Land Bill, 1933—Report Stage (resumed).

Mr. Rice

I move amendment 53:—

In page 29, before Section 49, to insert a new section as follows:—

Section 90 of the Irish Land Act, 1903, and Section 49 of the Land Act, 1931, shall be deemed to apply and to have always applied to variable rents issuing out of hereditaments situate in the County of the City of Dublin as if Section 90 of the Irish Land Act, 1903 contained a proviso to the following effect namely:—

Provided that in the case of variable rents issuing out of or charged upon hereditaments situate in the County of the City of Dublin such rents shall be varied in accordance with the average percentage of the variation of judicial rents declared by the certificate of the Land Commission to have taken place with respect to the County of Dublin.

This amendment is designed to remedy a defect in the machinery for the fixing of variable rents. I want to say as briefly as I can a few words leading up to it so as to explain its meaning. Under an Act of 1833 persons holding land from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and other bodies were entitled to get a perpetual estate in the lands they held, subject to the fee farm rent. The Act also provided that every seven years application could be made, either by the landlord or the tenant, to vary those rents. The variation was fixed—either increased or decreased—according to the average price of grain and oats for the period of seven years preceding the application. That system went on up to 1887. The average prices were published up to that time in theDublin Gazette, and the variation was fixed by the figures as given in the Dublin Gazette. That system ceased in 1887 when the Gazette no longer published average prices. Accordingly, the Tithe Rent Charge Act of 1900 provided a new system for fixing the amounts of variable rents. It provided that they should be fixed according to the amount of judicial rents in a county during the preceding period of 15 years. This amendment is designed to provide for the case of the County of the City of Dublin. There are a number of these variable rents in the County of the City of Dublin, but there are no judicial rents in the County of the City of Dublin, and therefore the provision of the section cannot properly be made to apply— that is to say to the amount of the variation in a particular county. It is proposed, therefore, by this amendment to apply the judicial rents in County of Dublin, which is the nearest area, as the test for fixing the amount of variation in these variable rents at the present time. Some cases have arisen where these rents are payable to the Land Commission, and my information is that the Land Commission have given the proper variation to their immediate tenant, but in some of these cases the immediate tenant has a sub-tenant and has refused to give the proper variation or reduction to his sub-tenant on the ground that there is no machinery by which it can be fixed. Therefore, I am moving the amendment, the purpose of which is that the judicial rents in the County of Dublin be made applicable for the purpose of determining the variation of these variable rents in the County and City of Dublin.

The one outstanding difficulty about accepting this amendment is that it would have a retrospective effect from 1903. It would be rather disturbing for 30 years.

Mr. Rice

It would not give anything to persons who have been paying these rents that they were not entitled to at any time during that period. As a matter of fact the system has been adopted by the Land Commission, where there is an injustice done to sub-tenants, who in some cases were not given the reductions that their landlords got. As the Minister is aware there was a provision in Section 49 of the Land Act of 1931 giving a final reduction of 8 per cent.

My difficulty is that if the amendment is passed as it stands it would have a retrospective effect for 30 years.

Mr. Rice

I suggest to the Minister that he might consider it before the Bill goes to the Seanad, and take such precautions as he thinks necessary to prevent any retrospective effects that he may be afraid of.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment 54:—

In page 29, before Section 50, to insert a new section as follows:—

(1) The Land Commission when distributing the purchase money of an estate shall deduct from the amount of the purchase money payable to any person who is not resident in Saorstát Eireann any debt due or payable by such person to any Minister or Government Department of which the Land Commission has received notice before the making of payment to such person.

(2) When the amount of any such debt has not been ascertained the Land Commission shall retain such sum as the Minister or Government Department requires out of the amount of the purchase money to which the person by whom such debt is due or payable is entitled until he has delivered the necessary accounts or made the necessary returns to enable the Minister or Department to whom or to which such debt is due to determine its exact amount and such exact amount has been determined.

Will the Minister explain the amendment or will the Minister for Finance do so?

It is self-explanatory.

It is not a Land Commission amendment.

It is in the name of Aire Tailte agus Iascaigh.

He simply put his name to it.

