Building Control Bill, 1984: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I repeat my welcome for the Bill. There is need for a consistent set of national building regulations, including fire regulations. At present there are many anomalies and standards vary from region to region. By-laws in relation to buildings exist in only seven or eight local authority areas. The Bill is important because the construction industry is our second largest industry. I am glad the Minister has indicated that the building regulations referred to in the Bill will be published shortly and I understand this Bill is enabling legislation to implement those regulations.

It appears the Bill is an omnibus one, somewhat similar to the Fire Services Act, 1983, except perhaps in relation to sections 4 and 5 which empower building control authorities to issue relaxations either generally or specifically. There can be little argument against the case put forward for the introduction of controls. However, great care should be taken to provide for the situation ably described by the Minister in his speech, namely, that for most of the country there is no experience in any of the bodies that will be set up as control bodies. This will require close monitoring at the introductory stage of the regulations to ensure that uncertainty or lack of experience does not give rise to inactivity on the part of the authorities. Unfortunately, I do not see any provisions for this and I should like the Minister to tell us what monitoring will take place when the Bill becomes law.

The regulations may be applied nationally or locally. Therefore, they may be applied in different degrees in different areas and to specific buildings or classes of buildings in different areas. With the relaxation of provisions of sections 4 and 5 this could lead to a chaotic situation where the same standards need not necessarily apply to a specific class of building in different areas. At its most absurd, it could result in two exactly similar buildings in the same street having different standards. The building regulations to be made under section 3 and the control procedures under section 6 have not been published and I am awaiting their publication with interest.

When drafting my contribution to the debate I asked for opinions from a cross-section of people involved in various areas of the construction industry. The responses I got varied considerably in their content. I have little experience of the construction industry and I found it difficult to assess adequately the many opinions I got from the various vested interests. However, having considered them all I decided to give my reaction to the Bill in the House.

Before dealing with that, however, I should like to refer to public buildings and the way Government buildings in general are exempt from the provisions of the Planning Acts. In my own city of Cork there are a number of examples in recent years where public buildings were erected without any consultation with the local authority regarding design and layout. There is one such building in the city centre and there is another on the hills overlooking the city, particularly one in the Churchfield area. It has scarred the skyline of Cork.

Is that the post office building?

They have scarred the whole countryside.

Not only has it scarred the skyline but the mast there is interfering seriously with television reception. However, that is outside the scope of this Bill. That building has scarred the skyline of Cork city of which we were proud. Local residents were unaware of the type of building that was being constructed until the project commenced. The State have broken the city development plan which was drafted by the local authority in the Cork region. The public in Cork look upon Government Departments and semi-State companies as being above the law and not answerable to anybody in relation to planning.

We are getting a good example of that by the Minister for Health in other matters.

A Bill similar to this has gone through the House of Lords recently and since the publication of this Bill the Minister, from public statements which he made, has received numerous submissions.

The Bill has little or nothing to do with town planning but it will enable the introduction of new regulations and the updating of regulations in existence since 1878. Since then we have not kept pace with the introduction of new technology, new materials such as plastics, and new methods of construction. These new developments have resulted in the need for legislation in a hurry and no reasonable person can object to the sections of the Bill which provide for the introduction of new technology.

The manner in which the Bill allows local authorities control of building in their area is the most controversial part of the Bill. The present system is that architects submit plans for approval under health, fire, sanitary and other Acts and the local authorities when giving approval impose a number of conditions, usually suggesting minor alterations in the plans to ensure that they comply with regulations. A typical example is the fire officer requiring the walls on a staircase to be of fireproof material. Another condition is that windows should be a certain minimum size for natural lighting and ventilation in accordance with the Health Acts. Generally, the regulations and their application work well, although I can only refer to my own area, Cork city.

There is a good relationship between the industry and the local authority. The local authority officials have been most helpful to the personnel in the construction industry. Unfortunately, under the new Bill this will be changed. Building products will now have to be submitted under two headings, compliance with the new building regulations with regard to construction, drainage, height and so on, and it will be necessary to obtain approval in advance from the fire officer that the building complies with his requirements. This would be known as the fire safety certificate and is referred to in line 30, page 8, of the Bill.

