The Dáil will not, I am sure, expect me to go over again the ground which has been so often covered. This is really the third debate in connection with this matter. There was a full statement made on the Land Bill, 1926. Then, on the resolution proposed here that the Report of the Select Committee be considered, I made a very long statement on the substance of this Bill. I went through it in detail, and I dare say the House will not expect me to do that again. I take it that Deputies are conversant with the provisions of the Bill, having read it in its original form and again after coming back from Committee. It was then debated at great length. I will confine myself now, with the consent of the House, to moving that the Bill be read a second time.
ORDUITHE AN LAE. - LAND BILL, 1927—SECOND STAGE.
I agree with the Minister that we have discussed the principle of this Bill fairly exhaustively already. An expression of opinion has already been given from these benches as to the contents of the Bill. We are glad that the Minister decided to bring in a new Bill, containing most of the recommendations of the Select Committee. At the same time, the Bill, in its present form, is not, in our view, entirely satisfactory. I would say it is fairly satisfactory. It has met in part certain of our claims but it has not met all our claims in respect of certain points, and in regard to certain other points it has avoided our claims altogether. Possibly the most debatable section of the Bill will be that dealing with fee farm grantees—Section 10. This is a very complicated form of land tenure and it is a form of tenure which is not fully understood by many people in the Saorstát. We on the Farmers' benches have been for a long time demanding that a new Bill be brought in which would place these fee farm grantees in a just position. We feel that the present Bill, while it removes in part disabilities of the fee farm grantee, does not deal fully with the matter. The section as it stands provides that in certain contingencies, which are specified in sub-section (2), paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), the occupier of a fee farm holding may apply to the Land Commission and the Land Commission may, by order, declare that the parcel of land shall vest in them on the appointed day and shall be treated as if it were a parcel of land in a congested districts county. Up to a certain point that section meets with my approval, but the difficulty arises when we come to the method by which the land under this section will be dealt with by the Land Commission when it comes into their hands. We do not know by what standard the Land Commission will determine the price upon which the annuity will be based when they are selling the land to the owner again. The real grievance in regard to fee farm grantees under Section 38 of the 1923 Act was that they had no indication as to what standard would be taken when fixing the redemption value of the land and, therefore, had no idea of the annuity they might have to pay. That position still exists and, for that reason, I maintain that the section of this Bill dealing with fee farm grantees is not in its present form entirely satisfactory. In fact, I doubt if it is satisfactory at all. We are not in a position to state now whether it is satisfactory or not, because that will depend on the operation of the Act. It will depend on what price the Land Commission will fix when selling the land to the owner of the fee farm. It is our intention to introduce in Committee amendments dealing with that portion of the Bill.
I want to refer to another matter in connection with land tenure which has not been dealt with by the Minister in this Bill, but which was dealt with in the discussions which took place at the Select Committee. I regret very much that the Minister has not seen his way to introduce a section dealing with the class of farmer known as the residential holder. I am not convinced, nor was I convinced by the arguments of the Minister at the Select Committee that he is justified in his exclusion of that class of farmer from the provisions of the Bill. We introduced and argued a section before the Select Committee asking, in cases of residential holders, where the valuation of the land exceeded the valuation of the residence and where the occupier had farmed the land for a number of years as an ordinary agricultural tenant, that the land should be sold to him and should come within the ordinary purchase provisions of the Lands Acts.
The Minister declined to entertain our representations, and that class of holder is altogether excluded, with the result that there are many hard cases, many cases of residential holders who are really farmers and who held their land under the idea that they were to be regarded as ordinary farmers, but now, in accordance with the Act of 1923, they find themselves excluded, or, at least, when an appeal was made to the Judicial Commissioner, they found themselves excluded. That is a portion of the Bill with which we hope to deal on the Committee Stage. There are certain other minor forms of amendments with which we intend to deal in Committee. I think that this is not the time to discuss those details. On the whole, I believe that the Bill in its present form is a step forward and that if the Minister will receive certain amendments which will be put for ward in a considerate spirit, we may be able to shape the Bill in a form which will be acceptable, and which will meet with the approval of a large body of unpurchased tenants.
There is another point to which I should have referred and which is not dealt with in the Bill, namely, the case of the evicted tenants. An amendment in regard to evicted tenants was put forward in Select Committee by Deputy Cosgrave. It was passed by a majority. The original shape in which it was passed might not have been very well drafted, and it may not have been, and, in fact, was not, regarded as suitable to the Bill in its final form, but the idea was that all genuine evicted tenants who have not been reinstated in their homes should be reinstated where possible in the holdings from which they were evicted. I regret that the Minister has not met that case and that there is no provision dealing with evicted tenants. It is easy to forget the past, but we should remember that the old national agitation, which culminated in the form of freedom and self-government which we now possess, was based on the land agitation, so that the evicted tenants are to a certain extent the wounded soldiers of the land war. In other legislation we have made provision for wounded soldiers, and I think it is only right that those who did their part and who were the victims to a great extent of the land war and other national wars in the past, should be reinstated and should get some form of justice, having regard to the sufferings through which they went.
