I move the Second Reading of this Bill. The Bill is entitled an Act to make provision for the early vesting of holdings in the purchasers thereof under the Land Purchase Acts, and for that and other purposes to amend those Acts and the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act, 1891, and also to make provision in respect of the variation of certain tithe rent charges and variable rents.
I propose at the outset to survey very briefly indeed the results achieved under the earlier Land Acts, as such a survey appears to me to be a necessary preliminary to the discussion of a Bill of this character in order that Deputies may get a complete picture of land purchase operations to date.
The Act of 1870 was the first step on the road of parliamentary land reform which culminated eight years ago in the passing of the Act of 1923. But, as one would expect, this first Act tackled the problem in a rather gingerly and timid fashion and produced remedies which at the time were called "rank Socialism," but which to-day would not bring a blush even to the cheek of the most extreme Tory diehard. It gave very limited and strictly qualified compensation for disturbance and improvements, it legalised the Ulster Tenant Right Custom and, by the John Bright clauses, it made the first tangible move in the direction of State-aided land purchase.
It failed because of its very limitations and because it still left the landlord his arbitrary power to raise rents at will.
The next step or milestone on the road was the Gladstone Act of 1881 which boldly accepted the "Three Fs" which the tenants had long been fighting for, viz., the right of fixity of tenure, the right of having a fair rent fixed on the holding, and the right of free sale of the interests of the holding. This Act established the Land Commission and gave it large judicial and administrative powers to grapple with the problem. As a court it was empowered to hear applications from the tenants and fix fair rents, and it was also empowered to deal in a somewhat larger way with land purchase, by advancing up to three-quarters of the purchase money to be repaid in 35 years by annuities of 5 per cent.
There followed the Ashbourne Act of 1885, which can truly be said to have laid the foundation of State-aided land purchase as we now know it. For its day it was a bold measure, and credit must be given the Tories who steered it triumphantly through a highly critical Parliament. The entire of the purchase money was advanced at 4 per cent. and the period for repayment was extended to 49 years, but, as the Act was admittedly experimental, not more than £5,000,000 was advanced, and a 1/5th of the purchase money was retained as a guarantee deposit. Three years later the £5,000,000 was doubled, and by the Balfour Act of 1891 a further £33,000,000 was made available for land purchase operations.
Five years later another Balfour Act, in 1896, abolished the guarantee deposit and introduced a system of decadal reductions which made the financial terms easier for the tenants.
We come now to the next milestone, the Wyndham Act of 1903, which may be said to have marked the definite turning of the State to the solution of the Irish land problem, by means of the creation of a peasant proprietary. Up to that, whilst the State was extending this idea in its enactments it was doing so rather against its will and largely because of the force of circumstances.
The Wyndham Act, as Deputies know very well, arose out of a conference of landlords and tenants presided over by Lord Dunraven; it abolished the slow and costly system of sales of individual holdings and decreed that purchase should proceed by transfer of whole "estates" to the occupying tenants.
The Wyndham Act, in common with all the earlier Acts, was founded on a strictly voluntary basis. Sales were transacted either directly between the landlord and his tenants, or indirectly between the landlord and the Land Commission and the tenants. From the beginning it was universally popular, and during its period sale agreements poured in from all over the country.
Next in chronological order we have the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907. This Act, though a short and rather minor one in the land code, is remarkable in that it was the first measure to give Parliamentary approval to the theory of compulsory acquisition in land purchase. Then there followed the Birrell Act, passed in 1909, which, though its financial provisions had the effect of considerably slowing down land purchase, increased and extended the compulsory powers of acquisition introduced by the Evicted Tenants Act.
We find, therefore, that prior to Saorstát legislation the tenants had secured the legal recognition of the "Three Fs," the abolition of dual ownership, and the acceptance of the theory of compulsory acquisition of land, though its application was limited.
In terms of figures the results of half a century of beneficial legislation were somewhat amazing. There were vested in 330,000 tenants 11,000,000 acres of land at a price of £110,000,000. And there remained to be dealt with at the advent of the Saorstát Government 100,000 holdings comprising 3,000,000 acres, at an estimated price of £20,000,000, in addition to about 1,000,000 acres of untenanted land. That was the problem that faced the present Government when it assumed office in 1922. And one of its first great reconstruction measures was the Land Act of 1923. This Act is so recent that here I need do no more than remind you briefly of its main features; later it will be necessary for me, in order to explain this Bill, to go into some detail with regard to a number of them.