With regard to the proposed building regulations referred to in the Bill, the local authority officials will not be obliged to comment on building proposals before they are carried out. Their function will be to register the receipt of plans. When the job is completed the building owner will furnish an architect's certificate of compliance stating that the building is constructed in accordance with the new regulations. This will throw enormous responsibilities on architects because if there are any subsequent defects in the building, or if the architect has interpreted the regulation in a different way from the local authority, he is liable to put it right at his or the building owner's expense. This could cause a problem for architects in relation to insurance, which has already been mentioned. It may be said that architects are responsible for the safety of their buildings but that is not the full story and this has been gone into in detail already in the press and in this House.

At present local authorities are responsible to the public for buildings erected in their area. They have to inspect and approve foundations, drains and other aspects of the building. In the past few years in Britain there have been numerous examples of structural failures of private buildings but, fortunately, in Ireland there have been few examples of this. Because of the danger of legal wrangling and legal action, architects' fees will, because of their increased liabilities, increase dramatically.

Building construction in this country can be broken into three sections: commercial and institutional, civil engineering and water supply schemes and housing provided for sale by private companies and built to contract for local authorities. From the point of view of private housing it is important to get accurate statistics and to look at the effect of any additional controls being brought in. It is claimed by the Department of the Environment that approximately 26,000 new houses were completed in the last 12 months, 5,000 of these were built by local authorities and another 5,000 to 6,000 were built as once off houses by private individuals. That means that very close to half of the houses in the State were provided by other than private builders building for sale.

Private housing contractors building on their own land for subsequent sale to the public are faced with the following regulatory controls in Dublin and Cork cities. They must comply with conditions laid down by agencies to whom drawings, specifications and appropriate fees must be paid. They must get planning authority, building by-law approval, in the national house building guarantee scheme and up to recently they had to obtain a CRV, but I understand that has now been dispensed with.

It should be taken into account that there is now quite an overlap of agencies inspecting for different reasons and there can be no justification for some of the duplication which takes place as it ultimately costs the house purchaser more money. If we consider the basic type of house built, a typical three bedroomed house which is so common in the Cork area and costing in the region of £24,000 or £25,000, the purchaser wishing to buy this house and getting a building society loan will have to pay a fee to the building society's surveyor to inspect the house and the builder, on the other hand, is paying a fee to the national house building guarantee scheme for the Department of the Environment to inspect the House. If the purchaser applies for a grant the Department of the Environment will inspect the house for grant purposes and while all this is happening the inspectors from the building by-law insection will be inspecting the house while it is under construction. They inspect at various times during the course of construction. Therefore, the Minister should take this into consideration and all house building should come under building regulations. A method of certification of design and construction compliance should be devised. This should be a certificate which would in future be accepted by building societies, the Department of the Environment and other agencies interested in the quality of standards in the construction of houses.

These points are not relevant to commercial building but purely to housing for sale by private builders on private lands. I am very worried about the possible additional cost to the house purchaser. Perhaps the Minister will allay my fears later. To my knowledge there are at present three inspections of houses carried out by the Department for the purpose of the national housebuilding guarantee scheme, which take place at foundation stage, on roofing and on completion, the cost per house at present being £30. If self-certification, or certification by the building control authorities, is to be implemented then three visits to a building site to ascertain that houses are being built to standard requirements would have to be paid for. Any inspector issuing such a certificate would have to make sufficient visits before he appended his name to any document of certification of the building in question. This raises the question of cost. For instance, if four visits were necessary by an architect it would cost approximately £40 per visit. There is at present no indication of how much a local authority would charge for this purpose but this is a charge which would be added to the ultimate cost of the house and would have to be met by the purchaser. It should be understood clearly that if this additional cost comes into being other costs like inspections for the purpose of the national housebuilding guarantee scheme or building society inspections should be lifted as a requirement. I foresee many difficulties arising in the sale of houses if this process becomes law. For example, before a house can be provided for sale, a purchaser's solicitor would have to seek evidence that it complied with the building regulations, there being two stages in this, that the actual design of the house and its ultimate construction comply with the regulations.

The implementation of any new regulation carrying a cost factor must be fully considered from the point of view of the ultimate purchaser. There should be a streamlining of all the agencies involved in the inspection of houses and an attempt made to save purchasers unnecessary expense by there being a general acceptance by lending agencies, grant agencies and the national housebuilding guarantee scheme of a certificate of compliance with the building regulations. As these are all separate agencies protecting their separate interests it may be necessary to include a section dealing with this matter. We must be very aware of the problems occasioned by increased costs especially at a time when so many people find it difficult to even raise the deposit on a house. That being said, we must be prepared to accept some cost increases as a result of these proposals because safety and quality standards must not rank second in importance to cost factors. Perhaps the Minister would examine some of the suggestions for the streamlining of the whole operation.

