared-taxi scheme would not work everywhere.

The Chairperson:
Correct me if I am wrong, but the shared taxi scheme would provide choice for the consumer, and for the taxi driver, in specific areas. The legislation provides for that further down the line.

Mrs Watters:
That is right.

The Chairperson:
Mrs Watters outlined that there would be pilot projects in various areas — to dip the toe into the water and see how that might work. There is no obligation whatsoever on either party, consumer or taxi driver, to use that scheme. They can if they wish; and if they do not, drivers can move 100 yards down the street to another nightclub, pick up people there and ferry them, backwards and forwards, in single journeys.

Mr T Clarke:
Mr Chairman, you have alluded to the issue. We are discussing a taxi-sharing scheme that does not yet exist; and about a system that already operates in Belfast, whereby people are sharing taxis. We are going to make illegal something that is practised already and replace it with something that is not yet in place. We are discussing the piloting of a taxi-sharing scheme, but there is a practice taking place at the moment, which we recognise, and we are going to make that illegal, as opposed to legalising it.

The Chairperson:
That is a matter of choice for both the taxi driver and the consumer. They can either operate in a particular area or choose to move 20, 30 or 40 yards down the street and operate from a different location.

Mr T Clarke:
We are making illegal the situation where a double fare is picked up by one taxi.

Mrs Watters:
At the moment, within Belfast, the taxi driver should be charging the regulated fare. That is all that should be charged: once, not twice. In Belfast, where fares are regulated, there is an element of practice that is already illegal.

The Chairperson:
So a double fare should not be charged anyway?

Mrs Watters:
That is correct.

The Chairperson:
Does that allay your concerns on that issue, Trevor?

Mr T Clarke:
No.

Mr Ford:
This has further confused me too, Chairman. I thought that we were reaching the point of regularising something that we saw as useful at the busy times of the week. However, having just been told that the Department does not propose to make any changes, I was on the point of asking what its legislative draftsmen would suggest to further define clause 7(a):

“all the passengers carried on the occasion in question booked their journeys in advance”.

The logical meaning of “in advance” is not that bookings are put together by the taxi marshal in the interest of good order on the streets. However, that is what we have discussed as ideal: that we deal with the crowds by encouraging people to double book.

Mrs Watters has accepted that the sample fare table does not work; therefore, we need to know how such a scheme would work when people are not all getting out at the same place. It is fine to state how we would regulate the fares, and what proportion people would pay if everyone is making the same journey. However, in the circumstances that we have discussed — weekends in Belfast — that will not be the case. People will be travelling to a number of different, relatively nearby locations, but we need to work out how the fare structure will work.

The Chairperson:
Owing to the confusion on this matter, could we be provided with a sample fare table that will show how the scheme will work in practice? Could you address the point that David has just made about a taxi driver who picks up from different locations, and drops off at different locations.

Mr Ford:
On a journey from Glengormley to Ballyclare, for example.

Mr T Clarke:
That was what I was trying to say, but David put it much better.

Mr Ford:
I hope that Hansard has noted that. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:
For use in an election: “endorsed by Mr Trevor Clarke”.

So, with that proviso, we shall move on to discuss the paper on enforcement. I ask members to turn to the second page of that document — the first is just a preamble about role and function.

Mrs Watters:
Mr McMullan and I are not necessarily in a position to speak about that paper in detail. We are not the taxi enforcement team.

However, I could refer members to the summary table of responses, in which various comments on enforcement that not specific to clauses are brought together. That is where we set out the Department’s overall response on enforcement matters. That begins at page 139 of the summary table of responses.

The Chairperson:
Are you referring to the synopsis?

Mrs Watters:
On the summary document; yes.

The Chairperson:
We have seen some of that information during a previous presentation. The Committee will suspend for five minutes to allow members to look through that information and ascertain whether it includes anything of relevance to the issues that we raised. I do not expect Mrs Watters to answer our questions; the taxi enforcement team can do that the next time we see them.

The Committee suspended.

On resuming —
The Chairperson:
The paper before us informs some of the background to the Taxis Bill, but I am not sure that it adds anything. What are other members’ views? Does the paper add anything to the enforcement issues that we are discussing today?
We will go back to part 5 of the Bill, which deals with enforcement. The Department’s summary of responses states that:
“The Department has provided a detailed briefing to the Committee on both its current taxi enforcement activity and successful CSR bid to increase the number of enforcement officers from five to 18.”
Mrs Watters:
That was written on the assumption that the Committee might have had an opportunity to consider it in more detail.

The Chairperson:
Do members have any issues with the paper? The Committee should be in agreement that, in the eventual production of a report, it might include the caveat that the Bill would, by and large, be worthless unless sufficient resources were made available to enforce its provisions. Do we have general agreement and consensus on that?

Mr Weir:
We should refer to the fact that there is a bid in to increase the number of enforcement officers, and that we regard that as being vital.

The Chairperson:
Yes. Having dealt with all those issues, is there anything further that needs to be considered today?

The Committee Clerk:
Perhaps it would be useful if I were to state the outstanding issues, so that members can be clear about what is left to do, and also to see whether there is anything that the officials feel that they could address. Would that benefit members or should we wait until our last meeting on 8 November?

