Committee on Finance. - Land (No. 2) Bill, 1952—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill modifies and extends existing provisions of the Land Purchase Acts without introducing any new basic principles. Its main purpose is to authorise the creation of land bonds bearing a higher rate of interest than 4 per cent.

The Land Bond Act, 1934, which authorised the Minister for Finance to create series of land bonds, required him to have regard to Stock Exchange quotations with a view to fixing a rate of interest which would secure that the market price of the bonds of each series would be at or near par for a reasonable time after creation of the series; at the same time it prescribed a maximum rate of 4 per cent. interest. The Bill proposes to delete that interest limitation and thus permit land bonds to be created which will bear a higher rate of interest than 4 per cent. whenever that course is necessary to maintain their market price at or near par for a reasonable time after their creation.

One of the first questions that arise is what rate of interest will newly created land bonds bear after the Bill becomes law. The answer is that the rate will be fixed by the Minister forFinance in the Order creating the bonds. However, the Minister will not be in a position to come to a final decision on the rate until the Bill is enacted and he is about to make the Order, which will then be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

The Land Bond Act, 1934, also placed a limit on the total amount of land bonds to be created under that Act. The limit of £10,000,000 was adopted when the price of land was very much lower than it is to-day. Of that amount there is a balance of more than £3,000,000 still available which would enable land purchase to be financed for some years to come, but it is clear that the balance will not be sufficient to complete the acquisition of land for the relief of congestion. The present opportunity is, therefore, taken to raise the limit by a further £5,000,000. It would, of course, be possible to delete the limit altogether and give, so to speak, a blank cheque for this important work. It seems preferable, however, that the House should have another opportunity of reviewing the position before the figure of £15,000,000 is exceeded. To avoid any possibility of confusion perhaps I should say that all the figures I have mentioned relate to land bonds created under the Land Bond Act, 1934. In addition, 4½ per cent. land bonds issued since 1923 total approximately £26,000,000 of which less than £1,000,000 are 4½ per cent. new land bonds issued under the Land Bond Act, 1933.

Since 1923 the rate of annuity for repayment of advances has been 4¾ per cent. The interest element has varied —according to the particular issue of land bonds—from 4½ per cent. to 3 per cent and the balance of ¼ per cent. to 1¾ per cent. has represented sinking fund in repayment of principal. To cover interest and sinking fund for future land bonds it is necessary to provide for the possibility of a higher rate of annuity; this entails adaptation of existing statutory references to the rate of 4¾ per cent. The Bill effects the required adaptation and other consequential amendments. The annuity rate will continue to be fixed by the Land Bond Order creating each series of land bonds and will apply to landspurchased by means of bonds of that series; the halving of new annuities under the Land Act, 1933, will also continue. The provisions of the Bill do not in any way affect annuities already set up.

The House will recollect a Land Bill introduced by Deputy Blowick last year and withdrawn on my undertaking to provide for the matter in a Government Bill. The necessary provision is in Section 7 of the present Bill. The Land Act, 1950, which was introduced on 19th July, 1949, laid down market value as the basis of the price of untenanted land, and it was amended on Committee Stage to provide for redetermination of prices fixed before the passing of that Act in cases where the Land Commission had not taken possession of the land before the 1st December, 1949. The period of six months allowed for lodgment of applications for redetermination expired on 19th December, 1950. It is felt that this period was rather short and may have caused hardship in some cases. The Bill therefore proposes to give eligible persons a further opportunity of making applications which, for one reason or another, they failed to make within the time originally allowed.

The remaining provisions of the Bill are matters of detail and consist largely of amendments to remedy drafting imperfections in previous Land Acts. I do not think that there is any general comment I can usefully make on them at this stage beyond saying that experience has shown them to be desirable. If necessary we can go into them more fully on the Committee Stage; they are explained in some detail in the White Paper which was circulated with the Bill. Four of these sections (Nos. 8, 10, 11 and 18) relate to holdings resumed from tenants—as distinct from untenanted land acquired from owners-and are designed to secure uniformity of procedure. Another section (No. 13) proposes to facilitate the completion of legal formalities after rearrangement of holdings.

I realise that the Bill is difficult to follow because of the many referencesto provisions of existing Acts but it is no different unfortunately from its predecessors in this respect. I hope that the explanatory memorandum has been of some assistance to Deputies.

In conclusion, I should like to stress the urgency of the land bond provisions of the Bill. Since the 1st January last there have been no land bonds available to enable prices to be agreed upon or fixed for lands which the Land Commission propose to acquire. I am sure most Deputies share my desire that the land settlement programme should not be retarded, and I confidently urge that the Bill be enacted as quickly as possible.

In dealing with a Bill like this it is pleasant to be able to thank the Minister for the courtesy he has shown us not merely in circulating a White Paper with the Bill but also circulating a copy of the speech he has delivered in introducing it. It is a courtesy which would be appreciated from other Ministers on other Bills.

In spite of the Minister's courtesy and his desire to be helpful, I think he realises himself that this Bill is extremely difficult to understand. Without meaning in any way insultingly, it could easily be described as a Bill of shreds and patches because it deals with all sorts of different things without any really coherent line running through them. For that reason it is a Bill that can be discussed in a more full and ample way on the Committee Stage rather than on the Second Reading. There are, however, some points which arise and which might perhaps be considered as Committee points, but which I would mention for the purpose of having them on the record and for the purpose of giving the Minister an opportunity during the Recess of looking into them.

At the end of his speech the Minister refers to the fact that since 1st January last there have been no land bonds available. I do not quite understand that statement, in view of the fact that in the beginning of his speech he says there is still a margin of £3,000,000, unless it means that prior to the 31st December last the bondsthat were already issued when the last Order was made by the Minister for Finance have become exhausted and that pending the enactment of this measure the Minister for Finance does not want to make any new Order creating bonds. If that is the explanation then, of course, I can quite understand it. But I do not quite understand how, if there have been no bonds available since 1st January last there have been provisional prices fixed since 1st January last. The Minister is aware that I am interested in a case in which the appointed day was fixed as 29th January and, as I pointed out in a memorandum I sent to him dealing with that case, the purchase price was provisionally fixed as of the 29th January in 4 per cent. bonds. I cannot understand how it was so fixed on the 29th January if, as the Minister states in the concluding paragraph of his speech, there were no bonds available since 1st January last.

