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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Nov 1984

Vol. 353 No. 6

Land Bill, 1984: [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

I welcome the Bill in the sense that it is an attempt to bring land policy legislation into line with twentieth century requirements though at this time we should be legislating for the twenty-first century.

Essentially the Bill proposes to bring into operation measures that will encourage the maximisation of the potential of our greatest natural resource, our agricultural land. This is a subject on which there has been much discussion down through the years, right down through history in fact. Land has been always an extremely emotive issue. The Bill proposes to deal with a situation that did not arise until recent times, that is, the high price of agricultural land to potential purchasers, and in this context I am thinking of the small farmer or the farmer's son who would not necessarily have recourse to the kind of finances that would be available to cartels and other such conglomerates.

The Minister for State is to be complimented on the work he has put into the Bill. We are talking about a very involved issue. On the one hand we must have regard to the need to ensure that a person has a right to own property — in this case agricultural land — and at the same time have regard to the national good by ensuring that the land is at all times in the hands of those who are young enough to develop it to the maximum.

It is useful to look at the concept of land ownership in this country and compare it with other countries. As I have already said, land ownership is an emotive issue here. Despite the fact that the Constitution ensures that people have a right to ownership of private property under section 40º, in certain instances, the Land Commission could acquire agricultural land for specific reasons and re-allocate it. The high cost of agricultural land was probably the biggest disincentive to any young person thinking of becoming involved in agriculture. Ways and means had to be found to circumvent that problem. The policy of land leasing, which the Minister proposes, is the right one in present circumstances. It is to be hoped that it would be presented in such a way as to make it attractive to as many people as possible and thus ensure a big uptake so that we will continue to have the highest possible level of production.

There are many sincerely held views about the ownership of land. Perhaps it would be possible for the Minister to consider, along with land leasing, some kind of system involving a lease purchase system. I do not say that as a criticism of the Bill. It would encourage farmers or potential farmers who might be a little reticent to make the kind of investment that would be required even with land leasing. A lease purchase scheme might be an added incentive to such people.

As regards the ownership of agricultural land and agricultural output, the governing factor is the income that can be achieved from ownership or leasing of land. This will have a great bearing on the success of the land leasing plan. It is not that long ago since the kind of return for investment in agriculture was scarely regarded as sufficient to cover the risk involved. It would not have encouraged people to invest in agriculture or lending institutions to give loans to people involved in agriculture. Perhaps it might be a good idea to consider some kind of lease purchase.

There has been a lot of talk about land mobility and the need to ensure the maximum land mobility. Mobility in itself will not guarantee any level of output or income. It is the level of efficiency that will improve our position. The fairly consistent change of ownership of agricultural land will not achieve the desired effect, which is increased output. It would be desirable to allow the land to remain in the hands of those who are most dedicated and who, from the point of view of age, would be in the best position to maximise the land potential.

Much criticism has been levelled at the agricultural community in relation to the non-utilisation of land or land which requires a great deal of reclamation. If land is in the hands of those who are young enough to work it, that will solve one problem. However, there will be a problem in relation to the high cost of land reclamation. If one travels in the North one will see large tracts of land which have been reclaimed in recent years, probably with large scale EC assistance. One can then assess the scale of the problem from the financial point of view. If land which has been underutilised for some time is to be brought to its full potential and if drainage works and other necessary improvement works are to be undertaken, it will require a fairly substantial capital input from the EC or central Government. There is no way the desired level of productivity can be achieved otherwise. With the best will in the world, having regard to the experience of the last ten years, financial institutions would not be justified in making available the kind of finance that would be necessary and at the same time expecting a farmer to make a living and take on a land lease.

A number of speakers referred to the land tax. It will probably encourage land mobility but I should not like to rely on it being a major contributory factor. The other matters to which I and other speakers alluded will be far more positive. We need also to examine the whole idea of the reasoning behind any young person wishing to go into agriculture, to take on the responsibility of a farm lease and all the financial trappings that go with it. Then we come to the words which nobody likes to hear —"profit" and "incentive". There must be incentive for those who are young enough to be able to exploit the land to the full and they should be encouraged to hand over the land to those who are prepared to lease it, improve its output and thereby benefiting the economy. The only way to that is by a revamped and updated farm retirement scheme although I know it is easier said than done. It will be costly but Irish people do not take kindly to being forced to do something, it is far better to give them an incentive which will guarantee their future and their right to remain in an area for as long as they wish. We must also ensure that there is a realistic income available to them from leasing the land.

We all hope that a land leasing policy will get off the ground quickly. Assuming it does, we would like to see an overall body which might replace the Land Commission who have probably outlived their usefulness. I know that the Department of Agriculture propose to do that now but there should be an overall governing body which would have responsibility for monitoring land mobility, keeping in mind the ability of those involved by way of tenancies or land holders and owners to maximise agriculture to the fullest possible extent. At the same time, they should ensure that the land of the nation does not necessarily fall into the hands of those with the most money to buy it. That is an important point and with the parity of the punt against the dollar and the strength of a number of other currencies, it is essential that the State should have some measures at its disposal which would ensure that while we encourage land mobility we do not want to make it easy for non-nationals to acquire large tracts of land, thereby perhaps eliminating Irish nationals from the market place who would be quite willing to do the same job and probably would do it better in most cases.

Nobody will be offended if I say that the previous farm retirement scheme was not a resounding success. However, unless the land leasing Bill is accompanied by a worthwhile farm retirement scheme, it will be difficult for the concept behind the Bill to succeed. It is a matter which requires a considerable degree of examination and it should be examined very carefully so that there are sufficient incentives to ensure that we do not have the worst of both worlds, land leasing and insufficient incentives to people who own the land to encourage them to lease it.

The Bill is a constructive proposal to bring land policy up to date and to meet the requirements of our membership of the EC, the need to compete with our partners in the Community and to ensure that the land is brought into the hands of those who are young and dedicated and able to apply themselves to the task of maximising the output from agricultural land.

While the Bill removes legal obstacles to long term leasing and repeals many of the Land Acts it does not deal with the root problem which is the high percentage of land which is unproductive and underutilised. There is no incentive to encourage land owners who are not making proper use of the land, either through ill-health, disability or lack of commitment, to discontinue farming.

We welcome the Bill as far as it goes but the Minister said that the purpose of the Bill is to exclude agricultural leases from certain provisions in the Statute Book which might be regarded as inhibiting the development of leasing as part of a land tenure system. He also said that the opportunity has been taken to include provisions of a technical nature aimed at tidying up existing domestic land settlement operations and functions. There must be an in-depth examination of the farming structure generally, not alone regarding the size of farms but farm development. An Foras Talúntais reports refer to progressive, full time farmers who keep expanding but they also refer to smaller farms which are contracting even further. There is a real hunger for land, especially in my constituency. We are told that one-third of our agricultural land is underutilised and that there are about one million acres leased, although it is hard to ascertain whether this figure is correct. Land is leased for many reasons, by speculators who buy land as a stand-by against inflation and it is also purchased by people who may not be able to utilise it and who, in turn, lease it to someone else. There are perpetual lessors who lease for a lifetime.

It is very hard to define the actual amount of land which will be leased in three, five or seven years under this Land Bill. We have 3,500,000 acres and we are told about 1,000,000 acres are leased each year. There is a great change in the farming pattern, but there has been no change in land mobility. Only 3½ per cent changes hands each year and 80 per cent of that 3½ per cent changes hands by way of gift or inheritance. How are we to get the movement we require? Young farmers are crying out for land.

We have 2,000,000 acres of land farmed by operators over 55 years of age without successors, and 1,500,000 acres farmed by operators over 65 years of age without successors. The Minister should have carried out an in-depth examination of these problems when he was considering this Land Bill. I remember attending a Council of Europe meeting where a statement was made by a British MP that in some countries farming land would disappear completely over the next 60 years.

Planners and developers are very fond of virgin soil outside our towns and cities. We should be building in our towns, cities and villages and trying to protect agricultural land from developers. They move out into the country and use up good farming land. Demolition work and the disposal of old sites is expensive work. Most county councils have a regulation that you must have half an acre of land with each house because of septic tanks and effluent. The acreage should be smaller and the person purchasing the land should have an agreement with the land owner to use his land to soak off the effluent from the septic tanks.

In 50 or 60 years some of our best farming land adjacent to towns and cities could be concrete jungles. In December 1983 in a document on Farm and Food research by An Foras Talúntais there was an interesting article by Mr. P. Commins. He was of the opinion that there was much less land available. He maintained that there was a land pool of upwards of 300,000 acres from which land might be drawn initially in a leasing programme. I am inclined to agree with him. People are not keen to lease land on an 11 month system year by year in case their circumstances change. They are not eager to get involved in a leasing system. The ideal is that land which is not being sold should be leased. Mr. Commins said:

...judging from the acreages of farmers currently taking conacre, improved land mobility will not automatically ensure improvements in land structure at the critical points of land viability. Neither will improved land mobility of itself guarantee better land use. The land question — and particularly land use — is first and foremost an issue for agricultural development policies and programmes.

That bears out what the last speaker said. If all the land which is underutilised in the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan which I represent and all the land held by the Land Commission, some of it for many years, were made available tomorrow morning to the smallholders, it would not make any significant change in the farming pattern. It would not make a great difference.

The Minister should have introduced into the Bill many of the points in the Fianna Fáil policy document produced in 1980. I was a member of a committee which examined the whole land mobility policy and made recommendations to the Minister. Much of our thinking was included in the Fianna Fáil policy document. We made an in-depth study of the problem. Ours was a positive approach to increasing holdings which had the potential to be categorised as development farms. Most Irish people want to be owners rather than lessees.

In that policy document we recommended surcharges on land purchases by non-EC nationals, non-farmers and farmers deriving more than a certain prescribed proportion of their incomes from off-farm sources, the surcharge to represent a considerable percentage of the purchase price. This would have been a positive way of ensuring that land would remain available for those actively involved in farming. The rates of the surcharge were to be subject to periodic review and adjustment. It was envisaged that the rate for non-EC nationals would be 60 per cent and that for farmers, qualified landless sons and daughters and other qualified landless persons:

...on portion of purchase which brings the total holding above £200 RV 50 per cent, above £150 RV but not above £200 40 per cent, above £100 RV but not above £150 30 per cent, above £70 RV but not above £100 15 per cent.

