Building Control Bill, 1984: Second Stage.

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

The purpose of this Bill is to provide a revised framework for the making and administration of building regulations. At present, the power to make building regulations is contained in section 86 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. The purposes for which regulations may be made under that Act relate to matters of public health and safety. However, since the enactment of the 1963 Act, the need to provide for energy conservation and for more flexible systems of building control have led to the situation where the 1963 Act is not adequate. The Bill, therefore, expands the purposes for which regulations may be made to include not just public health and safety but also the welfare of persons in and about buildings. The regulations may also provide for the special needs of the disabled, for energy conservation, for the efficient use of resources and for the encouragement of good building practice.

I will deal with the individual sections of the Bill in greater detail later on but first I would like to refer briefly to the background to building regulations and to the history of this Bill. The 1963 Planning Act conferred an enabling power on the Minister for Local Government to make building regulations to replace the building by-laws which were too rigid and not capable of adjusting to changes in building methods and technology. A draft of building regulations in accordance with the 1963 Act was completed in 1976. Consultation with interested parties in the building industry generated lively debate and comments were received from over 500 persons and organisations. Apart from technical comments on the regulations themselves, concern was expressed that the system of control set out in the 1963 Planning Act would be bureaucratic and unwieldy and would create costly delays. An amended draft was published in March 1981. Alternative systems of building control were also being examined at that time, including a control system based on certification by the industry. It became apparent at that stage that a new Bill was needed.

The publication in July 1982 of the report of the Tribunal of Inquiry on the Stardust fire reinforced the need for new legislation. The draft building regulations were revised to take account of certain recommendations made by the tribunal and a further updated draft was published in October 1983.

The Building Control Bill was published in 1984 and it passed Second Stage in the Dáil. In July 1986, both Houses agreed to refer it to the then Joint Committee on Legislation. The Bill was considered at two meetings of the Joint Committee in October and November 1986. However, before the joint committee had concluded their deliberations, the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Dáil in January 1987. The Bill was restored to the Dáil Order Paper in October 1987 and it was passed, following substantial amendment, by Dáil Éireann before Christmas.

Section 2 of the Bill designates as building control authorities those local authorities which are fire authorities under the Fire Services Act, 1981. This arrangement recognises the importance of the regulations in relation to fire safety generally and should facilitate better coordination and co-operation at local level in regard to the matters, including fire safety, arising under the regulations.

Section 3 contains the power to make building regulations. Subject to the transitional arrangements in section 22 (2), the regulations will apply to all new buildings — including State buildings other than prisons and places of detention — construction work on which begins on or after the date on which the regulations come into operation. Provision is made, however, for exemptions. Under this provision buildings such as power stations, temporary buildings, detached domestic garages, small outhouses and like buildings might be considered for exemption from the regulations. The regulations will apply to existing buildings only where they are affected by material alterations or extensions, by the provision of new services, fittings or equipment, or where a material change in the use of a building occurs. Section 3 extends the purposes for which regulations may be made to provide for the welfare of persons in or about buildings, the needs of the disabled, energy conservation, the efficient use of resources and the encouragement of good building practice. The matters for which the regulations may prescribe standards are detailed in the First Schedule to the Bill.

Section 4 contains the power for building control authorities to dispense with or relax particular provisions of building regulations in individual cases where compliance could be unreasonable having regard to the use to which the building might be put. A building control authority will have two months in which to deal with such an application unless the applicant agrees to a longer period, and if the authority makes no decision within that time the application will be taken as being granted.

A corresponding power is provided in section 5 for the Minister to dispense with or relax a requirement of building regulations in relation to any particular class of building operation, works or material. This power is necessary to cater for the development of new methods of construction and materials which do not strictly comply with the regulations but are otherwise acceptable. Section 13 confers powers on the Minister to prohibit the use of materials or methods of construction which would be a danger to public health or safety or which would contravene the building regulations.

I would like now to talk about section 6 of the Bill, which empowers the Minister to make building control regulations. These control regulations would prescribe the procedural, administrative and control arrangements necessary to secure compliance with the buildings regulations. Section 6 contains a flexible power which will enable different systems of control to be applied to different kinds of buildings or to buildings in different areas or in relation to different provisions of building regulations.

This Bill establishes building control authorities with powers of inspection, enforcement and prosecution under sections 8, 11 and 17. Building control regulations under section 6 will be additional to these powers. I would like to explain briefly the different main types of control procedures that can be put in place under section 6. The first option is to provide for self-certification and this system centres around a large measure of self-regulation by the industry itself. Under the self-certification system the designers and builders of individual projects will, on their own responsibility, provide certificates of compliance with the requirements of the building regulations. There is a recognition within this system that the primary responsibility for designing and construction of buildings rests with the industry itself.

The second option is third party certification, involving certification of the design and construction of buildings by an independent and appropriately qualified person. Third party certification is, in effect, a form of independent self-regulation by the industry.

The third main option provided for under section 6 is broadly similar to the control operated by those local authorities which currently operate building by-laws. It would involve the submission of plans and other information to the building control authority for approval and the approval of this authority could also be required in respect of the completed building.

The flexible nature of section 6 and the range of options it provides will ensure that the Minister of the day will not be unduly confined in relation to the types of control systems that might be appropriate to the building industry at different times in the future.

Building control regulations under section 6 may also provide for the issue of fire safety certificates by building control authorities in respect of fire aspects of certain buildings. This provision is included as a direct result of the report of the Stardust Tribunal. What would be involved is the submission of plans of certain buildings for approval in advance of commencement of construction. The types of buildings which might be subjected to this control system would be specified in the control regulations and would be likely to be buildings which would present a high risk in the case of fire.

Section 7 of the Bill provides a right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála where an applicant is not satisfied with the decision of a building control authority on an application under section 4 or 6 of the Bill.

Sections 8 to 11 of the Bill relate to enforcement. The provisions of sections 8 and 10 enable building control authorities to serve a notice requiring action to be taken to ensure compliance with building regulations, while section 11 confers rights of inspection. Section 9 sets out the procedure by which a person may apply to the District Court to have an enforcement notice annulled, modified or altered, the grounds on which it may be done and the powers of the Court.

The power in section 12 for a building control authority to seek an order from the High Court is additional to that contained in the sections dealing with the enforcement notice. This power is necessary to deal with an emergency situation where a building control authority may consider that, because of the risk to health or safety arising from construction work, immediate action is necessary and it would not be prudent to go through the procedures necessary for the service of an enforcement notice under section 8. The High Court order may require that a building be removed or made safe and prohibit its use until this is done. A similar provision is contained in the Fire Services Act, 1981.

Section 14 enables the Minister to appoint a Building Regulations Advisory Body to advise him on matters relating to building regulations and to provide such other advisory services as may be specified from time to time. The House will note that the section is drafted in fairly broad terms. This is deliberate as there is a wide range of issues on which the advisory body might be asked to advise.

Penalties for offences are set out in section 17 of the Bill and are generally similar to those under the Fire Services Act, 1981. Penalties will depend on whether an offence is of a summary or indictable nature which, in turn, will depend on the circumstances of each particular case. Indictable offences will carry severe penalties — a maximum fine of £10,000 and/or two years imprisonment. Summary offences will be liable to a maximum fine of £800 and/or six months imprisonment and, in the case of a continuing offence, to a fine of not more than £150 for each day on which the offence is continued after conviction; there is a five year time limit on summary proceedings. This limit is in response to the industry's concern that they would otherwise be open to prosecution for an unlimited period in respect of even minor breaches of the regulations.

In addition to monetary penalties and possible terms of imprisonment, section 17 provides for the disqualification of approved certifiers from signing and submitting certificates of compliance under section 6.