The main point of the beginning of this measure is to bring the price of land bonds more into keeping with par value. Consequent upon the monetary policy of the Government, the price of national loans has been fixed more or less on a 5 per cent. basis, and the effect of that has been that the price of 4 per cent. land bonds is at present in or around 87 per cent. That means, in fact, that any person from whom land is acquired and who is allocated these bonds by the Land Commission, if he is forced to sell through stress of financial circumstances when he gets the bonds, he loses £13 for every £100 of the price that had been paid to him for his land.

That is a very serious loss, indeed, and the Minister is perfectly right in bringing in now a Bill, one of the functions of which is to eliminate a large portion, at any rate, of that loss and one of the functions of which will be to ensure that, in the future, when people are being paid in land bonds, they will be paid in bonds which will have a value more or less equivalent to the nominal price at which those bonds were granted by the judicial commissioners in exchange for the market value of the land fixed by the Land Commission Court.

There is very great difficulty in respect of the date of the operation of the Act. I might say, in passing, that one of the things that is indispensable about this Bill is that it refers back so much, that it has so many retrospective and retroactive provisions. In the last sub-section of Section 4, it is deemed to have come into operation on the passing of the Land Bond Act, 1934. In the last sub-section of Section 5 it is deemed to have come into operation on the passing of the Land Act, 1933. There are other similar provisions such as in Section 16, where it is deemed to have come into operation on the passing of the Land Act, 1931, and again in Section 18, where it is deemed to have come into operation on the passing of the Land Act, 1936.

The Minister will agree with me that it is bad to be put into the position of having to come into this House and to bring in legislation which incorporates on its face retrospective provisions of that sort. It means that the drafting of these earlier Acts left a little to be desired inasmuch as it is clear that the draftsmen then and this House-because we must also accept responsibility for the Act that went through-did not carry into words the intentions of the particular time.

I want to put to the Minister another specific point in respect to Section 14. This Bill by Section 1 has to be construed as one with the Land Purchase Acts and to be cited with those Acts. The title of the Bill is "an Act to amend and extend the Land Purchase Acts", but Section 14 does not do that. Section 14 extends, interprets or amends-whatever word you like to use—the Registration of Titles Acts, 1891 and 1942. I want to point out to the Minister that at least there is a case to be argued that Section 14 is outside the scope of the title of this Bill and outside the construction of the Bill, as set out in Section 1. I should like to refer the Minister to Section 79 of the Land Act of 1923 in which it was stated:—

"This Act may be cited as the Land Act, 1923, and shall be construed as one with the Land LawActs, the Land Purchase Acts and the Congested Districts Board (Ireland) Acts, and may be cited with those Acts."

There was an Act which was to amend the Land Purchase Acts primarily, but it was appreciated that that, in addition to amending the Land Purchase Acts primarily it was also amending other Acts and that it was in consequence proper to ensure that there would be a reference in the citation to these other Acts. Here we have in Section 14 an amendment in effect of the Registration of Titles Acts of 1891 and 1942. I appreciate fully that the wording of Section 14 sets out that the powers of a limited administrator are for the purpose of proceedings under the Land Purchase Acts but I think the Minister will find, if he goes into the matter more fully, that proceedings under the Land Purchase Acts, if it were not for this section, would be deemed to end with the vesting under the Land Purchase Acts which transfers the land in question under the provisions of the Registration of Title Acts of 1891 and 1942.

I want to make it quite clear to the Minister that I am not arguing at all on the merits or demerits of whether it is wise to give these powers to a limited administrator. My own view is that it is a wise thing to give these powers and that a limited administrator is appointed in 99 cases out of 100 to save a small farmer the very great expense of probably not one, but two or three grants of administration. Probably it is given in cases in which there would be more than one grant to be taken out. I know of one case in which, if a limited administrator had not been appointed, there would have been four different deaths in respect of which the person in occupation would have to administer and the cost involved would have been very considerable.

Power to appoint a limited administrator is, therefore, a wise power from the point of view of saving expense but I do not think that the way in which it is done here is quite the correct way. I think we should consider the whole scope of this Bill asbeing one which is analogous to the Registration of Title Acts, 1891, and 1942 and construe it with them or make some reference to it at any rate in the citation in Section 1 or perhaps deal with the matter under a section of the Registration of Title Acts. I have considerable doubt as to whether the power contained in Section 14 of this Bill, as drafted at present, is not one that might not be upset at a later stage if somebody desired to test it. I think the Minister would be well advised to ensure between this and the Committee Stage that it is not a question that will be left open to any query in future.

The Minister when he was introducing the Bill made the apology-usual, I think, for all Ministers for Lands when bringing in a Land Bill-that it is extremely difficult to follow, and that it is legislating by reference to a very large degree. It is, of course. I think if one were to go through all the sections of this Bill and to understand what they are about, one would have to look up also the Land Act of 1903, the Land Act of 1909, the Land Act of 1923, the Land Act of 1927, the Land Act of 1929, the Land Act of 1931, the Land Act of 1933, the Land Bond Act of 1934, the Land Act of 1936, the Land Act of 1939 and the Land Act of 1950. I think there is another Land Bond Act, that of 1929 also mentioned in it. There are certainly references as well to the Registration of Title Act, 1891, and the Registration of Title Act, 1942.

I should not mind making a small wager with the Minister that when we had looked at the number of sections in these Acts to which reference is made by this Bill, we would find that they referred it back to the Land Acts of 1881 and 1895 and many other Acts. That only emphasises that the position in relation to land purchase legislation becomes more and more chaotic every year. Every Bill is another little bit added on to the patchwork quilt. The argument always has been, before adding an extra patch, that it was not worth while doing anything to this patchwork quilt in the way of consolidation or codification because the Land Commission wasreaching almost the end of its tether, and that by the time codification could be completed it would have ceased to exist or ceased to function.

