At the conclusion of the sitting yesterday I was dealing with the arrears proposed to be remitted. Those arrears which accrued up to three years ago have been paid to the Land Commission indirectly, by the Local Government Department deducting the amount of arrears from the agricultural grant. The Minister in charge of this Bill, in his concluding speech on the Second Reading, said:—
"I do not stand for the principle that we should squash these decent people who got into arrears through no fault of their own, and put their families on the roadside in order to get hold of the waster who should be made to pay his land annuities."
I interjected on that occasion: "Why does not the Government bear the loss?" The Minister replied: "The Government is bearing the loss," to which I remarked: "No, the county councils are bearing the loss." The Minister then went on, and he said: "The Government is bearing the loss." He insisted that the Government is bearing the loss. I insist that that is not true, that the Government is not bearing one penny of the loss. The Government has not at any time indicated to this House any departure from the usual practice, namely, that the amount of annuities irrecoverable at the end of the financial year is computed, and the final payment of the agricultural grant is made to county councils less those annuities which are irrecoverable for the time being. If any of those annuities are subsequently paid to the Land Commission that amount is intimated to the Local Government Department, and the amount of agricultural grant against that piece of arrears is transmitted to the county council. I was well aware of the operation of those acts, but since last night I took an opportunity of checking my information, and I can state positively that as regards the arrears irrecoverable up to 31st March, 1932, the amounts have been deducted from the county councils. As far as the Land Commission is concerned there are no arrears of annuities, because those annuities have been made good out of the agricultural grant.
The information given the House by the Minister in charge of this Bill is not correct when he says that the Government is footing the bill for those annuities which it is proposed to wipe out. In his opening speech on the Bill he said: "The arrears which have accumulated under all the Land Acts over all the years to 31st December, 1932, amount to the sum of £2,972,000," all of which the Land Commission have been paid at the expense of the local ratepayers in every county, each county having to bear the loss that the Land Commission temporarily sustained by not being able to collect the arrears of the annuities. They simply passed the bill on to the county councils, and by the manipulation of the grants the county councils had to pay those bills. To carry the matter further, when the county council found itself, at the end of the year, short of its grant, it had to make up the deficiency on savings, or it had to budget increased rates next year. The Minister went on to say: "From this sum of £2,972,000 has to be deducted about £250,000, representing the arrears over the three years mark, which are now to be written off as bad debts;" bad debts of the county councils, not of the Government. I wonder is the Government going to make good to the county councils those arrears which by this generous gesture they say they will remit? We are not concerned whether a man should have paid or whether he should not have paid. It is not my business to know whether my neighbour has paid his annuities or not, but it becomes very much my business if I have to pay his annuities along with paying my own. The attempt to make an analogy between the remission of arrears of rent under the 1923 and previous Land Acts was an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of this country. Arrears of rent were always a concern between the landlord and the tenant owing those arrears. If the tenant did not pay his rent to the landlord but allowed it to run into arrears no other tenant farmer had to pay it. It was the landlord's loss. Under the annuity system if the tenant purchasers do not pay their annuities their neighbours have to pay them; that county has to pay them by increased rates. These arrears have been paid in respect of the counties. As far as I have been able to ascertain something like £8,000 was paid by the County Council of Dublin, and that money is due to the County Council of Dublin and to the ratepayers of Dublin. The Minister says we are going to forgive this and he further says it is the Government that is bearing the loss. I hope he will endeavour to prove that point.
In passing, I might remark that a member of the Cork County Council, who is a member of this House, stated yesterday afternoon that it was not true that the county councils had to bear the loss; that it was not true that the county councils had their grants stopped to meet this liability. I was speaking to another member of the Cork County Council since, and he informed me that, speaking from memory, the Cork County Council was at a loss of about £60,000. Before this Bill goes through its final stages, I intend to put down a question asking how much has been deducted, severally and collectively, from the county councils in the Free State on foot of land annuities and the dates that correspond with the dates of remission and funding in this Bill. Then we will be able to find out the truth and I hope the Minister will then stand up for the statement he has already made. The net amount withdrawn from the Guarantee Fund in connection with the Land Purchase Act for the year 1931 in the Free State was £581,790 13/3. The Minister in charge of this Bill wants to take credit for that money which the Government got at the expense of the ratepayers. The Government wants to pull the wool over the people's eyes and say the Government, by this generous gesture, is remitting that amount of money which they have already in their pockets.
