That is what the Land Purchase Acts set out to do, and now we find that that security is to be taken away. That absolute and complete security in the land which he purchased could not be given in completeness is indeed a fact, because it was considered, and I think rightly considered, that a re-distribution of land was advisable in the State interests and, accordingly, power was given, which was only exercised in certain cases, so that land could be taken up from a person, even though he were the registered owner of it, but he got elsewhere land of equal value. That principle has for practical purposes been swept away. The reservations are very few. In the first place, so far as any non-residential registered holding is concerned, there is no security at all. Let me take what is a very ordinary instance. A small farmer in the County Mayo, or any similarly situated county, has a holding with a valuation of £10 or £15, or possibly less. A saving man, a thrifty man, puts money by. There is a holding adjoining his holding which is for sale by public auction. Possibly he has the purchase price, or he may get some of it from a bank in order to purchase that adjoining holding. Usually it is the most thrifty people who have such holdings. Let us say that he buys the holding adjoining his own. Later he is told: "You have absolutely no security in that holding; it can be taken away from you to-morrow for cash." It may be that he gets only five or ten acres, but even so, he has no security in it, and it can be taken away from him for cash.
To a working farmer, as everybody must know, cash is no compensation for the taking away of a man's land. You might as well say in reference to a carpenter: "I am not going ever to allow him to work again as a carpenter, but I will be very fair and I will be very generous to him; I will give him absolutely the full value for all his carpenter's tools." That is a very analogous position. The land is the place where a man gets employment, where he gets scope to exercise his energies, and gets scope to exercise his abilities and brain power as well. It is, of course the ablest farmers, the men who are the best tillers, who get on. A great number of them get on because they have the incentive that although they start with 10 acres they may die with 20 acres if they are able to buy them. If you tell them, as you do in effect under this Bill, "You will have no security for any outside land you buy," I consider that you are doing a very great injury, because you are killing the spirit of enterprise in the country.
Let us come on a little further and see what are the safeguards. We have a safeguard put in the most extraordinary fashion, that if the tenant or his wife resides upon the holding, if the holding is worked in a husbandlike manner, and if it is not over £2,000 in value, it will remain. That is very curiously put. If the tenant is a man and his wife resides on it then the place is safe. Let us turn it about. Let us assume that the tenant is a woman, and her husband resides on the place; then the safeguard is completely gone. Why is there this distinction? Why is it not "if the husband or wife of the tenant, as the case may be resides on it"? It has not been put that way. I do not know why there is that exception. If a woman owns land and her husband resides on it the land can still be taken. That is a very curious position. I should like to know from the Minister what is the reason for that, to my mind, strange provision.
The land must be worked in a husbandlike manner. Who is to be the judge as to whether it is worked in a husbandlike manner? I think the best people to judge as to whether a holding is being well worked is pretty nearly always either the holder himself, or somebody who knows the land and who is in touch with local conditions. I should hesitate to give any inspector the power to go round and say "This land is being well worked" or "This land is not being well worked". I see here in this section "that he or she uses such land in the same manner as an ordinary farmer in accordance with proper methods of husbandry". Who is to be the judge in that matter? Who is to decide what is an ordinary farmer as distinct from an extraordinary farmer? Very often the farmers who are not ordinary farmers are the most valuable. After all, the man of enterprise, the man who is streets above the ordinary, is far and away above his neighbours. He cannot, of course, be described as an ordinary farmer. He is not using his farm in the fashion of an ordinary farmer. His land can be taken away because he is too good; he is not an ordinary farmer. "In accordance with proper methods of husbandry"; I am at a loss to know who is going to decide what are the proper methods of husbandry, because proper methods of husbandry vary almost from one portion of a townland to another. Each particular kind of land must be treated in its own way, if you are going to get the very best results out of it.