It was ready to expire.

The Minister has blown that argument skyhigh by advancing the limit for the issue of land bonds from £10,000,000 by another 50 per cent. to £15,000,000. In the 19 years that have passed since 1934 land bonds to the tune of approximately £7,000,000 have been issued.

He is asking now for permission to issue bonds up to £15,000,000, so that, taking it on the same basis, the Land Commission is going to be in existence for at least another 20 years, even on the Minister's own computation. We all know, of course, that it will be there for a considerably longer period, and that it will be necessary for a long time to come to refer to the Land Purchase Acts. Because the Minister has himself swept away the argument that many of his predecessors, who came from different political Parties, put forward that it was not worth while consolidating the Land Acts, I hope he will, in the future, use with the parliamentary draftsman and the section of the Attorney-General's office which deals with the consolidation of law, his best endeavours and his most persuasive influence to ensure that, by the time the next Land Act comes in, it will be one which will simplify the mass of law which, quite frankly, would befog anyone who tried to disentangle it.

The Bill is one which we will consider in greater detail on the Committee Stage, because it is one which deals with a very great number of different matters, rather than with one overriding principle, as is normally the case. We will then have an opportunity of going into these highly technical matters. I do not want to weary the House by repeating the details of the hardships and injustices of the cases set out in the memorandum I submitted to the Minister, but I hope that, by the time the Committee Stage comes, I shall be able to add to the compliment I paid to him to-day forhis courtesy in giving us a copy of his speech, a compliment for his courtesy in giving me the amendment for which I have asked.

Like Deputy Sweetman, I compliment the Minister on providing us with a copy of his speech. I wish the practice were more widespread amongst other Ministers. The Bill brings home to Deputies the absolute necessity for a codification of the Land Acts. It was one of the things I had hoped to reach, but it is a pretty stiff undertaking. Nevertheless, down through the years, many sections of these Land Acts have become unnecessary. They have fallen into disuse and should be cut out, and, while I have no doubt that the new Bill which would emerge would be a fairly stupendous document, it would be well worth the time and expense involved in bringing the whole thing up to date. It will take some time, but I ask the Minister, in view of the references in this Bill, which, of necessity, must appear in every Land Bill, to start this work of codification as soon as possible.

I am glad to see two features in this Bill. The first is the amendment of the position with regard to the discrepancy which existed, a discrepancy which caused a good deal of heart-burning amongst those whose lands were acquired, untenanted lands, by the Land Commission, between the apparent face value of the land bonds issued and their market value, if the former land owner proceeded to convert them into cash. Deputy Sweetman quoted the figure of 87, which means that the vendor of land to the Land Commission lost approximately £13 per £100. That is a matter for which the Minister cannot be blamed and he is to be congratulated on setting the position right now. When the Committee Stage comes along, we shall be asking him to push back the operation of this provision to include some of those whose lands have been acquired for some time past. I hope the Minister will not object to some little retrospective effect in that matter.

It probably would not be in order for any member of the House, other than a Minister, to table such an amendment,and, if that be the case, I ask the Minister to consider it. In the case of the 1950 Act, where there was a similar basic departure from practice in the case of Section 5, it was made retrospective, and with very beneficial effects. It was a matter which contributed in great measure to bringing the Land Commission into disrepute amongst the people whose lands were likely to be acquired and it was a cause of the hostility that people felt towards the Land Commission—the fact that the market value of the land bonds was below the face value at which they were issued. I am glad that that matter is being set right.

I want to say also that I am deeply grateful for Section 7 of this Bill, which gives people a further period of six months in which to have the price of their lands redetermined-those people who, through their own fault or through the fault of their solicitors or advisers, failed to take advantage of Section 5. In reply to a question of mine this time last year, the Minister revealed that, whereas about 93 people would benefit by sub-section (2) of Section 5, only 23 were sufficiently wide awake to their own interests to have the price of their land redetermined, and it is astonishing to me, in view of all the publicity the Act got while it was passing through the House-it got sufficient publicity to bring home to people the advantages of the section— how anybody could have failed to realise the advantages that lay in the section. I hope they will not go to sleep for the extended period of six months which this Bill gives them.

A good deal of the Bill consists of necessary amendments. Some Deputies may take the view that draftsmen and civil servants generally should turn out the perfect Bill on all occasions, but that is not humanly possible, because, even with the most scrupulous attention and the greatest care and thought in regard to the framing and wording of a Bill, legal men will discover loopholes when the Bill comes to be administered. No Bill has yet been found watertight, and I think it was Daniel O'Connell who said on one occasion that there was no Act of Parliament ever drafted that he could notdrive a coach-and-four through. That holds good to-day, and it will hold good while human nature is what it is.

Some of the amendments in the Bill go back quite a while, and I would go so far as to say that some of them should have been embodied in the Land Act of 1950. For the fact that they were not, I accept a certain amount of blame, for the reason that, when the Bill was being drafted. I admit to having been a little impatient to get on with the basic changes the 1950 Act brought about. I am afraid that some of the numerous amendments proposed in this Bill were known to the officials of the Land Commission prior to the drafting of the 1950 Act. Some of the amendments in the Bill now before the House would have been inserted in the 1950 Act were it not that in my impatience to go on with the 1950 Bill I told the officials not to draft the amendments but to proceed with the basic principles I desired to see enshrined in the Bill at that time.

Let us examine some of the changes proposed in this Bill. In the first place, I fail to understand why the Minister in one part of his opening speech refers to the fact that no land bonds were available since last January while in another part he states that £3,000,000 is still available of the £10,000,000. Candidly, I do not understand that and I would like the Minister when he is replying, to tell me how he can reconcile those statements.