Is the Deputy not aware that in the course of the Minister's speech he said that all low-rise housing would be exempt from the scope of the control system?

I am so aware. But, if the Deputy looks at the Minister's remarks again, he will see that there is also a qualification included:

The exclusion of low-rise housing and other small works from the control system will significantly reduce the amount of work which will have to be dealt with initially by the building control authorities.

Therefore, at the same time, they will have to comply with regulations.

But the Minister is specifically excluding all low-rise housing.

I shall deal with that later. Essentially the provisions of the Bill do four things: they remove building control from the Planning Acts of 1963 and 1976 by repealing sections 86 and 42; they create within local authorities, who are fire authorities, a building control authority which would be vested with certain regulatory powers and functions; they enable the introduction of building regulations and, finally, set up a building control advisory body comprised of persons representing the various interests. Though not specified I presume such advisory body would represent the City and County Manager's Association, An Foras Forbartha, the IDA and the IIRS. I presume also that there would be included a representative from the Construction Industry Federation. However I should add that all builders building houses are not members of the Construction Industry Federation. When making these appointments I wonder if the Minister will consult the register of members included in the national housebuilding guarantee scheme.

The provisions of the Bill allow the Minister to consider many options of control procedures but we shall have to await the relevant regulations to know what are his precise intentions.

There is provision in section 4 for referral to arbitration by an applicant in the event of a dispensation being refused. From my reading of the Bill it is not clear that this would go to the District Court. If that is the intention, I would be somewhat unhappy about that as constituting a solution. Perhaps that is not the intention but I cannot be certain from my reading of the Bill. Obviously any such argument advanced in court would be of a highly technical nature. It would appear to me that a much more efficient method of dealing with this or any other type of appeal under the provisions of the Bill would be the establishment of an appeals tribunal to be staffed on a rotation basis by officials of the Minister's Department — I presume his technical section — by members of the Royal Institute of Architects and perhaps also of the Institute of Civil Engineers with presumably also nominees from the Construction Industry Federation. In other words, I contend that technical arguments should be resolved by technical rather than legal people. Perhaps the Minister would deal with that point when replying.

In his introductory remarks the Minister said:

As I see matters at this stage, if we want a comprehensive system of building control, the only way in which we can achieve it, without embarking on the establishment of an elaborate, costly and time-consuming apparatus of administrative and technical control, is to go for a system of certification by appropriate people.

Accordingly, I am strongly of the opinion that the most expeditious system of administering building regulations is by way of a certification system of control. Under such a system designers and builders of individual projects will, on their own responsibility, provide certificates of compliance with the requirements of the regulations. Apart from reducing delays and costs and allowing simpler administration, such a system can obviously be more easily introduced into areas of the country where systems of building control have not been operated up to now.

The Minister outlined how the certification system would work. I am slightly unhappy with the term "appropriate people". It is vague. Mainly we have two types of building at present: commercial development and housing development. Could the system proposed by the Minister operate for both types of development? On the question of commercial development, a client depends on an architect and subsequently a contractor to undertake the project, whereas in housing development the project initiator is usually the builder himself. I wonder how the scheme outlined by the Minister would fit into the two developments.

Deputy Molloy referred to the exclusion of low-rise housing. The Minister said:

The exclusion of low-rise housing and other small works from the control system will significantly reduce the amount of work which will have to be dealt with initially by the building control authorities. However, I would again emphasise that exclusions from the control procedures will not affect the designer's or builder's obligation to comply with the technical requirements of building regulations in relation to the works concerned. In any event, consideration will be given to widening the scope of the control regulations as soon as circumstances seem to make such an expansion practicable.

I have read and re-read that and I feel there is some contradiction there.


I am confused by the reference in the Minister's statement. It needs to be clarified. My original reading of it was that low-rise housing would be excluded and yet we are told we must actually comply with the regulations. Let us take an example of how that would be applied. The solicitor of a purchaser from a builder who is providing houses for sale will demand some form of evidence that the house was built in accordance with building regulations. Where does the evidence come from? The Minister's statement seems to indicate that the house is exempted and, on the other hand, it indicates that it needs to be built to the standards.

