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 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)
 Header Item Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage
 Header Item Consumer Protection (Loyalty Penalty and Customer Complaints) Bill 2021: First Stage

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 4
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl] I have tried, as has the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, in the past and present Dáil to list people on the basis on which they have indicated. The Dáil reform committee, appreciating the point that each Deputy has made, has looked on several occasions, most recently this week, at how we might deal more efficiently with this, along the lines that Deputy Bruton set out. We have yet to reach agreement. In fact, at the next meeting of the reform committee a proposal from the Sinn Féin Party and the Government will be looked at. It is be hoped that out of that will come a more satisfactory system.

Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to prohibit the ownership of veterinary practices by persons other than those persons who are veterinary practitioners and to provide for related matters.

I appreciate the opportunity to move the Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Bill. It proposes to amend the Veterinary Practice Act 2005. For a number of years the interpretation of the Act was that corporate bodies could not own veterinary practices. A number of years ago that interpretation was changed and they are now in a position to buy veterinary practices in this country.

  Unfortunately, in other countries, including in the UK and Northern Ireland, where corporate bodies are able to purchase veterinary practices the level of services decreases and the cost of services increases simultaneously. In Northern Ireland, where a veterinary practice was bought by a corporate, smaller farmers in Donegal were left without any 24-hour service. We have to make sure that does not happen in this country.

  We have a veterinary service in this country of which we can be very proud. It provides a 24-hour service. This is not just for farmers; it also includes small animal practices. They are often the target of corporate entities as they are the most lucrative of practices financially.

  The aim of the Bill is to ensure that veterinary practitioners are the only ones who can own veterinary practices. Veterinary Ireland is completely in support of this. It feels it is the way to ensure a proper 24-hour service is provided at an economic cost to consumers, whether they are farmers or pet owners in towns or cities.

  In the previous Dáil term we had a lot of discussions with the Veterinary Council and Veterinary Ireland. The council made a number of presentations to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine in the previous Dáil term and put forward its case for leaving the law as it stands. The view of the Fianna Fáil Party is that the amendment is necessary to ensure that there is a proper service for those who need it, whether that is someone with a pet dog or a large animal practice.

  Another problem in rural and remote areas is the availability of vets. I would welcome suggestions on the Bill so that we can ensure the availability of vets all over the country. In areas where bovine animals do not exist in large numbers, the economic viability of a veterinary practice is brought into serious question. It is something we need to re-examine. There is an animal welfare issue in that the availability on a 24-hour basis is essential for animal welfare.

  My purpose in bringing forward the Bill is to ensure that there is a quality of service at a reasonable cost. It has been clearly shown to us that when corporate bodies take over veterinary practices in other countries, the level of service decreases significantly and the cost increases. In moving the Bill I wish to ensure that we continue to experience the excellent level of veterinary care we have had over generations. We are very proud of that and veterinarians are very proud of the service they are able to provide to their customers. I want to make sure that continues. On that basis, I am very happy to present the Bill to the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I congratulate Deputy Cahill. Is the Bill opposed?

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar No.

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

  Question put and agreed to.

Consumer Protection (Loyalty Penalty and Customer Complaints) Bill 2021: First Stage

Deputy Ged Nash: Information on Ged Nash Zoom on Ged Nash I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to prohibit differential pricing in respect of certain subscription service supplied to consumers; to require certain traders to establish schemes for handling consumer complaints in relation to their services and to prescribe minimum standards in relation to such schemes; for those purposes to amend the Consumer Protection Act 2007; and to provide for connected matters.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to introduce the Bill, which is co-signed by my colleagues Deputies Duncan Smith and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. It is a timely Bill and deals predominantly with the question of dual pricing, not just in the Irish insurance market but in other economic sectors.

  As was exposed by repeated Central Bank reports and other surveys, the practice whereby suppliers charge higher prices to existing customers, who they believe are unlikely to switch to another provider in order to get a better deal, is now what we might describe as endemic in this country. The result is that, in many cases, people who stay with a supplier or service provider end up paying significantly more, even when all other aspects under consideration are equal.

  This loyalty penalty affects those who are disadvantaged and older customers who may not have the time, resources or knowledge to navigate complex financial products, and neither should they be expected to switch products constantly in order to get better value for money or a decent service. This should be a given in any modern democracy and regulated economy. Not only are non-switchers being ripped off, they are also indirectly subsidising lower premiums for those regular switchers who are often more financially savvy and better off to begin with.

  Evidence from the UK regulator is that, "[T]he loyalty penalty is significant and impacts on many people including those who can least afford it". The UK regulator duly responded by introducing reforms to ban the practice of dual pricing for once and for all, but yet again in Ireland we are lagging behind. The first and immediate provision of the Bill is to outlaw loyalty penalties for services provided to consumers on subscription. Importantly, this would not only apply to insurance policies but also to other sectors such as utilities, broadband, phone contracts and so on.

  This area has been the subject of much debate. The Bill will significantly strengthen existing consumer protection legislation and, arguably, enhance it in order to take account of some of the very serious issues that many citizens would have encountered in recent years with particular companies like eir, for example.

  As it stands, there is no obligation on service providers to establish a system for handling customer complaints or to abide by their own procedures and commitments if they have such a system in place. That is not sustainable or something anybody in the House would support. Consequently companies like eir, known for shoddy customer service, act with absolute impunity and treat their customers with contempt. There is little or no recourse when a customer has a problem with the customer complaints procedures operated by a subscription service provider. Such companies need to be held accountable for their actions and this Bill will achieve just that.

  We should all agree that where systems like these are failing, the State has an obligation and duty to step in to address the serious power imbalances that exist between businesses and their customers and to legislate to protect the interests of citizens. The Bill, in summation, will tip the balance in favour of the ordinary consumer and serve as an important first step in tackling dodgy processes, cowboy companies and rip-off merchants alike.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is the Bill opposed?

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar No.

  Question put and agreed to.


Last Updated: 26/02/2021 14:31:50 First Page Previous Page Page of 71 Next Page Last Page