At the adjournment of the debate last evening, I was endeavouring to show that this Bill is a Bill mainly in the interests of the landlord and the ranching class in this State, and with a view to establishing that fact I was examining the scheme and structure of the measure. I had dealt with what I conceived to be the best and the most important clause in the Bill—the Derrig clause—to show that while undoubtedly a great boon to the tenant is embodied in the Bill, it facilitates the transfer of large parcels of Land Bonds into the coffers of the landlords and the capitalists. I passed from what is the most important clause of the Bill, in my opinion, to certain of the lesser clauses, and down to what are perhaps the two least important clauses —Clauses 30 and 31. Just as the debate was adjourned, I was directing the attention of the House to the very substantial saving which Clause 31, when enacted, is likely to afford the landlord of a settled estate where there are various interests in possession or in remainder, and where it is very important nicely to discern what the exact moment is when the notional character of the property changes, and in the eye of the law it ceases to be real property, devolvable as such, and becomes personalty and descendable as personal estate. Undoubtedly, the Parliamentary Secretary has justification for his anticipation that Clause 31 will obviate for the landlord a considerable volume of litigation of that class, examples of which may be found in the law reports ever since the code of statutory land purchase was established in this country.
But, as I was about to explain last night, if you contrast that with the clause just beside it, another minor clause, which might be made to operate greatly to the convenience and somewhat to the profit of the small tenant purchaser, do you find the same measure of thought and foresight on behalf of that small tenant? You find that Clause 30 eases registration of title but it eases it only so far as it enables this statute as a whole to operate. This statute could have operated, so far as the public interest is concerned, without giving the landlord the benefit that Clause 31 gives him. If it is right to give the landlord that added advantage, why could Clause 30 not be availed of to give the peasant proprietor the same facility for borrowing money that he had when he was merely a tenant of a landlord? At that time, if his tenant right had become vested in or was assigned to him by a deed, and he wanted money, and if some bank or individual were ready to lend him that money, he could, by pledging the deed, without paying any stamp duty or employing any solicitor, without being faced with any bill of costs, either when he got the loan or when he came to pay off the loan, obtain the money. You transform him under this Bill, as many of his neighbours have been transformed under previous Acts, into a peasant proprietor, and his land certificate, which shows his peasant proprietorship, is retained by the Land Commission as part of the existing scheme of registration of title. It is retained by them so long as there is one penny outstanding in respect of the advance made to him. I am suggesting for the consideration of the House that, if the same paternal care were extended to the unfortunate small tenant that seems to have been devoted to the landlord, Clause 30 would have been availed of to enable that land certificate to be handed out to the tenant purchaser, so that he could have it to pledge, so that he might not have to go through the rigmarole he has to go through at present of having a deed of charge or a deed of mortgage drawn up as well as stamp duty and registration fees paid on it. When he comes to paying off his land, the same routine is gone through of a deed of release, the bill of costs, stamp fees and so on. All that is easily avoidable. Why is it not made avoidable? Is it because the Deputies on the benches opposite really believe what they say, that this country is so prosperous, the farmers are so well off, that they do not need to borrow money?
Perhaps that is the reason that such a provision would really be redundant and unnecessary. Perhaps it is for prudential reasons they take this course; that they think the more obstacles and more expense they put in the way of the unfortunate peasant proprietor when he seeks to raise money to pay, perhaps, some of their taxes—the more impediments they can put in his way if he tries to borrow money—the more provident he will be. At all events, I suggest that many in this State think it should be otherwise, that the ordinary small farmer would gladly avail of ancillary relief of a kind akin to what has been given to his landlord by enabling him to have that document in his possession, protecting the Land Commission—as they can be protected—by an endorsement upon it stating that the money was due to them.
