LAND BILL, 1927—COMMITTEE STAGE.
Ordered—That the Title be postponed.
Question—"That Section 1 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-sections (3) and (4) of Section 19 of the Land Act, 1923, the Land Commission, where they deem it expedient so to do, may fix the appointed day for a holding notwithstanding that compounded arrears of rent payable in respect thereof may not have been collected by them from the tenant, and in such case a sum equivalent to the amount of the compounded arrears of rent remaining unpaid on the appointed day shall be added to the purchase money of the holding and repaid by a purchase annuity calculated at the rate of 4¾ per cent. on the amount thereof charged on the holding and added to and consolidated with the standard purchase annuity of the holding. The provisions of the Land Act, 1923, with respect to the additional annuity payable where one half-year's compounded arrears of rent is added to the purchase money pursuant to the proviso in sub-section (3) of Section 19 thereof, shall apply to the annuity created under this section.
(2) Any sum added to the purchase money of a holding in respect of compounded arrears of rent shall be paid out of the purchase money to the person who would have been entitled to receive such compounded arrears of rent for his own use provided that the income tax, if any, due by that person in respect of the holding shall be deducted from such added sum on the distribution of the purchase money.
I beg to move amendment No. 1:—
"Section 2, sub-section (1). After the word ‘to' in line 25, to insert the word ‘eleven-tenths.'"
On the debate on Second Reading one Senator said that we were having frequent Land Bills brought before us. I do not think that was quite accurate, and I think that we have not had any but this substantial Land Bill since the Act of 1923. Some Senators may have forgotten the early history of that Bill. Somewhere about 1919, when the pistoleers became active, and raised issues, practically no rent was paid until 1923, when the Land Act was introduced. In that Act a composition was made with the landlords in regard to the arrears of rent due. They were wiped out and a section was inserted in the Bill amounting to an undertaking whereby the Government would collect the arrears with a reduction of 26 per cent.
I should have thought that in reason and equity it might have ended there, and that the Government might have been satisfied with the amount they had deducted—abstracted you might say—from the landowners. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Owing to continued pressure and circumstances which were undoubtedly politically embarrassing to the Government this pledge, perhaps not a legal pledge, I understand, but a moral pledge undertaking to collect the arrears, was not carried out. It is now proposed to clean up the matter by adding these uncollected arrears to the purchase money. The effect is that there will be a further substantial loss to the owner who will be paid in stock representing a cash loss of approximately 10 per cent. I agree to this extent, that it might be a great political difficulty for the Government to collect these arrears. There was no actual physical difficulty, any more than there would be to the payment of annuities or rates. It is probably due to the unpopular position of recipients that the annuities are collected under great financial difficulties in some cases. So are the rates, but unfortunately beneficiaries in the case of these arrears are a smaller and, in some quarters, a somewhat discredited class. They are the victims of political expediency. A further 10 per cent. of their miserably diminished incomes is taken from them.
I think in equity and justice the Government should have found the money themselves. That could have been done if it was felt that enough had been done to these unfortunate people, many of whom have suffered great necessitous embarrassment, a great loss in their means of living, and amongst whom there is great penury due almost altogether to the circumstances that led to the cessation of the payment of rents. It would have been at least generous and a just act on the part of the Government to have paid this small amount of arrears in full. That is what the amendment seeks to do. If it is carried it means that they will get £99 for every £100 due. I think that is only just. We have got away altogether from equity and strict law in this matter of land legislation. We are in the position of men administering rough justice. I shall have occasion to revert to this question of rough justice later on. In this case I think they should get at least rough justice.
Senator Keane should at least be accurate. He starts by stating that the payment of rent ceased for the first time in 1919. I am not as old as Senator Keane, but I understood that rents ceased to be paid about 1860. There was another agitation in 1870, and others in 1880, 1890, 1900, 1905 and 1919. As Senator Keane said, for the first time in 1919 the pistoleer started and there was a refusal to pay rents. What is the use of making statements like that? The Senator should at least be accurate when giving his historical survey. The fact of the matter is that so far as the pistoleers intervened at all they intervened to compel payment of rents. That is what happened through the country. In 1919 and 1920, the pistoleers were sent to various counties to compel people who were trying to make use of the conditions of the times, to pay annuities, and, in some cases, rents. It was the first time there was a really serious attempt to distinguish between a land agitation and a political agitation. I say that the events of 1919 and 1920 were the first serious attempts in this country to distinguish between land agitation and genuine national agitation.
Senator Keane tells us now that in 1919 the pistoleers came along and the extraordinary, unknown phenomenon occurred, that people refused to pay rents for the first time. That is not so, and the Senator must know it. He goes on and talks about political pressure on the Government. He should not use that expression, for we have not been susceptible to political pressure in this matter. The Senator should know that. It was not in response to political pressure that the Land Act of 1923 was introduced. There was a convention called, a conference between landlords and tenants and an attempt was made to come to an agreement. There was no agreement and we introduced our own Bill. We introduced it to use the Senator's word, from the point of view of doing broad equity and not from the point of view of landowner or tenant. I think we succeeded in doing rough justice. If we yielded to political pressure we would have a different Bill. There has been political influence used to prevent us from collecting the compounded arrears of rent. Did we ever try to make it a political issue? If we did not, who did? Prominent members of the Farmers' Union. I think I remember statements about the crowbar brigade made by a colleague of Senator Keane, Colonel O'Callaghan Westropp, of Clare, as to the manner in which we were collecting, not only land purchase annuities but other debts. We had to stand the same talk from responsible people here and through the country, and the only people who did not attempt to make any political capital out of not allowing debtors to refuse to pay their debts was the Ministry of which I happen to be a member.
We are charged now with adding the arrears to the purchase money for political reasons. As I happen to know, most landowners regard that as the best thing in the circumstances. Most responsible bodies considered it the best thing in the circumstances and it is not for political considerations that this section enabling us to add arrears to the purchase money has been added. It is an economic consideration and strictly economic. What would have happened if we had not done so? We are not bound legally to collect all the arrears under the 1923 Land Act. We are not bound under the Land Act to pay landowners all the arrears of rent. We are bound to pay all the interest in lieu of rent, whether we collect it or not, but when you come to compounded arrears we are only under an obligation to pay to landowners what we collect.
In 1923 there was one set of circumstances, and in 1926 another set of circumstances. In 1923 prices were better. Since then they have fallen steadily. No one expected in 1923 that prices would fall so steadily and so consistently. Now we find ourselves in a position where it is almost absolutely certain that the whole of the compounded arrears of rent cannot be collected. You cannot get blood out of a turnip. In any event, any big collection of the compounded arrears would entail a considerable amount of cost. It is purely a business proposition from the landowners' point of view, and it is better to add these arrears to the purchase money, and hand over the arrears immediately in bonds.
What is the advantage of that? The landowners get the arrears immediately. I agree that they get them in bonds. The whole Land Act of 1923 was based by common consent on bonds, not cash. We could not finance land purchase on cash. No one suggested that we could. We had to adopt the expediency of bonds. We were not the first to do so. We had the precedent of the British Government, and there was the British Government guarantee with them—if it warms the Senator to them. Our proposal is to add the arrears to the purchase money, and to pay in bonds.