Sub-sections (3), (4) and (5) of Section 2 puzzle me. The White Paper says that Section 2 envisages the fixation of higher rate of annuity. In that section also the Minister for Finance is given a certain power. An examination of Section 12 of the 1950 Act will reveal that the excepted matters therein mentioned are the same as those in the 1933 Act. Paragraph (h) sub-section (1) of Section 12 of the 1950 Act says: "the determination of the amount of any standard purchase annuity" is an excepted matter. Paragraph (e) of the same sub-section says: "The determination (other than any determination arising in or being part of a rearrangement scheme) of the persons to be selected as allottees of any land" is an excepted matter. Section 2 of this Bill, strange to relate,gives powers to the Minister for Finance to increase the annuity on lands that will be purchased under this particular Act.

Sub-section 5 of Section 2 of the 1952 Bill states:-

"Where any land which is not subject to a purchase annuity or annual sum equivalent to a purchase annuity is vested in the Land Commission under Section 28 or Section 30 of the Land Act, 1950, any advance made by the Land Commission to a purchaser of such land or any part thereof shall be repaid by means of a purchase annuity calculated at such a rate as the Minister for Finance directs."

Regardless of the mention of Sections 28 and 30 of the Land Act, 1950, under these sections the Minister for Finance had no power or authority to interfere, good, bad or indifferent, with the fixation of the annuity on any land. Sub-section (6) of Section 2 of this Bill states:—

"Where after the passing of this Act additional land bonds are issued in consequence of an increase in any standard purchase annuity or land bonds are lodged pursuant to paragraph (a) of sub-section (2) of Section 15 of the Land Act, 1931, such land bonds shall bear the same rate of interest as the land bonds originally issued to the credit of the relevant estate."

The White Paper says that Section 10 of the Land Act, 1950 gives similar power to the Minister for Finance not the Minister for Lands. I submit that is not so. Section 10 of the 1950 Act gives power to the Minister for Finance to dispose of the annuity as he thinks fit but it does not empower him to fix it. It will be remembered that Section (6) of the 1933 Act became Section 12 of the 1950 Act and an additional number of excepted matters was added. The fixation of the annuity and the fixing of the price at which land should be resold to any allottee are absolutely excepted matters under Section 12 of the 1950 Act. While Section 12 of the Bill proposes to give powers to the Minister for Finance to encroach upon these excepted matters,there is not one single word about the repeal of Section 12 of the 1950 Act.

With regard to increasing the annuity, if we are going to give the market value to those whose lands are acquired and if we are going to say now that those who received land bonds for their land will not have to sell them at a lower price and thus realise a lower price in cash than the Land Commission or Appeal Tribunal fixed the price of the land at, the argument of the Department of Finance will be that it is necessary to increase the annuity.

I want to tell the Minister what happened prior to 1933. At that time a vast amount of arrears began to build up in the Land Commission. That was due to the fact that annuities, even before we got our freedom, had been fixed at too high a rate with the result that many vested owners and tenants found themselves unable to meet the annuity. For that reason, it became necessary to revise the whole system. The annuities were halved and this saved what in my opinion would otherwise have been a very serious situation as all the annuities might have become uncollectable. There was a vast amount of arrears and £4,000,000 was funded on to existing annuities all over the country under the 1933 Act. If we depart from that it will be a step in the wrong direction. It would have the effect of discouraging migrants in particular who would take holdings purchased under the bonds created under this Act. Migration is the key to the solution by the Land Commission of one of our remaining outstanding problems-the relieving of congestion.

During my term of office the migrants grumbled at the stiff annuity they were asked to pay and when this Bill becomes law there will be much more grumbling. There is a certain amount of prosperity among the members of the agricultural community at the moment. Hence, we hear very few grumbles. The lesson that was learned from the period prior to 1933 was that the amount of the annuity should be fixed at such a figure that the tenant or annuitant would be able to pay it.

We can all pay our debts when thingsare going well with us, but we should see to it that the Land Commission is left with the power and authority to ensure that the annuities are at such a figure that the landholder or the landowner as the case may be is able to meet the payment of the annuity together with his other costs, such as the payment of rates, purchase of seeds, to meet losses that he may incur and other charges. He should be left in the position that he will be able to pay it in a bad year. If he is, he will surely be able pay it in a good year. I suggest that there is no other safe basis on which to fix the annuity.

I do not believe that this problem is so pressing in the case of additions to holdings for the reason that the land is always resold to allottees at a reasonable price. Very often, most of it lies in areas where the price of land is not very high. I have never heard any complaints from those who have received enlargements to uneconomic holdings or from those who have got a rearranged holding. The danger, in this department, in my opinion, is to migrants, because if we discourage or damp down on the migrant question then the Land Commission can fold up its tents and silently steal away like the Arabs in the night. If there is any close down on the migrant question, the work of the Land Commission comes to an end.

I would like to impress on the Minister that this question of increasing the annuity is fraught with danger. I have no hesitation in saying that it will contribute largely to putting an end to the work of the Land Commission. I want to say that during my period in office, and since, the Land Commission have made great strides in relieving congestion. They have cleared up area after area in a splendid way, in a way that I feel proud of.

I well remember the occasion when I first came to the House to move an Estimate for the Land Commission. The present Minister was then sitting on this side, and he was, I think, inclined to have a good laugh at me when, in the course of my speech introducing the Estimate, I held out the hope of finality to the work of theLand Commission. I expressed the hope that it would end some day. I imagine that the Minister would be prepared to change his mind now and admit that in what I said then I was nearer the mark than he was when he derided me for holding out any hope that the work of the Land Commission would come to an end. The sooner it does come to an end the better the tenants in the congested areas will like it.

We must admit that there are many estates, particularly in the congested areas, still awaiting division. I know of one myself. It was purchased 43 years ago from the landlord and very little has been done on it since. The conditions of the tenants living on it are almost as bad as they were when their predecessors lived under the rule of the landlord. I am glad, however, to say that the work of the Land Commission is progressing rapidly. At the same time, you have people such as those who live on that estate who have long been expecting relief and are still waiting for it.

A certain type of land would appear to be envisaged under Section 5. Does the Minister expect that a lot of it will be handled by the Land Commission? I myself would not think so.