I am not arguing that houses should be excluded from building regulations, controls or standards. If they are to be built to specific regulated standards, some form of certification needs to be provided or we will be going around in circles. If solicitors have not got some form of certification, delays will occur which will add to the purchaser's costs. This section needs to be clarified. I am sure that by reference to the files in the Department of the Environment information regarding house starts and completions should be readily available because every start and completion of a house built by a builder for a client is covered by the national house building guarantee scheme and the Department carry out the inspections.

I have already referred to nominations to the advisory body and I should like the Minister to consider my suggestion as to whether the CIF or membership of the national guarantee scheme should be used. I am in favour of the national guarantee scheme. The Minister referred to the difficulty in dealing with the draft regulations. From the people I spoke to I understand the construction industry would welcome a clear-cut workable document. I hope the Minister will come up with that shortly.

I dealt with the cost implications and I will not go into them any further. On section 12 the Minister may by order prohibit the use of certain classes of materials or forms of construction or types of equipment. I welcome that section. It is long overdue. This is an omnibus Bill under which control can be exercised by the building control authorities in a flexible way. My only serious concern lies with the appeal and enforcement procedures. They could be tortuous and create difficulties and expense for some local authorities particularly county boroughs like my own in Cork city where building seems to be more dense and diverse than in most other areas.

Because of that I would prefer to see a clause in the Bill saying in effect that no structure subject to building control under these regulations may be let, sold or occupied without first having received a certificate of compliance from the building control authority and, in appropriate cases, the fire authority. A clause to that effect would be a more effective penalty than court fines or jail terms for noncompliance. The financial institutions, the lending agencies and the legal profession could come to our aid in enforcing the regulations. They will always ensure the security of their clients' money. I ask the Minister to consider an amendment to this effect. The Bill is long overdue. It will enable the long awaited regulations to be introduced, I hope, before this Bill is finally passed.

The Bill before us has been long awaited. Surprisingly to date it has generated very little interest inside or outside the House, and certainly in the public press. It is surprising that this is so in view of the far-reaching effects which the Bill, if enacted, will have. It is likely to have much the same effect on the physical shape of our towns, housing stock and so on as the planning Acts had in the early sixties. It is true to say that the effect of those Acts is still working its way through our society.

We have to have a system of construction standards to control and regulate the building industry. That is necessary because experience has shown clearly that sufficiently high standards have been sadly lacking down the years. It should only be necessary to refer to the Stardust tragedy where standards of fire protection were virtually non-existent and to such housing fiascos as the low-cost housing schemes introduced by Fianna Fáil in the early seventies to indicate that. That type of housing is still causing problems in many areas. A number of those houses are in my constituency and I am aware that there are some in Cork and other areas. The cost to local authorities of maintaining those houses as a result of the poor standards of control exercised at the time they were built is phenomenal. It is difficult to see what life span those houses will have. Without the expenditure of significant amounts of money on them they will not have a very long life.

It is clear that there is a necessity for a system of control and a need to implement standards to regulate the building industry. The system must be a formal one because there are vested interests involved in the building industry who contend that the planning Acts are causing them too many problems such as unnecessary delay and expense. They contend that to add in these building regulations will cause further delay and more expense. It is also claimed that the simplest form of control is to accept that the building industry has sufficiently high standards at present.

The examples I have given indicate that the standards in operation are not sufficiently high in all cases and that there is a need for a form of legal control. The low standards, when they occur, are primarily because of the effective operation of the profit motive in our building industry. From experience in my constituency it seems that when there is a choice between maintaining standards and maintaining profit margins that the standards suffer if the builder involved thinks it is possible to get away with low standards. For this, and many other reasons, it is the duty of the House to enact laws that will regulate and set high standards for the good of the community.

The purpose of the old by-laws was to secure the public health and safety of the community. Those aims have been added to by new building regulations and it is proposed to include the convenience and welfare of people in buildings such as making buildings accessible to the disabled or to provide such things as energy conservation and the efficient use of resources. That is welcome as a general principle and provides an excellent basis for the formation of regulations and standards. The regulations were published in draft form in 1976 and there has been considerable debate as to their technical content. I might add that the debate has taken place within the confines of the professional bodies involved and there has been little obvious public debate on their effect or effectiveness.