What will be the effect? The landowners will get, if not immediately in a short time, 4½ per cent. bonds. What would the other effect be? It would mean that they would get the purchase money of the holdings also. Under the Land Act of 1923 lands cannot be vested until the arrears are collected. Until the land is vested the purchase money cannot be paid to the landlord. This provision would enable us to pay the compounded arrears of rent immediately in bonds, and enable us at the same time to give the purchase money on holdings, which in the ordinary way they would not get for three or four years, until we collected the arrears. Most sensible landowners realise that it would be quite impossible to recover anything like the whole of them under present economic circumstances. It would take a long time to do so, and we could not collect the whole of them. We are under no compliment, no obligation to transfer to owners more than we collect. In the circumstances this is good business for the landowners. A number of them are making quite freely a certain amount of sacrifice to the present economic conditions. It is generally agreed by the landowners that in their own interests it is about the best provision we could give them. I ask the Seanad to reject the amendment.
Amendment put and declared lost.
I have also the following amendment on the Order Paper:—
Section 2, sub-section (2), after the word "deducted" in line 41 to insert the words "at the rates current when the payment is made."
I have considered this amendment and I do not think it is in order. It deals with the question of the incidence of income tax which has already been disposed of and which is the subject of legislation. That legislation is imposed by the provisions of Money Bills. Money Bills, we cannot amend. We can only make recommendations with regard to them and this would be in effect trying to embody an amendment in a Bill which is not a Money Bill. On that account I am compelled to rule the amendment out of order. The following amendment is covered by the same rule:— Section 7, sub-section (6) to delete in line 5 the word "five" and substitute therefor the word "two."
Is it possible to get a concession from the revenue point of view so that the income tax should be at the current rate and not at the higher rate current in 1920?
Let the income tax authorities do that, but do not ask us to make it applicable. I think we would be exceeding our powers to do so.
Can we not make a recommendation?
No, we are not on a Money Bill. On this Bill we can only make amendments. You are in effect trying to make an amendment with reference to a question already disposed of by a Money Bill which this House was a party to passing. I think it would be a very dangerous precedent. I have come to the conclusion after given the question consideration that the amendments on these grounds are not in order.
We will be able to make a recommendation on the Finance Bill.
Yes. Of course it may turn out, having regard to the dates at which the arrears may be paid off, that the rates then current would be the new rates. That would be a matter to be decided by the terms of the Finance Act when passed. All I mean to say is, that I could not sanction the idea of amending existing financial legislation on a Bill of this kind.
Section 2 put and agreed to.
Question proposed—"That Section 3 stand part of the Bill."
I would like to ask the Minister a question in connection with this section. It deals with the penalty for cutting ornamental trees. I think everyone agrees that that is a very laudable and very necessary object. It is within the knowledge of most Senators that trees have been disappearing rather rapidly. I want to know how does the Minister propose to get at the offenders and to impose penalties. I know it is a very difficult problem. People can cut down trees at night, come along with horses and carts and hide them away. I should like to believe that the Civic Guard will be able to apprehend the offenders and stop this conduct. I cannot see that they will get very much chance of doing so, and I should like to hear what machinery the Minister proposes to employ for that purpose. That leads to another consideration. Besides ornamental trees, I take it this Bill will do nothing to preserve trees which are scattered derelict about farms. There are many trees which are just as ornamental which were the property of the landlord or farmer, and which are now left in a derelict condition. I cannot say that the Government is not inclined to take them over and preserve them, but it must be obvious that the landowner is not in a position to preserve them. To my certain knowledge, in many cases they are disappearing slowly but surely. Is it not just as necessary to make some effort to preserve these woods for the sake of the amenities of the scenery as it is to preserve woods standing around the homestead? I do not know whether the Minister has considered that point.
I take it these trees would not be covered by the terms of this sub-section but would it not be possible, if not now at some future time, to make some penalty applicable to the cutting of these trees? The position as it now stands is that if by any chance the owner of these small plantations which are being destroyed is able to secure a conviction against anyone, he may get the value of the tree which may perhaps be only 10/-. That is neither useful to him nor a deterrent to the offenders. I should like that the offence for cutting trees would be considered, not as against the individual but against the State. The owner does not want the money but he wants to preserve the beauty of the country. If the Civic Guard were given power to apprehend those who cut down trees I do not see any reason why they should not be equally empowered to claim a conviction against all people who destroy similar trees not actually on the vested holding. These are two questions on which I would like some enlightenment from the Minister.
Of course the Land Commission has nothing to do with untenanted land not vested. This section only deals with vested lands and lands subject to an annuity. They can control trees there. I should like Senator the Earl of Kerry to realise that this is a rather difficult problem. It is difficult to administer the law where an isolated tree has been cut. In this section a penalty is provided for the cutting of ornamental trees or shelter beds. If a farmer on his own holding cuts a shelter bed all his neighbours object and you would get information with regard to that. It takes some time to cut a small group of trees or a small wood and the information would come to the Civic Guard and the Land Commission would proceed. In the case of ornamental timber it is rather easier to get information as to the cutting than in the case say of a tree on a fence or an isolated tree here and there in a field. However, we can only do the best we can. We will get information from the farmers or from people in the neighbourhood whose interests are affected and we will proceed on that information. With regard to the other question, the position is that we have no control over these lands at present. The Land Commission have no control over land that is not vested but it is hoped that a Forestry Bill will be introduced next Session. At least it it proposed to introduce it and it will deal with that particular subject.
I am very glad to hear the Minister state that a Forestry Bill is to be introduced, because the position at present is that there is no law to preserve timber except on lands over which the Minister has control. Even then, as the Minister has shown, the destruction has taken place before any cognisance can be taken of it. It might possibly strengthen his hand if the Civic Guard were put in a position to exercise a little more vigilance. I understand that there has been great discussion amongst culprits as to whether trees were oranmental or merely shelter beds. In a country which has less than 2 per cent. of its lands under timber and which is so subject to storms and gales it is essential that some measures should be taken to preserve the timber that is still standing. I understand that the gales on the West coast were responsible for the destruction of some of the original forests in this country. It is surely time that a Forestry Bill should be introduced and that the hands of the Minister for Lands and Agriculture should be strengthened. I would suggest that the Civic Guard should be put in a position to watch these trees rather than to wait for them to be destroyed before taking action.
This discussion is a little out of order. There is no amendment to the section and we are not now discussing the principle of the Bill. We are discussing Committee points. I did not like to stop the Senator because I was not quite certain what his observations would be, but I cannot allow the discussion to develop into a general debate on forestry.
My observations will be very short. I just desire to say that occupiers of land adjoining the roadside have received notices from the county councils to cut down trees. On the other hand, according to another law, we are bound to get the permission of the Minister for Lands and Agriculture for doing so. I do not know whether the Minister has received many applications of that nature. During the coal strike, when there was a shortage of fuel, a considerable quantity of trees were cut down, and no objection was made to that proceeding. I think the Minister acted very sensibly in not interfering to prevent the cutting down of trees required for fuel. I observe that under the section trees planted by a tenant, and I presume by his predecessors, can be cut down by him. I entirely approve of that, because although a large area under timber might be very desirable, certain trees are sometimes very harmful on tillage land, and I cannot see how the Minister will have a staff to find out where trees were cut and to take proceedings against the tenant. I really think the tenants should be allowed to work their holdings as best they can without undue interference as regards the cutting down of trees.
Section put and agreed to.
Sections 4, 5, and 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
SECTION 7, SUB-SECTION (6).