I think that the Bill is full of most important and far-reaching provisions. Deputy Heffernan has given it a very qualified approval. He mentioned the matter of fee farm grants. That matter was, of course, found very difficult when the Bill of 1923 was being drawn. A separate section was drawn up to deal with it, but apparently the legal complications were too much and there has not been much result from it. Consequently it is inserted in this Bill. It is hard to be quite certain of legal phrases, but I think that this is a fair attempt to deal with a matter which is extremely difficult, considering that there are very many classes of fee farm grants. There are the old fee farm grants that have been extending over, perhaps, hundreds of years and which are spread over whole estates at, perhaps, only four or five shillings per acre. Against that, there have been of late years, especially about the year 1919, other fee farm grants which, generally speaking, have been very high. In addition to these there was the passing of ready money which brought the rents up to a very high figure. These are entirely different to the old grants, which were on a very low basis. I think these paragraphs deal fairly well with them, but it is impossible to say definitely until the Minister explains them later.
There are many other extremely important sections in the Bill, such as those dealing with compounded arrears and the prohibition of sub-division among tenants. Unless provision was made in the latter case it would be abused to an enormous extent. Then there is the provision prohibiting the cutting down of timber. Since the passing of the various Land Acts whole estates have been devastated by the cutting down of trees. I am glad to see that there is a provision against that. There is also another very important matter for which provision is made. I refer to mills on certain lands. If there was any chance of mills being restored it was right to keep them for that purpose, but when it is evident that nothing is going to be done about them there should be some means of dealing with the lands on which they are situated. Clause 7, I think, deals with derelict property of that kind. Then there is a valuable provision by which county councils, on certain occasions, are allowed to purchase land. There is also a clause giving powers by which labourers can purchase their holdings. On the whole, I think the Bill will prove very beneficial and will fill up many lacunae which were in previous Land Acts.
I think it a pity, when the Minister was bringing forward the Bill, that he did not embody all the findings of the Select Committee, for by doing so he would remove the last of the grievances which landholders suffer. With regard to fee farm grantees, some people may have the idea that these people hold under very easy terms and at a very low rent. Several cases have come before me in which it is clearly shown that these people are, in fact, rack-rented. They are living close to people who have been able to take advantage of the several Land Acts within the last forty years, while they themselves have been paying the same old unreduced rent. I do not wish to mention the names of people who hold under this form of tenure, but I will just give a few cases. In one case, A has a rent of £488 16s., his valuation is £279, and the area of his holding is 287 acres. B pays a rent of £98 for a holding of 64 acres. C pays £93 for a holding of 62 acres. In another case the rent is £92 11s. 5d. and the area is 70 acres, while in another instance the rent is £311 5s. 10d. and the area 206 acres. I could quote several other cases, but in my opinion these are sufficient to show that these people are actually rack-rented. As Deputy Heffernan pointed out, I do not think that the provisions in the Bill will meet these cases. They may to a certain extent, but I think that better provision should have been made to deal with them.
With regard to residential holdings, there are many cases of hardship owing to the decision given with regard to them. If a man occupies a house, or has acquired a house and premises which are a little better, or more commodious, than an ordinary farmhouse, he finds himself objected to as regards the Land Acts, and is debarred in many cases from deriving benefit under them. With regard to the evicted tenants, I agree with Deputy Heffernan. I am old enough to remember the Plan of Campaign and I have been present at evictions, not evictions for non-payment of rent but because people went out of their homes and abandoned their farms for the sake of principle, and in order to bring about a change in the land laws of the country. I think it would be a great pity if even one of these people who, as I have said, went out on account of principle during what was called the land war, should be neglected by our National Parliament at this era. I hope if certain amendments are put forward to remove these grievances that they will get favourable consideration from the Minister.