Section 21 of the Bill provides that a contravention of any of the provisions of the Bill will not of itself confer a right of action in civil proceedings. I feel that the House may wish me to address the liability question. Liability is determined by the Courts having regard to the law of contract and of tort as these apply in the particular circumstances of the case in question. Nothing in this Bill, or in regulations to be made under it, will alter this. Liability and related matters, such as insuring against it, are really extraneous to the subject matter of the Bill. Section 21 of the Bill intended to allay the fears of professional bodies and others who are concerned that the Bill might have the effect of extending their liability beyond that which exists at present. I am advised that those fears are probably groundless but this provision should settle any doubt. I might add that a person's right to sue for damages on grounds of negligence will not be interfered with.

Because of the existence of building by-laws in some areas, it is necessary to provide for transitional arrangements as in subsection (2) of section 22. Section 22 is the general transition section but there is one provision, subsection (7), to which I would like to refer. Senators are probably aware that, in areas where building by-laws are operated, small building works, particularly house extensions, may have been carried out in the past without by-laws approval. The fact that by-laws approval cannot be obtained in retrospect under existing law has caused problems in house sales as evidence of compliance with by-laws may have to be shown to intending purchasers. Delays in the completion of house sales have occurred, very often though no fault of the vendor, who may have bought the house at a time when evidence of by-law approval was not demanded by lending agencies. This has caused hardship in a number of cases. I consider that it is reasonable, therefore, to use this opportunity to provide that, where work carried out prior to 13 December 1989 did not comply with by-laws or any relevant statutory requirement, no proceedings shall be taken in respect of such noncompliance, and that approval to the carrying out of the work shall be deemed to have been granted, unless a building control authority considers the work to be a danger to public health or safety and serves a notice to this effect on the owner within six months of the date on which the building regulations come into operation. Senators will note that this "amnesty" only operates in respect of work carried out prior to the date the Bill was passed by the Dáil.

I have outlined to the House the purpose and main provisions of this Bill. I consider that it provides a suitable framework for the introduction of a comprehensive up-to-date and flexible system of building regulations and building controls. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome this Bill. It has taken 20 years to bring it to this House. A draft was prepared as far back as 1981. I welcome the provisions for fire regulations. We recognise the need for having some unified system throughout the country and also to have a facility to ensure that the law is enforced and that the regulations laid down in the Bill will be adhered to.

There are certain aspects of this Bill which worry me, such as the area of self-certification. Anybody looking at the Bill would have to be concerned about that requirement. One has to ask what are the implications of self-certification for the building industry. Is it going to mean that it will add additional costs to the industry. How is it going to be worked out? Who is going to monitor the area of self-certification? Is this going to have major implications from an insurance point of view, not alone for companies who will be involved in this area but also for the house purchaser? Is it going to be more difficult in the absence of building controls and by-laws to get insurance to purchase a house. These are areas I would like the Minister to address.

This Bill raises a number of serious questions. To my mind, the question of self-certification is the biggest issue raised in this Bill. I am concerned with the lack of consultation between the Minister's Department and the construction industry. Adequate discussion has not taken place and the views of the building and construction industry have not been adequately catered for in this Bill. It is inappropriate that we proceed to enact this legislation until such time as the Minister completes negotiations with all sections of the industry — the engineers, architects and everybody involved in this — so as to ensure that at the end of the day we get proper legislation that can be implemented.

We also have to ask when it is envisaged that this legislation will be operable. This Bill was first introduced nine years ago; it was introduced in the Dáil in 1984 and it has only now come to the Seanad. I understand there were certain difficulties, but it would appear to have been a very long and difficult passage for this legislation. I hope that when the Minister is replying he will deal with the question of self-certification at length and explain to the House what is envisaged. I will be putting down amendments on Committee Stage and I hope the Minister will take them on board. I believe there is a lot to be teased out on Committee Stage.

This legislation will place very heavy responsibility on everybody involved in the building industry. We must recognise we have many excellent people involved in the building industry, contractors who have carried out excellent work over the years, but we also have undesirable people. That small minority of builders worry me. Under this legislation we are removing the by-law responsibility in three major areas such as Dublin, Cork and Limerick. We realise the need for uniformity of the building regulations which will apply equally throughout the country and which when fully operational will guarantee to the public that from a health, fire and construction point of view we will get a better standard throughout the country.

The present situation is unsatisfactory. There are difficulties in some areas. We all know that where building contractors move in on sites to build private housing very often it is not until they are gone that the difficulties are realised. While every rural Deputy will be aware of the attitude of the officials of the Department of the Environment in carrying out their duty for grant purposes, by and large they will not be able to examine the foundations, whether the septic tank is put in properly and whether the proper soakage is provided. These matters cause major problems afterwards. It is an indication that in certain areas where there is not control major difficulties can arise.

With regard to different sections of the Bill, the Minister should examine some of the amendments that I and other Members of the House will be putting down. This Bill can be improved if there is an open-minded approach adopted by the Minister and the Members of the Seanad. I have no doubt that the Senators will do all in their power to ensure that when this legislation leaves here it will have the effect it was intended to have.

We are all aware that over the last number of years procedures have changed in the building industry. We are all aware of the different types, styles and plans of housing being provided, not only in the cities but indeed throughout the country. We recognise that building procedures have changed and that the attitude of planning authorities has also changed. Very often we see restrictions being imposed under the planning laws and we must question whether the Planning Acts ever intended those restrictions to be imposed. Under this Bill we should clearly specify precisely what is intended in it; otherwise it could be open to interpretation and perhaps the intention of the legislation would not materialise on the ground. A very undesirable situation could occur and we would not have uniformity, which, by and large, we intend to have under the Bill.

A number of worries have been expressed by people in the building industry with regard to the change in the implementation of regulations laid down under the by-laws in a number of our cities. Those fears are well founded, because building in cities is very complicated and creates major problems. It is not until a disaster happens that we realise that some function which should have been carried out was not.

Getting back to the area of self-certification, it is a very serious matter and one to which this House will have to give very serious consideration. I find it extremely difficult to see how it can work. It is the one aspect of the Bill on which I appeal to the Minister to accept amendments on Committee Stage. The biggest difficulty confronting the construction industry, as far as the adoption of statute building regulations are concerned, is this question of certification — the question of who certifies, the position of architects within the building industry. Indeed, as I understand it, there is no statutory regulation for the registration of architects. I would like the Minister to specify how the certification will be decided. I understand that, by and large, anybody can call himself an architect. It is one of the terms of the Bill that an architect's or engineer's certificate is provided. I would like some clarification on that.

The role of architects, engineers and builders is rather vague. It should be more clearly specified. A range of problems can arise. The building industry will look at this Bill with great apprehension. It will have serious and far-reaching implications for the industry. All of us know the difficult time the building industry has gone through. The Government policy with regard to the major cutbacks in funding for local authority housing has created major problems for the industry.

I would like to know if the Minister or his Department have worked out the additional costs that may be involved for the industry as a result of the introduction of this Bill, the costs that may arise as a result of the changing of standards, the costs that may arise as a result of the difficulty with regard to certification, whether that be by way of getting the certificate, by way of the difficulties created for people who have to issue a certificate, the legal implications down the road for them, the additional cost for the householder in trying to secure insurance. These are issues we must tease out on Committee Stage. By and large, I welcome the Bill, but I will be putting down a number of amendments on Committee Stage.

I, too, welcome the Bill, It has been hanging around for a very long time, since 1983 or 1984, when it was first introduced by Deputy Fergus O'Brien. I think it would serve a purpose if I quoted from the Stardust Tribunal report, which stated:

The presence of the wall linings with their low surface spread of flame rating played a major part in the disaster. In addition, the unsatisfactory nature of Exit 2 was a contributing factor in the deaths and injuries. Had the express requirements of the Draft Building Regulations in relation to both these matters been enforced and observed, the consequences of the disaster might have been significantly diminished. It is entirely unacceptable that the Regulations dealing with matters of this nature should continue to be of no legal effect.