On the expiration of five years from the passing of this Act where any lands, which were at the passing of the Land Act, 1923, tenanted lands excepted from the provisions of sub-section (1) of Section 24 of the said Act by reason or on account of their potential or actual value or utility as building ground, have not been resumed and utilised for building purposes during the said period, the Judicial Commissioner may order that the Land Act, 1923, shall apply to the whole or any part of the said lands and the provisions of the said Act shall apply thereto as from such date and subject to such conditions as the Judicial Commissioner may direct: Provided that no such order as aforesaid shall be made in respect of any lands if the landlord proves to the satisfaction of the Judicial Commissioner that he intends forthwith to resume the same (if not then resumed) with the definite purpose of utilising them as building ground, and the Judicial Commissioner is satisfied that the lands will be utilised for building purposes within such further period of time as may be fixed by him and provided also that when the landlord proves to the satisfaction of the Judicial Commissioner that he has expended money in developing the lands for building the said period of five years may be extended to such further period as the Judicial Commissioner may consider reasonable having regard to the amount of money so proved to have been expended.
Upon every application by a tenant for an order pursuant to this sub-section, the Judicial Commissioner shall have and may exercise the powers of sub-division and apportionment conferred on him by sub-section (1) of this section.
Section 7, sub-section (6). To delete in line 5 the word "five" and to substitute therefor the word "two."
I am proposing this amendment in the interests of the State rather than in the interests of the farmer or landlord. When this Bill was being considered on Second Reading the Minister for Justice made a most important statement. He said:
"In this matter Senator Sir John Keane is a revolutionary. He is struggling to assert a new principle that there is absolute property in land. My readings in law were not perhaps very sustained or deep, but I did read the first page of Williams' on real property. If Senator Sir John Keane refers to that he will find a very direct negative to his underlying thesis that there is absolute property in land. There is not and never has been. Governments have at all times and from time to time acted on the principle that land is held from the State and that in circumstances which to them seem good and sufficient, the land may be acquired."
This section refers to potential building sites, and seeks to prolong the period for another five years. Under the Act of 1923 any land that had a potential building site was reserved, and was not purchased. I can best explain what I mean by citing an actual case which came under my notice. There was a tenant of a holding of 100 acres who applied to have that purchased by the State. The landlord objected, as he held that there was portion of the land, if not all of it, which was a potential building site. The question was fought out. The tenant employed a solicitor and counsel, and brought his case before the Judge, and the Judge went and saw the land. He held the land was not a potential building site, so that the tenant was more or less secured in possession, and was relieved of the fear that his land might be taken by the landlord for building. What would have been the effect of that? If it had been reserved for building sites, it would have been held for the next 20, 30 or 40 years, and nothing would have been done to the land. It is very poor grazing land, and the tenant has since spent hundreds of pounds on improving it. He tried to bring this land into a state of cultivation, but he found that he was prevented by rocks and large boulders underneath. He blew those up, and a dozen men were engaged on the land for the whole winter. The land is now far more valuable than it otherwise would be.
The same argument would apply to a large number of other holdings, and, although the land may not be built on for years, anywhere within ten miles of a city you can regard it as potential building-ground. I think the whole position has been very largely altered by the improved transport facilities. Another very substantial reason for passing this amendment is that we have to give fixity of tenure. If there is anything a landholder desires it is fixity of tenure. In this Bill, not only in this section but in other sections, there is a tendency to create a certain amount of insecurity, because large holdings may be taken over, although they have been in the occupation of the same families for generations and centuries. It may be taken, therefore, that they will not expend on the land that amount of money necessary to bring it into proper cultivation. If portion of a holding can be reserved by the landlord as potential building-ground, what is to happen to the tenant? Is he to be compensated? He cannot work the remainder of his land to advantage. There are very strong reasons why we should hesitate to give any further extension of these powers.
I think if the Minister for Justice were revising his speech in his more deliberate moments, he would alter the word "revolutionary" to "reactionary." I think the Senator who has just spoken should take on himself the position of a revolutionary. This would be following a revolutionary policy. The whole case starts with the assumption that the landlord has no rights and that the tenant is the only person who has any rights, although in law it is the landlord who has all the rights. The tenant is under contract and is placed in a certain position. Now it is proposed, because the taking of building land might be inconvenient to the tenant, he is going to be compensated. Everybody knows that this building land can only be developed very slowly, and as long as the landlord has those building rights he should not be deprived of them except under the most careful safeguards. The safeguards are insufficient, but such as they are, they should not be whittled down.
I am not accepting the amendment, and I will ask the Senate not to accept it. Senator Sir Edward Bigger spoke of the difficulty and drew a vague picture of a case where a tenant has a present tenancy and has done a lot of work on the land and has improved it. Now he must wait five or six years before he can purchase it, and before the end of those five or six years he runs the risk that the landlord may take it up. The landlord always had the right of resumption for building purposes, but he must give something like the market value for the land for building purposes if he exercises the right of resumption. Senators must remember that this Bill applies not only to present but to future tenancies, that is to say, tenancies which enable the landlord to terminate the tenancy on a year's notice or on a six months' notice.
Senators will have a case where the landlord let land seven or eight years ago on a future tenancy and now the tenant is purchasing. In that case the landlord has equities. In that case you have an illustration of the old saying that hard cases make bad law. Taking into account all the equities of the case and especially the particular fact that I mentioned, namely, that if the owner takes up the land for building, he must pay something like the market value for it—the tenants must get the resumption price—the equities of the case are fairly met and I would ask the Seanad not to accept this amendment.
Amendment put and negatived.
I beg to move—
In section 7, sub-section (6), to add at the end of the sub-section the words: "Provided that in the application of this sub-section to land held under a lease containing no provision enabling the landlord to resume possession of such land for building purposes five years from the date of the expiration of such lease by effluxion of time shall be substituted for five years from the passing of this Act."
As the section stands at present it gives the landlord, who has made a lease of land which is capable of being built upon and who has preserved the right of re-entry, five years from the date of the passing of this Act to make up his mind as to when he is to put that right of re-entry into operation. That is very reasonable because otherwise the operations of this Act would be held up indefinitely. Some limit has to be put on it and five years probably is a very sound limit. There is another case. There is the case of the landlord who has no right of re-entry for building purposes under his lease. Such land owing to the spreading out of a town may become potential building ground. What my amendment proposes to do is to give him five years from the end of the lease.
I would make a suggestion to the Senator which would mean a slight alteration. There is undoubtedly a case where a man has let recently under a lease which may be expiring say next year; and nevertheless he has no rights in that case under the Act. As it stands, the land must be purchased from him. There is another case where there are 59 years of a lease running, and under the lease the effect of the Senator's amendment would be that the proceedings would have to be deferred first of all for 59 years and then for six years after that. That would nullify the Act. On the Report Stage I propose to prepare an amendment which will perhaps meet the point.
I see the objection to my amendment—that it would hold up the operations of the Act for a long number of years. I am quite prepared to withdraw my amendment, having regard to what the Minister has said.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-sections (1) and (3) of Section 24 of the Land Act, 1923, there shall not be vested in the Land Commission by virtue of the said Act otherwise than in pursuance of a voluntary agreement any untenanted land so long as the Land Commission are satisfied that such land is being used in a bona fide manner as a farm for the purpose of breeding thoroughbred stock which in the opinion of the Minister for Lands and Agriculture is of a nature and character suitable to the requirements of the country.
Section 9, sub-section (1). To add at the end of the sub-section the words "or that such land is being farmed so as to give the maximum yield without loss to the owner."
This is an amendment which sets out what is very reactionary nowadays. That is the right of the owner to use his property as he wishes within, of course, reasonable limits. If a man chooses to neglect his land I submit that as long as he pays rates and taxes for it, he is entitled to keep it. It is far more dangerous to interfere with the sanctity of possession, but we have passed a long way from that. We are up against a position, and I do not use the phrase in a sinister or criminal sense, that represents a form of legal blackmail. You can keep your land according to this section provided you keep pedigree stock. At that price you can purchase exemption from the acquisition section. I think that is a very wrong position to take up, especially in the case of a person who is living on his land.