At that time a person with a poor law valuation of £7 could have 70 acres of prime quality land and 100 acres of second rate land. He would be left in a fairly good position to farm without the need of additional land. By way of subsidy the smaller farmer could have purchased that extra land. In "Land Policy" it is stated:

It is intended that an eligible applicant whose existing holding does not exceed £30 RV will get £250 per acre or 20 per cent of the purchase price (whichever is the lesser) on the acreage needed to enlarge the holding to a level not exceeding £40 R.V.

There was a sliding scale from that. Had that been introduced here, it would have made a great impact on farm structure for the generation to come.

It is further stated:

It is envisaged that the circumstances in which the Land Commission will be empowered to refuse its consent to any particular transaction will be generally on the lines recommended by the Inter-Department Committee, e.g. (i) where potential development farmers with a land need, or other progressive smallholders in the area seeking to reach a viable level, are willing to purchase the land and able to finance the transaction:

It also referred to where land was required by the Land Commission for urgent land settlement purposes, and whose farming would not be the prospective purchaser's main source of income. That would certainly have been a very commendable exercise.

Another interesting matter included in the Foras Talúntais survey of October 1983 was that of soil survey and assessment and we must apply ourselves to this. The much criticised PLV has been abolished. There must be an assessment of productive capacity and that calls for a soil survey and assessment. There are only eight counties where such a soil survey has been completed. The rate of progress is not even at a snail's pace. More personnel and more funds should be made available for this work, although this is a time of more pressing demands for funds. If that survey were completed we could talk about taxation and the allocation of land to young farmers and we would have a sound basis on which to develop a grant aid system for improvement of land and housing for stock.

Seemingly, the Government intend to abolish the Land Commission and I regret this. In the Fianna Fáil 1980 White Paper on Land the continuance of the Land Commission was recommended. However, I have been a very severe critic of the commission on the division of holdings and the length of time involved. I was reprimanded for my criticism by Land Commission inspectors who explained the constraints under which they were operating, with an almost continual shortage of staff in their divisional and regional offices. Over the last ten to 15 years, I was informed by one Land Commission officer, they were spending about 50 per cent of their time dealing with subdivision applications. Since the war years there had been an explosion in development, in private housing, industrial estates and so on. People owning in excess of two acres were the subject of an examination by the Land Commission before a decision was given on subdivision.

The Land Commission should have been allowed to dispose on a cash basis of the land which they held for so many years. This was one of the weaknesses of the Land Acts and has been a weakness of the Land Commission down through the years. The background of qualifying farmers adjacent to holdings could very easily have been made available to county committees of agriculture and the advisory service and their need for extension or for holdings assessed. The Land Commission could have had a quick turnover on the sale of the land and could have repurchased. Lack of this approach has brought criticism on the commission.

Most Land Commission inspectors have been doing a very good job. One of these told me of a fairly extensive farm in County Monaghan which he had divided to extend five or six uneconomical holdings. This had become one of the best farms in the county and he got a great degree of satisfaction in seeing the success of this work. The farmers had appreciated that work and had become successful farmers.

Previous speakers have mentioned the farm retirement scheme. Some speakers leniently said that it did not fill the role which it should have, but the sad thing is that it was a downright failure from its introduction in 1974. It never met the promised criteria. On the day of its announcement by the then Minister for Lands, I rang his Department asking for application forms for two individuals who were waiting for the announcement and considering involvement in it. These were two of the first applications received. We were told on that day in 1974 that that would short-circuit many of the regulations and could be divided for a short time. It has been divided but it took between nine and ten years to do it. Therefore, the land handed up by the 700 farmers who became involved in the farm retirement scheme was no more quickly divided than other land held, and that was due entirely to the short-staffing of many of our regional and area offices. It has been found over the years that there was no inclination among the people to avail of that scheme and either to direct a disposal of their land or to avail of the leasing system. I can think of only one person in County Monaghan who operated under the leasing system, and it has operated fairly satisfactorily in that case. Some allowance or consideration should have been built into this for a person handing up his land so that he would not bear the full brunt of the assessment of the social welfare officer. It is very difficult for the Department of Social Welfare to have two different ratings. Certainly it would cause much severe criticism, but until that is done there should be some recompense for the person handing up his farm to give him an added incentive to do so.

I said at the beginning of my contribution that I felt that there was a great need for a really close examination of every aspect of this. Land is our greatest asset. The schemes for western development, especially the western drainage scheme, brought tens of thousands of acres of land which was marginal or almost so into being fine, productive land, but during that time we wasted as much as we gained. A survey on marginal farmers by An Foras Talúntais in June 1984 carried out by Miss Kelleher and Miss O'Mahony examined the social and economic circumstances of farmers who had low levels of output and who were marginal in commercial agricultural production. Data was collected from 261 respondents and the survey gives a breakdown of their social conditions and incomes. It made very sad reading that so many of those marginal farmers were living below the poverty line, and in future probably they will face a situation more serious than it has been heretofore.

The assessment for unemployment assistance has been tightened up and is fairly rigid now. Many of those people who were depending on the subvention, the farmer's dole, unemployment assistance, or whatever you like to call it, find that it has been withdrawn in some cases or substantially reduced in others. The result is that it is happening when farm incomes are dropping. I say they are dropping because, irrespective of the size of the holdings, there is no hope for a farmer in the west or in Connacht-Ulster, to take that region. There is no hope for those specialising in any set line of production which seemed to be the ideal way of developing their land up to now. They must go back to mixed farming. They were dependent almost completely for their income on milk production and now that has been curtailed and that curtailment probably will continue for the foreseeable future. Therefore, now they must examine many other areas of production. If they do not diversify and if our advisers do not re-examine the potential of holdings we will have many surveys such as I have mentioned with many alarming figures as far as part-time and marginal farmers in those areas are concerned.

I am concerned at the Government's approach to farming generally. They seem inclined to provide grant aid for a reduced number of better-off farmers. A figure of 150,000 farmers has been mentioned and 50,000 of them are to get preferential treatment in regard to grant aid, advisory service, the clients list etc. We will finish off discarding the duller pupils. That is in contradiction of EC thinking and a defeatist attitude.

Fianna Fáil's much publicised approach to agriculture was that a farmer, irrespective of his land acreage, working to a farm plan and keeping farm accounts would qualify for the maximum grant aid for land leasing and so on. The person who does the job properly should be recognised. We have many large, badly run farms and many small, well run farms. It is not just the amount of land but the use made of the land available that is important. I would have hoped for a Bill which would have brought in more young people because we need the young farmers' sons and daughters to involve themselves in farming. The problem with land leasing is that any young person going into land now would require a fairly substantial amount of borrowings. About 20 per cent of the people who find themselves with a repayment problem now have purchased land, but they need a substantial amount of money to develop their farms. If they avail of this leasing system how will they be situated in regard to guarantors and collateral? How would that operate for the chap who would want additional money for stock replacement, equipment or development of the farm?

As I said earlier, we welcome the Land Bill and it is featured in our land policy. The Minister of State, Deputy Connaughton, is back in the House. He is very interested in every aspect of land. I think he will be a little disappointed that he was not in a position to put more flesh on this Bill which we are discussing.

When we discuss a Bill such as this Bill before the House today we are discussing something that can raise inordinate fears in many minds but it can also raise tremendous hopes in the minds of younger people. When one speaks of inordinate fears perhaps it is for historical reasons which we do not have to go into in this House now, when people were afraid that the land would be taken from them as happened too often so effectively many years ago here. That has gone and, as a consequence, we have an opportunity to develop our land structure in a way that will be beneficial to all and, more important, to our young people. We have heard often of how great an asset our land is, but if one drives around the countryside one will find it difficult to accept that because of the abuse and lack of use that is made of that luxury we speak of so often. Thousands of acres are unused or underutilised. We cannot allow that to continue and that is one of the reasons I am happy this measure has been introduced by the Minister of State. In my view it represents a major step towards alleviating this great problem.

Many of our young people who work on family farms or as farm managers have a great craving to acquire land or be given an opportunity of working land on a leasing system. They have not had this opportunity up to now for a number of reasons. We are all aware that the farm retirement scheme, introduced in 1974 was not a success. It failed because the income the retiring person received in the form of social welfare benefits and so on was taken into account. Medical cards and so on were taken into account. That should not have been the case, but it is the primary reason why the scheme failed. Today many people are reluctant to hand over their land because the retirement scheme was not a success. Old farmers are giving serious thought before they do anything rash in regard to the leasing or letting of their land.

I hope the Bill will result in greater mobility of land. The provisions of the Bill deserve the support of all politicians and the farming organisations. I hope it gets support from the financial institutions, particularly the banks, because in the eyes of many people they are glorified landlords. They now have an opportunity to put on a human face and put some of the obscene profits they have been making to good use by encouraging young people to take land. They should be leading this campaign to make the Land Bill an effective piece of legislation.

When one enters public life one gets to realise the huge amount of land held in commonage. Commonages bring to mind unused land but significant amounts of such land is owned by people who wish to have it divided. However, because one person in six objects, it cannot be divided. I am not aware of the views of the Minister of State on this but I hope he introduces legislation, if it is considered necessary, to change this. There are many people in my constituency who are involved in commonages but they cannot do anything with them, to the detriment of the land and of local people anxious to acquire such land. I hope something is done to rectify this in the immediate future. It is wrong that one person should hold up the division of land.

I learned recently that almost one quarter of the owners of land here are over 65 years of age. That is extraordinary. Elsewhere in the EC only 6 per cent of farmers are over 65 years. That is an indication of the need for change here. That change will come quickly if there is a will and determination to do so. The Bill will contribute substantially to changing the outlook of our young people because they will get an opportunity to utilise their skills and their education. It should change the face of the countryside because our young people will be given hope and encouragement to stay on the land. Such people will find it possible to live in country areas thereby building up the economy of local small villages and towns.