This is a measure that might be welcomed more on account of the need there is for it than for some of the provisions it contains. It contains anomalies that might very well be removed. It was a trick of a very clever British politician that put upon the entire rates of a county a deficiency in the payment of land annuities. That provision has not been altered, and one would like to see a justification for putting upon the cottiers, small shopkeepers, and small farmers who pay rates the burden of meeting defaults for which they are not responsible and for which defaulters themselves in some cases cannot be blamed, because they are due to economic pressure. I can speak with intimate knowledge of one county, and perhaps the Minister would like to know that the arrears of rates in that county are because of the economic depression that is operating amongst the farming community there. A return made out at the instance of the Clare County Council shows the extent of the depletion of live stock and to what extent the shortage of money was due to that. The return is for each of the different rate collectors' areas, and the default was 90 per cent., 75 per cent., 100 per cent., 80 per cent., 90 per cent., 80 per cent. and 75 per cent. That gives a clear indication of the position regarding the rates, and yet you put upon them the burden of meeting the defaults on land annuities, and you disorganise the local councils and increase unemployment to a great extent by disorganise the local services. It is interesting to note the way the Minister proceeds to deal with the distress, which he told my colleague, Deputy Connor Hogan, to-day that he was fully cognisant of in County Clare. He does not take cognisance of the distress that prevailed, but he introduces a section of this kind:—
It shall be the duty of every under-sheriff with whom an execution order at the suit of the Land Commission, other than an order for delivery of possession of lands or premises, has been lodged to forthwith execute the same by seizure and sale so far as may be necessary of the goods, animals, or other chattels found in the house or other place of residence or on the lands of the debtor notwithstanding any claim or allegation on the part of the debtor or any other person that any such goods, animals, or other chattels are not the property of the debtor.
His method of dealing with distress is to destroy those who are distressed. He wants more power than the landlords ever had, and he wants more power than the Land Commission has at the moment. He proceeds to emphasise his cognisance of the distress in these districts by getting increased powers to seize all round him. I emphasised that position before the Committee, but I could not induce the Minister to see the necessity for dealing with this matter in another fashion. I hope that when the Minister is making the case for the section he will give us some indication that he will take a more lenient view and that his method of giving relief of distress will not be to destroy the distressed.
Regarding the evicted tenants, the Minister gave me a reply to a question some time ago in which he stated that up to December, 1926, 1,061 acres of untenanted land in Clare were acquired by the Land Commission under the Act of 1923 and divided, and he said that no evicted tenant had received parcels of these lands. I wonder if there are any evicted tenants in the county or if the Minister has had any applications from evicted tenants in the county, and if so, what position they are in. It is very difficult to get from the Land Commission a statement as to the position of evicted tenants, and I think it is one of the blots on the administration of the Land Commission that more evicted tenants have not been reinstated. There are many things that the Bill does seek to wipe out, many remedies that are overdue, but there are some remedies to which it might very serviceably apply, and I suggest that the Bill is very amenable to amendment. I hope to find the Minister prepared to accept amendments on the lines indicated by some Deputies.
I wish I could be as great an optimist as Deputy Wolfe, who was inclined to enthuse over this Bill. The Deputy was as gay, as giddy, and as irresponsible as a three-years-old.
Does the Deputy say I am three years old?
I am sorry that the Deputy does not see the analogy—a three-years-old racer. He is a Kildare man from the Curragh. The Minister, in my opinion, was extremely wise in his generation; he did not offer any defence of the Bill. I submit that it is a misnomer to call this Bill a Land Bill; it should be called an "Administration of the Land Acts Bill." No doubt through the country certain hopes were engendered when people heard that a Land Bill was being introduced, but do they realise what they are getting in this measure? I respectfully submit that they do not. I am prepared to admit that it has a couple of good points, tinsel that is displayed to make it attractive, gilt that is spread over it, Section 2 deals with compounded arrears of rent. When the Bill was being hurriedly debated last June, I said that no one could oppose the proposal but that it was one that could have been introduced in the 1923 Act. At the same time it is well to realise that it will not be the extraordinary benefit that some people infer. A man owing, say, £20 compounded arrears of rent will be settled with an annuity of 19/- a year for a term of 68½ years. In other words, for the original debt of £20 he, or his heirs and assigns, will have paid out something like £65. Of course if a man had the money he would probably get off better by paying the debt at once rather than burden himself with all this interest, but as so many men are down, the proposal, while not good in itself, will doubtless be welcomed by them. It is only to a man practically stone-broken that it will confer anything in the nature of benefit.
I pass on to Section 3, the section concerned with the cutting of trees. Deputy Wolfe was of opinion that too many trees are being cut down. I do not want to be put in the position of saying that we do not want forestry. We do, and we want a wooded country. But I do say that the proposal in the Bill is too wide and too general in its application. It says that the tenant shall be guilty of an offence under the Bill and "shall be liable on summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding £5 for each tree so cut down or uprooted." I believe that where there is timber which the Land Commission wish to preserve they should declare so expressly in the vesting order and notify the tenant that he is not to cut it down. But I do not believe that a general prohibition against the cutting of trees is desirable. After all, we really have to cater for the small farmer, and he cannot afford to have much timber on his land. He may have a few shelter beds, but he cannot afford to have all his land planted. To a great degree that would not be remunerative to him. You cannot have timber on arable land, even hedge-row timber. Anything growing under trees is cut off from the sun, and the crop is of a dwarfed and stunted character. I do believe that this proposal ought to be amended, that a man should not have to apply to the Land Commission for leave to cut a tree which they never saw, and of which they have no knowledge, that men away in Dublin, perhaps in armchairs, should not decide whether he should or should not get leave to cut down timber. I think that that is grotesque.
resumed the chair.