The average position of the person who keeps pedigree stock is, that he has to have a good deal of capital, and is able to run very grave risks, and he has to be a very lucky or a comparatively rich man. Why should these people be placed in a comparatively privileged position as against the bona fide working farmer who is doing his best, perhaps, tilling a large percentage of his land and harnessed all the time up to the balance-sheet? That is the test. No man can be expected to farm his land unless he can make it pay. As long as a man can show he is working his land according to the general methods of food production, he should be allowed to do so just as well as the richer person who can afford to gamble in pedigree stock. Also in the case of pedigree stock, I think that a person who has got a good registered herd, although it may not be pedigree, is in every way contributing to the blood-stock as well as the person with pure pedigree stock. This is an example of the morass you can get into and the anachronisms you create when you tamper with the liberty of possession. That has been proved all along. The Minister has probably in the last four years learned a little of the dangers, from the security point of view, of tampering with the liberty of possession in lands, or in any other commodity whatever.
I support the amendment. I think any owner who is using his lands for the purposes of the community, and employing labour where necessary, ought to enjoy the privilege of being allowed the possession of that land equally with the man who keeps a stud farm.
We may be in a morass at present, but it is nothing to the morass we were in before land purchase started, and we would be in a worse morass if this amendment were carried. No one knows what it means, and it could not be administered. The Land Commission propose to acquire land and the owner puts up the case: "I cannot farm this land in any other way without loss to myself." You may advise him how to farm it in another way. He will tell you it is this or that sort of land, some peculiar sort of land, and that this is the best way it can be farmed. "This is the way that experience has taught me to farm it," he will say, "and it is the way that my father farmed it." It then comes before the Judicial Commissioner who has to inquire as to whether infact there is some other way of making more money out of the land, and unless he decides there is, the Land Commission cannot take the land. The effect would be to stop all purchase. The Land Commission might occasionally be able to get the land, but even those cases could be delayed for years, and it would limit the opportunities of the Land Commission for acquiring land by about 90 per cent. I will not go into the reasons now as it would take too long as to why it was considered people breeding high-class stock animals should be exempted. It was mainly for the reason indicated by Senator Sir John Keane. It would take a good deal of money to run a pedigree herd. Much has to be done, including a good deal of tillage. You cannot run a good pedigree herd without roots to feed your cattle in the winter. If the Senator reads the section he will find that you cannot run a camouflage pedigree herd. "So long as the Land Commission are satisfied that such land is being used in a bona fide manner as a farm for the purpose of breeding thoroughbred stock which in the opinion of the Minister for Lands and Agriculture, is of a nature and character suitable to the requirements of the country." No landowner who has, say 1,000 acres, can put a pedigree Hereford bull in the middle of that and say he has a pedigree herd. It must be a farm run in a bona fide way for the production of high-class animals. There can be no greater asset for the farmers than such a farm, and it is because it is of particular value from the point of view of the farmers and the labourers, and from every other point of view, this exemption was made. When it is made Senator Sir John Keane comes along and puts in a proviso which he could not define himself, which no judge could interpret, and which would only mean stopping all land purchase.
Would the Minister be prepared to consider, on Report, the insertion of registered thoroughbred dairy stock? Is there any possibility of a compromise, or extension regarding thoroughbred stock?
I think the Senator interprets it too narrowly. I think thoroughbred stock means high-class stock animals. When it comes to a question of definition the judge will have to take all the circumstances into account and the decision of the court comes to the Department of Agriculture. If you had registered cattle you should add other exemptions as well. A registered dairy herd is one thing, and high-class stock another thing. A registered herd is of no importance compared with the farmer who is breeding a class of high stock animals which are distributed through the country. I do not think it would be right to include a registered dairy herd. Any farmer with four or five cows he had tested would be brought within that category. I ask the Senator to leave well alone. This is an important concession, and if it puts a premium on high stock animals, so much the better. In any other country rich people keep high-class stock and that is a reason why in Scotland and in England you have first-class animals. It would be the greatest boon to this country if the landowner class would keep pedigree stock.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
(3) Where a parcel of untenanted land so held as aforesaid, whether situated in a congested districts county or not is vested in the Land Commission on the appointed day the Judicial Commissioner in fixing the redemption price of the superior interests payable out of the purchase money of the parcel shall have regard to the price received by the vendor for the parcel, and to the amount of the arrears of rent if any due by him up to the date of the passing of this Act. In every such case arrears of rent which shall have accrued due up to and including the first gale day in the year 1924, shall not be payable by the vendor.
Section 11, sub-section (3). After the word "regard" in line 60, to insert the words "to the security the parcel afforded the vendor for his interest and."
This deals with the redemption price of fee-farm grants. I think all along the Minister has said these fee-farm grants stand in a different and special category to the ordinary charges on land.
I am advised that what the Senator proposes is the law already. The only objection of the lawyers to putting it in is that it will be simply repeating the law, and I think I have good advice on the subject.
Would the Minister accept it?
There is a drafting objection to accepting an amendment establishing something which is already law.
I dabble a little in land legislation, and I ventured to put myself in the position of a Land Judge reading that section, and I was extremely puzzled as to what the position would be. I think the Judge would want to be a Solomon to interpret it.
It would be a question of the actual form. I think the wisest thing for you to do, Senator, as the Minister is prepared to consider the best form of putting it, would be to postpone the matter for his further consideration.
This security is undoubted. You are directing the judge, but you are omitting any reference to the strongest part, that is the security of the grantor. Everybody else is to be considered. The basic price is to be the price at which the land can be economically sold to congests.
The Minister's point is that those things that are inserted in the new section are not at present law, but what you want the judge to have regard to is done under the existing law.
Yes, and long before that Act.
As it is the law I should like if he would allow it to be specifically embodied in this Act.
The Minister will consider it on Report, and introduce a clause to meet your case.
Question—"That Section 11 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Before Section 12 to insert a new section as follows:—
"12.— Where the rateable valuation of the lands comprised in a holding, the main object of the letting of which was for a residence, exceeds the rateable valuation of the principal dwelling-house on the holding and the tenant of the holding was at the passing of the Land Act, 1923, and is at the passing of this Act a person whose principal or only business is farming in bona fide occupation of the said dwelling-house and working and using the said lands as an ordinary agricultural or pastoral farm such holding shall be deemed to have lost its residential character and the provisions of the Land Act, 1923, shall apply thereto notwithstanding any decision of any Court to the contrary made or given prior to the passing of this Act. Provided that this section shall not alter or affect the liability of the tenant of any holding to which the provisions of the Land Act, 1923, shall become applicable by virtue of this section for rent or arrears of rent accrued due up to and including the gale day next preceding the date of the passing of this Act, as from which gale day the liability of the tenant for payment to the Land Commission of payment in lieu of rent pursuant to Section 20 of the said Act shall commence to run."
It has been found that quite a number of tenants in occupation of holdings, such as those mentioned in the amendment are excluded from the provisions of the 1923 Act and the decisions of the Land Judge, in many cases, have been very difficult to understand. In some cases holdings have been admitted which appear similar to others that have been excluded, and the object of the amendment is to give a lead to the judge as to what should be the principal points on which he should give his decision. There is first the fact that the valuation of the land should be in excess of the value of the buildings. There is, again, that the tenant should be in occupation of the land at the beginning of the 1923 Act, that he should work it as an ordinary agricultural or pastoral farm and that it is his only means of livelihood. I think with those conditions you will confine the application of this section to men who really have to make their living out of the land. After all, it will be as much to the advantage of the landlord to get holdings such as those purchased by the tenant, and receive the price in the form of land bonds. He cannot expect more from the tenant than the land is really worth. I may mention that already the Seanad has approved of the Second Reading of a Bill in which a clause similar to this appeared.