By the amendment the amount of a debt owing by any person not resident in Saorstát Eireann to any State Department can be deducted from moneys due to him.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Rice

I move amendment 55. This is an amendment to amendment 54:—

In line 2 of sub-section (1) of the proposed new section to delete the word "shall" and substitute therefor the word "may."

As the section stands the Land Commission shall deduct from the amount of the purchase money any debt due. That is giving an entirely arbitrary power to the Department of Finance. If they say that so-and-so owes a sum of money on theiripse dixit the Land Commission are obliged to withhold payment of the money. The old principle should be adhered to. This is a matter for the judicial commissioner who should be satisfied that there is a claim. It should not be sufficient for the Department to come in and say: “There is so much owing and we are entitled to have payment withheld.” They should go before the judge in the ordinary way and satisfy him that the amount or the approximate amount they claim is due. That has been the practice up to the present. I do not see any good reason for departing from it.

There is nothing wrong with the section as it stands.

The judicial commissioner has still power to distribute the purchase money. Does the Minister propose, as distinct from the judicial commissioner, that there shall be a right to deduct the amount from the purchase money without reference to the judicial commissioner? In the Bill there are two functions left to the judicial commissioner, to determine title, and to deal with the purchase money. The Land Commission here will have the right to deduct money without reference to the judicial commissioner.

The judicial commissioner is part of the Land Commission. The words refer to the Land Commission.

Is that clear?

Yes. All moneys to be distributed are in the hands of the judicial commissioner.

Why then is there reference to the judicial commissioner in the Bill in relation to purchase money? Why is it necessary to introduce the name of the judicial commissioner in other sections relating to purchase money?

The Deputy knows quite well that certain terms are interchangeable in the Land Act.

I do not.

They are.

In other sections relating to the distribution of purchase money the judicial commissioner is mentioned as distinct from the Land Commission and is the authority responsible for distributing the money. Why is the Land Commission substituted when apparently the judicial commissioner is intended?

The judicial commissioner is part of the Land Commission and hears all claims against purchase money. It is the judicial commissioner who will direct deductions from the purchase money lodged in his care.

I do not think the Minister has made the position clear. So far as purchase money is concerned the judicial commissioner exercises certain functions, apart from and distinct from the Land Commission. I submit that it is not the function of the Land Commission to deduct moneys due to the State from the purchase money of estates. That is distinctly the function of the judicial commissioner and I submit that the words "judicial commissioner" should be used in the section instead of "Land Commission."

It does not matter to the person affected whether they mean the judicial commissioner or the office boy.

It may. I am still of opinion that a man would get more fair play on a question of that kind from the judicial commissioner.

If £900 is due to the Land Commission and if the Minister for Finance deducts the amount I would not care who signed the order.

I submit that the expression used here is wrong legally.

Question—"That the words proposed to be deleted stand"—put and declared carried.

Mr. Rice

I move amendment 56. This is an amendment to amendment 54:—

In line 3 of sub-section (2) of the proposed new section after the word "requires" to insert the following words "and as the Land Commission is satisfied is not more than sufficient."

The object of the amendment is to give the Land Commission discretion as to the amount of money retained by them at the request of a Government Department. The new section as it stands gives the Minister or the Department of Finance the right to go and say that so much money was due and to have it retained. In many cases that may cause considerable injustice. Take the case of a person who leaves land and other property, say house property, and that an estate duty account is delivered which includes the land and the house property.

The practice up to the present has been that a provisional valuation is made by the person presenting the account and on that provisional valuation the payment of estate duty is made. That provisional valuation is subject afterwards to checking by the Valuation Office. If they come to the conclusion that the estate was insufficiently valued, they then make an amended valuation and the additional duty has to be paid. In many cases where a provisional valuation has been made and duty has been paid, the Valuation Office has not been able for one reason or another to make their final valuation for some years. If the section were passed in its present form the result would be that people would be kept out of a large sum due to them for a number of years, through no fault of their own. They cannot take any steps to expedite the final valuation by the Department. I propose, as some amelioration of the hardship likely to be imposed by this section, to give the Land Commission discretion to see whether the amount to be retained is sufficient or is more than sufficient— to give them the right to say that only so much should be retained. The Department can bring evidence before them as to the amount due and they can rely on the Land Commission not retaining too little. It would certainly be a hardship if people were to be kept out of their money for a number of years pending the final valuation.