The Act of 1923 abolished the relationship of landlord and tenant. It straight away reduced the tenants annual payment, or rent, or whatever you wish to call it, by 25 per cent.; forgave him all arrears prior to 1920, cut down any arrears between 1920 and 1923 by 25 per cent., and added the balance to his purchase money to be paid off by a small addition to his annuity. Never before had tenants been able to win such immediate advantages from a Land Act, and there was still to come the further reduction of 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. in annual payments which was to follow the final vesting and the setting up of the annuity.
Perhaps the most sweeping feature of the Act is that contained in Section 24, which decrees that, with certain exceptions, all tenanted land wherever situated, and all untenanted land, situated in any congested districts county, and such untenanted land situated elsewhere as the Land Commission shall declare to be required for the relief of congestion, or the facilitating of resale, shall vest in the Land Commission on the Appointed Day. Nothing like this had been attempted before, and the powers taken by this section have already yielded most valuable results for the State.
The financial provisions of the Act of 1923 continued, as you know, the system of payment in stock returned to by the Birrell Act of 1909. The vendors are paid 4½ per cent. Land Bonds, equal in nominal amount to the purchase money and carrying interest as from the date on which the purchased land is vested in the Land Commission.
The method of fixing the price of tenanted land employed in the Act was new to land purchase legislation. Heretofore a price was arrived at on an agreement or bargaining basis, but under the Act of 1923 this vital matter was settled automatically by reference to the tenure and the rent. The new standard price was to be a sum the interest on which at 4¾ per cent. was to be equal to the new standard purchase annuity and that annuity was itself to represent a reduction of 35 per cent. on judicial rents fixed before August, 1911, and a reduction of 30 per cent. on similar rents dating from after August, 1911. In the case of nonjudicial rents, the landlord and tenant may agree upon the new annuity; if they do not agree the Act of 1929, which gives the tenant a reduction of 35 per cent. on his rent, comes into operation and if, then, either the landlord or the tenant object, the annuity is fixed by the Commissioners subject to a right of appeal to the Judicial Commissioner.
Such are the main features of the Land Act of 1923. Since then four more Acts have been passed, and now I am before you to-day asking you to give your sanction to yet another.
Sometimes a person is asked is there to be no finality to Land Acts and land purchase. I think Deputies will agree that that is an exceedingly difficult query to answer. It would certainly take a much wiser man than I am to answer a query of that character. In any event, I do not think I will have very much trouble in convincing Deputies that the Bill which I am asking you to give a second reading to is such that it will give rise to no opposition.
There are aspects of land purchase to which we all wish to see finality, and finality within a reasonable period, and one of these is the placing of every purchasing tenant definitely on the road to become an owner in fee simple. We have made good progress in that direction since 1923 but we have a long way yet to go and if the statutory requirements which have governed our procedure up to the present are still to be insisted on many years must elapse before the last tenant to be dealt with can be started on his annuity repayments. We have over 80,000 holdings remaining to be vested under the 1923-29 Acts and more than 20,000 holdings on Congested Districts Board Estates to be resold to purchasers. Without a disproportionate and uneconomic expansion of staff we cannot, under present conditions, hope to vest in the tenants more than 5,000 to 6,000 of the 1923 Act holdings and 4,000 of the Congested Districts Board holdings each year for, say, the next five years. That rate of progress is not enough for the needs of the case. We can improve upon it and improve upon it enormously, and without endangering the solid, financial and administrative security which must always be a primary consideration in land purchase operations, if we are given power to vary in certain vital respects the legal requirements to which we have hitherto been bound, and it is with a view to securing those necessary amendments in our land code that this Bill is being presented.