This point has often been debated in the Seanad and the Dáil. I do not think you could possibly tie the Land Judge by any such conditions as are set out in the first two or three lines of this amendment. The Land Judge takes into account, when a case comes before him, the terms of the letting itself, the user of the farm, the present circumstances, the sort of man working on it, and whether it has been worked as an agricultural farm. Even where the lettings were expressed as residential lettings he takes into account where, in practice, there has been a change. He takes every possible consideration that could be put down in an amendment, or that would be contained in five or ten pages of Cherry into account. I attempted to draft some sort of a section, and to set out all the possible factors that the Land Judge might take into account, and I found that if I attempted to do it I would have to go on to a section almost as big as the whole Bill, and that I would be leaving out some considerations that the Land Judge might take into account. This is an issue that is being covered by decided cases, the law of which is well known.
Every possible aspect of the situation has been discussed by lawyers, and no section I could draft would improve the present position, or would give effect to what the Senator wishes accepted. Some sort of a section setting out, as he has set out, that wherever the valuation of the land exceeds the rateable valuation of the principal dwellinghouse then the holding shall be deemed to have lost its residential character, would be a grave injustice. Senators may know cases where grave hardship has been done by reason of a decision of the Land Judge. We ought to be careful before coming to the conclusion in some cases reported to you, that grave injustice has been done. The Judge takes at least four or five hours, and often two or three days to hear any case. It is only after a long hearing that he decides. You cannot come to a decision on the merits after hearing only for an hour or two. The circumstances have to be put up to you by one side and the other. If such a section were inserted as the Senator made here, twice as many cases of hardship might result. It would be a serious thing around Dublin. In nine cases out of ten it was never intended that people in occupation of premises of £31 valuation, and a farm of £30 valuation, should come within the Land Act, because they are not agricultural land. I see no better way of dealing with a complicated question like this than to leave it to the Land Judge and the present law. The present law has been stated over and over again. I feel certain that if you attempt to alter the law by arbitrary action you will often do more injustice than you will leave undone, and you will have a worse state of affairs than before.
The Committee divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 19.
- T. Westropp Bennett.
- James Dillon.
- P. J. Hooper.
- Thomas Linehan.
- James MacKean.
- Joseph O'Connor.
- Michael F. O'Hanlon.
- John Bagwell.
- P.J. Brady.
- Samuel L. Brown, K.C.
- Mrs. Costello.
- J. C. Counihan.
- Countess of Desart.
- Michael Duffy.
- Thomas Farren.
- Thomas Foran.
- Dr. O. St. J. Gogarty.
- Sir John P. Griffith.
- Henry S. Guinness.
- Andrew Jameson.
- Sir John Keane.
- Earl of Kerry.
- Francis MacGuinness.
- John MacLoughlin.
- John T. O'Farrell.
- James J. Parkinson.
Amendment declared lost.
Sections 13 to 19 agreed to.
Where prior to the declaration of the appointed day for any lands, the landlord or, in the case of untenanted land, the owner thereof is or has been liable for the cleansing or maintenance in whole or in part of any watercourse, drain, embankment, or other work, either alone or in conjunction with other persons and whether under the terms of a contract of tenancy or otherwise, and has neglected to clean or maintain or to contribute to the cleansing or maintenance of the said work, so as to render necessary an expenditure of money on its cleansing, repair, or restoration, the Land Commission may either before or after the appointed day, apply to the Judicial Commissioner for an order declaring them entitled to have transferred to them on the allocation of the purchase money such amount of land bonds as they shall certify to be required in order to recoup them for the expenditure made or proposed to be made by them in cleansing, repairing, or restoring such work; and if the Judicial Commissioner is satisfied that the landlord, or owner, either alone or in conjunction with other persons is or was so liable as aforesaid, and that the expenditure so made, or proposed to be made, by the Land Commission has been or is rendered necessary by such neglect, he may order that on the allocation of the purchase money such sum in land bonds as he may consider reasonable, having regard to all the circumstances of the case shall be transferred to the Land Commission out of the land bonds representing the purchase money.
"After the word ‘case' in line 39, to insert the words ‘but not exceeding the amount of the purchase money arising from the land which the Land Commission certify will be directly benefited by such expenditure.'"
This amendment deals with cases where landlords were liable for the maintenance of drains and embankments on their estates and neglected them. The section gives power to deduct from the purchase money an amount that would be necessary to repair that neglect and to make good what the owner was under a legal liability to do. In principle it is right that at least that should be done. My amendment limits the amount of the liability to be deducted from the purchase money to the portion of the land directly benefiting by the embankment or drains that should have been kept in order. I suggest that that is a just amendment.
The difficulty is to interpret the word "directly" when a judge comes to interpret it. Take the case of an embankment that has been neglected. All the lands are directly injured by the neglect, but the question is, what lands will be directly benefited by the expenditure?
Surely it is a physical fact how far the sea or the river has encroached.
I see a difficulty in both directions. Would it be sufficient instead of "directly" to put in the word "substantially"?
Yes, that would meet the case.
Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
Section 20, as amended, agreed to.
(1) The Land Commission with the concurrence of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health may if they deem it expedient so to do by order require a county council to undertake the cleansing or maintenance, but not including reconstruction, of any watercourse, drain, embankment, or other similar work situate in their county, in respect of which a capital sum has before the passing of this Act been transferred by the Land Commission to the Public Trustee to be held and applied in accordance with any deed of trust or any scheme framed by the Land Commission or is hereafter transferred pursuant to the provisions of subsections (1) and (2) of Section 44 of the Land Act, 1923, or in respect of which a capital sum retained and administered by the Land Commission shall hereafter be transferred to the Public Trustee to be held and applied in accordance with a scheme framed under this section and shall by the same or a subsequent order appoint the county council trustees of the deed of trust or scheme in place of the trustees thereof and the deed of trust or scheme shall be varied so far as necessary, or framed so as to provide for the application of the income of the capital sum in or towards the reimbursement to the county council of the expenditure properly and necessarily incurred in such cleansing or maintenance.
Section 21, sub-section (1), to delete in lines 43/44 the words "if they deem it expedient so to do by order required" and to substitute therefor the words "agree with."
This amendment deals with the power to impose the maintenance on the county councils. I do not think it is fair to throw any more burdens on the county councils. Really they cannot now do the work they have to do properly. There are endless committees and boards of health connected with the county councils, and there are incessant complaints about the difficulty of doing the responsible work. The Bill proposes to hand over the maintenance of embankments to them. In some cases that might be very arduous work and might involve the employment of increased staffs. I do not think many cases will arise but it is quite possible that they will. Although the drainage rate is imposed and can be recovered it is not good business to make such a provision mandatory. If county councils wish let them take on this duty, but the Board of Works has a staff of officials and it should continue to do it.
That is the trouble. That was not the old method. What happened was that it was everyone's business and no one's business. An embankment might be a very big proposition to keep up. The section deals with that and with every little trustee scheme in the country. What happened before was that a landowner had, as a rule, to look after the embankment or drainage work before the estate was purchased. After it was purchased the Land Commission appointed trustees—the parish priest, the teacher or some big farmer—and set aside a certain amount of money for the work. The Land Commission has not a staff to look after this work. It is not a permanent body. It must be assumed that Land Commission work must cease sometime. They have no engineers, inspectors or machinery for this work. What they did formerly was to appoint trustees, and these had a certain fund to administer. Sometimes that fund had to be raised from the people whose lands were benefited or alternatively from land that would be injured if the embankment was neglected or if drainage work was not done. As there was no alternative, trustees were appointed in a parish to look after these little works. In a minority of cases the embankments were substantial, but the others were small.