I pass on to Section 10—Fee Farm Grants. This section will not give the relief that has been expected from it down the country. You hear the view expressed here, there, and elsewhere, that fee farm grantees are to get immediate benefits from this section, even that they are to get a twenty-five per cent. reduction in the sums they pay annually, whereas no such thing is even contemplated. Before they can get any benefit the Minister must fix the appointed day for the county or district. Then they will be at liberty to apply to the Land Commission requesting them to vest the land. What will happen then? I direct the attention of Deputies to sub-section (2), paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). These are the conditions precedent. The tenant must be in a bona fide occupation of the land and be an ordinary farmer using and cultivating it; the rent payable by the applicant must be equal to or exceed what, in the opinion of the Land Commission, would have been a fair rent, and the applicant must be willing to repurchase and the parcel should be resold to the applicant. Then the section goes on to say: "The Land Commission may, unless in their opinion it is required for the relief of congestion, by order declare that the parcel of untenanted land shall vest in the Land Commission." I do not think that many fee farm grantees will bless us for this section. What will happen will be this: When the land vests in the Land Commission the fee farm grantee will lose his legal rights to the holding he occupies. His rights as such will be transferred to the purchase money that the Land Commission will fix as the value of the holding, and the Land Commission will be under no obligation whatever to restore him that land. All the superior interests will first have to be discharged, and if they wish they can buy him out with the balance of the purchase money.
And divide the land.
And divide the land amongst other persons. I think that is hardly fair to the ordinary bona fide farmer who is "in occupation of the land and uses same in accordance with proper methods of husbandry." I do not like it. It really spells confiscation of that man's interest. The Land Commission may—they may be good enough to do it. No doubt, in the majority of cases they will do it. But I do think that it is very hard and inequitable to an ordinary farmer to be put in that position—that his right to the land is lost.
Deputy Heffernan dealt with the question of residential holdings. I do not know that a hard and fast general law can be laid down about them. I I should say every case would have to be dealt with on its merits. If a man has rented a residential holding for temporary purposes it is questionable if the right should be given to him to purchase it outright. But in the majority of cases the men in occupation of residential lands are working them as ordinary farmers, and I see no reason to discriminate between them and ordinary tenants. I believe it is a blot on the Bill that a proposal has not been inserted which would meet the cases where the owners do not wish to resume possession of those residential holdings. I think the Bill is faulty to that extent, and I wish the Minister would introduce a section to meet it.
I pass on to Section 17, dealing with arrears of rates on land. Some few years ago a Bill was passed giving extraordinary powers to the Minister for Local Government for the collection of rates. Evidently those powers have been in abeyance in many cases, when such a provision as this is inserted in this Bill—that the Land Commission can deduct land bonds equal in nominal value to the rates from the owner and transfer them to the county council. I submit that it was the primary duty of the county councils, or their rate collectors, if they found stock on those lands, to distrain them and have them sold for the rates. If the collectors have not done that, for reasons best known to themselves, then the county councils should attach their sureties. I know several cases in the last seven or eight years where men were forcibly dispossessed of lands and the lands have been lying derelict ever since. Some of the owners have been obliged to leave the country. They have no power to dispose of their interest in these lands or let them. The lands are still derelict. Yet those people are to be liable for the rates. If it were not for the neglect of the county councils or of the rate collectors the rates could very often have been collected on those holdings. I am afraid that if we act in this way we are indirectly putting a premium on crime.
Section 20 deals with the question of drainage. I do not know that the county council is the best authority at present to undertake this work. Owing to the abolition of district councils, a great deal of work has been imposed upon county councils recently, and the members cannot very well attend to all the details. The result is that there has been a considerable amount of confusion in local administration. The members are too hard worked. They have too many committees to attend. I do not think it is in the public interest, at this juncture at least, to impose further liabilities on the county councils in respect to drainage. Of course I am aware that under the Drainage Maintenance Act of 1924 they got certain powers, but these powers have only been exercised in a few cases, because the restoration scheme is still in progress and the county councils have not yet handled the administration in connection with drainage.
I would direct the attention of Deputies to Section 22. In that section it is proposed to discontinue proceedings in certain eventualities evidently connected with the question of price, and not so much from the administrative point of view. Even if it is a question of public policy it cuts both ways. I admit the Government, perhaps, should have the right to withdraw when they find a parcel of land is uneconomic. Yet there is a danger that many bogus agitations will spring up for the division of land, and that the owners of certain lands will be kept in a state of perpetual alarm and, as a result, deprived of their right to work their lands to the best advantage. I do say that it is a danger. I am not going to resist the section, but we shall have to keep it in our minds.
