In Section 2, line 40, to omit the words "by that person."
Vol. 8 No. 22
In Section 2, line 40, to omit the words "by that person."
It transfers liability from the lands to the person. In other words, it sought to legislate in a matter of finance.
As Senator Sir John Keane is not here, I move:
11a. New Section. Before Section 23 to insert a new section as follows:
"23.—Where the Land Commission shall purchase untenanted land or resume the whole or any part of a retained holding interest on the purchase money to be paid by the Land Commission in respect thereof shall be paid on the purchase money payable by it at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum as from the expiration of one year from the date of the first inspection of the lands by or on behalf of the Land Commission."
I am sure the Minister will admit that it means a loss to the owner of land if a long interval takes place between the notice of inspection and the time of taking possession. During that period the land cannot be farmed properly, and, at the same time, it cannot be let. I think it will be admitted it is a loss to the owner. I hope this will meet the views of the Minister, or that some other way will be found whereby the owner will be saved from a very great loss. I think it must be clear that there is an injustice where the owner suffers.
This is not as simple as it looks. It is a nuisance from the point of view of the owner to have his lands inspected and the proceedings dragged out from one to four years. This proposes to meet it by means of "a rate of five per cent. per annum as from the expiration of one year from the date of the first inspection of the land by or on behalf of, the Land Commission." I do not think it sets out what the five per cent. is to be paid on. What about a case where the Land Commission inspects land, and, after inspection, makes an offer, and the acquisition is opposed by the owner and taken before a Judicial Commissioner, who decides that the land shall not be taken? It may take two years or a year and a half, and the ultimate decision of the Judicial Commissioner might be that the lands would not be taken. In practice, it would be quite out of the question to make an arrangement under which, in every case, a year after the first inspection interest shall begin to run on an indefinite sum of money, because in twenty-five or thirty per cent. of the cases the proceedings end up in the Land Commission refraining from acquiring land.
There is another side, and that is, that the point of view of the Land Commission is to take land as quickly as it can. It is in their interest to do so. What happens in fifty per cent. is, lands are inspected, and an intimation is sent to the owner of the land which the Land Commission proposes to acquire. The law allows a man to lodge an objection. The regulations prescribe that the objection shall be heard a certain limited time after it is sent in. The case is put down for hearing. There is a delay of three or four weeks before it is reached by the Land Judge, and it may be six months, or more, before that stage is over. The Judicial Commissioner decides that the lands are to be acquired. They are inspected again, and that may take three months. The owner has a certain time within which to lodge an objection. That objection is heard by the Commissioner. There is a certain time again in which he can appeal. Finally the appeal goes to the Judicial Commissioner, who decides that the price is a fair one. For one hundred and one reasons, questions of title, of lettings, of who is the real owner of the land, what the tenure of people who own is, and so on, a recalcitrant owner may block the sale. It takes a long time to decide on the equities of the case. In that way, anyone can drag out the proceedings for two or three years. The Senator may take it from me that, in my own experience, most of the delay is caused in that way. In any event it is open to any owner to delay in that way. If this amendment were accepted there would be the difficulty that, after a long delay, the Judicial Commissioner might decide that the land should not be acquired at all.
I think the proposed amendment would not apply in that case. That difficulty would not arise.
That is so. It would be open to any owner to delay proceedings. The owners do that. They take advantage of any rights they have under the law. They could delay proceedings for two or three years or a third party could delay them. That delay would tend to increase the cost. There would be payment of interest at 5 per cent. for two or three years and you would make land purchase more difficult. I agree it is a nuisance to an owner to have the Land Commission inspect his land and have the proceedings dragged on for a long time. In most cases that is because the owner takes advantage of all the legal rights he may have. In any event there is this question of the owner doing no farming operations and holding up all work because the Land Commission has inspected his land and he does not know what is going to happen. So far as ninety-five per cent. of the untenanted land of the country is concerned it is simply grazed on by store stock. Ninety-five per cent. of the untenanted land which the Land Commission takes is not land near towns, not valuable small farms, not the sort of land that is being drained, improved on or reclaimed year by year. If you were to listen to some people you would imagine that everyone owning a parcel of untenanted land is spending money every year draining, improving it and working on it. So far as ninety-five per cent. is concerned it is ordinary grazing land. The owner does not take off his stock when the Land Commission inspects it. If you were to put this into operation first of all people would delay proceedings in order to get the benefits of the five per cent. on the purchase money as compensation. They are losing nothing in ninety-five per cent. of cases. You would make it more difficult to carry out land purchase operations. This five per cent., which would be in the form of a bonus, would have to be added to the purchase money.
I only move this amendment because Senator Sir John Keane is not in his place at the moment, and I did so without consultation with him. All the objections that have been put forward by the Minister fall to the ground if there is not unwillingness on the part of the landowner to sell. I could give instances, and I can, if necessary, give the names privately to the Minister where such is not the case and where, owing, I suppose, to necessary delays, in the applotment of the land and so forth, after the Judicial Commissioner had decided, over a year went by before the land was bought. The Land Commission may come in and sow a crop but there is very little chance of the landowners being able to reap it, and the land remains uncultivated. I am speaking of what I know; I am speaking of a farm which was voluntarily given over to the Land Commission, and on which there was a very considerable portion of tillage, but in the circumstances no tillage could be carried on.