In practice that system absolutely failed all over the country. There were trustees here and there not doing their duty. They had their own business to look after. Two or three responsible farmers were not going to go around to their neighbours and beg them to contribute towards the expenses of maintaining the embankment, especially as in many cases the land of trustees was not affected. What happened is, they are doing nothing. You have cases where an expenditure of £10 a year would have kept the embankment or the drain right, but when neglected for 20 years it would take £1,000 to put it right. We cannot allow that to go on. Someone must have charge of the maintenance. In my opinion the Board of Works never had, and never should have, charge of that work. As I said, there are not many substantial schemes, but there are any amount of small schemes that the Board of Works should not be bothered with. The administrative expenses of looking after every little work and seeing if a scheme would be an improvement would be very great. It would be anything but economical to have the Board of Works looking after these things. I think the county councils are the obvious bodies to look after that work, once an embankment has been put into repair, and the drains properly cleaned. It is then merely a question of maintenance.
The county councils should deal with that, as they can strike a rate on the parties whose lands will be benefited. The usual case is where you have 10, 18, 20 or 100 tenants anxious to pay a small sum to keep the embankment or the drain in order, but on the other hand there is nobody with sufficient initiative to go round and collect the money from the recalcitrant five or six. Naturally the five or six will not pay. The county councils have power to deal with that. They can on request of a district strike a rate and collect it economically. It will be a small rate. This is not big engineering work. County surveyors can do it. Certainly county councils should be expected to do this work if they are expected to do all the work under the Drainage and Maintenance Act of 1924. That Act was passed by the Dáil and Seanad. Under that Act the Board of Works go into a district, put the drains right, and hand them over to the county councils, who must then take over the maintenance.
It will be an extraordinary state of affairs if you have county councils on one side keeping in repair fairly considerable rivers running through the original drainage districts, and on the other hand if they are not in a position to look after these small little schemes that are contemplated here. You can take it for granted if the county council does not take them over, or if somebody has not power to say to the county councils, "You must take these schemes over," in a great many cases they will not take them over, or there will be great delay in taking them over. The interests of the county councils are protected by reason of the fact that this must be done with the concurrence of the Minister for Local Government.
I think on the whole the arguments are in favour of the Minister, and I cannot press the amendment. I think county councils will consider that they can do these jobs on a more expensive scale than they should be done, but it is very much to be hoped that they will seek the co-operation of the parties who own the land, in doing this work. In many cases these parties will do the work far more cheaply than it could otherwise be done.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 21 and 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Where the Land Commission shall have declared that untenanted land situate outside a congested districts county is required for the purpose of relieving congestion or of facilitating the resale of tenanted land, or that any land wherever situate which was excluded from the operation of sub-section (1) of Section 24 of the Land Act, 1923, by sub-section (2) of that section is required for the purpose of relieving congestion, or shall have commenced proceedings to resume the whole or part of a retained holding, and at any time after the passing of this Act the price or compensation has been fixed by the Judicial Commissioner, the Land Commission, if they consider that the price fixed is such as to make the purchase of the land or the resumption of the holding or part thereof inexpedient, may, on serving notice within such time as may be prescribed, withdraw from the purchase or resumption on such terms as to costs as the Judicial Commissioner may determine and such untenanted land or holding shall not for a period of seven years thereafter be acquired or resumed by the Land Commission without the consent of the owner or tenant thereof.
Section 23. To delete the section and to substitute the following new section therefor:—
"23.—When the Land Commission acquire retained holdings, or portion of retained holdings, or any land compulsorily, and an appeal is made to the Judicial Commissioner on a question of price, the Judicial Commissioner shall fix the price in accordance with the prevailing market value of the land at the time and not at a price fair to the Land Commission; and the difference if any shall be paid out of moneys to be provided by the Oireachtas, anything to the contrary in any previous Land Acts notwithstanding."
If the Minister will accept the principle of the amendment, as I am sure he will, the wording can be altered on report in any way he desires. This amendment seeks to establish what should be the first principle of every Government— justice and fair play for every citizen in the State. I contend that the section of the Land Act of 1923, which states that the Land Commission may acquire land compulsorily anywhere at a price fair to the Land Commission, is not an equitable proposition. A fair price to the Land Commission cannot be a fair price to the owner. They are two different prices. The Minister states quite justly that the Land Commission cannot afford to pay even the price they are paying at present, that they cannot resell land to landless men at a figure based on the price they are giving at the present time. I contend that the solution lies in this amendment, which states that there may be two prices, a price fixed by the Land Commission which is in accordance with the present price, fair to the Land Commission, and if an appeal is made to the Judicial Commissioner, he shall fix the price in accordance with the market value.
The Minister will likely ask by whom the difference in price is to be provided. Well, the State has found money for the compensation of persons affected by legislation, who were scarcely as justly entitled to it as those people whose lands are taken for less than the market value. Since the passing of the 1923 Act, it has injured the agricultural industry in a great many ways. Land is now practically valueless as a security, and it will be valueless while this section remains on the Statute Book. I contend if this section were repealed, and if land owners and farmers, small and large, felt they had more security in the land they would be more inclined to improve it. Land would then become a real security again. To my mind that would be a great boon to the nation, and it would be cheaply purchased at the small amount the Treasury would be called upon to pay to make up the difference between what is considered a fair price to the Land Commission and a fair price to the owner.
My views on this subject are very well known and I do not intend to enlarge on the matter at any great length now. I do say that the Minister should give us his candid opinion and state after four years' experience of the working of the Act, when the time is likely to come when these powers shall have to cease, as cease they must some time, unless the agricultural industry is to be altogether crippled. I might refer to one case which the Minister knows as well as I do. In that case the land is now even worth £30 an acre, but the Land Commission has come in and taken it over at £17. That occurred in the case of a man who is not possessed of a great deal of this world's wealth and he has been brought to the verge of financial ruin. The virus of that poison is eating into the vitals of our whole economic life. It is refreshing to have at least one ally here who is a self-made farmer. I say that of him in the fullest complimentary sense—a man who has built up a strong position by his own industry, a man who cannot be called a landlord, or who inherited broad acres, but who made his way in the world by his own efforts. I feel that a great many others are already with us, but for reasons which I need not enlarge upon they cannot very well give open expression to their views. The time is coming when this will be a vital issue amongst farmers, and the sooner the strong men, the ambitious men, the men who wish to use and increase the productivity of their land—call them profiteers if you like—the men who are spending money to earn more money, who are real wealth producers and real active agents of progress, come out and say this thing must stop, the better. It certainly cannot go on.
I take it that the amendment moved by Senator Counihan means that the general taxpayer is asked to make up the difference between what is alleged to be the true market value of the land and the price which the Land Commission can afford to give the owner. If that is so, it is the general taxpayer who will have to bear the burden.
I think Senator Counihan's point is this—that the man whose land has been taken has to bear the burden and he does not consider it fair that that portion of the community whose land has been taken over should bear the whole loss for the sake of the community. It is for the benefit of the community the land is being purchased. I cannot see why the men, whose land is being taken over in order that a certain portion of the community should be supplied with land, should bear the expense of that operation. Senator Counihan's contention is that if such a measure is necessary for the need of the community, it should not be carried out at the expense of the people whose land is to be taken. We know that the Land Commission cannot pay the full market value of the land. The fair price given by the Land Commission is not the market value of the land.