Now, let me say at the beginning that this Bill enunciates no new principles, revolutionary or otherwise, with regard to the acquisition and distribution of land, nor does it propose to alter in any respect the basic financial clauses of the 1923 Act. This Bill is largely an administrative Bill, necessitated by the limitations of the machinery of procedure in the earlier Act and rendered possible by 7 years of valuable experience acquired in the working of that measure. But whilst it does not, to any large extent, change or add to the principles of the first Saorstát land measure it does introduce an entirely new, elaborate system of machinery and I am hopeful that its immediate and permanent effects will go a long way, indeed I trust all the way, towards removing real difficulties that have been met with in the administration of the Land Acts. The machinery it will set up is in its main features something quite new not alone to Land Commission procedure but to the practice of the law itself. At any rate so the lawyers tell me. But I am fully satisfied that not only will it stand the test of practice but that it will, in time, accomplish all that I claim for it.
Stated very briefly, the first object of this Bill is to get the Appointed Day for all tenanted land fixed at the earliest possible moment and the lands vested in the Land Commission, thereby securing to every tenant the commencement of his redemption period and the fullest reduction in his annual payment to which the law entitles him.
The second object, certainly not less important, is to speed up the vesting of holdings to be resold by the Land Commission to their tenants on Congested Districts Board Estates and to allottees of parcels of untenanted lands, thus giving these purchasers at the earliest possible date all the benefits of the annuity system of repayment.
Tenants on the estates of the Congested Districts Board have harboured for many years a grievance, and it must be admitted a very genuine grievance, by reason of the delay in vesting their holdings in them and the clauses in the Bill framed to meet their cases should banish that grievance for ever.
Other clauses deal with bona fide agricultural sub-tenants and extend the advantages of the annuity system of repayment to the "Clare Island" class of holders, thereby doing away with a lengthy and troublesome procedure and enabling this class of holding to be quickly and simply consolidated with other types. In the past it has been very difficult to consolidate a holding on which the tenants were paying "Clare Island" annuities. "Clare Island" annuities are not a charge on the Guarantee Fund, and before a parcel of land subject to a "Clare Island" annuity could be consolidated it was necessary for the Land Commission to obtain a deed of charge for the alienation of the parcel. This new procedure will enable, by an easy and simple method, these parcels to be consolidated.
Before explaining the procedure of the Bill it will be necessary for me to review in some detail the procedure under the '23/'29 Acts. From the passing of the Act of 1923 tenants, as I have said, ceased to pay rent as such and became liable for an annual payment in lieu of rent and for a capital sum representing compounded arrears of rent, if there were any arrears during the three years preceding the passing of the Act. The Land Commission is obliged to pay to the vendor a sum equal to the payment in lieu of rent each year up to the Appointed Day. Compounded arrears of rent are added to the purchase money and repaid by an annuity consolidated with the purchase annuity. They are paid to the vendor by the Land Commission as part of the purchase money.
For the immediate purpose of the collection of payment in lieu of rent and compounded arrears of rent the landlord or vendor is bound to furnish the Land Commission with a complete schedule of particulars of his tenancies. This schedule provides the basis on which the Land Commission work towards vesting. After the particulars have been checked and the holdings surveyed and reported on, a provisional list is published of the holdings which will vest in the Land Commission on the Appointed Day. All objections having been disposed of, a final list of the holdings is published, and that final list is conclusive evidence that the lands comprised in it will vest in the Land Commission on the Appointed Day.
The next step is the fixing and gazetting of the Appointed Day whereupon the lands vest automatically in the Land Commission and since 1927 in the tenants as well, and the tenant from that date gets whatever extra statutory reduction in his annual payment he is entitled to and his redemption period commences to run. Under the Act of 1923 a period intervened between the Appointed Day and the date of the vesting of the lands in the tenants, during which the tenants paid, instead of payment in lieu of rent, an annual sum equivalent to the standard purchase annuity; but now by Section 17 of the Act of 1927 a twofold vesting takes place on that date, viz., to the Land Commission and then from the Land Commission to the tenants, and vesting orders are done away with accordingly. The vendor, on his part, receives the purchase money, plus the interest thereon, from the Appointed Day, as soon as the Judicial Commissioner has ruled on the allocation schedule. Such is the existing procedure with regard to tenanted land.