In the course of a discussion on land one must give serious thought to the giving of incentives to people to lease land. There must be some tax package or financial scheme introduced to encourage people to lease land. They must be encouraged to lease their land, confident in the knowledge that they will not be deprived of something they feel they are entitled to. The person who is not making use of his land who finds that if he leases it he will not qualify for social welfare benefits will be reluctant to let the land go. That is bad for his neighbours or those anxious to make use of the land. We have only a certain amount of land and we must do everything possible to encourage people to utilise it to the full.

I understand that the Minister has allocated a number of officers in his Department to encourage farmers to lease their land. I hope more will be done in that area and that the Minister makes more staff available for this purpose. There has been mention about regulating the sale of land on the open market. We should decide now not to interfere with the free sale of land. If we change our attitude in regard to that, deals will be made behind closed doors. In that event more harm than good will be done. Local people will not be aware when land adjacent to them is for sale. They may wake up one morning to find that the land they were considering purchasing has been sold unkown to them. We cannot allow that attitude to prevail.

We are inclined to think of the leasing of land on the 11-month system. Perhaps no other scheme ever devised in this country did more harm to the value of land. It ensured that there was no incentive given the lessor to improve his land, to lime or fertilise it, to drain it or do anything else that was necessary. Certainly the letting of land on the 11-month system constituted no justification for its improvement. There remains an enormous amount of land in this country let on the 11-month system which is of no benefit to anybody. If this Bill overcomes that problem, if it encourages people to lease land over an eight to twelve year period then it will have proved to have been an extraordinarily good one.

In the early seventies, when higher market prices were assured, farmers reacted more imaginatively and effectively than any other group of people. Their production doubled, in some cases trebled, in different areas because they foresaw a market for their produce at the right price. Given a favourable response to this Bill on the part of those involved, the politicians, the financial institutions, farming organisations and the media, if the job is effectively tackled, then I have no doubt but that its provisions will prove to be extraordinarily effective. I wish the Minister well in his efforts and hope the Bill will be the success he expects it to be.

I welcome the remarks of the Minister of State in introducing this Bill, saying that he was repealing earlier Land Acts, one of the recommendations of the Interdepartmental Report on Land Structure and Reform. This was also accepted in principle by a Fianna Fáil Government in a White Paper published in 1980. I am disappointed that other proposals of that interdepartmental report, specifically that concerning an incentive to be provided for the lessor to counter the traditional antipathy to long term leasing has not been incorporated in the provisions of this Bill. I had hoped also that he would tell us how it was proposed to aid the lessee particularly in view of the financial and other difficulties at present being encountered by farmers. For that reason that omission from the Bill is most disappointing. All of us awaiting this Bill had hoped that such incentives would be provided. Unfortunately, they were not given in the last budget of the Coalition Government nor were they included in the latest document Building on Reality. In replying perhaps the Minister would tell us if he is aware of that “antipathy”— to use the word used in that interdepartmental report — and also if he is aware of the financial difficulties at present being encountered by farmers. Would it not have been more positive to have such proposals implemented under the provisions of this Bill rather than merely repealing earlier Land Acts?

Bearing in mind the Minister's remarks in the Seanad, when he spoke of the importance of the Land Commission and their role in the leasing of land, it is amazing that he omitted that section altogether. Perhaps the reason was that nobody informed the Minister of State that, between the Seanad debate of 4 April and the Dáil debate, the Land Commission were to be abolished, which is most disturbing and disappointing to say the least. Here I should like to quote from what the Minister of State had to say in the course of the Seanad debate at columns 776 to 777:

I have directed the Land Commission to take a positive role in so promoting it. Area officers of the commission have been assigned specifically to the task of promoting and encouraging leasing in their areas. They will foster discussion and interest and will co-operate with farming organisations, co-operatives and other national and local bodies who are anxious to bring potential lessors and lessees together.

Unfortunately those remarks have been omitted from the Minister's speech in this House. Therefore, I take it that the Land Commission, as well as being abolished, will have no function to play nor any positive role in promoting land leasing.

Alan Dukes was driving the steamroller.

In my constituency in County Galway the Land Commission had acquired a large amount of land, a lot of estates I understand would be divided in 1984. But, of the 143 estates in the hands of the Land Commission in County Galway, I understand now that 45 are to be divided this year and, because of the cutbacks to be effected in the Land Commission, even that amount may not now be divided. Surely, with something like 2,634 hectares in County Galway the Land Commission could give good example, allowing some of that land to be leased, particularly to young farmers anxious to acquire it in that way.

Now that the decision has been taken to abolish the Land Commission a lot of those areas may not now be examined. The IFA issued a very strong statement after the Land Commission was proposed to be abolished. They had been under the impression that, after its abolition, a land authority would be provided in its place. We have heard nothing from the Department of Agriculture, the Minister or his Minister of State about an alternative agency or authority. The Chairman of the IFA National Rural Development Committee said that the Government must show that it is serious about future land policies by setting up a land agency. They stated that they were anxious to meet the Minister to discuss this matter further. It is important that we have an agency, as Deputy Crowley said, to intervene in cases where lands are given into the hands of non-farmers.

I should like to direct the Minister's attention to an article in the Irish Independent of Wednesday, 24 October 1984 bearing the caption: “Buying a country estate... the $3 million Dallas way”, which article concerns a Dallas financier who is very interested in buying an estate in Ireland and which had this to say:

Three million dollars is not a lot of money in Texas.

That may be true but certainly it constitutes a lot of money in this country. That financier went on to say that he would like an estate, with a big old house, where he could spend three to four weeks a year. If the situation continues where the Land Commission cannot intervene when large estates come up for sale thousands of farmers will be forced off the land. The Minister of State says that these large estates are no longer coming on the market but that article by Paul Drury states quite clearly that some of these estates are still available. Unfortunately we now have no authority or agency to intervene on behalf of farmers, particularly the small farmers in the west.

I note that there is just one mention of social welfare provisions in the Land Bill. It concerns the manner in which land will be assessed in regard to unemployment assistance or other social welfare benefits. It states that rents received on foot of a bona fide lease will be treated in the same way as rent from an eleven-month letting. That is not much of a concession. It is stating the obvious. I should like to have heard the Minister talk about the problem of eligibility for old age pensions and other benefits which farmers thought they would get upon surrendering their land to the Land Commission. I refer to such benefits as free electricity, the free fuel scheme and even medical cards which farmers did not realise they would lose under the farm retirement scheme.

The decision to abolish the Land Commission will have serious consequences in the west where there are many small, fragmented farms and also areas of commonage which the Land Commission helped to divide. Perhaps the Minister would consider doing something in situations where the vast majority of tenants wish to have the commonage divided but one person may be holding up the division and causing thousands of acres to lie unused as a result.

The Land Commission have been undermined by this Government during the past two years. We in Galway County Council wrote to the Department of Agriculture registering our protest at the Government decision to abolish the Land Commission. We were given the usual reasons such as the very few large estates on the market, group purchase of land and long term leasing. The assistant principal officer who wrote to us stated:

In fact as no new acquisition proceedings had been instituted since 1983 it could be said that this activity had also ceased.

Perhaps the Minister would tell us whether that sentence is correct. I understood that the Land Commission were acquiring land, certainly in early 1983. The situation must now be very serious if no land has been acquired since that time.

I had hoped that the Minister would adopt some of the proposals in the 1980 Fianna Fáil White Paper. One proposal was for a premium or surcharge which the Land Commission would have the power to impose. A second important point concerned direct control of the right to purchase land. These proposals were spelled out very clearly in the White Paper. The surcharge was to range from 60 per cent on non-EC nationals to 50 per cent for farmers with a rateable valuation above £200 and the scale of charges went down to a £70 rateable valuation. Since the abolition of the rateable valuation system we will have to talk about adjusted acres. The principle still obtains that there should be some type of surcharge or premium on people whose adjusted acreage is very high or on non-EC nationals.

The control of land purchase is very important for small farmers. Our proposals stated very clearly that the written consent of the Land Commission should be sought for all sales of land. This is where the Land Commission could play a vital role. Their abolition puts small farmers at a great disadvantage when land comes on the market. There was also the provision that sales of agricultural land would have to be publicly advertised and notified in advance to the Land Commission. There are 2,000 such transactions per year. The White Paper went on to state that to abandon the compulsory machinery of the Land Commission would be to accept, if not encourage, bad husbandry.

The Minister will have to consider the situation in the west where there is a problem of late inheritance. The White Paper mentioned partnership arrangements and participation by a potential heir in the management of a farm. That type of arrangement should be encouraged. The problem still remains that where land comes on the market the small farmer is at a disadvantage.

I have already mentioned the difficulties encountered by farmers in relation to borrowing. It is difficult for a young farmer to get involved in leasing when there is no financial incentive from the Government. We have on many occasions mentioned in this House the types of incentives they should receive. Can a farmer who requires to purchase additional livestock or to retain stock use the land he has leased as security for borrowings?

The proposed land tax is to be introduced in 1986. Who will pay the land tax on leased land? Will it be the lessor or the lessee? These questions could lead to disputes. There could also be disputes about improvements carried out over the period of a lease. The lessee, having spent a lot of money on improving the land, might have difficulty in renewing a lease. There must be a simplified system the Minister can tell the House about as regards these very important questions.

Under the farm retirement scheme a small number of farmers transferred their farms into the hands of potentially developing farmers. I would like to know what the position will be under future schemes. As the White Paper suggested, a higher level of EC aid was provided under that scheme and a higher cash premium was paid to farmers who contemplated retirement. That type of incentive would be a great encouragement for farmers to try to qualify under the farm retirement scheme. There was great fear about the scheme as it obtained, but if the scheme were improved, if the difficult questions could be answered and if farmers could be assured that they would not lose any benefits if they opted for this scheme, we could have a very useful farm retirement scheme.

I hope the Minister will address himself to some of the questions I raised. As a party we are in favour of land leasing, but it is not enough for the Minister to say he is repealing earlier Acts and that leasing will take place automatically. I do not think any Member of this House could believe that and if the Minister believes it he is mistaken. There must be the incentive which was mentioned in the interdepartmental committee report on land structure and reform. This was accepted in the Fianna Fáil White Paper of 1980. Unfortunately, we have not yet got definite proposals from the Government on the incentives that can be given to encourage land leasing.