As regards Section 8, it would appear to me that here the Land Commission are seeking powers which they have got already. In fact, it might not be good for the commissioners to have these powers. I can visualise cases arising under this section of which we have an example at the present time in my county. This is a case in which the commissioners have made an order to resume possession of a small holding in a rundale townland from a person whom I will describe as "X." That person purported to be the owner and occupier. The Land Commission refused an objection which was lodged in that particular case. It later transpired that "X" was not the owner at all.

I mention that case for the purpose of supporting my view that the giving of the powers set out in this section could lead to injustice. The Land Commission could perpetrate an injust ice, but in very few cases I will admit.The point I am making is that a miscarriage of justice could easily take place-that is to say, that a person's property could be taken from him without that person ever getting the chance of lodging a petition.

What was done by the commissioners in the case you refer to was illegal.

It was and it was not; because the commissioners proceeded against "X.""X" claimed to be the full owner. The position was that the commissioners at the time did not know of the existence of a third party who was the real owner. I think I am safe in saying that, in that case, evidence was deliberately concealed from the commissioners, and for that reason they were not to blame. There was a person who refused to tender certain evidence which was in his possession so that there were more than the commissioners to blame for the decision in that case.

Section 17 deals with certain types of cases very few of which we have at the present time in the country. The section reads:-

"Section 19 of the Land Act, 1933, is hereby amended by the deletion in sub-section (2) of ‘to an owner of land for the repurchase of such land otherwise than under Section 11 of the Land Act, 1927' and the substitution therefor of ‘consequent upon an application for an advance for the repurchase of land otherwise than under Section 11 of the Land Act, 1927, and whether made to the applicant therefor or' to any other person'."

Could not the circumstances change in cases of this kind? Is it not possible that such land would change hands and pass to a direct descendant, let us say, of the owner who was not entitled to revision or to another person if it were sold on the open market? Could not circumstances so change that it would not be wise for the commissioners to find themselves copper-fastened by the powers they are seeking here? I do not think they require those powers. They have ample powers already under previous Acts to deal with all these cases.

I admit that certain people, only a few, took a mean advantage of the provisions of the 1933 Act to benefit by the halving of annuities who were definitely not entitled to do so. There is the other side of the picture—where circumstances may change to such an extent that it would be wise for the commissioners to have discretion and to use that discretion to the best advantage. I put that point of view to the Minister for consideration. If Section 17 of this Bill goes through, the commissioners would have no option but to exclude all cases. While I sympathise to a great extent with the object of the section, we may be just getting rid of one evil and creating one just as bad.

I would like the Minister when replying to tell us if Section 17 is really needed, and if any cases have been brought to the notice of the Land Commission where the circumstances changed in regard to the owner or the nature or user of the land, the locality in which the land is situated. If the section becomes law the commissioners might be prevented from giving an advantage to some person who would definitely be entitled to it.

I would impress on the Minister the necessity to think twice about increasing the annuity. I do not like to see the Minister for Finance having power to determine the rate of annuity. I would consider it bad enough if the Minister for Lands had the power. That is a very serious departure. It is in direct conflict with Section 12 of the 1950 Act and, if the 1950 Act had never been brought into this House, it would have been in conflict with Section 6 of the 1933 Act. The Minister for Finance should not have this power. That is a matter that should be left absolutely to the discretion of the commissioners. Many times we blame the commissioners for not doing something they should do or for doing something they should not do but the fixation of the annuity should be left to them. The commissioners have learned many bitter lessons by experience and from the collection of annuities. Having spent three and a half years in the Land Commission, studying the matter from the bottom up, I came to the conclusion that the fixation of the annuitywas perfectly safe in the commissioners' hands and would not be safe in any other hands, no matter how well intentioned the person might be. I ask the Minister to consider the whole matter.

Section 15 gives greater power for the collection of arrears and costs. There again I was under the impression that the commissioners had ample powers under existing legislation to deal with any cases that might arise. I do not know of any cases where evasion could occur, even evasion of payment of costs. At present the arrears of annuities are infinitesimal. People have always honoured their obligations in that matter. They have paid their annuities to the Land Commission and their rates to the local authority. It is almost a religion with them. It does not help in cases like this to put on the screws. They accept their obligations cheerfully at the moment but if the screws are put on they may begin to regard them as irksome and as a yoke.

It is with considerable difficulty that I am trying to follow the implications of some sections of this particular Bill. That is nothing new in connection with the land code. There is one matter that is giving a considerable amount of worry to some of my colleagues throughout the country. It is the question as to whether and how the higher interest bearing bonds concerned in this Bill will come to operate in the case of people whose lands have been taken over for some considerable time. Perhaps the Minister would be good enough when he is replying to indicate whether people whose lands have been taken by the Land Commission and have been in the hands of the Land Commission for some years and who have not yet got compensation will be entitled under this Bill to the higher rate of interest and whether that will be retrospective to the time when the Land Commission took possession.

There is quite a number of people concerned. There are many people whose lands have been acquired by the Land Commission for a considerable time and who, perhaps because of some difficulties in connection with the title.have not yet received compensation or payment. The lands have been in the use of the Land Commission. They have been sublet by the Land Commission or have been rearranged. Yet, the people concerned are without their money. In justice and fair play these people should be entitled to the higher rate of interest on whatever purchase money has been fixed either by the Land Court or by agreement, where it has not yet been paid.

I would refer the House and the Minister to Section 10 of the Bill:—

"(1) Where the resumption price of a holding or part of a holding has been or is lodged (whether before or after the passing of this Act) in cash to the credit of the relevant matter before the Land Commission have got or get possession of the holding or part, the Land Commission shall be entitled to be paid out of the resumption price (including any interest thereon) on the allocation thereof-

(a) all costs and expenses incurred by the Land Commission in getting possession (whether before or after the date of the lodgment) of the holding or part, and

(b) interest, at such rate, not exceeding 6 per cent. per annum, as the Minister for Finance directs, on the resumption price from the date of the lodgment to the date on which the Land Commission got or get possession of the holding or part."