Mrs Watters:
The Committee had proposed to consider the Department’s amendments. Do we still intend to look through those to see whether the Committee is agreeable with them? We went through them during a previous session, but I do not know whether the Committee reached a consensus on them.

The Chairperson:
There were issues around some of them, from what I can recall.

Mr McMullan:
The main issue was the taxi marshals, which we have rehearsed again today.

The Chairperson:
Many of the issues about taxi marshals were quite technical. I can remember that taxi marshals were discussed — it would be hard to forget. I do not recall any other outstanding issues. However, that is not to say that there were no peripheral or marginal issues that may have been important at the time. We can double check the Hansard report of that meeting and, if necessary, revisit those issues.

Mr T Clarke:
How may taxis are there in Northern Ireland?

Mrs Watters:
There are approximately 11,000.

Mr T Clarke:
There has been a bid for 18 enforcement officers. The constant cry is that there are not enough enforcement officers. Part of the new legislation will require all taxis to have meters. With 11,000 metered taxis, how will the systems be implemented to ensure that that aspect is policed, and that the meters are not tampered with?

Five enforcement officers have not been sufficient to monitor the industry without taximeters. As 11,000 cars will now have to have taximeters, I imagine that the point of the bid to get the number of enforcement officers up to 18 is to enable them to carry out roadside duties.

Mrs Watters:
The issue regarding meters is about getting them tested, calibrated and sealed. After that is done, any time a vehicle is stopped, the enforcement officer — if he or she is doing a thorough inspection — will check that the seal is still there. However, the actual meters would not cause the enforcement officers a great deal of extra work.

As it will be easier for people to prove when they have been overcharged, the installation of taximeters might cause the Department additional work in dealing with complaints, but that would not have direct implications for the enforcement officers.

Mr T Clarke:
Overcharging will only be an issue if the taximeters are incorrect.

Mr Gallagher:
I agree. Enforcement is important in carrying out checks.

Mrs Watters:
The first thing that the enforcement officer would notice is whether the seal has been broken. If a difficulty is established, there may be an investigation and enforcement action. However, hopefully, enforcement officers will be able to establish — from quick visual checks — that in the vast majority of cases, there is nothing wrong with the meters — they have been properly set as tested by the Department.

Mr Gallagher:
That is going to require 13 enforcement officers, but there will not be 13 for some time yet. It will take a long time to check half of the 11,000 taxis that are currently licensed. I know that the number of licences being issued has increased. Therefore, there may well be more than 11,000 taxis.

Mrs Watters:
The number of taxis has been increasing.

Mr McMullan:
Taxis also have to have an annual PSV test, which will include a check to determine whether meters have been installed.

Mr T Clarke:
Will that be part of the PSV test?

Mrs Watters:
The people conducting the PSV test will be able to check that taximeters have been installed.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for that. Patricia, will you outline the next stage of the process for members?

The Committee Clerk:
Last week, the Committee and the departmental officials considered clauses 1 to 21, and about seven broad issues were raised. The departmental officials have returned with a written response on those issues, which members have considered today. Although it has not been stated for definite that all the issues have been agreed to, it appears that there is consensus on the majority of them, but some issues have again been raised.

The next phase of the process, which will be worked through on 8 November 2007, is the formal clause-by-clause analysis and agreement of those clauses. The culmination of the Committee’s deliberations on the clauses will happen on that day.

The Committee and the departmental officials have today also considered clauses 22 to 58 and schedules 1, 2 and 3, and a number of issues have been raised regarding those. Therefore, the departmental officials will address those issues on 8 November, and again, the Committee will have to form some sort of view prior to the clause-by-clause analysis.

Over the past number of weeks, the Committee asked for specific briefing on three areas: enforcement, which has been considered today; disability, which is an issue that Adele will address when I have finished; and, finally, funeral cars and whether they should be subject to exemptions.

Those are the key matters that have not been covered. I anticipate that, on 8 November, a lot of the clause-by-clause analysis will be worked through relatively quickly. At that stage, the Department may have a better idea about the actual wording of some of the amendments. However, I understand from the Bill Clerk that it is not absolutely essential to know the exact wording of those amendments by 8 November; the requirement is that the amendments are agreed in principle.

The other matters that the Committee will have to consider, and obtain broad agreement on, are the departmental amendments. The Committee must also agree final recommendations on issues such as enforcement and agree the broad wording of the clauses. Then, on 8 November, Sean McCann and I can start to work on the draft Taxis Bill, based on the Committee’s deliberations. That will keep the Committee on time to agree the report by 7 December and to publish it by 16 December.

The Chairperson:
Do members wish to seek further clarification from the Department or the Committee Clerk on any matters?

The Committee Clerk:
Perhaps the officials could address the issues around disability and funeral cars, and let the Committee know when they will be able to deliver briefings on those matters?

Mrs Watters:
The Department has undertaken investigations on the refusal of service to people with disabilities, and its reply is in the system and should be with the Committee shortly. We had hoped to be able to provide the Committee with a fuller written reply on funeral cars after meeting representatives from the National Association of Funeral Directors. They chose a date for that meeting, but it will not be until 15 November. Therefore, the Department will go ahead with a response, based on its current position, to clarify the points that the Committee raised.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for that, Adele and John, and for giving the Committee your time. No doubt we will see you both again.

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