I should like to join with my colleagues on this side of the House in complimenting and congratulating the Minister of State on introducing this Bill. I will not be as effusive in my praise as some of my colleagues were; neither will I be as critical as some of the Members of the Opposition.

In my opinion this is a modest enough proposal although I must admit an essential prerequisite in any serious attempt to restructure our landlord and tenant code. I am amazed that it should have taken so long for any Government to have introduced what must now be seen as obvious legislation. All credit must go to the Minister of State for his initiative in promoting this Bill. It is, in his own words, only a first step in a comprehensive land reform programme.

When will we have the second step?

Wait and see. I must urge the Minister to press ahead with the many other reforms which are so obviously needed. I believe he is admirably suited for this task, coming from a farming background and well versed in the many problems facing the small farmer, especially in the west. He has the capacity, sensitivity and courage to tackle these problems. He must not relax his endeavours even when this Bill becomes law. He has the support of all parties for this Bill and he will continue to have the same support for any positive approach that sets out to tackle and reform the landlord and tenant relationship in Ireland.

It is almost a cliché yet so true to say that our land is our greatest natural asset and resource. If that great natural resource is not worked to its full potential and is not contributing its full share to the Exchequer and the economy, it behoves us all to ask why and to pinpoint the reasons, and then, having recognised those reasons, to tackle them and take the correct remedial action. The Minister of State rightly points out one of these reasons in the Bill and encourages us to pinpoint other areas where we as Members of the Oireachtas feel the rigidity of the land tenure system can be replaced by mobility.

For historical reasons the 11-month system of conacre has emerged as the most popular and widely practised method of land letting. It is estimated that about one million acres are let under this system annually. The reason for its popularity is patently obvious. The system is facile, short-term, is carried out very effectively and efficiently by the local auctioneer and often among farmers themselves. There is no question of litigation or legal wranglings and the land reverts to its owner at the end of the 11-month period. These advantages, however, are far outweighed by the disadvantages in a national context. The land suffers over a succession of such 11-month tenancies. It becomes spun out, worn out, run down and neglected as the tenant, understandably, will not embark on any improvements, such as drainage, fertilising, crop rotation or soil testing. In short, under this system the land cannot be giving its maximum yield. It is strangled to a certain degree.

The purpose of this Bill is to move away from the 11-month syndrome and to replace it with a longer leasing period between lessor and lessee and to get the land into the hands of young enterprising farmers who have the ability, the skill and the willpower to work the land to its full capacity.

In this Bill the lessor would generally be of the older age group. He would be conservative in his outlook, slow to change and deeply suspicious of laws and leases. It will take great persuasion to get him to move away from the tried, trusted, and proven 11-month system. This is the kernel of the problem — to gain the confidence and trust of the traditional 11-month system lessor, to prove conclusively and unequivocally to him that when the lease expires he will be entitled to resume undisputed possession and ownership of his land.

I have studied the two master leases mentioned by the Minister — the first produced by Allied Irish Banks Limited and the Irish Farmers' Association with the co-operation of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and the second master lease prepared by the ICOS. I find both a little daunting and forbidding. They are of necessity a little too technical and legalistic. It will not surprise me if the lessor to whom they are pitched will feel less than enthusiastic in opting for either. In the first master lease there are six schedules. The third schedule provides for works prohibited without the consent of the owner; the fourth schedule provides for works permitted with the consent of the owner or local arbitration board and other related matters; the fifth schedule provides for works permitted without the consent of the owner and the sixth schedule refers to persons for whom owners consent to transfer is not required. To try to sell this lease to the lessor in the age group I have mentioned will not be easy.

I am aware that the lessor and the lessee can draw up their own contract, an agreement between two equal partners freely entered into for their mutual advantage but where land is concerned I think the owner will be deeply suspicious, especially if he signs his name to any agreement for a term longer than the traditional 11-month period. To gain the confidence of the owner I would advise that we tread cautiously and opt initially for a shorter term, a two to three year lease period. If that proves successful and acceptable, then perhaps at a later date the owner might negotiate a five, seven and ultimately an 11 or 12-year lease. If we are to get this scheme off the ground, it is imperative to break the nine months system mentality; otherwise the measure will gather dust on the Statute Book.

A financial enticement by way of subsidy would make the proposals more attractive. I am proposing to the Minister that, following the dissolution of the Irish Church Temporalities Fund, the assets of the fund, which stand now at approximately £2.8 million in Government investments and any future sums that may accrue, should be used exclusively to promote this aspect of the land reform programme and also the other scheme the Minister has in mind, namely, the group purchase of land, which he favours. I can think of no better use for this fund and it should be in the spirit of the establishment of the fund to use it in this way. I advise the Minister to lay claim to this £2.8 million immediately as belonging to his portfolio before any other Minister or Minister of State lays grasping hands on it.

The Minister for Finance has it spent long ago.

It is up to this Minister of State to ensure that it is kept exclusively for agricultural purposes.

He was not so successful in keeping the Land Commission.

In providing some system of aid to help young farmers to purchase land or to enter leasing arrangements, we would be in line with most of our partners in the EC. I will quote from a booklet entitled The Land Problem by Des Maguire where he indicates that in most of the EC countries there is some such aid for land purchase and leasing. In Germany there is an interest rate subsidy of 4 per cent and in France there are tax concessions for concluding long-term leases. There are also concessionary low interest loans to young farmers wishing to establish themselves on the land. In Belgium and Holland aid takes the form of a 3 per cent interest rate subsidy on a maximum amount per hectare and the remaining interest payable by the beneficiary is 5 per cent. In Holland there is a land bank system since 1970 whereby a farmer can sell his land to the land bank and rent it at an interest rate of 2.5 per cent. It is hoped that eventually such a farmer may purchase his land. The Rabo Bank offers a concessionary low interest loan to any young farmer who wishes to establish himself on the land. In Italy there is a 4 per cent interest subsidy on long-term loans of 30 years for the purchase of land and in Denmark loans are repayable over 21 years at an interest rate of 6 per cent with no interest payment for the first five years. There is a precedent for the introduction of subsidies or tax concessions and I ask the Minister to introduce some such financial incentive if he is intent on getting the scheme accepted.

In any meaningful discussion on restructuring our owner-occupier system of land tenure we must inevitably come to the question of late inheritance or succession. Ireland's reputation in this regard is notorious. We have the second lowest place on the ladder when it comes to the transfer of holdings from father to son or daughter. This is an area where much can be done to encourage and entice the early transfer of holdings. I am mindful of section 93 of the Finance Act, 1982. This allows an exemption from stamp duty on land transfers where the person becoming owner of a farm through voluntary disposition is a qualified person as defined in section 93 of the Finance Act, 1982. We are all aware of the requirements and I will not go into them here. I urge on the Minister in the forthcoming budget to insist that this exemption be continued until July 1987. From my personal experience I am aware that this exemption has played a dominant role in the decision of many fathers to transfer holdings to sons or daughters and I urge the Minister to insist that this facility be granted for another year.

Another scheme that held great promise when introduced in May 1974 was Directive 160 of the EC, namely, the farm retirement scheme. This scheme was applauded on our entry to the EC but, unfortunately, it did not live up to its high expectations. Its attractiveness was short-lived and many people who opted for it later regretted doing so. Basically it provides farmers, particularly those over 55 years of age, with the choice of early retirement or leasing their land for a period of 12 years for the purpose of structural reform. The scheme is partially funded by the EC, giving each national government the opportunity to promote it by whatever other inducements they think suitable. It was due to finish on 31 October 1984 but I hope it will be extended for another year or so.

The Minister should have an in-depth look at this scheme and find out precisely the reason it lost its attractiveness. He should revamp it completely by making it more financially rewarding. If properly administered and properly sold, it has the greatest potential of all in getting the ownership of land into the hands of the more progressive young farmers. Since its introduction in Ireland, 614 farmers have availed of the scheme. This is a pitifully low number. Some 533 farmers sold their land to the Land Commission, 32 sold by direct sale and 49 opted for the 12-year lease system. By 31 December 1983, £4.6 million had been spent on premiums and annuities under the scheme for the 614 people who retired. They released 10,757 hectares of land of which 9,642 hectares were purchased by the Land Commission. The small number who availed of the scheme is an indictment of us all because we did not grasp the opportunity, when the scheme became available, to encourage farmers to retire early and either to lease their land or sell it to development farmers.

I am very much impressed by the Minister's personal interest in the group purchase of land. This is an aspect which has great potential. It was accepted readily by young farmers in my constituency who are keen to expand their holdings. We may ask how often the small farmer has had to stand by helplessly when a holding or an adjoining field or two was knocked down to the big cheque book tycoon and when that field or two would perhaps have meant the difference between a viable and a non-viable holding, between survival on the land on a full-time basis or the prospect of part-time farming or, worse still, emigration.

With the proposed scaling down of the Land Commission there is a greater need than ever before for a group purchase scheme. I urge the Minister to redouble his efforts in this direction as soon as the Bill is enacted. He should initiate immediately a pilot scheme that would encourage young farmers to co-operate and purchase collectively holdings which would be outside their scope individually.

I urge that the assets of the Irish Church Temporalities Fund be used to promote the scheme by way of subsidy or cheap loan facility. The promise of the Land Commission of their full co-operation and of their resources and trained personnel to facilitate the division and the registration of new owners, and perhaps the exchange of smaller holdings, must be a great boost to farmers who are interested in the scheme. Since the scheme has been accepted already by the farming organisations, it should be implemented immediately.

Any discussion of land restructuring brings to mind the farm modernisation scheme. This scheme was introduced here on 1 February 1974. It is based on the EC Directive 72/159 and is linked with other measures introduced under a programme of reform of agricultural structures. The objective of the directive is the development, on a planned basis, of farms capable of providing their operators with incomes comparable with those for other occupations. Following a review of the scheme in 1983 a revised scheme was introduced here with effect from 3 January 1984. This provides for aid, by way of capital grant and interest subsidy, for land improvement and a limited range of grants for farm buildings, in particular cattle housing and fixed assets. Under the revised scheme grant aid is being concentrated on the types of investment most likely to show adequate economic returns so as to maximise the economic impact of Exchequer funds expended on the scheme.

