I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The Bill itself is quite simple and really contains only two effective provisions. One is the necessary statutory authority to the Land Commission to register a charge and, subsequently, to collect the rent arising therefrom, and the other provision is set out in Section 5 which empowers the Minister for Agriculture, where there is a common watercourse serving several holdings and the rehabilitation operations of one holding involve the necessity of clearing the common watercourse and releasing the waters drained off the upper land, to go in upon the watercourse and carry out upon it such works as may be necessary to give the effluent free passage down to the river or other outlet where it would normally go. I think I am right in saying that, in fact, this proviso amounts to no more than short circuiting the procedure whereby any farmer can require his neighbour to remove from a watercourse an obstruction the existence of which damages the first farmer's land, but the common law procedure for bringing the necessary compulsion to bear on the delinquent landholder is long, tortuous and subject to appropriate appeals and simply could not be depended upon exclusively in a project of this magnitude where expedition is needed.
Personally, I do not believe that the powers in Section 5 will fall to be used. If they should fall, I would not hesitate to use them, but the fact that they exist, in my opinion, will be sufficient to ensure that if there are any individuals who maliciously desire to injure their neighbour they must realise that the attempt is foredoomed to failure and, therefore, they will not make it. Deputies will notice that the provision is limited strictly to entering upon a common watercourse to do any works necessary to render it capable of carrying water that should normally pass through it and to dispose of the spoil in such manner as the Minister thinks fit. I direct the attention of the House to that particularly because I desire to emphasise that it is no more than the common law right of any farmer against his neighbour to ensure that there shall be left no obstacle in a watercourse the continued presence of which makes a nuisance on the land of the neighbour.
I take it, Sir, however, that, over and above explaining these two specific provisions in the Bill, this is the appropriate occasion to mention generally the purposes underlying the project. Deputies will have observed that on last Wednesday there appeared in the newspapers an invitation to farmers in eight specified counties who are prepared to undertake the work themselves to make application for the appropriate form on which to apply for a grant. To date we have received about 1,500 applications, and I am glad to think that so far we have been able to maintain our undertaking to reply to them by return of post. Owing, however, to the exigencies of the legislative programme, it was not possible to present this Bill to the House, and so Deputies may have noticed that the invitation which appeared in the newspapers was carefully framed so as to avoid even the appearance of anticipating the decision of the Oireachtas.
The project can be divided into two parts, one where the farmer desires to carry out the agreed works himself in consideration of receiving the grant when the work is completed. That part of the project falls within the general powers of the Minister for Agriculture, and so it was possible for me to put that in operation so soon as we were prepared to undertake the work. That is what was put into operation last Wednesday. The second part of the project relates to those farmers who, because they have not at their disposal the knowledge, the labour or the finance desire to have the work done by the Department of Agriculture. In their case the cost, at the rate of £12 per acre, will be charged upon their land in exactly the same way as a land annuity is now charged. It will be repayable to the Land Commission by way of an annuity in exactly the same way as they pay their annuity at present which is commonly known in the country as the rent.
Under the first part of the scheme, as advertised last Wednesday, the procedure is this. On the receipt of a letter asking for an application form, we forward to the applicant a form of application on which he is requested to state his name, the townland, the parish and the county, and the number of statute acres which he thinks it will be necessary to deal with, and nothing else. On receipt of that form completed, an officer of my Department will call upon him and discuss with him the condition of his land and, if the farmer has the time and the inclination, will walk the land with him, and will arrive at an agreed determination as to what work requires to be done if the full fertility of his soil is to be restored. On that agreement being substantially arrived at, as soon as may be a small outline sketch map of the farmer's holding will be furnished to him, with a description of the works required to be done, and a statement of the amount of the grant to which he will become entitled on completion of the works agreed upon.
The amount of the grant is based on a sum equal to two-thirds of the estimated cost of the work. There is no use my pretending to the House that we are in a position to bind ourselves to a valuer's determination of what the work will cost, nor is there any provision in the scheme which lays down precisely how the grant is to be determined. In fact, the basis of determination in every case will be an estimate by us of what the work should cost and an offer to the farmer, if he chooses to proceed with the work, of two-thirds of that amount on the completion of the job. When the farmer undertakes the task himself, he can carry it out with the assistance of his family or he can hire a neighbour's son or sons or, if there is a private contractor in the parish or in the neighbourhood, he can ask him for an estimate to do part or all of the work and have it done.
That is a matter entirely within his own discretion and into which I do not propose to inquire, my sole concern being, when he declares the work to have been done and seeks a certificate of payment, that on our examination of the holding we are satisfied the work has been done in a way that will give results. When that certificate issues, the farmer will then receive his grant in the shape of fertilisers spread upon the land reclaimed at the rate of six cwts. of ground rock phosphate and two tons of ground limestone, where the land requires that treatment, and in respect of each acre so treated the cash grant will be abated by a sum of £5. Where the land proves to be alkaline in its constitution, and no lime is required, a suitable adjustment is provided. If, in the unlikely event that its phosphatic content is sufficient, and it requires no phosphates, a suitable adjustment can be made and if, in some cases, neither lime nor phosphate is required, then the entire grant is payable in cash.
The point has been raised, where a considerable body of work falls to be done, is it reasonable to ask the farmer to complete the whole of the task before receiving anything on account. I think, on the whole, it would not be reasonable, but this stipulation must be made, and if, in special cases, where it is necessary, a payment on account should be made, it has to be agreed between us that the work will be done in such instalments that, were it to be abandoned after the first payment on account, that part which has been done would function, because unless that agreement were understood between us, the farmer who did a partial job and then abandoned the work might, in fact, do more harm than good; but if he sub-divides the work into units, any one of which, left standing alone, without the remainder of the work having been reached upon, would be a useful improvement of the land for which it was done, I think we can find a way whereby the difficulties of an individual farmer, who finds it hard to finance the whole undertaking before receiving any grant, can be met. I would ask the House to extend this indulgence to us.
The project is on an unprecedented scale. It is designed to meet problems for which we have no precedent and nothing to guide us. We are bound to meet problems as we go for which we cannot make anticipatory provision and, anxious as I am to be as precise and detailed as I can at this stage in informing the House of our intentions, I am bound to say that we are very conscious that individual cases may arise calling for special consideration in one way or another and can only lay down the overriding principle that if any adjustment is made to meet particular circumstances, anyone else whose circumstances are identical will have the advantage of whatever special provision may be made as the project proceeds, on the first occasion when those peculiar circumstances come to light.
It would have been a help if I had felt myself free to circulate a leaflet which is in proof, but I considered it would have been a discourtesy to the House to circulate a leaflet which might appear to anticipate the decision of the House. I will ask leave, however, in the event of the House giving a Second Reading to this Bill, to circulate a leaflet in proof which I aspire to place in the hands of every interested farmer in the country and which, I think, will inform any intending applicant of the procedure and the benefits that are available under the scheme in as clear and precise a manner as I know how to tell him.
Before I go to Part 2 and Part 3 of the general project, I should inform the House of the second part of the actual work programme itself. If the farmer, for any reason, prefers that the Department of Agriculture should do the work, exactly the same preliminary procedure is followed up to the point when the farmer is furnished with a sketch map of his holding with the works requiring to be done outlined upon it. If he then instructs the Department to proceed with the work, the Department will thereupon issue a certificate to the Land Commission on foot of which the Land Commission will charge the farmer's holding with the cost of the work. The Land Commission will then, with suitable machinery and equipment, proceed to carry out the work, including the application of fertilisers, where that is necessary, in accordance with the agreed scheme.