There are some serious shortcomings in the regulations but they can be remedied and the general content improved providing a sound basis for standards in the future. To illustrate one of the features lacking in the building regulations I should like to refer to a debate in the House, if we can call it such because it only lasted a few minutes and was on a Private Member's motion which I moved seeking postal votes for disabled, which was attended by a number of disabled people. Those people had great difficulty not only in gaining access to the House — for instance, it was not possible for them to get to the Visitors' Gallery and they were accommodated at the back of the Chamber — but had also great difficulty in gaining access to a toilet. The building regulations do not rectify that position. They do not propose to enable any controlling authority ensure that existing buildings are converted to permit access by the disabled and provide toilets for them. I am thinking in terms of public buildings in particular where the disabled have a right of access. They have a right to the same facilities that more able bodied people have. We should seek a change in the building regulations to ensure that their rights are met.

The building regulations have been criticised in that, we are told, they are written in what is known as parliamentary English which without considerable experience and practice is difficult to read and understand. As a means around this it is suggested that a guidebook could be provided which would go a long way towards solving that problem. I understand that the Minister has indicated that An Foras Forbartha are preparing such a book. That is very welcome.

The building regulations have also been accused of being too specific and restricting, particularly regarding opportunities for being innovative in design and allowing for the emergence of new building materials. It is argued that instead the regulations should be expressed as simple functional requirements. The so-called "regarded as satisfying" system would go some distance towards overcoming that objection and it is to be hoped that in future further clauses would be added to take into account changing methods and materials. I hope that in time through experience the regulations will become more readily understood and nearer to perfection.

Section 2 of the Bill designates as building control authorities those local authorities who are at present fire authorities under the Fire Services Act, 1981. This means that there will be in the region of 80 to 90 building control authorities. I would like the Minister to indicate how the proposed reorganisation of the Dublin sub-region will be affected by this measure. Is it in this instance the Minister's intention to have one building control authority for the whole of the Dublin sub-region, in other words Dublin city and county and the borough of Dún Laoghaire?

Section 3 contains the power to make regulations and specifies the buildings to which they will apply and the purposes for which they can be made. I am not at all happy that the regulations are not to apply to existing buildings and in this regard we will be looking for a date to be set by which all existing buildings will be required to meet the standard of the building regulations.

Section 4 provides the power for building control authorities to dispense with or relax provisions of the building regulations in individual cases. It is noted that an independent arbitrator will adjudicate in situations where there is no agreement. That is a totally unsatisfactory way of dealing with the matter. We believe that bodies similar to An Bord Pleanála should have the powers to adjudicate on disagreements. Also, I ask the Minister if this proposal goes forward who is to pay the arbitrator's fees? Is it the Minister or the objector?

A large number of materials are produced the use of which in the building industry should be strictly controlled. It goes without saying that materials such as asbestos and in particular polyurethene foams which give off dangerous fumes when burning should be strictly controlled. In my view polyurethene foams should be banned entirely from use in the building industry.

In regard to section 6, we believe that the introduction of building regulations will have a lasting and profound effect on the building industry and the built environment generally. As I said earlier, this effect will be as large and revolutionery as the changes which were brought about by the Planning Act of 1963 and subsequent Acts. Section 6 of this Bill introduces the concept of privatisation and self-certification into building control matters which were traditionally dealt with by the public authorities under public law. For that reason we have very serious objections to that section. It is significant that the Bill is not accompanied by any consultative documents dealing with the proposed control system. That the Minister can expect the House here to debate a Bill which purports to set about controlling the building industry in this way without indicating in detail what kind of control system he proposes to operate is unrealistic on his part. Possibly this debate is on a par with the other debate going on in this House on the Criminal Justice Bill under which we are being asked to give fairly wide powers to the Garda, again without having details of controls and various other matters which could have a bearing on whether this House passes the Bill. Before the debate on this question goes much further the precise system of control the Minister proposes to operate should be put before us in this House.

However, a number of pieces of information are available which perhaps indicate the line the Minister proposes to move along. We have not got the details, but I would like to refer to three matters which need to be dealt with. First, section 6, the main part of the Bill, probably is copied entirely from British experience without any benefit being taken from that experience. Up to 1979 there was little enthusiasm for drastic reform of the building control system in use since the early sixties. This system was far from perfect but when examined closely it proved to be basically good. It had developed in response to needs over hundreds of years and had the merit of having been tested in use, being familiar to those who needed to use it as well as to those who administered it. Furthermore, there was a constant process whereby the building regulations themselves were being simplified to basic functional requirements, as I mentioned earlier, in the so-called "deemed to be satisfied" system. However, this was not good enough — I am speaking about the British experience. After the 1979 election the new Environment Minister, Mr. Michael Heseltine, saw a golden opportunity to indulge in two favourite Tory pastimes, bureaucracy-bashing and, of course, privatisation.