I am informed that the scheme was due to expire on 31 October but, if the Minister has not done so already, I urge him to ensure that it is continued. I say this because this scheme more than any other helped us to be competitive in Europe. When we joined the EC we were totally unprepared. We were under capitalised and under stocked but the farm modernisation scheme enabled us to become competitive to some extent. I am glad to know that it received tremendous support from farmers.

The scheme distinguishes between three categories of farms: development farms in respect of which there were 27,335 participants at the end of 1983; commercial farms in respect of which there were 4,762 participants at the end of that year; and other farms in respect of which there were 73,369 participants. A good deal of money has been spent by way of the scheme. In the development sector the amount expended has been £121 million while in the commercial sector the corresponding amount was £17 million with £99 million being spent on the other farm groups. These figures show how acceptable and how popular the scheme was. It has been very valuable in making our farmers competitive with their counterparts in Europe. It is essential that the scheme be continued for a further year and even beyond that.

Regarding the exchange rate guarantee scheme on loans for agricultural purposes, I am surprised that in those difficult years when interest rates were at 20 to 22 per cent levels, the Governments of the day did not make better use of this scheme. The scheme was initiated in 1980 when the ACC and the Associated Banks were authorised to receive a total of £100 million in EMS currencies for on-lending to farmers and agri-industry for specified purposes. Any exchange loss above that covered by a customer's contribution of 1? per cent, for the ACC, or 2 per cent, for the banks, is met by the Exchequer. If we had used the facility afforded by this scheme to a greater degree in the years when farmers were experiencing great difficulties because of high interest rates, we would have relieved the situation a good deal. At that time some farmers had to sell their holdings because of the high interest rates. I hope that that scheme, too, will be continued and that the Minister will be ever vigilant in ensuring that whatever facility is available to us from the EC will be utilised to the maximum as distinct from a token usage.

In addition, there is the ACC-European Investment Bank Loan Scheme. Since 1978 the ACC have borrowed £22.5 million from the European Investment Bank and have on-lent to farmers and agri-business under the scheme. Most of the funds — £17.5 million — have been lent to agri-business. The Exchequer meets any exchange losses that arise on these loans. The object of the scheme is to provide agri-business with direct access to relatively low interest loans so as to encourage continuing modernisation and development. The scheme has operated during a period of unusually high domestic interest rates. Again, I regret that we did not make adequate use of the EIB when our farmers were in difficulty because of interest repayments on borrowings.

In the context of land restructuring one must obviously refer to arterial drainage. Arterial drainage schemes are undertaken by the Office of Public Works and are designed to improve the productive potential of land in the catchment area concerned by way of the deepening, straightening and widening of the rivers and their tributaries.

While a passing reference to the various land improvement schemes might be acceptable, an in-depth discussion on drainage would not be appropriate.

I accept your ruling, but I submit that arterial drainage is relevant to the question of land restructuring, that it is an integral part of land restructuring and of increased productivity.

It would be in order to say that it would be good to drain these rivers but to drain them all would take too long.

We shall not drain each of them. There are schemes in progress — the Boyle, Maigue, Corrib, Mask, Robe and Bonet. The Ulster Blackwater scheme is due to start shortly. That is a cross-Border scheme. I urge the Minister to ensure that this programme is continued. I cannot think of anything more worthwhile than drainage to increase the productivity of land. Too often we see the finest of land under water for many months of the year. I urge the Minister to ensure that he gets all the funding he can from the EC for arterial drainage. He must be forever watchful that schemes such as these are obtained for Ireland and that the maximum benefit is got from them.

I am conscious that the River Suir has not yet been drained. The drainage of this river would add immensely to the productivity of the Golden Vale. There was an interest subsidy scheme for development farmers.

I ask the Deputy to deal with the Bill and only make a passing reference to that, otherwise we will be having an Estimate debate on agriculture generally. That would not be in order on this Bill.

I shall make only a fleeting reference to it. This scheme was a very worthwhile one. Approximately 85,000 farmers availed of it. It enabled many a farmer who would otherwise have had to leave the land to continue in farming. It should be continued. It gave financial assistance to young development farmers.

In the October issue of Farm and Food Research it is reported that about 30 per cent of Irish soil is low in lime, 19 per cent is very low in phosphorous and 26 per cent is low in potassium. If we want to encourage productivity we must advise farmers to continue to use fertilisers. In a time of recession the obvious reaction of a farmer is to cut down on the use of fertilisers but it is wrong to do so. Ultimately it will cause many more problems if fertilisers are not used. Approximately £215 million worth of fertilisers are used every year.

If the Deputy intends to pursue that line he will have to relate it to the Bill.

I urge farmers to continue to use fertilisers particularly lime, phosphorus and potassium in order to increase productivity. We should have an agricultural development authority similar to the IDA which would cover land leasing, purchase of land, marketing of food, import substitution, drainage and so on. It could co-ordinate all the efforts which are at present pursued separately by various bodies. It is about time that we had such a development authority which would give our natural resources the trust and impact it deserves. Men of expertise from all aspects of the agri-business could come together and draw up an overall plan which would include what the Minister has in mind, leasing and purchasing, and which would take over some of the work of the Land Commission. It would give a new thrust and impetus to our agricultural industry.

I congratulate the Minister on this Bill but he must not rest on his oars. This is an initial step towards a programme of land reform. The Minister must pursue that. He will get the full backing of all Members of the House in his endeavours. I urge him to keep pressing ahead and ensure that our greatest natural resource plays its full role in the economy.

Tá taca ag an Aire anseo nuair atá sé ag iarraidh an rud seo a chur ar aghaidh ach níl mé ró-chinnte go n-éireoidh leis. Sílim go bhfuil deacrachtaí praiticiúla a bhéas le sáru ag an Aire agus ag feirmeoirí leis an rud seo a chur i ngníomh. Níl sé i gceist agamsa mórán ama a chaitheamh anseo ag cur síos ar na cúrsaí sin ach déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall cuid de na pointí a shílim atá tábhachtach maidir leis an Bhille seo a chur ag obair i gceart nó a chur i bhfeidhm i gceart a chur os comhair an Tí.

I welcome the principle the Minister is seeking to establish by introducing this Bill. I am not so sure that it will be as easy as has been stated by the Minister. I would have thought that the Minister, in coming to the House, would have given us a lot more material for discussion in relation to the question of land use.

As regards leasing, the contract between a lessor and a lessee will have to be a legal one. There will be a serious problem here in that we have many farmers who are not registered owners of their lands. That arises for many reasons. First of all, it is something they are afraid to tackle. There is no protection for a person who goes about having his land transferred. My experience is that if he goes to a solicitor to make arrangements for the transfer of his land he does not know what he will have to face. I do not want to seem unjust to the legal profession but when it comes to the question of charges in many cases it is a question of thinking of a number. It is past time that we had a proper scale system whereby people would know the charges they would have to pay for the transfer of property. As far as I am aware, that does not exist at present. People interested in transferring land to other members of their families find on going to a local solicitor that the cost is prohibitive. The taxes and so on that they have to pay on top of that make it all rather difficult for them.

When I mentioned this matter previously the Ceann Comhairle was Minister for Lands. I asked why it could not be a simple matter to transfer land, similar to changing a car. I was informed on that occasion that there is a land certificate which could be supplied but very few landholders have seen such a certificate and it is probably in the possession of their solicitors. I do not see why we have to go through the rigmarole which operates at present in regard to first, second or third owners. There should be a local office at county level where, in the presence of the registrar for the county and suitable witnesses, a legal contract could be drawn up which would not be as costly as at present.

The Minister said in his speech that the Social Welfare Act, 1984, contained provision for new rules for the assessment of means for social assistance in cases where land is leased. The Act has done immense damage to small farmers in the west and they are not inclined to opt for extra land, or to lease it, because of the abolition of the notional system of assessment for small farmers. That system was of enormous benefit to small farmers because it did not interfere with their right to produce, to have extra staff or to improve their land. Benefits received from cattle subsidies and headage grants did not interfere with their income from social welfare. The result was that many small farmers were encouraged to produce and to improve their land. Their standard of living improved and the benefits were seen in every small town in the west as a result of the introduction of that scheme in 1965. However, the opposite is now the case. A small farmer who has seven, eight or ten cows giving milk and receiving a small income for its sale is now selling those cows because he feels more secure taking full advantage of the social welfare payments from the State rather than taking the risk of carrying on in production. The incentive to expand and increase production has been killed and we are back to the position which obtained in the mid-fifties. The Minister suggested that farmers should lease more land in order to increase production, but at the same time he is taking away their traditional rights. That is a contradiction in terms and will not help the Minister to implement this Bill.

The Minister also mentioned the abolition of the Land Commission. I know a little about how they operated over the years and of their interest in protecting small farmers, particularly where the sale of land was concerned. I cannot see how the work which the Land Commission were doing over the years will be improved on or indeed carried out when they are dispensed with. When a farmer decided to subdivide a holding or to make a site available to a member of his family it had to be sanctioned by the Land Commission in the past. What will happen when the Land Commission are abolished? We all know how long it takes for a person to get a county council loan. It can take six or 12 months to have matters straightened out. It will be chaotic in future and will create further problems for people who are awaiting payments of loans and grants.

In many parts of the country holdings have been re-arranged. Marking is not completed and lands are not vested — I know of instances in my own area. This is holding up payments of grants and so on. It will be a terrible headache for any agency replacing the Land Commission. It will be very difficult to streamline these matters for the benefit of people in rural areas who have sub-division problems to deal with.

I would have liked the Minister to look at the whole question of the use of land. I do not think he has done this. At the moment there is no co-ordination between the various agencies involved in the use of land. The forestry division go into an area. They buy up land and all they are interested in is blanket planting. There is no consultation with the Land Commission about turbary or grazing rights. In many parishes in the west of Ireland people have sold off their commonages for planting. This is a shortsighted view. They are leaving themselves without grazing for their stock, and they are doing away with the use of marginal land which helped them to carry extra stock and helped them to add to their income.