One of the principal sections that the House will have to deal with is Section 24—"Provision for loss on resales." How does that arise? I understood that it was the general practice of the Land Commission to buy land at a reasonable price and that they would not pay anything more for it than they could let it for; that they never had any authority to set it except in a few congested areas where poverty or extreme——
That is the point.
I direct the Minister's attention to the wording of the section, which appears to be very wide:
Where the price fixed for untenanted land situated in a congested districts county is such that the resale thereof cannot be effected without loss or where a parcel or a group of parcels of untenanted land or the whole or part of a retained holding, which the Land Commission have deemed it expedient to acquire or resume, can only be resold at a loss
The second sentence "or where a parcel," etc., in my humble opinion, does not apply to the congested areas— it is of general application.
It means then that the Land Commission for some years back have really speculated in land. They have bought on a falling market and paid prices which on the general system were uneconomic.
No—have paid the resumption price which they are bound to pay.
I understand from the Minister that they did not buy land at prices which were uneconomic—that they cannot set those lands to tenants at a figure——
At the resumption price.
That means that someone has blundered. They bought in a falling market and it is not possible to vest it in the tenants at the price paid for it.
Not at the resumption price.
Not alone is this section to deal with the past, but it is evidently to be a continuing matter, for we do not know how many years. I submit that we ought to get something more definite, and on the Committee Stage I shall certainly ask the Minister what the estimated loss to date is under this section. Notwithstanding any pressure from outside, I do think that land ought not to be bought except at an economic price and sold at such a price. I do not like the idea contained in this section. I hope that on the Committee Stage, or when the Money Resolution is brought in, the Minister will give us some details of his proposals under this section. It seems to be too wide. We really cannot give the Land Commission carte blanche to run wild and spend money which is so difficult to acquire. We cannot give them authority to run wild and make unprofitable purchases. That is due, I think, to the majority of the people of the country, and the majority must be our supreme consideration.
Sections 25, 26, 27 and 28 represent the kernel of the Minister's policy in dealing with land purchase. I hold that, far from taking extraordinary powers at present to deal with defaulters who are not culpable, the whole economic situation of agriculture will have to be dealt with. The Minister did not deal with that and we hope that he will deal with it.
What does the Deputy suggest?
I ask the Minister: is it the existing law that is at fault in dealing with the collection of the purchase annuities, or is it that the unnatural economic condition of agriculture at present—that is to say, the widespread poverty and the general element of poor prices—is responsible for honest men not being able to meet their obligations at the moment, who would meet them readily if they had the means to do so? I do not think it is very desirable to pass this penal legislation. There is a further consideration. What are we passing it for? The annuities, as the Minister and Deputies know very well, are being sent across to Great Britain. This is part of the Government policy. But when the British were in occupation of the country they never introduced anything in the nature of the penal clauses that the Minister is attempting to bring in in this Bill for the collection of arrears. While the Minister has the existing law that the British used, evidently with success, to collect the sums that were due in respect of annuities, the proposal is made that wider powers, much more extensive powers, shall be given to the Land Commission. For what purpose? Merely that we should pass over the annuities to Great Britain. Our people are to be put under the harrow of this penal legislation for that purpose. I protest in the strongest manner possible against those proposals in the Bill. I trust I am a moderate man, and while I do not believe in——
Certainly not, and even less in the policy of antagonising England, but at the same time I believe we should stand on our rights. We are foregoing our rights and privileges if we pass this measure at the behest of the Ministry. Take Section 26; land may be put up for sale in conacre, setting in meadows, or a man may take in live stock to graze, and he entrusts the management to an agent or auctioneer, and then: "It shall be the duty of the person receiving such proceeds, after deducting his proper and necessary fees and expenses, to apply the proceeds so far as required, in satisfaction of the claim of the Land Commission for moneys due to them on account of the said payment." That means that any person acting as an agent for the owner of these lands to be let would be obliged to find out all about the affairs of his client. That would make the closing of such valuer's accounts unduly slow, or else he must pay the annuities in advance to the Land Commission. The lands are let in March, in conacre or tillage, and the annuity falls due in June or December. It means that if that man has to close his accounts he must pay in February what is not due until June.