Therefore, I congratulate the Minister and I thank him for bringing forward what is an extremely important and significant Bill.

It is always necessary to have a look back and to see what was in operation by way of demonstrating the importance of the Bill before us. The building by-laws are operated at present by seven local authorities and, where they apply, applications for approval to construct a building must be submitted to the local authority and must be approved before the work commences. The difficulty here is, and experience has shown, that most staff time is spent examining plans and that perhaps not enough inspection of foundations and drains is carried out at the time of construction.

The Bill provides a new statutory basis in that the regulations will set out the manner in which the buildings are to be constructed. It can also provide a system of administration of the regulations pertaining to buildings. One could also say, if we look at the 1963 Planning Development Act, that this Act could, in fact, suffice here. But on examination we find that there are serious defects in that Act. The first one is that the regulations are not able to address such matters as the special needs of the disabled, or indeed energy conservation, which has major implications for our economy, given the size of the massive fuel import bill we have at the moment. Secondly, any regulations made could only be administered under an expensive local authority system which would give rise to serious delays in getting construction under way.

The importance of this Bill is that it paves the way for making building regulations and will give them national application. At the moment regulations are confined to seven local authorities and generally tied to the urban areas. At present outside of these major built-up areas there is no nationally enforceable standard. We have what is known as the blue book, or the proposed building regulations. While one could say that these have been adhered to by and large, they were never legally enforceable.

The Bill provides for two types of regulations related to buildings. The first one will lay down technical requirements and the second will relate to building control regulations, which will lay down procedures for ensuring conformity with the technical requirements of the building regulations. I welcome the fact that the Minister amended the Bill in Committee to ensure that the regulations can be drafted into simple functional requirements. I mean by that that in setting out the technical requirements of the building regulations one should provide a reasonable level of flexibility. Therefore they should not be in the form of the proposed building regulations we have on hands at the moment, which lay down very detailed technical requirements, but should be in a functional format. The example I throw out for the Minister is that the building should be so constructed as to prevent the seepage of moisture from the outside to the inside. This is a very simple, broad, general format with massive flexibility. This type of functional requirement should be supported by an approved technical document which would set out the ways in which the requirement could be met.

A criticism has been levelled at the Minister that he is taking away responsibility from local authorities for ensuring that buildings are properly constructed. Obviously, this claim has to be refuted, as the Bill is simply an enabling measure and it gives a wide range of powers and options in relation to the making and administration of the building regulations. All the options are covered and there is no political ideology or otherwise affecting that Bill. Far from diluting the protection available to the public or, indeed, lessening the involvement of the local authority, the Bill provides a framework whereby the existing situation can be improved on. There is general agreement that the type of comprehensive building regulations provided for in the Bill ought to be made. The area of contention obviously is the mechanism to be put in place to ensure the observance of these regulations. In many ways it is hard to understand all the confusion and misconceptions which surround this Bill, particularly, section 6, which addresses the question of building control regulation.

It is only proper to bring to mind that this Bill will establish a building control authority in every local authority area as opposed to the limited operation of by-laws at present. Secondly, this authority will have substantial powers for inspection enforcement and, indeed, if that fails criminal prosecution can ensure. Anything the Minister is trying to do under section 6 is additional to the powers that are already in existence.

The question also arises which system provided for in the building control regulations should the Minister opt for? In the report of the Stardust Tribunal, there is a very pertinent statement in paragraph 9.91. It says:

It is sufficient to say that, in the opinion of the Tribunal, its adoption in the area of fire safety [that is self-regulation] is clearly undesirable, although its merits in other areas of building control are clear.

It is important for us to remember that when we talk about self-regulation we are now hearing that this tribunal came down heavily against the regulation with regard to fire safety but is quite specific in its support for self-regulation as it pertains to buildings themselves. One of the attractions of the self-regulation concept is that it recognises that the primary responsibility for a good standard of construction rests with the practitioners in the building industry. It is important also to have a look at the building control regulation and see what we are trying to achieve. In setting out the procedures to be followed we are trying to ensure that proper building standards are complied with and we must ensure that the primary responsibility remains where it should be, that is with the designers, the constructors and, indeed, the owners.

That point, which is important, was raised by Senator Naughten, but I would go further and say that there should be absolutely no question of a local authority being given a role which would in any way be perceived as reducing the responsibility of those people. This would be the perception, unfortunately, of an approval system. If the local authority pass the plans, the designer then has the comfort of knowing that he does not have to shoulder all of the blame for the design itself that has been passed by the local authority. The other objection to an approval system is that it creates delays, and we have much evidence of that. In fact there is a very substantial backlog of work in the by-laws areas which cannot get started on because of the inability of the staff to handle the workload generated by what is now generally acknowledged as a booming economy.

A system of self-regulation would do much to bring this responsibility home to industry. A system whereby you submit plans to local authorities for approval tends to be expensive, and any costs that would be arrived at would, of necessity, have to be passed on to the public in one way or another. It also tends to keep people at their desks rather than out front.

There are a number of things that strike me about the Bill. For instance, an inspectorate should be retained in a policing capacity to ensure that at the taking-in-charge stage proper standards are maintained. That would also eliminate one of the factors that Senator Naughten raised, the rogue builder. The Minister might look at that area with a view to making improvements. It is very important that the local authority are notified when buildings are to commence, so that the inspectorate would be in a position to carry out inspections at the various stages. It is also obviously desirable to inspect foundations and sanitary connections are most important.

I refer back to the ERU report which indicated that 44 per cent of planning approvals were not being complied with within the construction industry. This is a further indication that the control mechanisms the Minister is now putting in place are badly needed.

I recommend this Bill to the House. I hope the Minister can see his way to taking into account some of the recommendations I have made in relation to inspectorate and local authorities. I again congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this Bill. It is timely, desirable and will be effective.

I would like, on behalf of the Labour Party, to welcome this Bill in principle. What is being sought is the extension of a regulatory system for building construction control nationwide. That is a desirable principle. As has been mentioned by Senator Naughten and Senator O'Keeffe the regulations, in terms of by-laws and local authority control, are succeeding in a limited way particularly in Dublin and its environs.

I welcome Senator O'Keeffe's last remarks in respect of his proposals for an inspectorate and a notification system in the context of the construction, renovation or alternation of buildings, I also welcome his remarks on the findings of the environmental research unit which were published recently. I hope that on Committee Stage we can get support for our amendments and that the Minister will be prepared to take them on board to tighten this legislation.

I said we welcome this Bill in principle and I mentioned a particular principle. I also welcome the extension in the area for the disabled and the imposition of very severe penalties. The Bill, in practical terms, is very much the traditional perception of the curate's egg. The tenor of the Bill is to do the right thing but, in practice, it is not doing the right thing. It is wide open; there are so many loopholes that — like the Derelict Sites Bill which had good intentions and principles — is not likely to affect anything in practice unless it is substantially amended.

I want, particularly, to refer to the provisions in section 6. The building regulations require that certain standards are maintained or established in relation to building structure, drainage, ventilation, fire prevention, etc. The other major sections are sections 8 to 11 where the procedures or mechanisms for enforcing those regulations are dealt with. That, of course, is where we find the Bill severely lacking.

At present we have by-laws in Dublin city and we gave powers of inspection to the local authorities. The power to inspect is being extended nationwide but the duty to do so is not. While we are giving with one hand on a national basis, we are taking away with the other on the east coast, in Dublin in particular. We require that the power be extended nationally and that the statutory duty and obligation on the relevant authority be also extended nationally. We do not have that in this Bill. That is particularly serious when the proposed method for regulation is the so called method of self-certification. Self-certification is one of those old hoary chestnuts that all of us would like to have — certification of taxes, certification of procedures of whatever description that concerns one individually etc., but everybody knows that unless there is an independent process for inspection, self-certification is wide open to abuse. We know that the building and construction industry is full of cowboys.