Then there is the safeguard that, as well as residing on the land, the total market value must not exceed the sum of £2,000. I cannot see how the market value is going to be determined, or who is going to determine it. The market value of land is very difficult to determine. It fluctuates from day to day. Personally I would have thought that it would be far and away more sensible and more fair if instead of a market value of £2,000— if you are going to fix a limit of this nature—you took the poor law valuation of the land as a basis on which to fix the value. This would be a fairer and more sensible method of approaching this matter. Let me draw the attention of the House to the real danger in this connection. You may say "Two thousand pounds' worth of land is enough for any man to have." Even if any Deputy is of that opinion will he just consider for a moment how far the sense of security goes? We have a value of £2,000 to-day. Portion of a man's land is taken away, and he is left whatever is valued at £2,000. I have not the remotest idea how many acres that would be. If there is a boom in land it might not be more than 20 or 25 acres. Land, of course, includes buildings, and if there is a good house on a farm of 20 or 25 acres it might very easily be value for £2,000. Suppose a man is left with 20, 25 or 50 acres, what sense of security has he got? To-day the value is put at £2,000. How do we know that in 12 months' time somebody anxious to place persons who have no land may not come along and fix the value at £1,000? Somebody else may afterwards come along and fix the value at £500. Where is finality to come in? I press this upon the House as vigorously as I can; I consider that finality is necessary, if agriculture is going to flourish. If a man thinks "There is a field there which may be taken from me any day," how is he going to farm that field? He is going to take everything he can out of it and keep nothing in. I would ask Deputies very carefully to consider that. The Deputy who says: "Oh, £2,000 is all right" should bear in mind that when you start on that principle there will be a tendency to cut the figure down still further.
There is another aspect from which I want to approach this question— the indiscriminate breaking up of grass lands all over the country. I hope Deputies in this House will bear in mind that what I have said on other occasions is still my view—that I do not think that there is in this country any one possible system of agriculture. Agriculture should vary from place to place, according to the nature of the soil and its capabilities. I am looking at the matter now from the point of view of those who live in that part of the State which I know thoroughly. Looking at it from the point of view of a person who has a reasonable bit of a holding of land in Mayo, Galway, or Sligo, and I am sure it is the same in the other poorer counties, the indiscriminate breaking up of the grass lands in Kildare, Meath and other counties of that nature is going to do them very real injury. There is no single farmers' Deputy in this House who will not agree with that, and that the most profitable way of finishing cattle is on good land. There is not a farmers' Deputy who comes from the richer parts of this country who does not know the value of ancient pasture, and who does not know that if you have really rich land in ancient pasture you have a source of wealth that should not be lightly flung away. When I consider what is the ordinary condition of affairs in the counties to which I allude, I have discovered, and it is always the way, that cattle are kept in these parts of the country where the land is bad, and very bad, only up to a certain age. They are not kept there now as long as they used to be kept. They cannot be properly finished upon land in the western counties. If that industry of breeding store cattle, which is always to be for the western counties the main source of livelihood, is to be carried on as profitably as at present, there should be in reserve that enormously rich and fertile land into which these cattle can be turned and finished. That is the necessary condition under which farming is carried on and must be carried on in the poorer parts of Ireland. I consider that if you set to work to break up all the pasturage in these rich counties, you may, to some extent, be helping the people in those counties, which I doubt. I very much doubt that the breaking up of any great national asset like this, the richest pasture in all Europe, possibly I would not exaggerate if I said the richest pasture in the whole world, would be to the benefit of any people. By doing so you will greatly diminish the gross output of national wealth, and I am certain you will do a great injury to the poorer people in Mayo County and in Galway County, and the same will apply to the poorer people in other counties.