Of course it may be a continuing account, but for the small amount of land involved the man would be anxious to close his accounts if he is to comply with this section. The proceeds can be claimed from him as a debt due to the State. That is of very technical significance. I hold that that section, and all those sections from 25 to 32, if carried into effect, will represent a retrograde step. Take, for instance, Section 32, where on the order of the Judicial Commissioner the Land Commission can be put into possession of the holding by the under-sheriff when a sale has not been effected. That means that the Land Commission would act with disregard to that provision in equity which says that a mortgagee cannot take or purchase the mortgagor's interest, because it would really mean that the property was retained at a valuation. Yet all that principle goes overboard. The Land Commission can acquire all the tenant's interest in a holding merely because of one or two years' annuity due and if the sale has been abortive. That represents the intention of the section—a couple of years' annuity due and the tenant's interest is forfeited if the sale is not effected. While I have no sympathy with a deliberate defaulter, with the culpable man, or the man who will boycott a sale, I do submit that at present, when money is so tight and when there is such a volume of distress amongst agriculturists, the proposal is to make the general poverty of the country an index of the value of the land. That is what Section 29 means: "Having regard to the conditions of the district in which the holding is situate and of all the circumstances of the case." The section means that because the district is poor and nobody can come and make an offer, or perhaps only one or two persons do and they may be gombeen men, they get the tenant's interest grossly undervalued. I hold if we have any sense of responsibility to the constituents who elected us that we cannot pass this section and other sections of the Bill.
The other sections are gilt-edged administrative pills giving powers which can be used ruthlessly, and which, if carried out in their entirely, would have the effect of creating a situation that would, perhaps, put Clanricarde himself in the shade. It would mean you would have wholesale evictions owing to the poverty of the country and remember that poverty and distress are very severe. Take, for instance, my own constituency. Without any fault on the part of the people, they lost at least 12,000 beasts two years ago. That is our estimate of the loss in the county, and we got no help except that from the credit societies under which, as I pointed out in the House before, the poor, in the first instance, have to relieve themselves. They had to put up a pound for every pound, or a pound for every two pounds. To pass this would be a sentence of extirpation, a sentence of death on a deserving people, and consequently I cannot countenance it. Now I come to Section 33, which deals with the purchase of land by the county councils. Some of us have got a very bitter and unforgetable experience of county councils which we never want repeated. If those bodies had this power conferred on them five or six years ago, it would mean that by gross mismanagement of every sort, by colossal and ruinous expenditure, by a policy of attrition of the community, they could acquire land in a way that would make the most rabid Communist green with envy. That is my interpretation of the section. The poor man first goes under. The others are robbed in order to enable the county council to acquire his land, and with the increase in the demand for rates, it means that more and more men go under automatically and the county council, given sufficient time, will automatically absorb all the county. Perhaps they might be kind enough to let in the others as tenants-at-will. Now, as to Section 37—Land Bank transactions— I commented at some length on those proposals when the other Bill was before the Dáil. I made the estimate that we would be required to find a sum of something like £250,000 in respect of those transactions. I do not know about other bodies of trustees and other banks involved. I am not in a position to give an estimate of what we will be liable to under this section. We must not forget that under the Act of 1927 one-eleventh is allowed as relief to those persons who bought under the scheme of the Land Bank or kindred institutions. With the large sum of £250,000 and unknown sums in respect of other banks, I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that the loss on the purchase of land by the Land Commission would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of £1,000,000. Just realise what £1,000,000 is to a poor country like this.
Where did you get the £1,000,000?
I am endeavouring to get a round figure of the actual loss. I hope when the Minister is concluding the debate, or when we come to the Committee Stage, that he will give the figure he anticipates of the loss that will arise.
Suppose I give the right figure and say £100,000?
Does that figure include other debts, in the loss in the purchase of land by the Land Commission?
Everything—taking that round figure.
Very well. When the Treaty No. 2 debate was on in this House some months ago the Minister for Finance gave us some very interesting figures as to the taxable capacity of Great Britain and Ireland. The Irish taxable capacity, which of course must necessarily be based on income and on resources, was estimated at 1.5 per cent. —one-and-a-half per cent.—of Great Britain. In other words, the proportion is 66 to 1. The Minister says the sum of £100,000, but we have to get a common denominator, and that sum to us is as much as the sum of £6,600,000 would be to Great Britain. That, I submit, is a considerable sum. Remember that the British Ministry declined to put up a sum of £20,000,000 to save their coal industry, and we are obliged to put up what is the equivalent of a sum of £6,600,000 to save the face of our Ministry. That is what the proposals come down to. I never met but one other case where such reckless finance was displayed as in connection with this Land Bank transaction. I would recall what occurred two centuries ago in the Jean law in connection with the Mississippi scheme. The proposals of the Land Bank were something like this: they acquired an estate for distribution amongst uneconomic holders and these holders had to put up one-fourth of the purchase price.
I want to hear about this Mississippi scheme.
I will deal with that later if you stress it, but the analogy will not be pleasant. Purchasers under the Land Bank were obliged to put up £250,000. That was deposited at the Land Bank. It was not applied to lower their indebtedness at all. Suppose an estate cost £10,000, the persons amongst whom it was distributed had to put up a sum, roughly, of £2,500. That was held on deposit by the Bank. There is no general rule as far as I can learn, but in some cases I believe they gave a very small interest on the money. The persons who purchased were obliged to pay interest and sinking fund on the original advance of £10,000, whereas if proper business methods had been followed they would be responsible only to the extent of £7,500. It really meant that they were paying twice. They were paying, roughly, about 7½ per cent. That is the proposal of the Government.