There is an indication in sub-section (b) that the Land Commission will be looking for and will be deducting from the resumption price a rate of 6 per cent. If the Land Commission will do that on the allocation of any of these moneys, there is no reason why the people from whom the land was taken should not be entitled to an equal rate for their money since the date on which their lands were taken by the Land Commission. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the Land Commission are entitled to 6 per cent, so also are the people from whom the land was taken in respect of the purchase money for their land.

Possibly the Minister may be able to clarify the position under this Billand indicate whether it is his intention, in respect of people whose lands have been acquired for some time and who have not yet been paid, to make the Bill retrospective to the time the Land Commission got possession of the lands.

Is not it only in the case where the owner of the land puts the Land Commission to expense?

Not necessarily. Under this particular section, as I read it, they are entitled to deduct any costs or expenses that the owner of the land puts them to. They are also entitled under this sub-section (b) to interest at such a rate not exceeding 6 per cent per annum as the Minister for Finance directs, on the resumption price from the date of the lodgment to the date on which the Land Commission got or get possession of the land. They lay down their pound of flesh under this section and that is an indication of what the owner of land will get. There is no trouble when the price is fixed and if it has not been paid he should collect interest from that time to whenever that money is paid.

I would like to have the optimism expressed by Deputy Blowick to-night as to when the Land Commission's work might finish. I entirely disagree with him, unfortunately, in the view he expressed as to there being finality or as to our being within sight of finality in the Land Commission's work in dealing with the congested areas. I think, rightly or wrongly, that until the responsibility is placed by this House four-square on the shoulders of the Minister for Lands, and not on the Land Commission, until we have someone here in the House responsible for the operations of the back-room boys in that Department, we will never be in sight of finality in the work of the Land Commission. We are fooling nobody but ourselves if we think that. Under the law as it is, we have a Minister here in the House simply as a buffer between this House and the officials of the Land Commission, to whom statutory powers have been given, though we have no control over them. Until we reach the day when we place final responsibility on a Minister in thisHouse, we are wasting our time talking about the finality of the work.

There is another point, and I have the opportunity of dealing with it to-night because there is an amendment in this Bill to the 1950 Act, as to what treatment we can expect under land legislation in this House. The House may be misled when certain sections of Land Commission legislation go through. I have a very distinct recollection of the time when, during 1950, Deputy Blowick was introducing the 1950 Bill and certain powers were taken under it that were not formerly given to the Land Commission, in respect of people who had worked on estates that were being acquired by the Land Commission. The former practice was that these people were given farms or compensation. They were people who had worked as herds or labourers on land which was acquired and who lost their livelihood as a result of the Land Commission's operations. This House, in its wisdom, gave to Deputy Blowick, who moved that Bill, power to insert a section saying that for the future the Land Commission would be empowered to pay these people rather than give them land.

Not rather than, in addition to.

That section says, I am sure-the Deputy has it there-that the Land Commission may in their discretion make payments to those people. It was my very sad lot recently to come across a case under that particular section in respect of an estate which Deputy Blowick knows very well, an estate in the village of Ballyheane outside Castlebar, where there was an unfortunate deaf mute working as a herd. He was 60 years of age when that estate was acquired by the Land Commission. That man of 60 enjoyed an income of £30 a year as a herd but the Land Commission offered him £12 as compensation for disturbance of his employment. This man, a deaf mute, has to go into the county home in Castlebar with his lump sum of £12 under that particular section of the 1950 Act.

He must not have been in whole time employment.

He was there whole time. He was fit for nothing else. This occurs in spite of any case by way of sympathetic appeal one may put up to the Land Commission. We in this House in our idiocy gave them that power under the 1950 Act.

Is it in order to describe the work of the House as idiocy?

I think that was the case. The then Minister, in all good faith, said that a situation like this would never arise. We are discussing the amendment here of the 1950 Act and I am pointing out how far one can trust the backroom boys of the Land Commission, who when it pleases them—as in the unfortunate case of this man— may use this power. This man is of no use for the labour market and is shifted into the county home, with the munificent sum of £12 as his entire compensation for his work as a herd all his life. So, when we come to give any other powers to the backroom boys of the Land Commission, I for one will think twice before I vote here for it and I will think twice before I let some of these sections go through this House when it comes to the Committee Stage of this Bill, or before I give any discretion to the backroom boys of the Land Commission.

There is one matter to which I wish to refer before I sit down. If a lot of these people over here in Merrion Street were operating from some other part of the State, we would have much more effective work done. I see no reason in the world why the A. and R. (F) branch, or the section dealing with resettlement of congested areas, or the division of land down the country, should not be located in the place where the job is to be done. They should not be sitting in Merrion Street, waiting for schemes to come from the West of Ireland from the congested areas, allowing them to gather dust and cobwebs for a couple of years and then sending them down again.

Section 13 (2) says:—

"In the case of any land which has, whether before or after the passingof this Act, been rearranged by the Land Commission or of which the Land Commission have, whether before or after such passing, become the registered owners, the Land Commission shall be entitled to publish a vesting order under Section 28 of the Land Act, 1931, in respect of such land or any part thereof."

Before the Land Commission up here discovers that such lands are down there it takes a couple of years. They do not know that. You have the absurd position of some of these sections of the Irish Land Commission, vitally affecting the economies of the congested areas, up here in Dublin, as far as possible from the centre of operations. I think that system is all wrong. The sooner this House takes power to rectify that, the sooner will we make more progress—if we are ever going to make any progress in solving the problems of the congested areas.

Instead of these gentlemen being up here they should be down there. If that were done many years ago we would not be discussing this matter to-night; we would not be still in the position that we cannot see any question of finally solving the problems of the congested areas. That is due to the way the administration of the Land Commission is being worked, for which this House must take ultimate responsibility.

There is a number of matters in this particular Bill which I hope to deal with on the Committee Stage. I do not intend to take up the time of the House to-night except, in particular, to ask the Minister to tell us when he is replying as to what his attitude is going to be about the people still waiting to be paid from the Land Commission and as to what they are going to get on their money.