This concept originated across the water and we seem to be taking it on board. It seems strange that a Department with a Labour Minister is proposing that this form of privatisation should occur. The concept of privatisation and self-certification into building control matters, which traditionally were dealt with by public authorities under public law, is being introduced in section 6. It is significant that the Bill is not accompanied by consultative documents dealing with the control system. How the Minister expects the House to discuss the Bill honestly and sincerely in the absence of such critical information is beyond comprehension. However, I will deal with the bits of information which we have.

Before doing so I will refer to three matters of a political nature which have arisen as a result of the Bill. First, section 6, which is the main part of the Bill, is slavishly copied from the British experience without any benefit gained from their experience. Up to 1979 there was little enthusiasm for drastic reform of the building control system in use since the sixties. That system was far from perfect but when examined closely it was basically a good one which had developed in response to needs over hundreds of years and had the merit of having been tested in use, being familiar to those who needed to use it as well as those who administered it. Furthermore, there was a constant process whereby the building regulations were being simplified down to basic functional requirements as in the "deemed-to-satisfy" system.

However, in Britain this was not good enough for the Tories after the 1979 election victory and the new Environment Minister saw a golden opportunity to induge this favourite Tory pastime of bureaucracy-bashing and privatisation which has produced the 1984 Housing and Building Control Bill in Britain.

Much of the foregoing probably explains why much of the debate on this Bill is clouded in secrecy. Obviously it is not in the interests of individuals concerned to be identified closely with the interests of private consultants and the proposed stranglehold which private consultants will now be permitted with the introduction of private certification. It is my information that the Minister all along has been holding secret negotiations and consultations with the representatives of private consultants in organisations such as the Royal Institute of Architecture in Ireland, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Institute of Engineers in Ireland and the CIF. It is also our information that he has been unable to reach agreement with those people, who apparently have a veto boycott over the introduction of the control system by threatening not to participate in the certification process. This will make nonsense of this Bill.

The failure by the Minister to negotiate agreement between these competing bodies has denied this House information on the control system which it is entitled to have, which it is essential to have if we are to legislate effectively through a Bill. Will the Minister inform the House on the discussions he has had with the trade union movement in regard to this Bill? For instance, what will happen eventually to the workers in the building by-law departments in Dublin and Cork now that they are to be phased out?

As I have said, the effect of this Bill will be far reaching and we should now think carefully of these new proposals, for a number of reasons. First, we must ensure that the emerging regime of control will assist the efficient and orderly development of the building industry. Second, we must create a system of control which will have the confidence and support of the public.

To achieve these aims the system of control must be easy to understand as well as being effective from the point of view of the consumer. From the information to hand, the proposals for certification will not achieve the desired aim — indeed they will have the exact opposite effect. The proposals are not only cumbersome but tortuous. The opportunities for conflict, misunderstanding and abuse inevitably will lead to long delays and cause large increases in building costs.

Who will write the certificates? This question is fundamental to the control system. Presumably the certifiers will be people such as architects, engineers, surveyors, builders, technicians etc. — the list could be endless. How will those people be prescribed? Will the Minister appoint them? Who will decide who is suitable to be a certifier and who is not? If the Minister is not to be involved in the vetting of individuals, is it intended that the professional consultant bodies will perform vetting duties? Perhaps the myriad organisations representing the various professional, technical and building bodies will each nominate certifiers in their own areas, or will the Government set up a "quango" to certify certifiers? Can we be given the answers to these questions?

There are a thousand other questions which must be answered. Will there be different grades of certifiers for electrical work, mechanical work and building work? If, for instance, architects are to be approved certifiers will they be allowed to certify their own designs? There is not much objectivity there. Will self-certification be limited?

What about fees and the cost of certifiers? Obviously a certifier will have to carry out a detailed analysis of any submission to him before he will write a certificate of compliance. This will involve considerable cost and each certifier must have full administrative backup to do a proper job, in much the same way as local authorities process building by-law applications at present. He or she will have to carry insurance cover and the cost of this plus the administrative and other costs will ensure that considerable fees will be charged by certifiers. It is significant that this service currently is provided free of charge by the building by-law departments in Dublin and Cork.