There is no co-ordination between the various Departments on matters of this kind. On the Continent there is no blanket planting when Departments of Forestry take over land. They plant trees in belts and leave areas unplanted. This means grazing rights are not interfered with to any great extent. There is shelter for cattle and sheep grazing, and the falling leaves fertilise the land. If we had proper co-ordination between the various Departments we would have a more constructive approach to this whole question. I know areas where turbary rights are being taken away. Now that turf production is so important, it is terrible that there is no co-ordination between different Departments in what they are doing.

The Minister's speech is very general in its whole approach. I do not want to sound a note of doom or gloom on this Bill. I would like to see it working successfully, but there are so many obstacles which have to be overcome that it will be very difficult to have it implemented. There are many questions we would like to have clarified by the Minister. What will be the position of a young farmer who is going into land for the first time if he is lucky enough to lease an area of 20 or 30 acres? Will he qualify for a herd number? Will he qualify for a cattle headage grant and for the various subsidies available? Will he qualify for a land drainage grant or a farm modernisation grant? Will he be able to benefit from these if he has a proper lease drawn up? What will the minimum term of the lease have to be to enable him to qualify for these grants?

There is also the big question of the land tax which is so much talked about at present. The person will not be a land owner as such. I suppose he could be classified as a beneficial owner. In the case of a man with more than 20 acres, will he be faced with the problem of having to pay the land tax on top of the lease? If so, I can see further obstacles. He will not be inclined to lease land if he has all these overheads to pay on top of his lease.

I accept that the principle the Minister is trying to establish is a good one. He is trying to ensure that more land will be put to good use, but many obstacles have to be overcome. It is terrible to see so much waste land around the country which could be put to use. On the question of ownership, because of our history farmers will be rather slow to enter into any form of agreement if they feel they may be losing their grip on what they own and what they held so dearly down through the years. It will take a great deal of work on the part of the Minister and whatever agency he expects to use in selling this package to convince many of our farmers that there will be no danger involved in leasing the land and that their ownership will not be interfered with or questioned.

I see a parallel between this and the farmers' pension. Deputy Griffin gave a figure of 614 farmers who took advantage of the farmers' pension. We all know the pension was not attractive. There was no encouragement for a man to avail of the farmers' pension because he could get almost as much from social welfare. It was not altogether a question of money but of people not being prepared to let go. This is one of the obstacles the Minister will have to face.

I do not want to delay the House. We welcome the principle the Minister is trying to establish in bringing the Bill before the House. I would like to feel confident that it will be successfully implemented to increase production but, frankly, I am not convinced that it will be accepted and used to the full to enable us to make full use of all our land. Sin é on méid atá le rá agam.

The Irish mind cannot really conceive of the importance of our land. This wet, green land with a moderate climate has immense potential for our people. That potential is seen in sharp context when we see on our television screens in living colour the harrowing and pitifully sad stories of human deprivation in Ethiopia as a result of the failure of the land, for whatever cause. Unless one were to visit and see for oneself the effects of the failure of land in terms of economic progress and in terms of humanity itself, one cannot really conceive of the importance of land.

This Bill touches an ancient and deep rooted nerve of the Irish agricultural mentality. It is tradition versus future trends. It is historical attachment versus tenure and uncertain future. The land has seeped into — and indeed been steeped in — the blood and tears of generations. It is truly part of what we are.

The Minister of State has set out, as a first step, in a brave and courageous way to tackle a problem which should have been faced up to over the last quarter century. I have no doubt but that the Department officials, the legal personnel and the various financial institutions will ensure the legality of the proposed lease. It might be so complex and complicated as to give the ordinary, simple and direct mind of one dealing with nature and agriculture a sense of mistrust and a lack of confidence, but I hope that that will not be the case. The lease as drawn up covers a vast number of consequences and probabilities. If a farmer dies half-way through the period of the lease and had wished to change his mind during that period in regard to whom the land should eventually go, is this covered under the effects of the lease? I am sure that it is.

To date, the only appreciable interest in land leasing in the western region has come in the better land facing towards the north, the Lagan Valley and that region. Its beneficial effects have not yet seeped down to the smaller land-holders. Not being aware of the beneficial effects and the consequences of early mobility of land, these have not taken advantage of it to the extent that they should have.

Do the senior civil servants, many of whom left the land quite some time ago, really understand the life style with which many of the farming community are putting up today? Do the legal advisers who deal with the consequences, in legal terms, understand the mentality of the agricultural community? Farmers can be very direct and very straight people. Equally, in many areas they can be quite as complicated as nature itself.

The announcement in Building on Reality of the abolition of the Land Commission has been referred to by many speakers over the last number of weeks. Many Land Commission officials might feel somewhat aggrieved at not having been consulted more fully in relation to their position. The Minister of State, Deputy Connaughton, visited the Land Commission offices on many occasions and asked for their views and that is as it should be.

It is necessary that some control be evident in future, whether the Land Commission carry on under their present name or are given diverted or extra powers and carry on under another name.

The Minister's own are beginning to turn on him now.

I shall deal with that in a moment. Otherwise, there could be a situation——

Attack is no defence.

——where one could have vast fragmentation of holdings. Many small farmers are dealing with 14 or 15 portions of land totalling only 20 to 30 acres. In an economic, an ecological, a farming and an agricultural sense, that is just not on. After re-arrangement of a holding in a district the Land Commission officials have consolidated and unified the holdings of farmers, always subject to agreement — which is quite difficult to get in many parts of the country.

Could the Minister give the number of subdivisions which have taken place and the number which have been applied for over, say, the last five years? In some cases people apply for subdivisions for tax avoidance, in others for social welfare benefits to accrue thereafter, in others possibly to acquire a second herd number in order to gain the extra headage payments. There are various reasons for sub-division. There are reasons of sale to people outside the country, from the EC or beyond. There is need for control of some description in that area. Has there been an increase in the number of applications for subdivision in recent years? We certainly do not want to create a new system of Irish landlordism where those in business in urban areas might decide to invest some spare money — if that is around — in pockets of land which might be available for one reason or another. That would not be in the best interest of our agricultural economy. I am sure the Minister has taken cognisance of this in his deliberations in the drawing up of the lease and the general plan for agricultural progress.

One could see a need for acquisition in some areas because rearrangement could consolidate holdings and put those farmers willing to work the land and seen to do so in a better position to progress. In the difficult areas which remain in land division, the Land Commision, at least at very senior level, will say that instead of facing up to the problem the Government now intend to abolish the Land Commission and that the situation should be left to drift until such time as the problem must be faced.

While the Land Commission have come in for a fair amount of political stick and abuse from all sides, in one section at least they provide a public service. Those who have land with bog plots attached are entitled to go to the Land Commission offices to become aware of the boundaries of such plots. With the increasing cost of energy over the years since the second oil crisis, the amount of turf cut, at least in the west, has increased many fold. Bog boundaries have never been delineated properly and are never very evident but the Land Commission officials, in fairness to them, have been more than co-operative with those who sought to find out ancient boundaries which might not now be evident through changes in geography, drainage and so on. The Land Commission officials also co-operated with Bord na Móna in the scheme introduced by the late Deputy Colley, when Minister for Energy, in relation to bog drainage and access roads to enable turf to be got out in reasonable comfort and with a saving of certain expense due to the increased cost of energy.

The Land Commission personnel are eminently suitable to deal with classification in terms of adjusted acreage of holdings. The Government plan states that it is the Land Commission system which is to be used for this adjustment. The personnel concerned would, I think, not find that objectionable. They have been doing this in their ordinary work for many years and might be quite amenable to continue this.

There is need for control and we do not want to create either a speculative paradise or a new form of Irish landlordism which would be to the detriment of the smallholder. I should like to know the results of any survey on migration carried out in the Department or by the Land Commission over the years. I understand from agricultural officers and from ACOT officers that many who migrated from small farms in the west to better land in the midlands and the east have surpassed the local farmers in terms of output and increased productivity of the land. Has any survey been carried out of the beneficial results of that scheme which for obvious reasons was terminated many years ago?

Deputies have referred to the necessity for a guide index for rent based on either the adjusted acreage or agricultural potential. One would not want to have a vast number of different rents in this context.

The transfer and mobility of land have been referred to. It is necessary that the young farmers coming on stream are given the opportunity to continue such courses as the 100-hour courses which were very beneficial. The Minister of State, Deputy Connaughton, when he opened the ACOT office in Ballinrobe some years ago spoke very strongly in favour of this point.

The present system of leasing in respect of conacre has not been successful. The 11-month system does not lend itself to giving a return from the land to the lessee. In other words, the person who leases the land for 11 months, if he fences or carries out improvements to the land, fertilises it and so on, might not be in possession of it for long enough to gain any benefit accruing from such improvements.

Use of the land has also been referred to. Considering the vast amount, £700 million worth, of foodstuffs brought into the country, one can see the need for increased usage of the land for growing our own products. This was referred to some time ago by the former Master of the High Court, well known to Deputy Gallagher — the former Deputy Lindsay, who was Minister for the Gaeltacht at one time — when he said that the sight of a goose or a gander from Malin Head to Kerry is now a tourist attraction. That sentiment can bear thought. One can travel vast distances now without seeing any farmyard activity or any garden of any consequence. The various agencies existing in that respect will need to look at the marketing end of what they do. We have all heard of cases of people setting out to improve their lot in the horticultural business or in market gardening and finding that the good range of quality vegetables they produced might not be bought by local shopkeepers or local supermarkets who might prefer to buy them from lorries, from Dublin or wherever else. There is a need for the Department to encourage farmers and to present to them the necessity for and beneficial effect of good marketing.

The group purchase scheme seems to have generated interest and activity, and I understand from the Minister that quite a number of younger farmers have shown great interest in this and have bought portions of land. This is very commendable. I see difficulties in some western counties where small holdings of land might become available either by private tender or public auction. Splits which last for generations can be caused by groups forming against one another or vying with one another to raise the money to buy the property concerned. People can front for other people in order to put bids on property with subsequent transfers into their name. I am sure the Minister will take cognisance of that.