There is a somewhat similar section in the 1923 Act. The words there are the "Land Commission," not the "judicial commissioners." I do not think that the Land Commission can very well run across the work of the Revenue Commissioners. This section is restricted to people not resident in Saorstát Eireann. I think if it were applying to citizens resident here, there might be something to be said for the amendment. The section is directed at people not resident here. The Revenue Commissioners have no means of getting after these people once they get the money and I think we should leave them the right to have deducted the amount that they think is sufficient to cover the debt due to the State.

Mr. Rice

I am not objecting to the principle of retaining a sufficient sum. What I suggest is that the appropriate Department to decide on the question of sufficiency is the Land Commission and not the Department actually making the claim.

I think that would mean throwing too much work on the Land Commission.

Mr. Rice

It is work the judicial commissioner does every day.

The judicial commissioner would have to examine the books of the other State Department that has a claim against the person to whom money is being given. It would be far too much work to throw upon them.

Either that or make a shot in the dark.

Mr. Rice

He could get the kind of evidence that is always produced for the purpose of making a provisional valuation. It would be a simple matter for the Department to give such evidence to the judicial commissioner and he would retain enough to satisfy the claims of the State.

That is to say, he would retain as much as the Revenue Commissioners would assess?

Mr. Rice

Yes.

In that case the applicant would not be any better off under the proposed amendment.

Mr. Rice

The position is that the Department, without any examination, may say: "We want so much retained." Without going into the account, they may ask for a sum much in excess of what would actually be due to them. If they were obliged to produce some evidence as to the amount due, then there could be a rough shot made at the amount to be retained.

Surely the only evidence would be the assessment that would be made by the Inspector of Taxes.

Mr. Rice

Oh, no.

If there is any other evidence it would be the type of evidence that could be produced before the Special Commissioners.

A judge could not force a person abroad to make a return, nor could the Land Commission. If they had not a return from the individual concerned the Land Commission could not arrive at what would be a sufficient sum.

Mr. Rice

I am not making any suggestions against any Department, but this slipshod system of one Department saying "We want so much retained" is not good practice.

That is scarcely the practice.

Mr. Rice

Those things happen. I would like to see the Department giving some evidence to the Land Commission as to what the actual amount of the claim is.

When an assessment is made—and an assessment would be made—the onus lies on the person assessed to show that the assessment is incorrect. Therefore, in cases where it might be difficult to recover the amount due to the revenue, the Deputy would hardly suggest that the onus should be put upon the Exchequer.

Mr. Rice

As the position stands, before the Department has investigated the amount that is actually due they can say: "Retain so much." They might, for instance, retain £2,000 and their claim might be satisfied with £200. In the meantime, the person has to wait for the money.

I do not anticipate that is the procedure that would be followed. I take it that what would happen is that the Revenue Commissioners would be made aware that lands were being disposed of to the Land Commission by a person who, they believed, owed them back duty. They would make an assessment on that person and would lodge a copy of it with the Land Commission. The onus would then lie on the person to satisfy the Land Commission or the Revenue Commissioners that the assessment was in error.

Mr. Rice

A provisional assessment is made. When an estate duty account is presented the duty is paid, but it may happen that years afterwards the Department might say: "That is not sufficient" and they make their valuation. That might result in years of delay sometimes.

That would not happen in this case, because once the Department makes its assessment I presume it will have to abide by it. If the Land Commission deducted a sum sufficient to cover the amount of that assessment, and only that, then the person residing outside the jurisdiction would get the balance of the purchase money. If the sum retained in the first instance was not sufficient, then the Revenue Commissioners would probably have to suffer the loss.

Mr. Rice

But there may be cases where the amount of the debt has not been ascertained.

Ascertained in that sense, I presume, means finally ascertained; that is, after an investigation has been made by the special commissioners and, possibly, by the special investigation branch.

Is the Land Commission under any obligation to make sure that there is a debt due at all?

Mr. Rice

No, none.

No, the onus is on the Revenue Commissioners.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question —"That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.