I do not think, when this Bill was being considered, that an enormous amount of thought was given to it. I think in the iaudation that some members of the Fianna Fáil Party gave it they did not give it much consideration either. I heard two speeches delivered by Deputy Cleary in the last week or so in this House. Deputy Cleary is always a very vigorous, though not always a very sensible speaker. He put forward two propositions in those two speeches which were wholly contradictory one of the other. I do not, of course, say that what Deputy Cleary says in this House is to be taken as an indication of what was in the mind of the Executive Council, but I put it forward as an example of the astoundingly loose thinking going on in the Fianna Fáil Party. But a short time ago Deputy Cleary alluded to me personally complaining about the conditions of the people in the West of Ireland, because 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of them, he said, never made a living out of their holdings, and could never make a living out of their holdings because they had to wait until they got money from America or England to pay their rents. In other words, Deputy Cleary was bringing the most huge indictment against the whole work carried on by the Congested Districts Board and the Land Commission under various Governments. He was springing upon the House the view that practically all the land given to make economic holdings was no good. What you would call an economic holding is not an economic holding; that no matter how much you broke up the grass lands in any county in the West of Ireland you were simply always condemning people to live on land out of which they could not make a living. That summed up his first speech; which meant that you were establishing a completely unsound agricultural economic system by dividing the country into holdings on which the people could not live.
Then I discovered that on this particular Bill there comes from the same Deputy a magnificent eulogy most eloquently put, in praise of the very thing which he condemned a week before. It was a magnificent eulogy of the breaking up of the land so as to enable the people to live upon it entirely, obviously forgetful of the fact that within a week he declared such a thing was impossible. I am afraid that is the sort of spirit that is running through Fianna Fáil, and, therefore, in setting this down they did so without inquiry into this grave land problem, which, of course, is the most important of all our problems, because it is the one most concerned with the welfare of the majority of our people, and because out of it the main supply of our wealth as a country must always come. I have dealt now with the question of want of security. The same spirit is running quite through this Bill. I turn to this most extraordinary section. I am very sorry the Attorney-General has left the House, because I would like his views on this Section 27. If the Attorney-General does me the courtesy, as he is not here to listen to my speech, to read my speech, I should very much hope that when this Section 27 comes to be debated in Committee he will be prepared to answer the case I am now making against it. I do not believe this House knows what Section 27 means. I do not believe there is a farmer Deputy in the House would consent to give the power to the Government that they are securing by Section 27. Though I may have to quote law in connection with this matter, I think I can do so so very simply that no Deputy, although he may know nothing about law, will have any difficulty in following me completely. Under Section 27 the Land Commission may issue a warrant, and that warrant has the same effect as an execution order, under the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1926.
I want the House to understand what an enforcement of court order under the Act of 1926 is:
"The expression ‘execution order' means and includes any writ, decree, warrant, or other document by whatever name called, issued by a court in a civil matter directing or authorising the execution of an order of the court for the seizure and sale of a person's property or by putting a person in possession of lands or premises or delivering to him specific property."
I should like Deputies opposite to know that any and every form of writ or court order comes under that definition of an execution order, and that in consequence the Land Commission have got full powers, by a mere stroke of the pen, to issue in respect of a person who is in arrears with his land annuity any order that a court at present could make. They can issue a certificate which will give them power to act as if they had got any order that a court could make.
Before I go on to explain how wide that power is, I should like to point out that under sub-section (3) of this section it is provided:
"Immediately upon receipt from the Land Commission of a warrant under this section the county registrar shall, after serving such notices and doing such acts as may be prescribed in that behalf by regulations to be made by the Minister for Justice, proceed to levy the money therein certified to be due by the defaulter in the same manner as execution orders at the suit of the Land Commission are by law leviable, and such county registrar shall, for that purpose, have all such rights, powers and duties as are for the time being vested in or imposed on him by law in relation to the execution of an execution order."
There are very significant words left out of that section because, under the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, when a court order was to be enforced not only were the same powers given, but also the under-sheriff—it is now the county registrar—in most cases was subject "to the like duties and obligations as similar writs of execution of the High Court have heretofore been executed by the undersheriff." These words "and obligations" are for some particular reason left out of this section. I take it that the object of that is that no action shall be brought for an illegal seizure in any case in which an illegal seizure has been made; that when a seizure has been made upon the wrong person he shall have no remedy either against the sheriff or the Land Commission. I take it that that is the reason why these words have been left out. I think it is really shocking that you sweep away the safeguard of the court to see that no mistake has been made and then, if a mistake has been made, you abolish the liability of the Land Commission or of the sheriff.