The Land Commission have done a great deal of work on commonage division. Commonage division can lend itself to the spreading on a huge scale of bovine TB. The work of dividing up commonages allocated to farmers for improvement has been very commendable. Further responsibility for continued progress in this area in many cases rests with the tenants themselves. The Minister has met deputations over the years on this matter. I understand that a court case was to be heard but whether it has been heard I do not know. I would like to see continued progress in the area of commonage division which lends itself to the spread of bovine TB.

On the other hand, the Land Commission have come in for some political stick over the years and their independence in law has not been perceived by the farmers on the ground. One has listened to stories for many years of various Ministers, mostly of the major Opposition party who were in Government for most of the time since the foundation of the State, that Ministers for Lands might be able to divide estates of country houses and if farmers were not satisfied with the share they were getting the matter could be wiped out and rearranged. To find out whether that was so one would have to examine the files, but the judicial independence of the Land Commission over the years has not been perceived absolutely by the farmers. We have all heard stories of news spreading through villages three weeks before the final allocation could come down from the Land Commission of who was getting the land and that such a farmer was getting it because his son was coming back from England or because he was a follower of a particular party, though he might have leased land himself, he might have been working part-time, his brother might have been working or he would have two or three holdings of land not registered in his name. All these things lead to confusion and an adverse view by farmers of the Land Commission and a deep-rooted bias against them, sometimes bordering on hatred.

Of those who have been successful in the acquisition of land and have been allocated portions some have done a magnificient job in improving it for the benefit of the area, but others have not bothered and have let it go to rack and ruin. Others again have sold portions of the land they have received from the Land Commission. Does any survey exist on how much land given out to allottees over the years has since been sold for development in buildings in one sort or another? What benefit in agricultural terms has accrued from all of the land which has been divided? I do not know whether any statistics exist to show the wisdom of giving the land to those who got it in terms of what they produced from it subsequently.

I am sure the Minister will clarify the matter of who pays the land tax, the lessor or the lessee. He was party to a decision to reintroduce the western drainage scheme, which will benefit all farmers concerned, particularly those who have got land over the last few years, and the great number of applicants whose applications the Department were unable to fill, and allow them to go ahead with the work. I trust that every effort will be made in that to see that farmers who wish to develop their land are given the opportunity to do so. Where arterial drainage projects have been completed farmers should be encouraged to avail of either the western drainage scheme or the reintroduction of the old land project scheme in order to drain their own land into the major outlets because the arterial drainage system stops short in some cases of where it should go. All land drained and put to good use afterwards is of benefit to the economy of the area and to the country as a whole.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to this. I welcome also the provisions in the Bill. I have no doubt he has gone into the legality of the lease to be drawn up in great detail. I hope the publicity section of the Department, with the various agricultural organisations, will promote the scheme in order to improve the mobility of land to those who will use it. Every square perch of land that is drained and put to good use is of benefit to the country. We have not reached the stage at all where we should be in terms of agricultural output. Many Members mentioned the huge amount of land that lies idle and fallow. The agricultural community will have to tackle that problem in the years ahead. Since the dawn of history, since the Formorians and Celts first came to our shores, land has been absorbed into the Irish mentality. It is heartening to see that in 1984 we have a Minister, and Minister of State, in the Department of Agriculture who are prepared to tackle a historical problem. I trust this will be done with the intention of improving the lot of those concerned to make a mark and strike a blow for our country in terms of agricultural progress.

The Land Commission did a fine job and brought many small and struggling farmers to the stage where they now have substantial farms and are making a great contribution to the economy. It is often said by the critics that many allottees should not have got land. It is not fair to cast any criticism on the personnel of the Land Commission for such isolated failures. In other spheres we have interview boards, appointments commissions and so on but we have often found that some people appointed to certain jobs turn out to be failures. The personnel of the Land Commission in their own way did a fine job. One of our oldest State agencies, the Land Commission was established for the purpose of fixing fair rents. As our land code developed the commission were given responsibility for dismantling the landlord system and transferring ownership to tenants. They did good work in that regard and it was greatly appreciated by farmers. They have always had a very committed staff.

When the Land Commission are abolished I hope that those who served on that body will be remembered. Officials of the Land Commission should be given the responsibility for the proposed leasing scheme. However, I violently disagreed with the land bond system. That system will never be forgotten by those farmers who were the victims of section 40. Many farmers with families to care for, suffered under that system and they did not have money to meet their commitments. I hope we have reached the stage where section 40 or the land bonds will not be used again.

In recent years the Land Commission have had to carry on with reduced resources. That proved serious as land became more expensive. Land was acquired by the commission when it was not being properly utilised but after three or four years the commission had to let it. That should not have happened. When I questioned that procedure I was informed that it was necessary to let the land in order to recoup some of the money spent in purchasing it. I have had the unique experience in my constituency of a number of people having waited for years to get a portion of land from the commission, handing the land back because the rent sought was too high. When that was happening a change should have been made in the system.

Many people are finding it difficult to meet their commitments to the Land Commission. I hope the new scheme contains some incentive. It is encouraging to know that although the Land Commission are being abolished a new scheme will be introduced to deal with land.

Why abolish them?

If the Deputy did not get promotion he should not blame me.

I am quite happy. Obviously the Deputy has not been reading the newspapers.

I should like to congratulate the Minister of State on the interest he has shown in this scheme. I wish him success in his efforts. I do not mind being put off by the Opposition.

The Deputy should keep it up; he is doing very well. The Deputy is speaking in praise of the Land Commission which the Government have decided to abolish. That is hypocrisy.

The Opposition were trying to do that for years. They are now shedding crocodile tears.

The Deputy is not accustomed to sincerity. He may be confused between sincerity and hypocrisy. I appeal to the Minister to get a good PRO to sell the scheme.

The Deputy will find that the Minister will sell himself.

I accept that it will be difficult to sell the scheme because farmers have a fear of letting their land. They always feared the Land Commission inspector and viewed him as their greatest danger. They feared that the man with the white coat might walk in or, as they described him, the man with the big book, and might ask them to forfeit their land. I can understand their fears because land is dear to the hearts of farmers. A person's house is as dear to the heart of the owner as is his job. In effect, a farmer's land is his only asset. Farmers also have fears of a lessee because he may acquire squatter's rights. In that event the farmer would be in real trouble. There was also a stigma attached to letting land for 11 months. Very often such people were looked down on by their neighbours. Very often it was said, in the real old Irish fashion of rural Ireland, "Johnny must be on his uppers". He let the land and, when his relatives learned that he had leased the land, he was then in real trouble. They would maintain that his father before him had maintained that land in much more difficult times and now he had let it to a stranger. Those are the many facets the Minister will have to examine.

I agree that perhaps not all fears are allayed under the provisions of this Bill. Nevertheless there is a guarantee given to farmers that a Land Commission inspector cannot take this land from them at the end of the leasing period. It ensures also, as far as the farmer is concerned, that the lessee will never be given an opportunity of acquiring squatter's rights. In itself, that constitutes a necessary incentive to the farmer. My interpretation of the provisions of this Bill is that they will enable the coming into being of a leasing system to replace the old 11-month system, whether for a period of seven, ten or 12 years as the case may be. If the Bill serves that purpose it will have done a good job. I hope it will, because some alternative to that system was needed.

We have many acres of underutilised land and we should lose no opportunity of getting the maximum value therefrom. Indeed, some of our best land is underutilised, and that applies throughout the whole of the 26 counties, constituting a serious situation because the leasing of land contributes enormously to our economy and influences our exports accordingly. It is reasonable to assume that the vast majority of people who will lease this land will be young farmers but I had hoped that they would have been given a greater incentive. The present price of cattle is reasonably high. Therefore it is reasonable also to assume that the letting of land will be expensive. The question must be posed, what will it cost any young farmer to assume that responsibility? This is where there is real need for incentive if the scheme is to be as successful as is hoped.

It must be remembered that the number of people employed on the land has fallen dramatically, by 50 per cent since 1950, and that it costs almost £15,000 to engage an industrial employee. I believe the agricultural sector holds the greatest possible potential of all. Therefore, if at all possible some finance should be injected into this scheme if it is to be successful. In my county five or six years ago — when the Aughinish Alumina project was in progress in the field of construction — a large number of small farmers were employed there because they found it impossible to make a living on their small holdings. That meant they had no choice but to go out and earn a salary. There should be an incentive given the small farmer to remain on his holding, employing more workers, thereby reducing the number of people on the dole. Of course somebody will pose the question: what about the money entailed? I believe any money put into agriculture in that way would be recouped by way of its contribution to our exports, rendering a greater return and in respect of which the Government would lose very little.

There are approximately one million acres let already on the 11-month system for a consecutive period of five years. We must endeavour to convince those letting this land, on this semi-permanent basis, that it would be in their best interests to adopt fixed term arrangements. If at all possible we must endeavour to achieve greater co-ordination, thereby creating an incentive if we are sincere about our desire for mobility. If there is to be greater mobility created then we must also ensure that greater incentives are given.

I should like now to refer to the social welfare aspect. I have come across cases —as I am sure have many other Members — of farmers having transferred their farm to a son, with a solicitor drawing up a will, or deed, in which deed is included, say, the payment of £20 per week by a son to his father and mother. I know a solicitor will maintain that it is necessary to protect the father and mother from their son and perhaps daughter-in-law, but when that deed has been drawn up, signed and the relevant parents apply for the old age pension automatically a social welfare officer will call to the solicitor and this impediment of the payment of £20 a week will arise although that amount may never be paid by the son or daughter-in-law. It is a difficult problem to be overcome but, in such circumstances, I believe a certain amount should be allowed, particularly if a father gave over his land to his son who was married. Therefore there is great need for co-ordination between the Departments of Social Welfare and Agriculture and never, in the history of this State, was this so necessary. I know the Minister is about to review that position again. I sincerely hope he will examine such approaches and that this scheme will benefit not alone agriculture but every other sector of our economy.