The purpose of the 1930 Land Act was being defeated by reason of the fact that the land bonds were quoted at 86 and the former owners of the land did not get 100 per cent. payment. That Act was designed to enable the Land Commission to pay the market value of the land acquired. Many people who wanted cash only gotbonds and instead of bonds at par they got bonds at 86, and on these interest payable was 4 per cent. I feel that this Bill will remedy that position, that it will carry out what the Land Act of 1950 was designed for.

This Bill will help to put an end to the unjust and unscrupulous confiscation of land which took place under the Land Acts of 1933 and 1934 at a sacrifice price. The market value of the land will be properly interpreted now in consequence of the arrangements to increase the interest to be paid on these bonds.

It is a natural adjustment and I am glad that the Minister has decided to do it, especially when we remember that the National Loan was floated at 5 per cent. interest. It is only fair to the owners whose land is acquired that they should be placed in the same position as the people who were able to invest money at 5 per cent. I was wondering if the Minister would be able to give a definite figure with regard to the interest which is to be paid. Is it to be 5 per cent.? I think it should be at least 5 per cent. so as to be in line with the interest paid on the National Loan.

I agree with what the previous speaker said with regard to the acquisition of land. Landowners have been treated very unfairly by the Land Commission in the acquisition of land. When the land is taken over it is rented on the conacre system for perhaps two or three years and the result is that the Land Commission gets back almost the price of the land, but the man who is deprived of his land gets no return from it and is left waiting for his payment. That is happening in the County Dublin. I am aware of some cases where houses have been built on the land and roads constructed while those from whom the land was taken have not yet got one penny. They were dispossessed of the land which was then let. They have not even yet got the bonds at their present value of 86. As a result of this Bill they will probably be given bonds at their par value instead of at the present market value. That would enable the market value of the land to be paid to them. The 1st December, 1949, wasmentioned as the date and I hope the Minister will assure us that all adjustments will be made back to that date. Many persons who were dispossessed of their land since that time have not yet got their bonds and I expect this Bill will apply to them.

I should also like to know if people who were given bonds since 1949 will have the adjustment made for them. I got the impression from the Minister's speech that he will carry out that adjustment. I would impress on the Minister that the 1950 Land Act was designed to pay market value for the land and that that was defeated because the land bonds could not be sold at par by the people who received them.

It would be a new principle, but people from whom land is taken often ask why they should not be paid in cash. If they sell the land in the open market they get paid in cash. I think that cash should be paid to these people and that an adjustment over the years should be carried out by the Land Commission. They felt that they had a grievance when they were being paid by way of bonds which represented only 86 per cent. of the value of the land taken from them.

I am surprised that Deputy Blowick does not appreciate that the Minister for Finance has an important function as custodian of the State's finances. He is the guardian of the issue of land bonds, without which of course, land acquisition and resettlement cannot proceed. It is hardly possible that Deputy Blowick is not familiar with the Land Bond Act of 1934 under which the responsibility and obligations regarding the creation of land bonds by Order rests on the Minister for Finance. He is required by the Act to fix a rate of interest which will keep the bonds at or near par for a reasonable time. But under that Act also there is a statutory maximum rate of interest, 4 per cent. which we are now deleting under this Bill. Since the last Order expired on 31st December, 1952, it has not been possible, under the existing legislation, with the statutory maximum, to create land bonds which would remain at ornear par. Each land bond Order made by the Minister for Finance, usually in December of a particular year, restricts the issue of bonds to prices agreed upon or fixed during a specified period, normally the following calender year. The last period was 1952. In the case to which Deputy Sweetman referred, by the way, the price was first fixed by the lay commissioners before the end of last year, although it does not seem to have been published in 1952.

It only operates, I think, as of the appointed day, which is the 29th January, 1953.

That is a matter we will have to go into further on the Committee Stage.

Possession was taken on the 29th January. I think it is only on the date of possession that it operates.

As regards the £3,000,000, that £3,000,000 is, of course, the amount which is still available subject to the making of the necessary Orders by the Minister for Finance, who has these statutory obligations. We can still proceed provided he makes these Orders to the extent of issues up to £3,000,000. There is nothing inconsistent between that, which is the global figure, and the duty which also rests on the Minister for Finance of making an Order creating a new series of bonds for a particular period so as to fulfil the condition that these bonds will be at or near par for a reasonable time.

Deputy Sweetman also mentioned that in relation to Section 14, we will be amending the Registration of Title Acts. As a layman, it seems to me that we are only confirming a certain interpretation with regard to the position of limited administrators who are appointed by the Land Commission pursuant to the Land Acts and that, therefore, it can justly be claimed by the draftsman that the title of the Bill covers the particular class. I think that the draftsman generally goes into these nice points of symmetry and position with regard to title with great careand that we are safe in leaving it in his capable hands.

With regard to Section 8, Deputy Blowick seemed to question the wisdom of the Land Commission in seeking this power which, in fact, is only placing the position in regard to the resumption of holdings on the same basis as the law already provides in the case of untenanted land. It simply means that in future resumed tenanted holdings will be placed on the same basis as untenanted land. It brings both types of land into line and makes the position, I am informed, legally water-tight.

Is that Section 8?

Yes. With regard to Section 7, the position is that prices were determined in 23 cases. Late applications were received in two cases and no applications in 90 cases. The extended time limit will enable these applications to be lodged in the 92 cases.

92 out of how many?

Out of 115 I think.

That is an extraordinary percentage.

Apparently they have not yet applied.

They did not bother their heads.

As regards Deputy Moran's point about the interest that is charged by the Land Commission on moneys lodged to cover the period between lodgment, which I understand has to be made, and the date on which possession can be taken, the lodgment precedes the taking of possession and the land vests in the Land Commission and it is a matter for the owner and his advisers to seek allocation of the funds. There sometimes may be a delay by reason of the owner not having proved title to the funds.