I deny it all.
took the chair.
While, of course, we understand it was part of the unfortunate speculation of that time, it is well to realise that these Land Bank tenants got fee simple and they are in a much more favourable position than some persons who bought the good will of land that was subject to land purchase annuities or that was unpurchased and who endeavoured to meet their obligations to-day. The Minister for Lands and Agriculture and the Minister for Justice waxed virtuously eloquent a couple of weeks ago in dealing with the Farmers' Defence League. I have no brief for the Farmers' Defence League, but no doubt these men saw that they had been let down and it was necessary to get under the mantle of Sinn Féin order to get relief. I really object to those proposals. We are meeting here time after time, and there is hardly a month that we have not to put up some money in connection with the blunders of policy that occurred in those years.
Is the Farmers' Defence League a branch of the Farmers' Union?
No sir, it is not.
There is no relief whatsoever given to members of the Farmers' Defence League; it is only to those who purchased under the Land Bank System. I object, as I say, to meeting those bills. I do not propose to withhold relief from some of those persons who bought land under ruinous terms that the Land Bank gave. I do say if something in the nature of more foresight and more business acumen had been possible no such responsibility would arise. I believe the Government should be held strictly liable for the responsibility.
I propose to speak as briefly as possible. I always endeavour to speak about something that I know a good deal about. I acknowledge that I know very little about the Land Acts, but there are some matters of grave importance to my constituents in this Bill. Therefore, in the absence of persons who understand them better, I feel it my duty to point out to the Minister some difficulties in connection with a very large amount of land that was purchased in Westmeath and Longford largely through Committees at the time when land was valued at a very high rate and also through the Land Bank. I understand that the amount of land dealt with under these committees and the Land Bank amounts to over 20,000 acres. I hope when the Committee Stage comes along to be in a position to deal with the matter fully. At the same time, according to my interpretation of Section 37, the Minister will come to the relief of those who purchased.
I regret that the Minister has omitted from his Bill a clause dealing with the reinstatement of the evicted tenants. I have given notice that I will move that a new clause be added to the Bill whereby evicted tenants shall be reinstated to their original holdings. We will then have an opportunity of knowing who are in their favour and who are the friends of the grabbers.
I am fairly satisfied that there are certain sections in this amending Bill which have become necessary and desirable as a result of the Land Commission's experience in the working of the 1923 Act. For that reason, I am not going to have anything to say in regard to the sections I have in my mind. I would like, however, to draw the Minister's attention to certain sections; for instance, Section 4, which gives the right, if the Bill is passed in its present form, to the Land Commission to take land from the owners or the allottees of land who are not working it, and to have the land resold or given to somebody who would work it. I am satisfied that the necessity for the introduction of this Bill has arisen owing to the fact that the inspectors appointed by the Land Commission did not make minute inquiries regarding the suitability, or otherwise, of the people who have been looking for land, or of people who, in some cases, got it, and who proved they were unsuitable for it.
I have in mind, at the moment, a few cases that came under my own notice and which I have drawn the attention of the Commissioners to. In one case in the County of Leix a division of an estate was made about nine months ago. Out of nineteen people who got land eight sub-let. They were unable to work the land and they sub-let it to somebody else. I believe that the section as it stands in the Bill is necessary unless we are to take the view that we are to face back towards landlordism again. I understand from one of the Offaly Deputies that there is another case in the Offaly area where an estate has been divided and where eight of the allottees have sub-let the land to one cattle dealer or grazier. I think such cases could have been avoided if the inspectors who were appointed by the Land Commissioners made proper inquiries into the circumstances and the conditions of the people to whom land was given in the cases I referred to. I agree with the Minister in bringing in that section, but I think it would have been far better if more care had been exercised by the inspectors, in some cases at any rate.
Sub-section 1, clause 8, reads: "Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections 1 and 3 of Section 24 of the Land Act, 1923, there shall not be vested in the Land Commission by virtue of the said Act otherwise than in pursuance of a voluntary agreement any untenanted land so long as the Land Commission are satisfied that such land is being used in a bona fide manner as a farm for the purpose of breeding thoroughbred stock."
Now, that can be interpreted in a very elastic way by any commissioner who may be appointed. On several occasions here I asked questions in regard to an estate in Offaly. I asked why the Commissioners had not taken over this land. The reason was not given, but the reason actually is that this land is supposed to be used for purposes mentioned in sub-section (1) of Section 8. Any landlord or landowner can come along and put up the same case without proving it, and the Commissioners are given power in this particular section which will enable them to interpret it in a very elastic manner. I can see such a case being put up by any landowner who has four or five thoroughbred horses.
Will the Minister go into a little more detail and let us have a typical case that would justify him in bringing a section of that kind into the Bill?