The results of the Land Commission's operations during the past seven years in respect of tenanted land reveal that although purchase particulars have been lodged in respect of over 2,900,000 acres, only some 550,000 acres have been vested in the Land Commission. This means that while all tenants in the Saorstát are getting their 25 per cent. reductions in their rents, a very large proportion, because of the fact that the Land Commission has not been able to fix the Appointed Day, are still deprived of the additional reduction, whether 5, 10 or more per cent., to which they are entitled, and of the advantages of their sinking fund repayments. Not infrequently examples come to light down the country that emphasise in a telling way this disparity. For instance, John Murphy, on the Jones estate, because his landlord furnished his particulars early and there were no special difficulties in the case, has been enjoying his full statutory reductions and every possible statutory advantage since the Appointed Day on this estate was fixed, say, two years ago. Just across his mearing is Pat Kelly's farm on the Brown estate. But the Brown estate is a complicated one and there are many errors in the landlord's schedule of particulars, so Pat has been for the same period paying merely payment in lieu of rent, which gives him only the advantage of a 25 per cent, reduction on his former rent. Naturally, Pat has a grievance and cannot understand, seeing that the two estates come under the '23 Act, that there should be two years' difference to his disadvantage between them.
Now, as I have said, the main object of the Bill is to remedy this and similar inequalities of treatment by providing statutory machinery that will vest all the holdings at an early date and thus give the tenants at one step the benefits they are entitled to under the Act of 1923. The procedure will be as follows:—Taking the vendor's Schedule of Particulars as the basis, checking it as far as possible from information already in the Land Commission or readily available, calculating from these particulars the standard purchase prices and the standard purchase annuities, there will be published a list, called under this Bill a "List of Vested Holdings," which will be, if not varied, conclusive evidence that the holdings are, or will be, vested in the Land Commission on the Appointed Day named in the list. In some cases the Appointed Day may be the date of publication of the list. In many other cases the Appointed Day may be the gale day prior to the publication of the list, or perhaps the gale day subsequent to the publication of the list, but in any event it will be in or about the publication of the list.
On the publication of the List of Vested Holdings the tenants will be deemed to have entered into subsequent purchase agreements, and on the Appointed Day will at once be credited with the advantages to which they are entitled under the Land Acts; they will get their full reduction in rent (thence-forward annuities), and the redemption period will commence to run. This new procedure, by abolishing the publication of Provisional Lists and by postponing until after the Appointed Day the extremely important tasks of surveying and, where necessary, inspecting holdings and checking boundaries, of ascertaining rights and easements, or disposing of objections, &c., will in one stroke give the tenant practically all the benefits he is entitled to under the land code. It certainly will clear the way to speedy progress, and I am hopeful that within 12 months from the passing of the Bill every bona fide agricultural tenancy in the Saorstát will be vested in the Land Commission.
When all this necessary work has been completed in respect of each estate the holdings will be vested in the tenants by Vesting Orders, and the fee-simple will thus pass into possession of the tenants. From the Appointed Day the tenant pays the equivalent of annuity, and from the publication of the Vesting Order he pays actual annuity, but, as I have said, he gets full credit for every sum he pays from the Appointed Day, both with regard to reduction and the redemption period, so that as far as he is concerned the vesting of the holding in him amounts virtually to a mere, formal act.
Now, as the List of Vested Holdings deems the tenants to have entered into subsequent purchase agreements and as the fixing of the Appointed Day vests their holdings in the Land Commission, what, you will naturally ask, becomes of holdings which the Land Commission may wish to retain either for rearrangement or for relief of congestion, or of holdings that are not admissible by the Acts? Well, we have made provision to deal with such contingencies. With regard to the former, notwithstanding that a holding has appeared in the List of Vested Holdings, and that the tenant has been deemed to have entered into a subsequent purchase agreement to buy that holding, the Land Commission has the right under this Bill to retain and resume it, if necessary. With regard to the latter cases, i.e., holdings that appear in the List of Vested Holdings but which are subsequently found not to come under the Acts, the Land Commission, after hearing the parties concerned, may make such order as the justice of the case may require, and there is a right of appeal to the Judicial Commissioner. Likewise a tenant who claims the benefits of the Acts, and whose holding does not appear in the List of Vested Holdings, may apply to the Land Commission to have his holding so returned. Such applications are heard by the Land Commission, with a right of appeal to the Judicial Commissioner.