The same applies to the proposed funding of annuities, from the three years mark up, roughly, to the 31st March of last year, or to be correct, to the 1st of July, but we can deal with the financial year. These annuities that are proposed to be funded are the proceeds of the funded annuities which will be paid by the farmers to the Government over a period of 50 years on an annuity basis of 4½ per cent. interest. It has been definitely stated in this House by the Minister for Finance that these funded annuities will be the sole property of the Government and will be paid into the Exchequer, whereas it is the local ratepayers that paid that amount. The Minister in introducing this measure said the total arrears will be £4,500,000 which he proposed to fund. The first part—remission—I have dealt with, the second part is that of funding up to the 31st March last. These have been paid by the county councils also and as the law stands, if these arrears were paid by the farmers into the Land Commission, then the Land Commission should make a corresponding allowance to the county councils concerned and let them have the benefit of the withheld grants. But this section proposes to wipe that out and the Land Commission is claiming this money that does not belong to it, while it tells the farmers that it is doing them a service by funding that money over a period of 50 years, notwithstanding that the Government has not the slightest claim to these funds any more than I have.
We now come to the next class of arrears that are proposed to be funded, namely those that have accumulated roughly from last year and are now accumulating. It is proposed to fund them. What right the Government has to fund them it is very difficult to understand, considering that England has been collecting these annuities from the farmers during that period. I put a question yesterday: whether there was any Deputy on the opposite side who would contradict the deliberate statement that England has been collecting those annuities during the last year. That challenge was not accepted. Perhaps Deputies opposite will accept the words of the President and I hope the Minister also will accept them. The President speaking in this House on the 12th May, 1933, is reported in the Parlimentary Debates, column 1004, to have said:—
"So far as the contributions from the agricultural grant are concerned, we are to give half and to give the farmers a remission of half the annuities during the whole period that they would otherwise have to pay. We have funded the annuities for the first half of this year and we have reduced them for the second period by one half. That means that we have given to the farmers this year in that way £3,225,000.
Mr. Belton: And you have taken £5,000,000 from them.
The President: We have done nothing of the kind, but the British have done it."
Will Deputies opposite accept the words of the President there that the Government did not take the £5,000,000. We never accused them and never suggested or insinuated that they took it. We said deliberately that the British did, and the President accepted that. The British have taken £5,000,000 and over the period during which the British were operating, extracting that £5,000,000 a year from us, the Land Commission wants us to pay that same debt to them; and they claim, as a generous gesture, the funding of an alleged debt incurred on foot of the land annuities during that period, and they are asking the farmers to pay that amount at the rate of 4½ per cent. for 50 years. That we have paid it to England in that time is accepted by the President. In view of all that, this is the most monstrous and iniquitous piece of legislation ever attempted on any people by a native Parliament. The British Parliament never had anything to its credit like it in the history of its legislation for this country. We paid that money to England; they extracted it from us. Why now does not our Government step in and stop them extracting it from us? They are not able. We admit that. But then why has our Government the audacity to come round and ask us to pay them again? I hope that everybody on this side of the House will, in debating this measure, from this day forward, not plead poverty even although we are poor but will put in the plea that we are not able to pay, and make the manly defence that as we have already paid we are not going to pay again.
It is admitted by the President that we have paid, and that should be good enough. During the period in which we were paying those annuities to England, a shower of civil bills was sent all over the country and costs were incurred for the very debt that the Government now recognise they should not collect. They incurred costs by making fools of themselves and now the farmers must pay for it. If a local authority did a thing like that the members of that local authority would be surcharged. Not only would their intended victims not have to pay, not only would the county council not have to pay, but the individual members would be surcharged, and rightly so, for their incompetence.
It is proposed under this section to reduce the land annuities by 50 per cent. If that were to happen, as the Minister would have us believe, we would all throw up our hats and we would be hurrying this Bill through. This section clearly indicates that we are to continue paying the £5,000,000 to England and while we are continuing to pay that sum which should liquidate all our obligations and all England's claims, just or unjust, our Government comes along and tells us they are going to halve the land annuities. In reality, they are going to create a tax on the land equivalent to the amount of annuities heretofore paid. The money when paid is going to go into the Exchequer. We have to pay the annuities indirectly to England in order to meet the claims of the bondholders. That amount, the equivalent of 50 per cent. of the old annuities, should be called by its proper name, a land tax.