From the consumers' point of view the new system of control must ensure that they will have the right of redress in the event of negligence. If negligence is proved, the guilty party must pay. Is it intended to limit the period during which it will be possible to sue for negligence or damages? Will the right to redress shift back to the local authorities in such cases as appears to be the position in Britain consequent on court cases there? If that is to be the procedure, why remove that right from local authorities in the first place? Is the Minister negotiating insurance guidelines with the private consultant bodies? It was suggested in Britain, for example, that a minimum of £1 million by way of cover would be necessary for individuals engaged in private certification. Would that be adequate insurance in the event of a very large building being constructed and for how many years would the cover last? There are many questions which remain to be answered and it is not possible for this House to continue realistically with the Bill until such time as the Minister provides other information on all these matters. It is not proper for the House to give the Minister power to introduce a controlling regulation certifying system without this House having examined that system and agreed on its being the correct one.

The system of building control we would favour would be one which would ensure that local authorities in Dublin and Cork retain their existing powers and that these powers be extended to the rest of the country. While county councils and county boroughs as well as urban district councils all apply and enforce the Planning and Development Act only seven of a total of more than 80 authorities administer building by-laws and of these only four have special staff and back up to deal with the technical aspects of by-laws. Our view would be that the building regulations be introduced to replace the by-laws as a first step and then to extend the administration of the regulations throughout the 80 planning authorities by acquiring the necessary technical staff over a phased period. It would be necessary to introduce a control system of application for approval under the building regulations and to follow up with a system of inspection of building works. In addition we would propose the introduction of a statutory period of six weeks for dealing with all applications maintaining the existing liability situation which has proved down the years to be adequate. It should be the case also that where commercial applications are being made for approval under building regulations, these applications are charged for at a commercial rate.

In conclusion, I reiterate that we consider the Bill to be totally inadequate. The Minister is asking us to empower him to introduce a control system about which we have not a clue apart from bits and pieces of information picked up here and there. We are aware that some negotiations are in progress in the background with some bodies but as of now we are being sold a pig in a poke. The Minister has not come clean.

I am glad the Bill is being considered in the light of the Fire Services Act, 1981 because the two form a very important duo in dealing with building control, specifically in the context of fire regulations. The backdrop to our deliberations here must be the Stardust tragedy and the deficiencies in building control revealed during the inquiry that followed that tragedy. The Stardust tragedy is etched in the memory of all Irish people but especially in the minds of certain families in my constituency. It is worth recalling the deficiencies that were identified. The first concerned the Planning Acts whereby the dubious legality of the conditions placed on planning permission was raised by the tribunal. Although there were conditions imposed they were not adequately enforced by the operators of the premises on the occasion of the tragedy. The tribunal commented that the legal force of the conditions was in doubt. It is very important that that problem be met and that is what we are trying to do in this Bill. Equally, serious deficiencies were shown up in terms of by-laws. One of these related to the minimum penalties being imposed for breaches of the by-laws, also their lack of legal force and the deficiencies among the inspectorate who took a very narrow view, according to the tribunal, of their duties in relation to the by-laws.

The draft building regulations were before the people who designed that building but they were not complied with, especially in respect of timber partitions, electrical fittings, wall linings, seat coverings and so on. In a very large way these deficiencies contributed to the tragedy that followed.

It is critical that this Bill would fill the legal gap whereby the draft building regulations had no legal force. The big deficiency identified was in the area of fire management where notices, drill, equipment and so on were deficient and where exists were locked. The legislation before us today goes a long way towards remedying the deficiencies identified in the Stardust case. I welcome in particular the comprehensive cover which includes electrical insulations, fire detection appliances, means of escape and so on. There are proposals in the legislation, too, for the imposition of proper penalties and full legality is being given to the system of inspection and enforcement. In addition they include the requirement that fire-safety certificates are not to be granted on a self-certification basis. The single greatest conclusion emerging from the Stardust Tribunal was that local authorities must not run away from their responsibilities in relation to fire. In recognition of this, the Minister is proposing in this Bill that fire-safety certificates be granted on an approval basis and not on a self-certification system which is the system proposed for many other types of building control issues.

While there is real progress in so far as the legislation is concerned we cannot be sanguine that we have either a modern fire safety code or an effective fire safety organisation to implement such a code. The recent RTE programme which detailed enormous defects in buildings already in use as places of public assembly would strengthen our feeling that we are seriously defective in this area.

