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.