Now I come to the important matter of the purchase money; for this Bill is designed not alone to help the tenants, but to enable the vendors to receive their purchase money at the earliest possible moment. The purchase money will come to credit on the publication of the List of Vested Holdings, and the Land Bonds will then be issued. It would be rather much to ask a vendor to wait for his purchase money until all the necessary inquiries that I have described have been completed after vesting. So, therefore, as soon as the title can be read the purchase money will be distributed, and if any person is overpaid he will be under a legal obligation to repay such sums as may be necessary to redeem the excess bonds issued to him. The Land Commission will, in the first instance, endeavour to recover the overpayment, and State assistance will be called on only after failure to do so. It is anticipated that most of these overpayments will, in fact, be recoverable, and that the State will not have to suffer any appreciable loss at all. A safeguard which will in practically every case be ample to meet any demands of this nature will be the 10 per cent. of the purchase money which may, at the discretion of the Land Commission, be withheld as a guarantee deposit. There may also, of course, be cases in which subsequent inquiry discloses that the tenants have been paying too little, as from the Appointed Day, and the Bill makes provision for recovery in such cases also.
In order to facilitate and expedite still further the distribution of purchase money, I propose in this Bill that distribution is not to be held up merely because title is imperfect, provided, however, that in the court's opinion any adverse claim is unlikely to be sustained. And where any person subsequently proves within the time allowed by the Bill that he was entitled to share in the distribution of the purchase money, the Land Commission will pay him such sum as the court may allow. In addition, the provisions of Section 63 of the Land Act, 1903, whereby the purchase moneys of superior interests not exceeding £30 or £100 can be distributed without investigation of title, have been extended by this Bill to the purchase moneys of estates. Another provision to meet the convenience of vendors and persons deriving income from charges on land, etc., is that which enables the interest on the Land Bonds representing the purchase money to be paid to the persons entitled to receive the same pending the distribution of the purchase moneys. As I have explained, vendors are not entitled under the present procedure to receive any dividends on purchase money until it is distributed by the Judicial Commissioner.
In this Bill it is provided that the interest on the Land Bonds will be paid to the persons entitled pending the distribution of the purchase money. This marks a big change in the present practice where no interest on Land Bonds is paid out until the purchase money is distributed, so that during the interval that elapses between the payment of Land Bonds to the credit of an estate and the distribution by the judge, these parties are deprived of all income from the bonds. With regard to sub-tenants, too, it is necessary to provide special procedure in view of the automatic vesting on the publication of the List of Vested Holdings. A somewhat similar arrangement to that in the case of retained holdings becomes necessary. After the publication of the List of Vested Holdings and the fixing of the Appointed Day vesting the tenancies in the tenants the Land Commission shall declare that the sub-tenants are to be deemed to be tenants of their portions of the holdings, and these portions will be deemed to be separate holdings, and the standard annuity having been ascertained in accordance with the Acts of 1923-1929, each sub-tenant shall be deemed to have entered into a subsequent agreement for the purchase of his separate holding on the date of the declaration.
The tenant's subsequent purchase agreement will be withdrawn as from the date of the declaration, and the Land Commission will redeem all the intervening interests. The right of the tenant to recover any arrears of rent that may be due to him by the sub-tenants is preserved to him under this Bill. I come now to the next important innovation in the Bill—the provisions for expediting resale to tenants on Congested Districts Board estates and to allottees of parcels of untenanted land. The procedure after the passing of this Bill regarding these classes of purchasers will be as follows:—The Land Commission will publish from time to time lists of holdings on C.D.B. estates. These lists will give such details of these holdings as are available and will specify the annuities subject to which the Land Commission is prepared to resell them. The same provisions will obtain in regard to holdings on parcels of untenanted land; these, too, will be published in separate lists called in the Bill "lists of holdings of untenanted land." This plan will have one great advantage—it will obviate the necessity for getting purchase agreements signed, a laborious and difficult task that hitherto seriously obstructed the rapid vesting of these holdings. The effect of the publication of these lists will be to put the tenants at once in the same position as tenants of retained holdings under the 1923 Act. They will become liable for the payment of a sum equivalent to their purchase annuities, and on vesting they will be given full credit for all such payments. Even if the holdings are rearranged or resumed, the tenants will get full credit for all payments already made by them.