With regard to the general point raised by Deputy Moran, as well as by speakers on the other side of theHouse, that the effect of Section 2 of the Act will be to enable the Order to be made by the Minister for Finance fixing the rate of annuity and also, presumably, the total amount of bonds to be issued for the coming period, I do not know what point Deputies are endeavouring to make with regard to making this particular clause retrospective. In my view, it cannot be made retrospective and can only come into operation from whatever date most nearly falls into line with the enactment of this measure. The reason I say that is because it is only, as provided by the Land Bond Act, 1934, for a certain period after the issue of a particular series of bonds that we can hope to have the position where par will almost be reached.

Looking at some of the figures I have here, I see that in 1947 the quotation of 3 per cent. land bonds was a minimum of 99 and a maximum of 101¼; in 1948 there was a maximum of 99 and a minimum of 97; in 1949, when land bonds were 3½ per cent., the maximum was 100½ and the minimum was 97; in 1950 the maximum was 97 and the minimum was 91, which, although not as low as the present figure, was certainly very low indeed. Bearing in mind the fact that these 3½ per cent. bonds did not bear the present maximum statutory rate of interest of 4 per cent., the present quotation of 87½ would have to be related to a somewhat higher figure, I think, to get the exact relationship between the two series, having regard to the difference in the rate of interest on the bonds.

In 1951 the 4 per cent. bonds then current ran from 99¼ minimum to 103¼ maximum; in 1952 from 86 to 96, and in 1953 from 86¾ to 89. It will be seen, therefore, that, while the quotations have frequently run into figures like 97 and 99, even so far back as 1950 bonds had fallen to 91. I only mention that to show that, in fact, there are these fluctuations in the market.

I think that the Minister for Finance and the Government are assuming full legal and moral responsibility in taking steps to see that the provisions of the 1934 Land Bond Act are effectively carried out and that under the Orderto be made by the Minister for Finance all that is possible will be done to ensure that the new issue will, for a reasonable time, be at or near par.

I do not know what Deputy Blowick means by the increase of annuities. There is no increase of annuities. Rather than have a grievance against the Minister for Finance, I think it is the Minister for Finance who ought to have a grievance against Deputy Blowick and myself.

In the first place, the Minister has to issue these bonds and the taxpayer has to find the necessary moneys for the service of them. Secondly, to the extent that these moneys will not be provided for by an increased annuity, since the persons who will be getting allotments of land will still be paying the same amount of annuity and only half that annuity under the 1933 Act, the Minister for Finance will have to call on the taxpayer to make up the balance, not alone the halved annuity plus the loss on resale of the land to the allottee but the additional loss that will now result, because the gap between the cost of the charge of the bonds upon the State on the one side and the income from the halved annuity on the other side will become greater. The Minister for Finance will have to make provision to secure additional moneys from the taxpayer to raise the funds. May I remind Deputy Blowick—as I have reminded a good many people throughout the country—that while people are paying up to £30 per acre in parts of this country for conacre, the Land Commission, through its operations and with the backing of the Minister for Finance, aided by the strong arm of the taxpayer, is giving land to allottees at an annual charge of something like 15/- an acre or thereabouts.

If it is suggested that it is too much of a burden, Deputy Blowick must have been living in a fool's paradise if he did not realise that, all the time, apart from the increased cost to the State of buying land at market value without asking the allottee to pay any more by way of annuity, the cost of land is going up, the gap is increasing all the time. The resale price and the cost of land settlement has become almostprohibitive. There are certain areas in the country where, if we buy land and add the cost of making holdings, building houses and enabling the tenants to carry on their work as we would like, it is almost prohibitive to do it.

That is not a fair comparison.

I think we can congratulate ourselves and the Minister for Finance that, this year, he has enabled the Land Commission to carry out a very good programme of work particularly with regard to the migration of tenants from the West of Ireland to the midlands. I do not know what Deputy Blowick's grouse may be but I suppose that it is grousing that has him where he is.

As regards the codification of the Land Acts, I dare say we can deal with that matter on another occasion. Steps are being taken from time to time to codify different sections of the legislation of the State. If it were possible to get the personnel who are dealing with these matters to devote their attention to land legislation in the same way as to fishing legislation, for instance, I should be very glad.

With regard to Deputy Moran, or anybody else who has a grouse about particular cases, more especially in respect of those who claim that they have been deprived of their land bonds or deprived of payment for their land due to some negligence or remissness on the part of the Land Commission, if I can get particulars of the cases I shall be very glad to go into them. It would be impossible for me to answer Deputy Moran or anybody else unless I got some more details of the cases he has in mind.

I now come to the question of decentralisation. If the Government decided that they could send the Land Commission down to Castlebar, I would have no objection in the world. I am immediately faced, however, with the question of where accommodation is to be provided in Castlebar, Galway or anywhere else.

We will house them.

Certain branches of the Land Commission such as the collection branch that have been working in Dublin for generations——

Would it be safe to send the collection branch to Mayo?

I resent that. They are very honest people.

I assure Deputy Sweetman that they would be quite safe in my native county. If Deputy Moran is interested in what is known as land settlement or the relief of congestion he must be satisfied that the West of Ireland has more than its share of the outdoor staff. These are the men who determine the actual schemes. Upon their recommendation the commissioners decide to take land, the persons to whom to give it and what schemes of turbary, road-building and house making are to be undertaken. It is upon their estimates that the commissioners decide to go ahead with particular schemes. It will be seen, therefore, that there is no loss in that respect. No body of civil servants in this country is more familiar with rural conditions or the needs of the people in the West of Ireland—and that is only natural—than the Land Commission inspectors who have spent a long time working amongst those people : nobody knows their circumstances better. If it is suggested that there may be people in the Land Commission in Dublin who have not the opportunity of visiting these areas, as they would like, I think that the excellent staff of inspectors and surveyors that we have in the West means that we can get every possible information by way of report and interview, if necessary, as to the conditions down there and the best steps to take to improve the situation.

Question put and agreed to.

When it is proposed to take the next stage?

The 15th April next.