My comments shall be brief. First, I want to compliment the Minister of State responsible for this Bill on its being one of the most sensible pieces of legislation I have seen come before the Houses of the Oireachtas since I entered the Seanad in 1977. It is wonderful to see somebody go to the trouble of going back through legislation, passed if not by our predecessors then by persons who over a hundred years ago had the power vested in them, and see the deadwood taken out and sense brought back into legislation. Most of what I have to say will be devoted to that but first of all, in common with every other speaker, I must say something about the Land Commission.

The Land Commission are often maligned and certainly spoken of with passion and emotion at party political meetings around the country, outside church gates during election times, in the Dáil bar and on all sorts of occasions. The most appalling allegations are made against operatives in the Land Commission and the power and influence wielded by Ministers for Lands and Ministers for Agriculture. At times these allegations must have been utterly untrue and at other times they may, perhaps, have been true. If ridding ourselves of the Land Commission rids us of the mentality that people vested in power, other than the Land Commissioners themselves, have influence and power then we will achieve something. It is no harm to be rid of that influence. I am surprised that my colleague, Deputy Byrne, nods his head from side to side when I say that.

It is hardly the way to get rid of an attitude. It is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

It is most important that whatever functions we give to Land Commissioners, directors of public prosecutions, the Judiciary or whatever are exercised by them. It is a fact that politicians on all sides of this House have sought through the years to give the impression that they could interfere with or influence the functions of what were meant to be independent Land Commissioners. It is no harm to see that going. If a land agency is established in the future to deal with matters such as were the functions of the Land Commission I would urge the Minister to ensure that whatever is necessary be done to put them outside this perceived or real influence of politicians.

I compliment the officials of the Land Commission who down through the years changed the face of the rural community from a community of people who were insecure and uncertain about their own ability to farm because they had been denied ownership or tenure rights and converted them into what the editor of the Law Society Gazette has referred to as a group of capitalists. We have a very different community today from what we had at the beginning of this century. Because of the Land Commission and their predecessors a very great deal has been achieved.

Now the Government have put them before the firing squad.

Deputy Byrne is having a most entertaining evening. I think what Deputy O'Brien said about his lack of promotion is having a very serious effect on him. I would not recommend that he should continue in that vein because he will spoil whatever chances he has in the future if he gets the reputation of being a crank or of complaining about everything.

Personalities should be left out of it.

I think so.

The job the Land Commission had of bringing about changes in land structures has essentially been achieved. What the Minister is about today makes more sense. The fact highlighted by the White Paper on Land Policy in 1980 that about 30 per cent of our land had not produced significant growth in recent years confirms the fact that the Land Commission's purpose — if they ever had such a purpose — of trying to generate a serious level of production as opposed to just changes in ownership of land had not succeeded. Previous Ministers and Governments of all parties failed to discharge their obligation to ensure that production was increased. Even in the ten years since we joined the European Community we have failed significantly to improve on production, the consequences of which are all too serious now, given the over-production of agricultural produce in Europe. There is over-production in sugar beet and milk and it is almost certain that within a few years similar quota systems will be introduced in regard to beef and cereal production.

It is of vital importance that the Government should concern themselves, even late in the day, with any policy change or any push that would bring about increased production and give land to people who would use it to the greatest advantage. I do not blame the Land Commission for not bringing about results in that area. They were never intended to do so. They changed the ownership of land from the very big estates in the past to the rather smaller farms that exist today and spread the ownership of land among Irish people. This in itself was a great achievement but to give land to people who historically had been deprived of land ownership and presume that they would of themselves acquire an ability to farm particularly well was a mistake. I should like to know the history of it. I assume that within the archives of the Department of Agriculture there are all sorts of views offered by Ministers and ministerial advisers as to what could or could not be achieved. Clearly it was an oversight or a terrible blunder. The problem of the absence of either carrots or sticks in the function of the Department of Agriculture or in our laws to generate extra productivity from land or to generate mobility in land was not seriously tackled. We are paying dearly for it and will continue to do so in the next few years.

In recent years the Land Commission have not been taken seriously by Government. They may have been regarded as an agency which had fulfilled their function or as an unnecessary draw on the funds of the Department of Finance, but whatever the reason, the function of the Land Commission to buy land and pass it on simply was not happening. It is proper at this stage to draw the line and I am pleased with the Government's decision to abolish the Land Commission. I do not see them as having any function in the main area in which they were involved in the past. There were other functions which the Land Commission fulfilled very well. I refer to the functions under the Land Acts of giving consents to companies or non-nationals buying land and the function in relation to the farm retirement scheme, a very important scheme which tragically was never sold properly throughout the country. These functions they discharged particularly well.

I would single out one function which the Land Commission performed superbly, namely, the use and control of their archives in relation to land title. This proved to be of great benefit to many solicitors and their clients in trying to establish their title to land and I would ask the Minister to indicate what is to happen to that section of the Land Commission. Is it to be subsumed into the Department of Agriculture? If so, I would urge the Minister to ensure that the existing staff are kept there and that staff levels are maintained. It is not a section of which many people would be aware but it serves a very important function. Apart from the practical function of assisting in establishing the history of titles, those archives must contain a great amount of social history which would be of great benefit to social historians in the future. Perhaps it should be considered in the context of the national archives for which so many Members of this House have been calling for so long. I would regard it as particularly important and I hope that my views and those of others will be borne in mind.

I said at the outset that this was the best legislation I had seen coming into this House since 1977. I say so because it sets out to do something which we appear to have no system for doing in Parliament. We have one committee which has the function of reviewing our laws. There must be hundreds of enactments with thousands of rules and regulations which amount to nothing but deadwood which should be cleared from our Statute Book. The system on the Continent and elsewhere of having codes of laws rather than individual statutes facilitates that sort of reform more easily than our system. Sometimes the turning up of a forgotten piece of legislation can have the most unusual consequences for people today.

Let us take the subject of leases. A definition of a lease could be a document that rarely says what it seeks to say but says what the law says it is to say. This definition could be applied because of the incredible maze of laws we have governing leases. This is something the Minister is particularly concerned about in relation to land leasing. Perhaps the Government could look at commercial leases, landlord and tenant leases and all sorts of other leases where there is a myriad of legislation, some of it long forgotten at this stage, but which can have most peculiar effects when drawing up leases today.

As recently as 1978 we passed legislation that allows for certain rights to be given to a tenant, regardless of the views of the landlord and tenant. If a person occupies a premises for a period longer than three years and carries on a business there, he is automatically entitled to acquire a 35 year lease and if the terms cannot be agreed between the landlord and tenant, the terms will be fixed by the court. There are literally hundreds of landlords and tenants who want to engage in short term lettings of over three years — say seven, eight or nine years — but who are prohibited from doing so by that law. Here is a law interfering with an ordinary sensible commercial transaction.

What happens is this: people go into a premises for two years and 11 months. Then they vacate that premises, lock stock and barrel, for a week. Then they go back and resume their business. They do this to ensure that the landlord and tenant legislation will not apply in their circumstances. This seems daft and ludicrous to me. I am not saying tenants should not have the right to be protected, because I believe they should, but in relation to the majority of commercial transactions entered into today where a tenant is no longer a person who is less able to defend his rights than a landlord, there is no need to have this type of law which tells landlords and tenants what should be in their agreements. We should be mature enough to let people dictate what terms they want to make up their agreement.

Each section of this Bill excises from our laws, laws which would interfere with the practical negotiations between a landowner and a farmer, for example, rights to compensation for improvements where the owner of the land does not consent to those improvements. In the new situation, if a lessor or a lessee of land decides that certain improvements are to be carried out, they will be written into the agreement and they will be done with the consent of both parties. If the lessor feels he will be put out after three or four years, the terms can be agreed on which that person will leave and compensation can be provided for the improvements. Irrespective of whether a tenant is in occupation of the land for eight, ten, two or four years, what the agreement says will decide what will happen. If the agreement says that person will remain there for three years, he will stay for three years and then the parties can go their separate ways. If for some reason a party does not abide by a term of the agreement, or a tenant does not abide by a term of the lease, and the lease provides that the tenant can be thrown out for it, the tenant will go out and he will not have the right to come back if he makes proper recompense, as is the case at present under legislation over 100 years old. This is practical legislation that will ensure that a lessor and lessee can determine what they want to constitute their agreement, not having legislators do it for them.

That type of approach is all very well if we, as legislators, were to sit down today and say what terms we believed should be included in agreements; if we have strong views that certain things should be included in agreements then we can provide that today, but the tragedy is that the terms imposed in these agreements go back as far as the Leases Act, 1860 and earlier legislation. Those decisions taken by legislators 120 or 130 years ago can affect commercial transactions today.

In this debate these points are highlighted in terms of land leasing but in terms of ordinary commercial transactions, these laws should have been taken off our Statute Book years ago or examined and brought up to date if necessary. In my view the Minister's approach to this area is deadly accurate. He wants to sell the idea of land leasing. There has always been a very well founded fear by property owners and tenants that their agreement between themselves might not stand up before the law. The Minister is changing that. He is ensuring on this occasion that if a landowner and farming tenant make an agreement it will stand up. If the Minister sells this idea and quells the fears of people who are prepared to commit themselves to taking a lease of land for a few years, he will do more to change the system of farming than the Land Commission were allowed to do in the last 20 years. I wish him luck and if this works — and I think it will — I urge him to have a word with his colleagues in the Department of the Environment and the Department of Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism to pass on the idea of changing systems.

I congratulate the Minister, a man from the west, for introducing this courageous Bill which will tackle some of the major problems which have faced this country since the foundation of the State. Land has been a very touchy subject down the centuries. We passed the Land Bond Acts in 1925-1926, 1927 and 1933 and the Land Acts in 1929, 1931 and 1933. After that there was a slowing down in land legislation, but we had Land Acts in 1939, 1950, 1954 and 1965. Since then things have changed dramatically and this country depends on the land to produce necessary resources.

Since we joined the EC greater emphasis on productivity has been highlighted and in recent years young farmers, mainly through Macra na Feirme, have been urging successive Ministers to bring in a land leasing programme.

Debate adjourned.