We hear every day about the mal-structures that have been built. We already heard from Senator O'Keeffe, in relation to the Stardust disaster, about the quality of materials used in the construction of the building, the lack of standards, etc. One of the major reasons for this Bill is to ensure that does not happen again.

We have seen the delay in getting this Bill before the House which was introduced as a result of the Stardust Inquiry. They presented their report made in 1982 and the Bill went to the Dáil in 1984. Here we are in 1990, a new decade, and we still have not got it. That indicates the extent to which the lobbying of the building industry is involved in this area.

The extension of self-certification is not universal either. It is not extended to all buildings. It extends to institutions, to non-domestic buildings but, interestingly enough, one specific area of this category is exempted, namely, prisons and places of detention. Why should there not be at least the appearance of some requirement to have a certificate supplied in relation to the construction, renovation or alteration of a prison or place of detention? Are we saying there is less concern for the lives, safety and health of the inmates of these institutions, who are also citizens of this State? Surely there is no ground for exempting a particular non-domestic structure from whatever regulations are introduced, however weak they are? We will be introducing an amendment in relation to that on Committee Stage. There are whole areas exempted from the process of self-certification—domestic housing, extensions to domestic housing, alterations and temporary dwellings; even in that area there is no requirement. It would seem that this legislation has more to do with the house building lobby — which want to eliminate controls and mechanisms on the planning process, the by-law process, and the local authorities inspections that were in existence hitherto and that still exist particularly in the Dublin area — than it has with standards of safety, health or regulation.

At a recent meeting with the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Pádraig Flynn, the Irish Home Builders' Association expressed the annoyance of Members with the delays in the planning process. In response, the Minister promised to have the new building control Bill passed by the Oireachtas by Christmas — this, of course, was last year. This would exempt members from inspection and by-law charges. The purpose of the Bill is to exempt builders from inspection because while the powers are there, there is no statutory obligation. Instead home builders will be allowed to self certification in conformity with the new regulations. That is a recipe for the cowboys to get loose again. We all know that unless there is a mechanism built into the system, some people will abuse it. There are good builders and there are bad builders. There are good people in every industry and in every walk of life and there are bad people. The Stardust disaster and the Raglan Road disaster are good examples of what we have to worry about here. There are people in the building industry who are not going to impose that self-discipline to ensure their standards are of the highest order. That is why we have a duty as legislators to ensure that the procedures and provisions are inserted in the legislation so that there is no scope for abuse. Once there is scope for abuse that will be exploited. That is where we are at the present time in relation to this legislation. We are seen to accept the principle as a welcome development in terms of national regulation but we must ensure that we build in the practical protections.

I will quote you one of the recommendations from the task force that was set up after the Raglan Road disaster in 1987. The task force recommended that the Building Control Bill, which was before the Dáil at that time, "should be enacted as soon as possible so that building regulations and an effective building control system could be put on a statutory basis." That is the recommendation of the Government's inquiry which was established to ensure that another disaster of the magnitude that occurred in Raglan Road would not occur. Where is the reference to the statutory duty or responsibility of the control authority in this Bill? I should hope that the Minister, when we deal with it on Committee Stage, would be prepared to take on board amendments in relation to that as well.

Again, I would like to quote from the same inquiry recommendations in relation to a certification system. "It is recognised that implementation of building regulations is of little value unless they can be effectively enforced." Only authority with teeth can effectively enforce regulations. That again is what we are talking about. Further, the effectiveness of the system is dependent on a high level of technical competence and professional responsibility among those certifying. It would need a high degree of policing to support certifiers in carrying out their duties diligently.

The British Government under Margaret Thatcher considered this matter. They looked into the question of self-certification. The Attorney General dismissed it as being legal nonsense. It was dropped in Britain because it simply is not a practical method of a certification and enforcement. If any form of monitoring is to be effective, as referred to in the report of the task force on multistorey buildings — the Raglan Road report — then there is need for technical competence and the resources. Who and what are going to have the resources? What resources are going to be made available to check up on self-certification that is an abuse of the system? The local authorities at the present time are not able to carry out their statutory duties at the moment because they are so totally underfunded, both in terms of the embargo of staff that has been imposed since 1987 and in relation to the total lack of funding. The Fianna Fáil Government are largely responsible for this lack of funding after their abolition of the rates in 1977, despite their promise to produce an alternative method of funding. It has systematically allowed the Exchequer funding that had been granted over the years to diminish proportionately so that the local authorities are devoid of adequate resources to have any sort of effective enforcement mechanism or authority at the present time.

What is the sense in saying that we have an enforcement mechanism if the resources and the staffing are not made available? Can we get some commitment in relation to this Bill and, likewise, in relation to the Derelict Sites Bill, where again you have a whole area of monitoring that needs to be done? The resources should be provided to the statutory authority to enable them to do it. Could we ask that the Government lift the embargo on recruitment in the public sector?

Finally, I would like to say that we will on Committee Stage be introducing what we would regard as very substantial and essential amendments to this legislation. We are satisfied only with the principle of the legislation. We are not satisfied with the provisions that have been written into the Bill to provide for the regulations themselves and the mechanisms for enforcement of those regulations.

I am actually caught slightly unawares because I thought there would be such considerable enthusiasm for this Bill that I would be one of a string of people wishing to speak. I am a little bit disconcerted that there seems to be so little enthusiasm because I think this is an exceedingly important Bill.

Quality rather than quantity.

Perhaps quality in terms of the content of the speeches. I have high regard for this Minister. I am afraid he is in the hot seat today, but I cannot comment favourably on the quality of this legislation. As I think was hinted by my immediate predecessor in contributions to this debate, there is now appearing a pattern in environmental legislation that I can only describe as a facade job. There is a lot of cosmetic legislation going on. It is highly dangerous. There is legislation which purports to do one thing in the title of the Bill and quite clearly and demonstrably does the opposite. This is, perhaps, one of the most significant examples to date. The Front Bench on the Government side can smile as much as they like and nod knowingly, but they are out of touch with reality as perceived on the ground by the plain people of Ireland for whom they at one time vaunted themselves as being their principal spokespersons.

That is why we got 54 per cent of the vote.

That is why you got a good dunt at the last election and that is why you are in coalition now — the party of Government. If you thought you got a belt on the health issue, you are going to get another one on this.

If you want a room to have a meeting on you own, I can arrange it. But you are in the Chamber here and you will speak through the Chair.

I stand corrected, Chairperson, for my discourtesy to you. I should have addressed the Chair. I am sure that the learned gentleman on the other side also feels similarly chastened. It is important that we observe the courtesies, even when we are dealing with a situation that is clearly scandalous, as this is. I am not talking just about the plain people. The plain people may not have yet woken up to what is afoot. Every single major professional body in this country has woken up to it. There are detailed analyses in existence of this Bill and its gross defects. Basically, what we are talking about here is deregulation. Does anybody think that the deregulation of the building industry is actually a good thing?