Staff of the required expertise must be available in the fire authorities if they are to monitor and enforce building controls. It is clear that at present staff of the required expertise are not available. This is a serious deficiency that will have to be tackled. The Minister has met my next point to some extent and that is co-ordination under the two Acts. The precautions required under the Fire Services Act would have been more easily implemented if they were specified at design stage. It is important that the personnel who would be looking at the Fire Services Act, which lays down the precautions necessary for management of a premises, would work in close co-operation with those who set out the design qualities of a premises. The Minister has recognised that by making the fire authority the building control authority. While it is good that the powers rest in the same authority, it is necessary to ensure that the two systems work together and that we do not have unnecessary headaches as a result of lack of co-ordination.

It is disappointing that we do not have any fire management regulations before us. I know that the fire service council are working on these. The Bill was introduced in 1981 and we still have no regulations. The recent RTE programme illustrated areas of deficiency as regards ensuring that there is adequate management. The sooner we have management regulations the better.

The need to get a licence is haphazard in that it applies only to places of public assembly which actually require a licence. Many places of public assembly would not come under that criterion. There is a serious problem to be solved there.

This Bill is enabling legislation. No regulations are implemented as yet. To read the Bill and the commitment to set up a body to consult and consider a way in which control can be enforced, would lead one to believe that it will be a considerable time before there are regulations. We are still in the limbo of legal unenforceability identified by the Stardust Tribunal. I ask the Minister to consider seriously the recommendations of that tribunal especially where they suggested that regulations should be introduced immediately. That would meet the deficiencies identified in their report as regards materials used and so on. They also recommended the immediate introduction of fire certificates for places of concentrated indoor assembly. I am concerned that this will not be implemented until consultations are in progress. That is my reading of the Bill. I should like an assurance from the Minister that fire certificates will be required immediately for places of concentrated indoor assembly and that we will not have to wait for tortuous negotiations on how the controls should be implemented in other areas.

The Minister should consider seriously the problem regarding existing premises. The Stardust Tribunal clearly recommended that the building controls where they related to fire should be brought in for existing buildings as well as for buildings that are at construction stage. The specific items they mentioned related to escape, coverings used, warning and detection systems. They are not items which have a major structural bearing but are critically important in relation to the safety of such places of assembly. The Minister should seriously consider extending the scope of the Bill so that certain controls would apply to existing buildings. Perhaps he will be able to meet that when he brings in the fire regulations. Certain structural items of a minor nature will still remain which should be enforced in all existing buildings as well as in those which are newly constructed.

Important questions are left unanswered by the Bill. One is the process of control and the other is the issue of liability. Under the process of control I support the Minister's contention that self-certification in the non-fire area is the correct response. I am convinced that responsibility must be placed fairly and squarely on the professional designers who are on site. They should not be allowed to rely on local authorities to ensure that standards are met. It is their job to ensure that, from design to completion, standards are observed. It is only sensible that self-certification should be the response in that area. However, if self-certification is to be effective there must be random checking. If that is to be administered properly there must be staff to do it. A system of self-certification would reduce the staff requirement but people would still be required to spot check and ensure that where deficiencies arise strong action would be taken against the errant party.

One issue not touched on by the Minister was that of qualifications required for people who issue certificates. Stardust showed us that those commissioned were not adequately aware of the implications of the draft building regulations. If we rely on self-certification we must specify what qualifications are needed. We must ensure that they are rigidly laid down or that some specialist agency would provide advice on a fee basis.

Liability falls on the certifier or builder in the case of self-certification. One issue to be dealt with is how long liability would last and what limits there are on liability. If these points are not clarified it will be very difficult for those who have to certify the buildings. This Bill attempts to remove all liability from local authorities but the fact that they have power to verify and inspect may impose certain legal liability on them particularly where they make a spot check. UK case law puts liability on them. This comes into starker relief where we have the approval system under the fire items. Liability will clearly fall there on the local authorities. This is not met in the Bill. There is a danger that the building control system, in cases where the approval system is used, will put heavy liability on the local authorities not already catered for. I ask the Minister to clarify that area.

I thank all Deputies who made a contribution. I am pleased at the constructive way in which they put forward their points. I have taken note of them all and will reply to them in the course of my contribution.

Deputy Molloy expressed concern at the lack of consultation with the industry prior to the introduction of the Bill. The Deputy must not have been fully informed on this matter.

Debate adjourned.