I come to a worse thing still, and I think that when you consider the power that the Minister is to get now, it is really striking. I am sorry the acting-Minister is not here, because I should like to ask him whether he has considered the effect of Section 25 of the Land Act of 1891. I presume he has and that he knows thoroughly what powers he is taking. I presume he is not taking these powers without knowing what they are. It is really staggering to see the powers he is taking. Section 25 of the Land Act of 1891 gives power to the High Court, at the suit of the Land Commission, to give an order to the sheriff. I might incidentally say that the Land Commission gives an order for a holding to be sold if one gale of annuity has been in arrear for 40 days. Section 25 of the Land Act of 1891 states:
"Whenever the Land Commission are entitled to cause any holding to be sold for the non-payment of any sum due to them, they may, if they think fit, apply to the High Court, in the manner prescribed by rules of the High Court, for an order to the sheriff to put them in possession of such holding, and it shall be lawful for such court, if it sees fit, and upon hearing such evidence as is offered, to issue an order accordingly, and such order shall be executed by the sheriff in like manner as a writ for the delivery of possession."
That order can be made by the High Court as the law stands at present, but only when the occupier has had due and proper notice. This matter is now to be under the control of the Minister. By this Bill he gets complete control over the collection of annuities. Under this Bill the Minister can say to whoever is in charge of the collection branch of the Land Commission, "Let me know the names of all the annuitants the last gale day whose annuity is 50 days in arrear." He can look through that list, and if there are any Deputies, let me say, in this House whom he does not like, or any other prominent political opponent whom he does not like, possibly a man who, through illness or some other cause, has allowed his gale of annuity to go into arrear for 50 days, then, without notice to that man, without anybody in the world knowing what is being done, inside the office of the Land Commission there can be, by direction of the Minister, an order made that that man is to be put out of possession of his holding, that the holding is to be put up for sale, and that delivery is to be made forthwith of that holding by the sheriff. In other words, what never happened before, you have complete eviction for non-payment of an annuity done behind the scenes in the Land Commission; and you are asked to give that power to the Minister.
I ask anybody if he thinks that power should be given. We all remember the Act of 1887, and the eviction-made-easy clauses that were talked about. They went, after all, to a court. There was a judgment of a court, but here, if a man is fifty days behind in the payment of his annuity, the Minister, by a stroke of his pen, can deprive him of all the land he possesses. Of course, it is put up for sale and if it goes for more than the amount that is due he will get, I grant you, the amount of the purchase money over and above the costs; but there and then he is evicted and put out. Is that a power that any Minister ought to get? It is astonishing to me that any person who thinks there ought to be any security in a man's home for a man would allow any Minister, no matter who he is, to be able to put out that man by a mere stroke of his pen if the man allows one half-gale of his annuity to be fifty days in arrear. That is the power given to the Minister by that section. I suppose the Attorney-General and the Acting-Minister for Lands and Fisheries will get up and say: "Oh, of course, that power is there, but we never intend to exercise it; we are most reasonable persons." I do not know whether they intend to exercise it or not, but the power is there and I think that when the Acting-Minister for Lands and Fisheries introduced this Bill into this House instead of saying that this is a Bill which is going to save the occupiers and registered owners of land expenses, he might have told this House what was the entire extent of the powers he was taking up himself. On this question of expense, does that deceive anybody? Is anybody taken in by it? Is there a single one, even of the most vehement supporters of the Government who is most anxious to keep his mind closed to reason in order that nothing but the words of the Front Bench may sink in—is there a single one of them who thinks that it is going to save expense? Which do you think is the more expensive— the sheriff's seizure or a decree made in the Circuit Court or the District Court? The whole expense is the sheriff's seizure. The sheriff goes there and he takes the man's cattle—perhaps five or six of his cattle. He may get no purchaser for them, even though the amount of money due is small; he keeps them in a pound for heaven knows how long and all that is done without the man having had any opportunity of explaining that no money was due by him or, if there were a decree made against him, he has no opportunity now, knowing that it would take some time before that decree could be levied, of trying to collect his little resources and see if he can make up the amount due before the sheriff comes. Now, the sheriff is to come at once and seize his cattle.