We are going to really cut out effective by-laws approvals. We are going to cut out the whole system of checks and balances by which the building industry is monitored. I know that from the point of view of the Government party there is a special reference for the building industry. They have always — in my opinion mistakenly — regarded it as the single principal engine of economic recovery. I have always felt that that was a shortsighted and dangerous view from a financial point, but they are entitled to that view. What they are not entitled to do is to place in jeopardy the single largest investment of each family or individual in this country. This is what is happening, because the purchase of a home, which will now no longer be subject to effective proper and professional standards and controls, is the single largest investment for most individuals. It is being rendered vulnerable by this Bill. I see the Minister, who is a decent man, shaking his head. May I just read on to the record some of the headlines from a variety of newspapers of all potential persuasions that have emerged in the last while. For example, The Evening Herald of 12 December 1989 set a headline as follows: Building safety is threatened by Bill”, The Sunday Independent:“Gas disaster: Government ignores key reports”; The Irish Times:“Refusal to amend Bill criticised”; The Sunday Tribune:“Home owners face `horrendous consequences' from new Bill”; The Irish Independent:“Self-policed builders' standards `worthless”'; The Star, more colourfully perhaps but equally accurately — these are all around about the early weeks of December 1989: “Cowbody Builders to Clean Up”; The Sunday Business Post:“Building bill could lead to fresh disaster”.

Acting Chairman

Could we ask the Senator to put these dates on to the record of the House?

I can make this available for the Official Report. Will that be satisfactory? The Irish Times of Tuesday, 12 December 1989 set a headline: “Critics say Bill will loosen building codes”. I could go on. There are more. In other words the universal feeling among (a) the professional bodies concerned and (b) of responsible journalists engaged in analysing and criticising this particular area of the environment and environmental legislation, is one of unanimous opposition to what is happening. I wonder will the Minister be able to give us an undertaking that he will accept amendments seeking to put teeth back into this legislation. I understood that Fianna Fáil — and I say this as an Independent who is not particularly committed to any party at all and I am certainly not committed to attacking Fianna Fáil — was the party of the small person. It is very important that they should maintain that role. It appears from the legislation here that they are the party of exploitative cowboy capitalism. I have to say that, because what is being opened up is a road towards exploitation. I would just make the point that the Minister in his speech has indicated where the proper areas of concern are. He says the purpose of the Bill is to provide a revised framework for the making and administration of building regulations. At present the power to make building regulations is contained in section 86 of the Local Government Planning and Development Act, 1963. The purposes for which regulations may be made under the Act relate to matters of public health and safety. Could the Minister explain precisely what he is doing about public health and safety in this legislation? I cannot see it. The situation after the passage of this Bill will be significantly worse. I really must be fair to the Minister because he is such a decent man and he comes from a very good part of the country that I know well. It behoves me to be fair to him. The situation at the moment is not uniform. About seven local authorities, including the principal cities — the one I am most in contact with is Dublin — are all empowered and required to monitor the building regulations. By-laws and so on are in existence at the moment. This is not uniform around the country. Unfortunately, what the Minister has decided to do is to equalise everybody downward, if we can contemplate such a thing. In other words, because the standards of policing are not uniform, what the Minister is actually doing is putting everybody on the worst possible footing.

The Minister subsequently refers to the welfare — not just public health and safety — of persons in or about buildings. I would like to ask the Minister some questions. First, to what extent were the findings of two very significant reports taken into consideration? I speak, of course, first of all the Cremer and Warner report which was completed in the aftermath of the Raglan House disaster. I remember the debate that took place in this House at that time. I remember a number of us pointing out the dangers and looking to properly policed regulations. I remember also the report of the Government Task Force that came in sometime after the Cramer and Warner report. The conclusions of these two reports have been quite clearly ignored by the Minister in this Bill. I would like to quote, for example, first of all from the Cramer and Warner report on the Raglan House explosion which took place on New Year's Day 1987 and which recommended — and I am quoting directly from the report:

That local authorities should be provided with the resources to monitor any self-certification system that new legislation may introduce.

thereby providing a deterrent against inferior building practices. Why is this being ignored? Why is nothing being done here? The Government Task Force on Multistorey Buildings which was set up in the immediate aftermath of the same explosion, came to a similar conclusion. The effectiveness of any self-certification system would need a high degree of policing. May I ask the Minister why we do not have some reasonable system of policing? There must, in fact, be standards. There are no such standards. Certainly, there are no standards that are clear to me.

The Minister has indicated that basically what he is doing is deregulating all existing building controls in the major urban areas. The only replacement will be a nationwide system of self-regulation by the building industry. Far be it from me to be cynical. I know the Minister accepts that I am a humble, naive person wishing to believe the best of everybody, including the persons in this House and even in the building industry. I have had many connections with the building industry but would any person visiting this island from Mars really swallow the notion that the building industry is the best policeman of its own practices? I doubt it.

Anybody who has really had any engagement with the building industry would wonder. Has the Minister looked around the city of Dublin at the number of estates that were left unfinished? Was the Minister watching the Today Tonight programme about the collapse of the Gallagher empire? There have been a number of serious major scandals involving the building industry, and yet the Minister is suggesting that the appropriate people to police building regulations are the building industry themselves. “I will be judge, I will be jury, said cunning old Furey. I will try the whole case, and condemn you to death”. What are we condemning? It may not be death. It could be death. It was in the case of Raglan House. It could be simply defective roofing, defective insulation, defective wiring or defective sewerage. Why is this being allowed?

I have to point out to the Minister — and I am sure he is aware of it — that the system of building controls that the Minister is proposing does not exist anywhere else in the European Community. It is simply unheard of. All European Community countries, with the exception of France and Belgium, operate local authority control. Could the Minister explain why is Ireland so different? What is there unique about Ireland? Is it the unique honesty of the building industry? Is the Minister paying a special tribute, an unusual accolade, to members of the building industry? We do not need this. In so doing why does he so consistently ignore the advice he is receiving from civil servants, the professional bodies and from the staff in the local authorities who have consistently advised against this? In France and Belgium the responsibility rests with the designer and builder, who must give an insurance-backed guarantee against defects. The Thatcher Government toyed with the idea of scrapping their building control system in favour of self-certification.

I was not here for all of the contribution of my distinguished colleague, Senator Costello, but I gather that he, in fact, has already placed on the record the fact that they were given legal advice which made it clear that, in the words of the British Attorney General, such a system would be a legal nonsense. I said in this House, last week or the week before, that the phrase "The Irish Secret Service" was a contradiction in terms, as was "British intelligence". Obviously, the Minister has a higher estimation of British intelligence than I do, because he is prepared to accept something that even the British regard as a legal nonsense, as being acceptable for the Irish people. In other words, are we basically being confronted with the usual Irish solution to an Irish problem?

The Minister's basic intentions, and they were perfectly clear, is first to introduce — at least that is what he says he is trying to do — building regulations applying to all buildings. Secondly, to have housing — and that is houses, house extensions and alterations — exempt from building control regulations. Thirdly, his intentions are to have non-domestic construction subject to a system of building control based on self-certification Finally, he intends to ensure that local authorities have little involvement in building control apart from registration of certificates.

Again, there is much there that is really indefensible. I honestly cannot understand how the Minister can seek to defend this kind of thing in respect of houses and house extensions. They are the very thing that throughout our cities are a commonplace of the building industry. These are now to be largely unprotected. I may appear to be attacking the building industry and regarding it in a certain sceptical light. I have to say that I am sure 85 to 90 per cent of the building industry is perfectly reputable and perfectly decent. The building industry themselves will tell you that there is a 10 per cent core of what The Star colourfully calls “cowboys”. Who is going to police them? I very much doubt if the 90 per cent of the building industry that is reasonably responsible is going to be too thrilled with the notion that they are all now, thanks to the Minister, going to be tarred with the same brush — and, believe you me, they are.

It is also very important to look at the mass of defects that the Bill contains. The last thing I mentioned was that there is little involvement of local authorities except for this business of the registration of certificates. The Bill does not even impose a statutory duty on the local authorities to check that the contents of the certificates are correct. They are not even checking the certificates. I beg your pardon, Minister.

Acting Chairman

If the Minister wishes to speak he might ask my permission.