Take another part of the Bill as illustrating the regard that has been had to an objectionable section in the Act of 1923, that section which enables land to be excluded from the operation of the Act if it has a potential value as building land. That section was largely availed of in the neighbourhood of practically every town in the Irish Free State and indeed in the neighbourhood of certain villages or even hamlets in the Free State. It was suggested that holdings adjoining the town or village had a wonderful value over and above their agricultural or pastoral value as sites for delectable mansions or for wonderfully busy factories or something like that. Very many of those claims prevailed, but the years that have passed since 1923, 1924, and 1925, have shown how few bricks or how few stones have been laid on that land that was so ripe for development. That was shown to such an extent that in the Act of 1927 some slight notice was taken of what even then had become a scandal and the Act of 1927 put a time limit within which certain building operations should commence. I am putting this sub-section more or less colloquially, but I think I am giving its fair substance. The Act of 1927 provided that unless within five years the landlords who had holdings or parts of holdings excluded from the operation of these statutes because of the potential value attached to them as building lands proceeded to carry out the work or took some steps towards carrying it out, the exclusion would cease to have effect. But it contained the tag that the landlord could give evidence that there were reasons for postponing the building. On the establishment of such a case, it was the duty, or the discretion at least, of the Judicial Commissioner to extend, and extend even indefinitely, the time within which this building might take place.
I am voicing the view of at least a number—I do not know whether I am voicing the view of the majority or not —when I say that it is a great omission from this Bill that we find no clause or sub-clause sweeping away altogether the exclusion of any holding by reason of a potential value where building is not actually started before 1932. It is unfair to put on this tag, that the Judicial Commissioner may extend the time indefinitely. The Judicial Commissioner, as everybody knows, has been beguiled by false cases and bogus evidence in the past into excluding these holdings because of their potential value as building sites, and what safeguard is there that this time-limit may not be extended by similar evidence? Why not clear this away altogether?
There is another matter that could and I suggest ought to, have been dealt with in this Bill that affects not merely a very large class of tenants, but affects the public purse to a great extent. I refer to the very large number of holdings which were outside the Land Law (Ireland) Acts, the tenants of which had not the right to have fair rents fixed upon their holdings. There are many such classes. Perhaps the largest divisions of the whole class excluded are the tenants of what were known as "future tenancies" and town parks. Under the combined effect of the statutes of 1923, 1927 and 1929, I think it may be fairly said that in the absence of an objection by the landlord or the tenant of those, amongst other non-judicial holdings, the standard annuity will be fixed automatically as provided by the statute of 1929. At first glance, it may be said that it is a sufficient safeguard that the landlord or the tenant has the right to object. I do suggest to this House that that apparent safeguard is wholly illusory. In the first place, one must consider the expense to which the tenant of a tiny town park in some remote part of the Irish Free State would be put if he proceeded to lodge in court an objection to the amount of his standard purchase price or standard purchase annuity on the ground that the rent which he had paid for his town park was a grossly exorbitant rent, extorted from him by the land monopolist of the district, the ground landlord of the village or town in which he lived. The shopkeeper, or even the labourer, may have had such a patch of land to graze a cow. He was forced by the economic pressure in his district, and by his circumstances, to pay a rack rent for that bit of a town park.
The Land Law Acts excluded him from the right to have a fair rent fixed. He is now faced with the dilemma that he must either let the Act of 1929 operate automatically and fix his standard price and his standard annuity for all the time it has to run on the basis of that exorbitant rent or he has to embark on the very hazardous enterprise of a lawsuit. If the holding is a small one, or if he lives a long distance from Dublin, it is obviously better business for him to submit to the increased standard annuity than to undergo the large out-of-pocket expenses of bringing a valzer or valuers all the way to Dublin, employing an advocate and incurring the incidental expenses that inevitably attend such a case.
Now that the Parliamentary Secretary has seen fit to avail of what we say is the obvious machinery for compulsory purchase of land, namely, that he should have an appointed day fixed very soon indeed, for the vesting in the Land Commission, so as to enable him to have his surveys made and to go through the rest of the routine before he vests the holding in the tenant purchaser, I do suggest—now that this machinery has been adopted —that there is no good reason why the law and practice that prevailed up to 1923 should not be resorted to again. The Land Commission, in the public interest, inspected the holding and satisfied themselves that the holding was security for the amount of public money to be advanced by it. I do suggest for the consideration of this House that a return to this procedure on the part of the Land Commission would be an inestimable boon to the very small townpark holder, to the very small future tenant, and at the same time would safeguard the public. The same valuation of a Land Commission inspector that ensures that no more public money is being advanced than the land is reasonable security for, having regard to the great variations in the incomes of Irish agricultural workers, will also incidentally protect the smaller tenant from the very great hardship that he undoubtedly has to endure by either involving himself in costly proceedings or submitting for a very long period to pay a land purchase annuity that is quite too high.