We get a case where an estate has been valued by the Estate Commissioners, and after it is valued by them the Land Commission comes along and values it, and there is a difference of 10 or 15 per cent. between the two valuations. It has been found that the lowest valuation of the two is always the valuation of the Land Commission. Here you have two Government Departments in direct opposition. What Senator Counihan is suggesting is that where a case so clear as that exists, the Judge should have some consideration for the market value, and that the State should pay the difference between the two values, and the loss should not fall on the parties whose land is being taken over. We who have something to do with monetary affairs in the country have come to see that free sale in land property in Ireland is being steadily killed by the present system. Now, free sale was that for which so many people were fighting so long ago. That is now being steadily destroyed. It is being destroyed, not so much by what is being done as by the fear of what is going to be done. No man will buy land because he knows that the Land Commission has power to come in and take it at their price. Over the whole country there broods this terror.
We know that land can be taken over by the Land Commission at a price that is settled by the buyer and not by the public demand for that land at all. If the Governments in the future decide that that is to go on for ever, then land will steadily come down in value and there will be no free sale for land and nobody will try to improve his land and work his land as long as this fear is hanging over him. We all grant that. I know that special land legislation was necessary, but it ought to come to an end. This right to buy land at a price that is not a fair price to the man whose land is being bought, should be put an end to, and I do think that Senator Counihan's amendment would be going a long way towards helping us to get a better sale for the land, and bring about a condition of things that would make for improvement on the land, because the people would know they were going to get the fair market price for it, and not the price fixed by the Land Commission, who from the very nature of their duties, cannot afford to give for the land what it is worth.
On a point of order, within the terms of the Money Resolution, is this amendment in order? This will mean a further vote of money provided by the Oireachtas, and it seems to me we are going outside our powers in going into this matter.
It need not mean a further vote of money by the Oireachtas.
But the money must be provided by the Oireachtas.
That part of the amendment is open to question— that is as to where the money is to come from. I think there is something in Senator O'Farrell's point as regards the suggestion as to where the money is to come from.
There is no other money available except the money voted by the Oireachtas.
There is money available already. The Land Commission has a certain amount of money available. However, if the objection is insisted upon, I think the last three lines of the amendment must be omitted.
I think we would be in a worse condition then if we cannot get the money.
That is for you to determine.
What would prevent the Land Commission from carrying out the transaction? It does not affect the money part at all.
Yes, I do not think the last three lines are required at all in the amendment.
I am prepared to omit the last three lines.
Very well, that is agreed.
I am not touching on the merits of this amendment, but I want to make one observation in reference to what Senator Jameson says as to free sale of land. I think it is as well to state that during the boom period farmers bought land at prices far and away beyond the value. They have not been able to make the land pay interest and bank charges. But the absence of free sales does not arise from the economic conditions of the country so much as from the intimidation exercised by the neighbours. There would be free sale all over the country but for this intimidation. It may be possible that the operations of the Land Commission may tend to make the prospective buyer timorous, but I think the intimidation is the greatest factor, and I think it is as well to state that fact.
I think the deletion of the last three lines would make the amendment rather peculiar.
The point is this, the Land Commission has got a certain amount of money. They will distribute that money in the purchase of land at a certain price as far as it will go. If the prices are higher they will buy less land than if the prices were lower. The money will be applied as far as it will go. The last three lines of the amendment do not affect it at all.
If that amendment is carried it will entail selling the land to the tenants at uneconomic prices, at prices which would make the land uneconomic for them. It is extraordinary to listen to the arguments put forward by Senators Counihan, Sir John Keane and Jameson. One would imagine that it was only people with large holdings of land in the past who had done their duty by the community. I think that anyone who has taken the trouble of going into the question of tillage in Ireland, will find that so far from that being the case, the people who are doing their duty by the public are not the big landowners. In fact it is these very people who are neglecting their duty. It is recognised by the Land Commission, and Senator Sir John Keane himself knows it that the amount of food produced by tillage land is three and a half times that produced by the same land used as grazing land. Anyone who looks up the statistics connected with Irish agriculture will find that the percentage of tillage is greater in the case of the smaller landowner and that the larger the holding is, the smaller is the percentage of tillage. I do not know why Senators Sir John Keane and Counihan should get up here and talk about those men who are prepared to work their land well, and give an amount of employment and all the rest of it. To try and place them in a position that they have not held in the past will not hold water.
There is no doubt about it, it is very interesting to hear Senator Sir John Keane congratulating Senator Counihan on being a successful farmer. To my mind the term "successful farmer" means that these men were in a position to take a great deal of land on the eleven months' system, and graze it. It was not from tillage farming that this wonderful success was achieved. I think that any steps that we might take here that may interfere with the division of land and the dividing up of land in small economic holdings, and giving it to people who are prepared to work it and live out of it, would not be right, and would not be for the good of the community. Consequently I will have much pleasure in voting against this amendment. Further than that, I think that the Land Commission, if they err at all in this matter, err because of giving too great a price for the land rather than giving too little for it. If the agricultural future of the country is to be secured, it is by giving a minimum price for the land. As a matter of fact, it was doubtful whether in real equity any landowner, or at least the large landowner in any case is entitled to any compensation at all.
I would like to draw attention to what I consider a great injustice in connection with land purchase. Tenants were placed by the Land Commission in possession of holdings that were supposed to be economic, but that were really uneconomic, as owing to the price paid for the land rents had to be charged to those tenants which were quite impossible for them to pay. I know cases where big areas were purchased by the Land Commission, and divided up. Instead of there being any development of tillage for the last few years, I regret to say there has been a decline by reason of its unprofitableness, owing to foreign competition, which is the ruling factor in prices. Eighty per cent. of our food stuffs come from foreign countries. That explains why tillage has been declining. It is not because people have not the inclination to till, but because of the loss they see staring them in the face if they did till. These people, in their anxiety to get possession of land, thought that by getting it they were going out of purgatory into heaven. My experience is they had not sufficient money to stock the land, and they started by sub-letting it. I gave evidence before a Commission, of which Senator Sir John Keane was a member, and I then said a condition that should apply to a tenant getting a farm from the Land Commission should be that he would give an undertaking not to sublet that land for ten years, so that he would have an interest in his land. Those people who have got those dear divisions of land have been trying to let them, and in a great many cases they are bankrupt. Those tenants who got the land under such circumstances ought to be helped, just as much as the other class of people whose land was purchased.
This is a Second Reading question, and it is hard to discuss it in Committee. I suggest that this talk of security, and being injured, is overdone. Senator Jameson, who is in a strong position to discuss this question, stated that owing to the operations of the Land Commission, and the insecurity caused by these operations, a serious state of affairs is arising in the country. That is a grave statement coming from a Senator who is in a position to know. It surprises me. I cannot understand it in the light of the facts as I know them. We are not discussing whether certain classes are being treated fairly or not. The serious question has been raised that there is widespread insecurity because of the operations of the Land Commission, and that that is leading to the neglect of land and taking away the initiative from the farmers, and generally having a bad effect all over the country. How can that be when out of 14,000,000 acres of land I should say there are not more than 3,000,000 acres of untenanted land left. I had the figures some time ago, but they are not available at the moment, and the number might be a million less or a million more. I know that it is only a small proportion of the land of the country. The rest of the land is tenanted and purchased land. You can take it that over 80 per cent. of the land, and the best land, is tenanted and purchased land.