I did not mean to be unpleasant to the Minister. I could not hear what he said. He so often makes a comment that is directly germane and relevant that I genuinely thought that it might be of interest. If he would like to say something, may I invite him to——

Acting Chairman

I am sorry. The Minister will not be getting on his feet until it is time to reply to the Second Stage debate, which will be when the last speaker has spoken. Details can be dealt with on Committee Stage.

Thank you for your guidance. I will try to keep to broad principles. I think that is a principle really. It is a principle of policing a regulation. It really does seem to me to be quite idiotic that we are down to a situation where they say, "Oh, well, we will keep a register of certificates" and they do not even validate the certificates. What precisely is the point of that, except some curious appetite somewhere for paperwork?

Building control legislation ought to provide protection for the health and safety of the public, including the persons who are building. On this I agree with the Minister. Private housing is a sector of the construction industry that affects the widest spectrum of the population — virtually everybody. Again, I have to return to this. The Minister really appears in a perverse way to suggest that we are a unique population. I would like to know in what way are we unique? He is introducing a system here that is unique in Europe, as I have demonstrated incontrovertibly. There is, of course, one way in which we are unique and that is because we have such an extraordinarily high demand for private accommodation and for owned residential occupation. This is a characteristic of the Irish people — the desire to have their own little house in the suburbs or even these things that people like Frank McDonald and myself have campaigned against, the bungalow bliss. It is bad enough to have bungalow bliss spreading like architectural acne all over the face of the island, but are the unfortunate people who live in these places not even to be protected from their own bad taste? Are they now not to be protected from the inefficient professional practice of the building trade as well? We have something that is not only aesthetically disgusting but positively dangerous.

This home ownership area is also the sector where inadequate design and poor construction are most prevalent. The Minister, I am sure, knows this. If problems occur they are likely to be extremely expensive for the individuals concerned. In my opening remarks I instanced a few of them. The drainage going wrong or the roofing going wrong are constant fears of houseowners. They fear that they are going to have some structural problem with regard to roofs. I know this. I have to accept that the Government were amenable in this. They graciously accepted amendments I put down on the budget previous to this immediate one to provide some kind of assistance in financing the rehabilitation of buildings in the inner city. I am very glad. I welcome that, because I believe in giving praise where praise is due. The Minister for Finance accepted my argument that this grant system should be frontloaded in the first year in order to allow people to do necessary work on the roofs, because roofs are the most vulnerable point. They are the most dangerous element in terms of defects and so on. They are the most expensive. Here we have a situation where there is really no policing. I believe that there is an essential element here of consumer protection.

I wonder more and more when I hear the Taoiseach, for whom I have immense respect — unbelievable respect, grotesque respect, bizarre respect — speaking about a Green Presidency. Who is green in this Presidency? Is it the country that is green? Is there an assumption that the inhabitants are green and that they are so green that they are going to accept this Bill, for example? I hope that is not a sinister and unworthy interpretation of the Green Presidency. The Minister said in the Dáil in regard to housing in reply to Deputy Gilmore of a certain party — unrepresented in this august Chamber — that there are already controls in place on most houses by way of the structural guarantee scheme. He said that there are certain controls in place in so far as the payments of house grants are concerned and that Department inspectors carry out inspections before grants are paid. He feels, therefore, there are sufficient safeguards in place in that area. I wonder is the Minister happy with that?

There has been an opportunity for reflection. Is that all that is necessary? Inspections for grants? Are we expected to take seriously, that that is all the public needs to protect itself? The guarantee scheme, as the Minister knows, only covers the structure and does not apply to other important areas, some of which I have mentioned, such as drainage, ventilation and so on. The guarantee is only valid for six years and inspections by the Department inspectors are very limited and carried out only as long as there are grants. The whole question of grants is a political question. The Government could withdraw grants tomorrow if they felt like it — in other words, it is at the arbitrary discretion of the Government to remove the flimsy protection that exists for the consumer. Where in its Green Presidency is the respect for the rights of the consumer?

I would like to point out to the Minister one of the proposed amendments to the Bill, an amendment that has the full support of all the Opposition parties, the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, the Institute of Engineers of Ireland, the ITGWU and the engineers, building surveyors and inspectors working in building control. It is as follows:

Building control authorities should carry out such checks of certificates and documents lodged and work in progress and completed buildings, as they consider necessary to satisfactorily monitor the effectiveness of the control system in their area.

For one element, and one element alone, in that amendment I apologise. I would like humbly to apologise to the Minister for the split infinitive. It should of course read: "to monitor satisfactorily the effectiveness of the control system in their area". But for nothing else am I prepared to apologise, for nothing else that occurs in this amendment. It is vital that this amendment, which puts a statutory duty on the building control authority, be added to the Bill. The Minister objected to this amendment in the Dáil but gave a commitment to reconsider it prior to Report Stage.

I would like to press this. The Minister may of course be aware that I am relying fairly heavily on a document from one of the principal unions involved. I make no apology for that, because I think it is very important that the information that comes from a professional and technical section of society that is particularly engaged in this area should be listened to. May I point out to the Minister as well on this, that not one but a number of the newspaper reports make the point that it is up to Seanad Éireann to amend this legislation. I believe that we would like, and we would welcome, and we request an undertaking from the Minister that this Bill will not be gazumped through the House today, that there will be an opportunity for considering amendments. Thank you very much, Minister. I know the Minister is a reasonable man. I hope this will be possible and that those of us who wish to put down amendments will be facilitated in this manner.

The Minister stated in the Dáil that it was not necessary to impose a statutory duty on the building control authorities in relation to the monitoring of building control. He also stated that there was an implied duty in the Bill on building control authorities and that "as responsible bodies, they will act accordingly". I honestly find again considerable difficulty here because legislation deals with reality; legislation deals with imposing requirements. It does not really deal with implied duties. I would like the Minister to take some advice from his colleagues. I see that he has three gladiators with him so he is more than equipped to deal with a simple individual like myself.

What is the point of a phrase like "implied duty" in legislation? Is it actually the function of legislation to deal with "implied duties". Would the Minister not agree that it is the function of legislation to place those obligations, those duties, in a legal context which is beyond the very dubious and grey area of implication? If there is an implied duty in legislation then there is an implied right of an individual, presumably, to apply to the court for satisfaction if a building is proved to be defective. I assume that is the intention, but do implications stand up in court? Is it not highly likely that, if there was a court case on the basis of this kind of wording or intention, a judge would say: "Well, I am sorry. I am not dealing in implications. It is the responsibility of legislators to spell out clearly and unambiguously, and without relying upon implication, precisely what the intention of the Bill may be".

The experience we have had with the Multistorey Buildings Act has shown that that business of implied duty and being able to rely on the goodwill of the building industry and so on, is not the case and that, unless there is a statutory duty imposed, there can be no guarantee that hard-pressed authorities will carry out adequate and effective monitoring. Here again we have a clear conflict between what the Minister is talking about. The Minister is too generous. He is too decent and he is too good hearted. He is relying on goodwill. He is relying on the integrity of the building industry. I do not want to damn the building industry completely, but I do not think it is the function of legislation simply to rely on goodwill and good intentions. It is to lay down standards which must not be breached, and the Minister has signally failed to do this.

Can I point out the historical context — again I have to apologise if this has been previously adverted to; I am not aware of the full debate? It must be rather galling to the Minister if he has heard all these points before. I am just not aware. I really do not want to repeat anything that has been said. The Minister probably knows anyway whether he has been told it this afternoon or not. But for well over 100 years, for 111 years in fact, county councils up and down the country have had the same powers as Dublin city and county to enact building by-laws, but only seven did. I indicated earlier that there was an uneven spread of building practice, and one of the reasons is that the local authorities did not bother to enact by-laws. How then can the Minister rely on this nebulous area of good practice? We are not in an area where we can deal with pious aspirations. We have got to deal with the hard facts.