Speaking on this Bill, I feel that I would be lacking in duty towards the sentiment of the Irish people and towards the interests of what I am informed is a substantial number of the Irish people, if I refrained from drawing attention to another glaring omission from this Bill. It is this: So far as I have been able to find in this Bill, there is not a clause or a line which makes any new, fresh or easier provision for evicted tenants. I am informed—I have no personal knowledge of it and I state it with all reserve, I shall be delighted to hear that I have been inaccurately informed— that there are still, in the Irish Free State, a very large number of tenants who were evicted from their holdings in the course of what Deputy Sheehy so eloquently referred to as "the great land war"—evicted tenants who themselves were thrown out of their holdings in the 'eighties or 'nineties, or descendants of tenants who were evicted in the 'eighties or' nineties. I am informed that there is a substantial number of those evicted tenants still in the Irish Free State. If I am correctly informed, I do suggest to the House that even though the Parliamentary Secretary may be greatly inclined to caress his newly found friends, the landlords and the capitalists, he might have at least one little thought for those unfortunate people, the remnant of these evicted tenants who by their sacrifice made legislation such as this Bill now before us inevitable, and that something might easily have been done in this Bill to ensure that out of the vast area of untenanted land at the disposal of the Land Commission farms would be found for those evicted tenants. Indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary might even pluck up enough courage to put in a clause in this Bill which would enable him to beard the grabber in his den. If there was in possession of one of those evicted holdings a grabber and if there was no very great or substantial reason against removing him, he might even have plucked up enough courage to turn out that grabber and to give the holding to those who had been evicted or whose parents had been evicted.
As I stated last night, it was not my intention to weary the House by dealing with topics that might more aptly be dealt with in Committee. I have referred to these different sections of the Bill merely in an effort to give a thumb-nail sketch of what I suggest to this House is the true structure and scheme of this Bill.
It is a Bill manifestly in the interest of the landlord and in the interest of those who as mortgagees or financiers are interested in the landlords and such meed of relief as the tenant or the landless man gets under this Bill is given to him because it would be quite impossible to facilitate the landlord, to transfer these large parcels of bonds, unless certain words spoken on the benches opposite were eaten and the old scheme of vesting were abandoned.
The Parliamentary Secretary yesterday told us what many of us, indeed, perhaps all of us here, knew before, but which many of our constituents were led, either by express declaration or by most suggestive insinuation to believe to be the contrary. He stated yesterday evening:
We have over 80,000 holdings remaining to be vested under the 1923 and 1929 Acts, and more than 20,000 holdings on C.D.B. estates to be re-sold to the purchasers. Without a disproportionate and uneconomic expansion of staff, we cannot, under present conditions, hope to vest in the tenants more than 5,000 or 6,000 of the 1923 holdings, and 4,000 of the C.D.B. holdings each year for, say, the next five years.
Deputies and the public may easily work out for themselves how many years it would take to vest those 80,000 holdings if this system of vesting that has been attacked from these benches, attacked especially when Deputy Derrig's Bill was introduced, were to continue to prevail.
We are glad that the exigencies of the Irish landlord, or the Irish financier, and his desire, before another year elapses, to lay his hands on those bonds, have led to the adoption of the Derrig clause. We will listen patiently to any of the Government Deputies or the Farmers' Deputies who come to praise that part of the Bill, but we would suggest to them that they might very well come to bury some other parts of the Bill; that they might very well come to this House at a later date to assist Deputies who will seek to have certain glaring omissions in this Bill filled by clauses calculated to give some slight hope, some slight relief to the large class of small and medium tenants whose interests many of us have most at heart; and to the very large class of descendants of evicted tenants, and even the descendants of those further back who left during the clearances, who now live around the ranches and great areas of unoccupied land, and look forward to the day when they will get back to that land which is rightly theirs. We shall try in the course of the Committee Stage, I hope, to remedy some of the glaring omissions and defects and I trust that our efforts will meet with the approval and support of Deputies—whatever Party they belong to—who spring from the soil and who have personal knowledge that the facts I have indicated have not been exaggerated or inaccurately stated.