The Land Commission cannot take tenanted land except at a resumption price. That is the position, roughly speaking, since 1881. The provisions were preserved in the Act of 1923. So far as the tenanted land is concerned the Land Commission cannot resume one acre of it except at its market value. How then is its security value lost from the point of view of the banker? The Land Commission cannot take land subject to land purchase annuities unless they give an equally suitable and not less valuable holding to the tenant purchaser. That question has been decided by the High Court. There is not a banker in Ireland who does not know that when a judge has decided that question the bias always, and rightly so, will be on the side of the tenant. How then is security affected? There are areas where there is, and always has been, free sale of tenanted land subject to land purchase annuities. In those areas security of the land has not been affected one iota, because if the Land Commission take the lands they must take them in one case at resumption price, and, in the other, subject to land purchase annuities on the condition of giving an equally suitable and not less valuable holding to the person from whom they take it. The Land Commission is a good pay, the money is forthcoming and the land is forthcoming. How, then, in the areas where there is a free sale of land are we affected in security? I cannot see it. There is as great security in Ireland, especially in certain parts of the country, as in other countries, but there have always been areas where sale has not been exactly free.
I say that in these years we should have increased the security of the land. When we took tenanted land we took it in an area where there was no other land suitable for the relief of congestion. As a rule, the chances of selling such land in such an area are not extremely bright. They are less than they would be in another area, and when we put out a tenant from there and gave him a market value, he got 20/- in the pound for the first time in his life.
Does he want it? He does not.
I agree he does not want it, but I am not on the question whether we are treating a class equitably or not when we took them out. We are giving them twenty shillings to the pound, and the land was never worth it to them before. The same, even in a stronger sense, applies to a man who has purchased a holding, say, in Connemara or West Mayo or Donegal, where we are taking that sort of land. He has a far more valuable holding than his previous one, so for the life of me I cannot see how we are affecting the security as far as 80 per cent. of the land of the country is concerned. I say we are improving it. If I were told that the Land Commission was acting illegally, I could understand it, but the net result is that, as a result of purchase, land as a security is being interfered with, I say, only as far as it is untenanted land, and untenanted land does not exhaust a greater proportion than, I should say, one-tenth of the land of the country at present.
What land would the Land Commission take except untenanted land, and what amount would they take every year?
They take tenanted land, untenanted land, and land subject to an annuity, but under different conditions. They take tenanted land and land subject to an annuity in the west, where there is no other land. When they do they take it in such a way as, in my opinion, subject to what anyone else has to say, it is not interfered with as a banking security. On the contrary, I think it ought to improve it. Now, take untenanted land and remember I am dealing with about 10 per cent. of the land left in the country, not much more. That is substantially correct. We cannot discuss this question as if it were an entirely new one, as if the first time we heard of land purchase was 1923. What was untenanted land ever worth as a security since 1860? It was in, say, County Meath. We are going into new counties.
There was untenanted land in places like Meath, and perhaps in other places in the Midlands, where there were no congests. Remember, these areas comprise only a very small proportion of the total area of untenanted land which, in turn, is only a small proportion of the total area of the land of the country, leaving out Meath, Westmeath, and the Midlands. Was untenanted land ever a good security since 1840? Of course it was not. Agitation centred around it, and the Act of 1923 was an attempt to regularise that agitation. The Land Act of 1923 is its legitimate child, its direct descendant. So far as untenanted land has been affected, and it has always been affected to some extent, in the whole country except an area like Meath, it was not affected by our legislation. It was always affected, and will be so until this western problem of congestion is settled.
Now you ask my view upon that question. We hear a lot about congested districts, the Gaeltacht, and so on. It was discussed the other day in the Seanad. Everybody seems to be taking a special interest in it; in land purchase, and so on and so forth. It is good politics. What are you going to do with it? Rightly or wrongly you can at least start by ruling out of all possibility certain remedies stated very often. We heard all about rural industries, teachers, subsidies, grants and so on. These are not going to be a permanent remedy for congestion. Everyone knows they never can be, and only keep the problem alive. So far as you can do anything sound it must be on the lines of land purchase. Let us admit that, and consider whether it is worth while. It is another question to go ahead and do it. Start with this: In so far as you can do anything sound and economical for the small farmers, it will be on the lines of land purchase. Again I suggest you can do a lot, without affecting security, both for the small farmer in the West and the big farmer by transferring the big farmer to another part of the country. You give him land which is security for the first time, and you leave his land in the West for dealing with the congests. People talk about landless men, but it is not landless men who get this land, but the congests.
There is another misconception about land purchase. You hear a lot of stories about people who fail on the land. Practically no congests have failed on the land. There was more land divided in Galway than in any other county in Ireland and more than a quarter of the whole land divided in Ireland, since the Land Act of 1923 was passed. After inquiry we have been only able to trace one farm in Galway that has reverted back, not to the original owner, but that has been secretly bought up. There were over 300,000 acres of untenanted land divided in Galway alone, and on inquiry it has been found that practically no congests placed on that land have failed. It is very easy to point out some congests who are not working their land well. But there are some landowners who are not working their land well and some tenants who are not working their land well. We all know that the times are difficult now and that it is difficult to get money. The most sensible thing for a man to do who has got 30 acres of land if he cannot work it all is to let some of it and work the balance. I have dealt with these points because they were raised on the amendment, but they are all issues more proper to a Second Reading debate. With regard to this amendment we had the very same complaints in reference to the Wyndham Act, and we did no more in the Land Act of 1923 than was done in the 1909 Act and other Acts. The Land Commission has bought the land it required after paying a fair price to the owner. These things are not new to this country. It is no use discussing them as if there had never been a land agitation, as if this problem had not historical roots, and as if land was always as excellent a security here as if it was situated in Surrey in England. I will make any admissions once comparisons of that sort are started, but if you take them out and say we will buy land at what you call the market value that would stop land purchase. That admission was made at the beginning once and for all when land purchase was undertaken. You would stop land purchase or alternatively the State will have to find between half a million and a million for the next ten years.
How much a year does the Land Commission spend now on land purchase?
I am afraid I could not give that figure off-hand, but I should say it is £1,000,000 a year.
The Senator would probably know how much Land Bonds are issued. Say 100,000 at £20 an acre; that would be £2,000,000. Then there is the tenanted land. Land purchase only started in the sense of acquisition and division of land two and a half years ago——
That decides the question with me.
It would be quite impossible to carry out land purchase upon the lines of the amendment.
I think the Minister has proved the justice of my case in his closing remarks. He said that the Land Commission would have to close down except one-tenth of the farmers of the country contribute the whole price—about £500,000 a year, that is, the Treasury would have to put up £500,000 a year or otherwise the Land Commission would have to close its doors. If every farmer in the country was compelled to contribute to the relief of congestion I would say it was just, but when you take one-tenth of the farmers and say: "You must sell your property to the Land Commission and lose from half a million to one million owing to congestion," I say it is unfair. The Minister said that only untenanted land will be taken at less than its market value. But what constitutes untenanted land? Untenanted land, under the 1923 Act, is land held under a lease for lives or years, of which sixty or more have to run, and land held under a fee-farm grant and land held in fee-simple. Take the case of a farmer who may have purchased his holding paying interest to the Land Commission. That farm may be only 20 acres, but he may have 200 acres held under fee-farm grant. That is untenanted land, and that land can be taken from him or portion of it, and he will only get two-thirds of the market value.
Amendment put, and on a show of hands declared lost.
I move that progress be reported, and that the remainder of this Stage of the Bill be carried over until Wednesday.
Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad went out of Committee, progress reported; Committee to sit again on Wednesday.