When, ultimately, Vesting Orders are made in respect of these holdings every person named in the Orders will be deemed to have entered into a subsequent purchase agreement for the purchase of his holding as from the date of the Vesting Order. But all parties interested will be afforded an opportunity for making objections to the Vesting Order. The Land Commission will consider and deal with such objections, and a right of appeal will lie from them to the Judicial Commissioner. In practice the tenant on a C.D.B. estate will be, for our purposes at all events, in the same position as a 1923 Act tenant. They will get credit for every payment they make, for all the sinking fund payments, from the date of the publication of the lists. In the case of exchanged holdings a triple result will be achieved by each Vesting Order; each Order will deem the tenant to have entered into a subsequent purchase agreement for the exchange of the original holding for the vested holding; the Order will operate as a surrender of the original holding to the Land Commission; and finally it will transfer to the vested holding all encumbrances, charges and equities affecting the tenant's interest in the original holding without any further conveyance.
This represents an innovation in Land Commission practice and will enormously speed up these exchange transactions. An important change also has been introduced regarding fee farm grantees and long leaseholders. The Act of 1923, as you will recollect, excluded land subject to these tenures from the provisions enabling tenants to purchase and regarded it as untenanted land. Section 11 of the 1927 Act enabled holders under such tenures in non-congested counties to sell their lands in certain cases to the Land Commission as untenanted land and to repurchase them on Land Act terms, the holders being thus placed on the same footing as grantees or leaseholders in congested districts counties under the 1923 Act. The provisions in this Bill permit grantees and leaseholders whose lands are not required for the relief of congestion and who satisfy the conditions laid down in Section 11 of the 1927 Act to purchase as ordinary tenants, their lands being treated as tenanted land. This change will give the grantees and lessees all the advantages already bestowed on ordinary tenants. I am sure that innovation will meet with the approbation of many Deputies in this House. This was a concession which I think Deputy Gorey made a very big fight for during the debate on the 1927 Act, and I think he was ably supported by other members of the Farmers' Party. What I have described are the main provisions of the new Bill. A number of auxiliary provisions of lesser importance remain which I do not consider it necessary to deal with in any detail at this stage as Deputies will have an opportunity of discussing them fully on the Committee Stage.
There are just one or two other sections I would refer to briefly. Section 31 is an effort on my part, a mere layman, to settle a dispute among lawyers and high judicial dignitaries by declaring the Appointed Day to be definitely the date at which landed property should be considered to have been converted into personal property. I trust I have succeeded in settling this dispute satisfactorily. Then there is the question of water supply, an essential matter, as Deputies will readily realise, that must be considered when land is being divided, and when every holding must be given an adequate supply of water where possible. I propose to give the Land Commission power to take and use water for domestic and farm purposes, providing rights of access and fixing compensation and so on. The Bill also provides for the repayment to the British Government of the annuities arising out of the improvement expenditure on lands allotted to British Ex-Servicemen under the Soldiers and Sailors Act, 1919. The capital cost of these improvements has been met each year since 1922 by the British Government and the annuities chargeable on that capital cost are consequently returnable to that Government. Not the least of the difficulties of the Land Commission are those in connection with the transferring of migrants to their new holdings. It is frequently most difficult to get migrants to move, and one of their main objections has been the cost of transferring themselves, their families, their stock, their farm implements and machinery to the new holdings, so I am proposing to give the Land Commission power in Section 38 to make grants in such cases towards their removal expenses. I have sketched as briefly and as clearly as possible the purpose of this Bill and I have endeavoured to show the particular niche it will occupy in our land code. Every clause dealing with its dominant feature—the speedy vesting of all lands—has been subjected to the most minute and careful examination, and I am confident that although novel and possibly far-reaching in its effects it will successfully grapple with the problem. At all events it represents an honest and sincere attempt to meet and deal with all the remaining obstacles in the way of the vesting of lands.