A lot of this material surfaced and became critical — I mean critical in the sense of being vitally important — in the aftermath of the Raglan House explosion. The report which I have already mentioned — the report of the Government's own task force — dealt with the concept of building control and made the points that building regulations are of no value unless they can be demonstrated to be capable of proper policing. The Minister envisaged in the legislation certain situations where buildings could be exempted from all controls. This is something beyond the imaginings even of the Government task force report and of the Cramer and Warner report. The task force report says with regard to the certification system that "the effectiveness of the system is dependent on a high level of technical competence and professional responsibility among those certifying and would need a high degree of policing to support certifers in carrying out their duties diligently." There is no sense of wishful thinking or implied responsibilities or pious aspirations about the intention of the building industry. They are talking about policing. When you mention policing you are talking about potential defaulters. So, at least the authors of the Government's own report are not as starry-eyed as the Minister. In fact, the recommendation of the task force was quite unambiguous. I will read it into the record, because it says:

The Task Force recommends that the Building Control Bill should be enacted so that building regulations and an effective buildings control system can be put on a statutory basis.

Can the Minister sustain the argument that what he is doing is placing building control on a statutory basis in the face of the assertion I have made here this afternoon that what he is actually doing, what he is embarking on, is the massive deregulation of the building industry?

I am concerned that the Minister in his Bill is allowing for certification, about which I have expressed already some considerable doubts, without legal provision for insurance. I am advised that this is not in the public interest. It is essential that the public is protected with the requirement in the legislation that the certifiers have adequate insurance cover. There is no such provision in the Bill. It is analogous to what we all witnessed last night in the "Today Tonight Special"— vulnerable members of the public and their savings being exposed by a situation which purports to protect them but does not protect them. In other words, what we are dealing with is a facade and a sham. We have these monopoly money certificates being waved around with nothing to back them. Where is the money at the end of the day? Where is the actual cover for the individual in financial terms? It is not clear to me that it exists in the Bill.

There is another point which I would like to address. There will be regulations coming in — I think "regulations" is the right word — that are not contained in the Bill. I am sure the Minister will understand what I am talking about. It is rather like the Restaurant Bill. There was the whole system of regulations that was to be introduced by the Minister subsequently and the only power the Oireachtas had was either to accept or reject the regulations. We did not have any power to tinker with them.

As I say, I am a very simple person. I believe that this is the same situation here, that we will have the possibility of the introduction of a whole rake of regulations and we will have wonderful privilege either of accepting or rejecting. We will not be able to amend or tinker with the regulations. That worries me. I could be wrong on this, but perhaps the Minister would be able to give me a definitive answer on this.

I will end on this because there are more people queueing up. I am sure the Minister wishes to have a very full debate on this Bill. If I am correct in reading the gestures of my distinguished University colleague here, we are going to have a contribution from another Senator who has had a very remarkable record in defending the interests of the public in these and allied areas.

I would like to conclude by saying that the Minister has a problem in this Bill of what I would call facade legislation, that purports to do one thing and not only does not do it but creates a dangerous situation. There is problem with public perception and there is absolutely no doubt that the people of Ireland have perceived a fraud here. I refer the Minister to the headlines. It is a fraud that has implications for the safety and for the financial well-being of all the citizens of the State. It does not give me any great joy to read in the newspapers comments like this from the Evening Herald of Tuesday, 12 December 1989:

Cowboy contractors will be free to erect dangerously unsafe buildings unchecked if the Building Control Bill is passed by the Dáil tomorrow. Serious loss of life from collapsing office blocks or flats could follow soon after, according to professional organisations throughout the country.

This was drawn to my attention previously and I believe I did mention it. These professional bodies are most concerned at the self-certification aspect of the Bill. I think the Minister has quite a lot in hand in attempting to satisfy not only this House but the public that what he is doing is not dangerous and inimical to the public interest, and he certainly has failed to do it in his introductory speech.

I sympathise with the Minister. He was put into bat on a very sticky wicket. Governments frequently put in a decent and honourable person to bat on a sticky wicket so that the honourableness of the person in the hot seat may rub off in some kind of osmotic sense on the shabby legislation he is compelled by Governmental responsibility to introduce. The Minister has my deepest sympathy. It is disgraceful legislation. I hope that he will take the opportunity of amending it in the interests of his own honour, of the Government's reputation and of the well-being of the citizens of the country.

Senator Norris has described himself as simple. I would like to describe myself as brief and to assure the Minister I will not keep him here very long. If I do not flatter him in the glowing terms which the previous speaker flatters him it is not that I do not hold the Minister in the highest esteem, but just that I am not as mellifluous as Senator Norris.

It could be rather dangerous as well.

I do hold the Minister in high regard. I want to say only a few brief things. First, I do not believe everything I read in the newspapers. That is no reflection on the newspapers, but newspapers and headlines are there to sell newspapers and I think it might be described as a slightly exaggerated headline. However, having said that, there are certain reservations which I have about this Bill.

The whole area of by-laws in my experience on Dublin City Council for 15 years has been rather an unsatisfactory one, to say the least of it, in a number of areas. Quite frankly, as things are at the present in the by-laws section it is not really possible for there to be any effective enforcement. The total penalty is something like a shilling, which is 5p, something of that order. If, as a public representative, you run up against by-law infringements there is really very little that can be done about it. One relies on the hope that the developer will run into difficulties selling the building or whatever. That seems in recent years to have been the most effective way of, so to speak, enforcing the by-laws.

This legislation is long overdue, and I regret that it has taken so long to get it here. Having got it here, I think it is important, as previous speakers have said, that we do get it right. The whole area of by-laws and what is contained in this Bill is, on the note on which Senator Norris finished, for the protection of the public and for their safety. We have had some very unfortunate incidents which have been mentioned by other speakers and which I will not go back over. It is for that reason I think that we need in this House to look very carefully at this legislation and to ensure that it is going to be an improvement on what has happened up to date rather than being a step backwards. From some figures released in the last couple of days with regard to the lack of respect for building by-laws and building permissions, one can say the same thing applies here in the whole area of building by-laws. I do not think we would want to be relying too much on the goodwill that is out there. We want to be in a strong position to ensure that this legislation is effective and that we will be in a position to implement it. Indeed, the whole area of the by-laws in Dublin Corporation has been, as everybody sadly knows, shrouded with a certain number of question marks. I will not say any more than that. We hope that the problems they are experiencing are being dealt with by the appropriate authorities so that the whole situation will be cleaned up.

I think the main point which I, like other speakers, am worried about is the question of self-certification and whether that is going to be satisfactory, whether it is reasonable to expect those people who are involved in building, design and in all stages to give undertakings that the buildings which they have constructed are reasonable. I do not think that it is in any shape or form any slur on the architectural profession or the engineering profession or, indeed, on any builders or developers. But I think we all know that there are gangsters in every profession and in every walk of life. Those are the people — it is not for the vast number of people who are law-abiding and who would do the right thing — we are here to legislate for those who, unfortunately, need to be brought to heel, so to speak. So, I would like to have more reassurance — and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in his reply — that the whole area of self-certification is going to be satisfactory.

With regard also to the penalties, they sound very large — £10,000 — but when you look at £150 per day, that is not very much for somebody who has probably put up a very large building. I always feel that the only real deterrent in these instances is the threat of a jail sentence. I know it is in the Bill — six months and two years. But, of course, they are never enforced. Who here can remember anybody being sent to jail for the most flagrant and blatant contraventions of planning laws? This is one of the subjects in which I am most interested, yet I cannot think at this moment of anybody who ever went to jail in that connection. So, what we are back to is what the courts are going to implement. We are talking about the fines, and I wonder are those really adequate? My concern is for the home buyers, for the people working in office blocks, the people out in the street and the people in public buildings to feel assured that they are going to be protected.