If the Deputy looks at Section 8 he will find it is really the Department of Agriculture that has the final say and not the Land Commission.
As regards the land I am speaking of, it would comprise about 280 acres. In that locality there are many landless men and uneconomic holders. There were eight horses grazing on the farm. The Farmers' Union, or in the case of Offaly, the Landlords' Union, held a meeting protesting against the proposed intention of the Land Commission to acquire this estate. A resolution was passed, and that resolution got a good deal of publicity in the "Irish Times." The matter came up for discussion also at the Racehorse Owners' Association, and in that way the Commissioners and the Minister were frightened and they stayed their hand in proceeding for the acquisition of this land. They were frightened by the publicity that the Farmers' Union were able to get, and that made such an impression both on the Minister and the Commissioners that no further proceedings were taken in regard to the land.
Is the Deputy a member of that body?
Deputy Conlan knows quite a lot about this case and, as Deputy Conlan has spoken, I may say that he was behind the agitation, although he pretends to be deeply interested in the——
I must disclaim that, and the Deputy who makes that statement has no proof whatever.
The Farmers' Union made a protest against the proposed intention of the Commissioners in this particular case. I say that any individual who can get a certain amount of revolutionary men, such as you have in the Farmers' Union, behind him, and with the necessary influence to get resolutions passed and sent to the Press, can, under this section, make such an impression on the Minister and on the Commissioners that his land will not be interfered with.
I may inform the Deputy that the ruling of the Commissioners in regard to the land he speaks of was made before there was anything published in the Press.
Let me say for the Minister's information that the Commissioners have not, so far as I know, come to any decision in this case. Here is the Minister's justification for refusing to proceed any further with it.
The Deputy must be dealing with a different case then.
If the Minister will look up the files he will satisfy himself. He knows all about this case. Apparently the people concerned made a deep impression. Will the Minister give us more information regarding the intention of the Commissioners and what he himself intends to do if he gets the powers asked for in this section? Deputy Connor Hogan talked with a good deal of reason when he was protesting against the penal clauses 25, 26, 27 up to, as a matter of fact, 37.
I am anxious to know from the Minister whether he is asking the House to give him the drastic powers he is seeking as a result of consultation with the State solicitors on whose advice he is seeking the powers. Have the State solicitors for the different counties advised him that it is impossible for them, without these powers at their disposal, or for the Minister, to collect the arrears due all over the country? I would be surprised to hear that the State solicitors in some cases have done so. In Leix the State solicitor is really acting as the sheriff. He is doing the work which the Minister expects should be done for him by the unpaid agents he wants to appoint as a result of the particular clauses to which Deputy Connor Hogan refers.
Deputy Connor Hogan also referred to Section 37, but I think he has not approached the subject or criticised the Minister from the right point of view. I believe it is necessary to relieve the trustees and the people who took the responsibility of purchasing land some years ago when land was at a very high price. It is the duty of the Government to relieve these people, who undertook certain financial liabilities with very good intentions, from those liabilities.
I do object, and strongly protest against this Government, on behalf of the taxpayers, making a present of huge sums of money to banks that were foolish enough to advance that money when land was at such an inflated price. The banks were the cause of pushing these people into the position in which they find themselves to-day, and the Government should not make a present of £100,000 to Joint Stock Banks for carrying on foolish banking at a time when the price of land was so inflated. Those banks, if the Government can force them, should be forced to accept some of the financial losses that were incurred as a result of bad banking at that period. The Minister gives the figure of £100,000. I would like to know whether the Land Commission have seriously considered all the cases that would arise under Section 37?
Yesterday evening I was in the Land Commission Offices endeavouring to ascertain from the Commissioners whether they were prepared to deal under this section with certain land purchased by trustees. I have a letter outside in the Committee Room which I received to-day on behalf of the Minister, stating they could not give a guarantee that this case would be dealt with. It is a case where the Bank of Ireland has threatened the trustees that they will sue them in the courts for the recovery of the amount originally advanced. If I could get an assurance from the Minister's Department that this case would be dealt with under Section 37, it would prevent the bank pursuing the policy of bringing these people to court. That is a case in point, and it will prove that the Commissioners have not actually gone into all the cases that could be dealt with under Section 37, and perhaps the figures given by the Minister to Deputy Connor Hogan do not actually represent the position.
They must be only an estimate.
Have they dealt with all the cases of this kind that have come under the notice of the Commissioners?
I was not taking Deputy Connor Hogan quite literally. He was dealing in six millions, and then in sixty-six millions, and I suggested he should take £100,000, which would be nearer the mark. I mentioned for other banks £120,000 to £150,000, and for the Land Bank £100,000.
What was the actual purchase price—the total sum—paid for the land that the Minister has in mind?
I could not say at the moment. I would be able to give that later.
I move the adjournment of the Debate.