It is provided in this Bill that the money collected should go into the Exchequer; there is no other provision made for it. British tariffs are to continue. That is the assumption in this Bill and in such an atmosphere this Bill has been formulated. It is proposed to pay an annuity for those arrears. The amount of that annuity is not specifically stated. The only intimation we get about it in the Bill is that it will be at the rate of 4½ per cent. The only intimation we got of the size of the annuity was in the Minister's opening speech, when he said that these arrears would be funded and paid over a period of 50 years at an annuity which would work out at 6d. in the £ every half year. It seemed a round-about way of stating that the annuity would be at 5 per cent. I wonder how he bases that calculation.
We are told in this section that an alleged debt will be liquidated in 50 years. I think they mentioned it would be amortised in 50 years at a certain annuity. How long is this annuity to run? We are told it will run for 50 years. If the Minister is going to lay claim that this debt that he wants to amortise is going to be paid exactly in 50 years he is going to stand over a statement that no British Minister ever stood over when introducing a Land Bill. I will give this quotation from the Irish Convention Report of 1917-1918:
"No period was fixed in that Act for the duration of purchasers' annuities; but if the sinking fund was uniformly invested in 2¾ per cent. stock the annuities would run for 68½ years."
If the Minister is banking on charging 4½ per cent. and is banking that the annuity will amortise the debt in 50 years, he must be prepared to show this House that the sinking fund can be invested in sound securities earning 4½ per cent. I would like to know where this can be got when the British Government is borrowing long term money at present at 2½ per cent. We do not know how long this will have to run, nor does the Minister know. He is, however, taking jolly good care that he is going to put the farmer in the soup by charging him 4½ per cent. He is making the farmer pay out of a bankrupt concern—the agricultural industry of this country.
A lot of criticism has been levelled at the 1923 Act. We know the rate that prevailed in 1923 and yet the 1923 Land Act was financed at 4½ per cent. This Government cannot do anything better than that, although the general level of interest is about one-third what it was then. If these bonds have good backing behind them the £1 bond will be selling at 30/-. Where is the profit to go to? Into the Exchequer. The farmer paying 4½ per cent. will be contributing the profit that the Exchequer is going to scoop in. The Exchequer will make the money out of the sweated labour of the farmer and the sweated labour of his family.
If we pass this section the principle of practically all the finance is accepted. If we agree to this usurer's rate of interest we are going to create the land problem of the future. It has been rumoured about that, because of the strenuous and the continuously hardening opposition to this section, the Government proposed to recoup county councils for the arrears that are going to be remitted and for the arrears that are going to be funded. I hope that is true. The House would welcome an assurance from the Minister to that effect. I hope it will be done and, if it is not done, there is nobody that will pay bigger dividends on the default than the Government opposite. Let us hope it will be done, and then I hope that the opposition will harden against paying anything on foot of alleged arrears for last year, because no arrears are due. The President stated that we paid them to the British Government. I could carry that on further to the local loans, but I am not going to deal with local loans now. That matter will come up on another section. But we have paid them also to the British Government, and we owe nothing to the British Government or anybody else on foot of these except what is owing to us.
I do not want to repeat what I have said already, but I would refer Deputies to page 1004 of the Parliamentary Debates here. I am not going to read it again but, when Deputies opposite read it, I hope they will obey their Leader and accept his word as gospel. I hope Deputies on this side will stand firm, and there is no doubt that if we stand firm here the country outside will stand firm. We should stand firm on the fact that we have paid our indebtedness on land purchase during the last 12 months. The British Government has collected it, and it is nothing short of plunder for our Government to attempt to collect a debt which we have paid twice over to the British Government.
We did not pay the British Government of choice, but if our Government blame us for doing so, we are paying them to protect us. We are paying them enough for protection. They tell us they do not want any more protection. They do not want "Blue Shirts." Perhaps they do not, but we did not get protection from the British in the last 12 months, and when our money was taken to pay a certain debt, we could not stop it. Our Government subsidised the sending of produce over to pay that debt and then they want us to pay that debt again. They are starting now to put a land tax on the people, and I hope that on this side of the House we will not any more plead poverty or plead pity for the farmers during the last 12 months, but let us stand up on our dignity and say that we have paid our debts on foot of land purchase once and that we will pay them no more.