There is one detail I would mention here and I wonder to what extent it can be remedied under this legislation. To my certain knowledge, as somebody who has been interested in conservation and preservation of buildings, there has been a great difficulty for the owners or people who wish to conserve old buildings but they want to adapt them for a new use. Take perhaps, for example, Mercer's Hospital, not so far from here, which is being adapted for a new and I think probably quite satisfactory purpose. They find themselves in the hands of the by-law people, and particularly the fire authorities, who are totally unsympathetic to the problems of old buildings. I believe that is something which must be looked at.

A very particular example is the house next to the Royal Dublin Hotel in O'Connell Street. This was a building in respect of which, interestingly enough, permission to be demolished was given and permission was then given to put up a new extension to the hotel. But the proprietors very wisely decided that they had a valuable asset — it is the last remaining house in O'Connell Street — and they decided to keep it. There is a magnificent Palladian doorway in it — a centre door and two windows down at either side. When they came back into the corporation looking for permission — to our great joy — to retain the building, the fire officer said that the door would have to be enlarged so that people could rush out onto the street. I fully respect the fire officers and their concern for fire safety — that is their job — but they must have some regard for old buildings. That is an area of this legislation which I hope will be considered.

I would like to say that, by and large, it is a good Bill and I welcome it. However, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

I want to thank all the Senators who spoke this afternoon on the Bill. I listened with great interest to the many comments they had to make. I want to say at the outset that when the Bill comes before the House on Committee Stage we will have a better opportunity then to tease it out in detail and have an exchange of views on how we see the position. I have been criticised for possibly not bringing more Bills before the House, but remember we have four Bills now before Parliament: we have the Planning Compensation Bill, the Water Pollution Bill, the Derelict Sites Bill and the Building Control Bill. We are also in the course of the preparation of other Bills which will be coming before the House also. There was never so much work going on both in the Custom House and in O'Connell Bridge House. I want to put that on record with regard to this matter.

As I mentioned in my opening contribution, the Bill is an enabling one, which is intended to provide a suitable and flexible framework for introducing a system of building regulations and building controls. It includes a wide range of powers and presents a number of options to the Minister. Having listened to the contributions to the debate here today, I think there is general agreement that the building regulations provided for in the Bill ought to be made and that they should be made as early as we possibly can. This also seems to be the general view of all the parties involved in the construction industry.

We had wide-ranging submissions, as I stated in my opening remarks, with over 500 persons and organisations included. It is hard to please everyone in legislation, as you all know, but I want to make it clear that under the Planning Acts now you have to comply with the planning regulations of the local authority concerned and it is then a matter for that local authority if the person or company or whoever is the developer does not comply. Even if you are putting on an extension to your house you have to show the existing house and you have to show the extension you are building on or wherever the modifications are. As I know, in my own area in the midlands, there is then an inspection by the planning officer or his assistant and they will decide on the type of development and rule accordingly. On the positive side, conditions will be attached to your planning permission from the planning authority telling you what you have to do and comply with.

Say, for instance, you were going to purchase a secondhand house in any part of the country. As far as I know, no financial institution will give you a loan unless the house is in a satisfactory condition. If it is a local authority house they have their engineers and architects and if it is a financial institution, such as building societies or banks, they have the personnel to examine the house. If I was advising a constituent or anybody else, I would say that he or she should get a certificate from a competent architect or consulting engineer in the construction industry. We have an excellent number of architects and engineers around who are very competent. He can get a certificate stating the condition of the building and when that person makes up his mind whether he wishes to pursue the matter, and if there are defects in the building, he can ask to have them rectified.

Senator Naughten raised the question of self-certification. This is only one of the options in section 6 for building control and it has not yet been decided which option will be taken. However, in relation to the question raised by Senator Naughten I suggest that there should be no cost implications for the industry in a self-certification system. The person who designs a building is responsible for that design and the person who builds it is responsible for his work. It is not too much to ask these people to certify that they have complied with the building regulations. With regard to monitoring, the Bill gives building control authorities powers to inspect works and buildings and to take appropriate enforcement action.

Senator Naughten asked about insurance implications. I do not see how there can be a problem since the responsibilities of the various people involved will not change in any basic way. The change there will be a set of statutory building regulations which will apply across the country. This will make it easier to be sure that they are operating to clear standards. The Senator asked how this will operate throughout the country. With regard to housing estates, I agree with some speakers that they have been left in a deplorable and shabby state. The local authority will have to take action and they have the necessary powers to do that.

The question of cost to the industry was raised. One of the criticisms of the provisions of the 1963 Planning Act was that they were too rigid, they would cause delays in getting construction projects under way and they would add to costs. The wide options and flexible nature of the Bill are designed to allow for more flexible systems while at the same time giving adequate protection.

Senator O'Keeffe made a very favourable contribution to the Bill. He made a number of constructive suggestions in regard to the building regulations and the building control systems. I assure him that they will be taken into account. The Bill which we are now debating was the product of the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition in 1984 and the basic principles were developed by them, not by this side of the House. Since 1984 there has been an enormous amount of debate on this subject. Many views have been put forward by all concerned. I hope we will have this Bill through the House shortly.

Senator Costello wondered why the Bill exempts prisons and places of detention. This is necessary on grounds of security. There is no intention that prisons would be substandard but there are many aspects of the regulations which would not be suitable to apply to prisons. For example, we could not have the standard fire escape provisions applying to prisons. Senators can be assured that prisons will be built to a very high standard and all the necessary precautions will be taken.

Senator Norris does not seem to have read the Bill too well. He speaks of deregulation but the Bill provides for the introduction of building regulations on a national basis whereas at the moment there is no control of building standards in most of the country. The present approval system in the by-law area relates to examining plans. The inspection function is the same now as it will be when this Bill is passed. The local authorities have discretionary power of inspection at the moment and they will have similar power under sections 8, 11 and 17 of this Bill.

I am glad Senator Norris referred to rogue builders. The great majority of builders are reputable and do excellent work. The Bill will provide the power to the building control authorities to go after the small number of rogue builders. New homes are covered by the National Housebuilding Guarantee Scheme and they will continue to be inspected under that scheme. I would need to be convinced that duplication of this work is desirable.

How have the people of Roscommon, Offaly and Wexford managed up to now without any by-laws? According to Senator Norris the whole country should have fallen down. I am glad that that is not the situation as I know it. With regard to the counties I have mentioned it could be said in regard to the building and development work that has taken place in those counties and in many more counties outside the capital, that our local authorities have performed very responsibility with the elected members of the local authorities. That is great credit to them.

Apart from this Bill we have the guarantee scheme for new housing. The financial institutions now demand that and before they give out the loan they do a final inspection of the house. As far as I know in many housing schemes now that are being privately erected the local authority where that building is taking place have to be bonded or given financial guarantees with regard to the completion of these estates. I have no time for any developer who would come in to any part of this country, do shabby work, disobey regulations, especially under the Planning Act, and leave estates in a shabby way so that the local authority has to pick up the tab and subsequently ask the DOE to do that. I would not allow that. I wish to put on the record that all the local authorities should keep a very close watch where private development takes place and see that all the regulations are being complied with as set down in the planning permission. On Committee Stage I will go into it in more detail. I will be as co-operative as I possibly can. We will discuss the various matters that has been raised, but I have no doubt that it is the wish of all Members in this House that we enact the best Bill possible. I thank all the Members for their contributions and their co-operation.

Question put and declared carried.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 28 February 1990.

When is it proposed to sit again?

On Wednesday next at 2.30 p.m.