There is another matter to which I should like to refer. Under Part III, Section 21, of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1926, special powers were given to the courts to stay execution when a person could not pay. Very special powers were given. It must be remembered that the Enforcement of Court Orders Act was a very strong Act. It made ordinary judgments more easily leviable than they had been before. It took away a certain number of things which surrounded a sheriff such as that a sheriff could not give a better title than he had himself and other things of that nature, but because it was recognised to be so drastic there was in 1926 this saving clause about the stay of execution. There is no method now by which a man, no matter how poor he may be, can get a stay of execution. The sheriff can come down upon him at once. There is no way of telling, except by a letter to the Land Commission, that he cannot pay, and down the sheriff may come upon him.
There is just one thing to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. It looks as if you really want trouble, because I believe that this section, no matter how moderately it may be put into operation, will inevitably lead to grave trouble. Fling your minds back to Irish history for a little time and I think you will find that although a landlord always could distrain for rent without going to court, and could send his drivers, as they used to be called, to the holding and drive away with the man's belongings without legal process—it was called distraint—yet that had completely fallen into desuetude. I do not believe that even the oldest farmer Deputy in this House could say that he heard from his father of a case of distraint. It was looked upon with such dislike that it fell completely into desuetude. Right down to the present moment the landlord of a town house can distrain for rent, but it is never done. You are bringing back this principle now. It is said, of course, that the income tax people can distrain for rent. The Revenue Commissioners are not thought to be a very soft-hearted body, and yet I would venture to say that the number of times in which the Revenue Commissioners distrain for income tax is very small indeed. Deputy Walsh said that there is power to distrain for poor rate. It is very rarely exercised. I do not know myself of any case, and I have practised a good deal. I think the number of cases in which there is distraint for rates is very small indeed. It is that principle, which is falling into desuetude everywhere, except where it is not quite dead, because it is against the sense of justice and fair play which there is in the community —that is the very method which you want to revive. You say you save costs. Why should not a shopkeeper be in a position to send the sheriff without legal process at all to collect his shop debts? That could be done at one time. They could seize the body of the debtor and put him into prison without the intervention of the courts, but it was found to be so grossly unfair that it had to be swept away. Here you have this most unpopular thing, which has fallen into desuetude everywhere owing to its unpopularity, being revived again. I think—in fact I am certain— that when you, without legal process, send out the sheriff, whether he be sub-sheriff or county registrar, to seize on a man's goods without any preliminary proceedings in court, you will create an amount of resentment that will be infinitely greater than any feeling that might be aroused by a seizure made by a sheriff after due hearing in court when the defaulter had every opportunity of bringing forward any case that he might have.
There are some other provisions in this Bill to which I should like very much to refer at a later stage, but I will confine myself just to one or two now. I think that play-acting is a very dangerous thing, and where Ministers play-act they ought to be quite sure that it will come off. There was a bit of play-acting here the other day which must have amused, possibly aroused, the same contemptuous feelings in the Minister's own Party, as it did over here. There was a great flourish of trumpets, a map was produced and it was handed all around the House. Every Deputy got a copy of that map. And what was it all about? That there was a village on the Palmer estate in Mayo held in rundale. There is a story in one of Macaulay's Essays that the one-time Prime Minister of England, the Duke of Newcastle, was a man not very well-informed as to what was happening. There had been a great deal of fighting around Cape Breton in Canada, and everybody in England was talking of Cape Breton. Suddenly it happened that the Ministers made a discovery that Cape Breton was an island, and the Prime Minister said: "Oh, Cape Breton is an island; I must run and tell the King that Cape Breton is an island." It seems to me that an approach to much the same kind of thing has happened here. Deputy Aiken has gone to the Irish Land Commission for the first time. He had never heard of rundale before, and he says: "Oh, there are holdings held in rundale, and I must run and tell the President that there are such things as rundale holdings." The President had not heard of holdings in rundale, and when the President is told of them he says: "This is a great thing; we must tell the House that there are holdings in rundale." He, too, evidently never heard of rundale holdings before.