Undoubtedly what the Minister said is true in 90 per cent. of the cases. The land taken over by the Land Commission, for the purpose of division, is grazing land, and in these cases delays may be brought about by the owner in the hope of prolonging his tenure. But there are other cases where great grievances have occurred. I ask the Minister whether, on the Report Stage, he would consider the advisability of introducing some amendments by which such cases of hardship could be met. If the interest would run, say, after the expiration of one or two months from the date of the Judicial Commissioner's decision I think that would meet the case fairly.
Or if it was made to run from the date of the offer, or two or three months after the offer was made. Once the offer is made I think no one will dispute that it then becomes a matter of price, and that is not a matter that would cause delay. I think what I suggest would be a fair compromise. There is this to be said about grazing land: it is true that probably 80 per cent. of the untenanted land is grazing land, but it is not grazing land entirely in the hands of the owner but grazing land that the owner has let on the 11 months' system, and these delays would prevent them from doing so.
I think there is a great deal to be said for the principle of the amendment and that the owner should be paid from the completion of the sale, but it seems to me that the amendment as it stands might make it possible for a man to enjoy the tenure of his land and at the same time receive 5 per cent. on the purchase money. I do not think the amendment provides against that. An amendment might be introduced at a later stage to meet the equities of the case, and provided that a man should receive 5 per cent. from the actual time of the seizure of his land.
I would be satisfied with a form of concession. I do not agree with the Minister that there is no injustice or inconvenience or loss. I mentioned a case on Second Reading where, two years after the time of the inspection, nothing had been done, and that was only a case taken at random. It is borne in upon me that there are many such cases, and all the time the charges to the owner are going on, interest is accumulating, and every day he finds it harder to meet his obligation. Despite what the Minister says, there is great uncertainty in the letting, or in obtaining of temporary benefits from the land once the evil eye of the Land Commission has fallen on it. From the moment the inspector comes down no one is going to have anything to do with this land. Even if it is grazing land it is well known it is under official notice and you will not get the same bidding for that land when put up for letting as you would otherwise obtain. It is not reasonable to suggest that the owner is going to make difficulties and is going to obstruct in order to get the interest. I have had it brought to my notice that it is invariably the Land Commission who make the delay. I do not press the amendment in its present form; if the Minister will give me some indication that he will look into it and that there is a case to be met, I am satisfied.
The matter might be safeguarded if the words were put in—"where the Minister is satisfied that the delay is not due to the owner." Where you have a willing owner with no objection there is a grievance if there is delay. If you had a captious man he might hang on for purposes of his own, but where you have an honest vendor, who places no difficulty in the way, it is hard upon him, and something might be done to meet it.
Might I suggest that Senator Sir J. Keane should withdraw his amendment, and perhaps the Minister would bring up an amendment to meet the difficulty on Report.
With regard to the suggestion from the Chair, might I say that, instead of saying "where the Minister is satisfied," I would prefer to say "where the Judicial Commissioner is satisfied."
I think I would get more out of the Minister than the Judicial Commissioner.
I do not see my way, at the moment, to say more than that I will consider it and see whether anything can be done. It might be just possible that the procedure could be altered in this respect, that after inspection notice should be served one way or the other either to take it or not to take it. At any rate I shall consider the matter.
Let the interest run from the date of that notice?
I do not see my way, at the moment, to say more than that I will consider it between this and Report.
I beg to move amendment 12:—
After the word "determined," in line 60, to insert the words: "Provided that if the owner shall within fourteen days after the service of such notice serve notice on the Land Commission of objection to the withdrawal stating the grounds of such objection and that the Judicial Commissioner shall consider the objection reasonable then the notice of withdrawal shall become void and of no effect."
Under the Land Act of 1923 the Land Commission could compulsorily acquire land for certain purposes, one being the relief of congestion. In that case when they served the notice to compulsorily acquire the land, the price had to be fixed by the Judicial Commissioner having regard to the value of land to the owner and its value to the Land Commission—a very difficult task. Once that price is fixed the Estates Commissioners have got to pay that price if they take the land. There is no appeal from that price. Now if they do not like the price that the Judicial Commissioner has fixed upon the lands they can withdraw from the sale. In my opinion that is not fair. I do not think they ought to be allowed to withdraw from the sale without some appeal to the Judicial Commissioner. My amendment proposes that where there is a withdrawal, owing to objection to the price fixed by the Judicial Commissioner, there should be an appeal against that withdrawal and that they should be bound to give it unless they can persuade the Judicial Commissioner that there was good reason for not doing so. That is all the more necessary, because when you come to the end of the section you find that they can come back and serve notice for compulsorily taking over the land after seven years.
I wonder whether I could make a bargain. There is another amendment on the Paper to make the 7 years 50 years. Supposing there is an agreement to take Senator Brown's amendment could we have an agreement that the other amendment be withdrawn? If I accept Senator Brown's amendment I hope he will back me up in this.
The word "determined" does not occur in the section; the word is "determine."
I think it follows that if Senator Brown's amendment is accepted mine would drop; there is ground for a compromise.
Is my amendment accepted?
I shall put it.
I shall withdraw my amendment now, and in the meantime, when I consider the matter, I may put it down again for Report Stage.
I move amendment 15:—
New Section. Before Section 34 to insert a new section as follows:—
(1) The Land Commission shall publish particulars of all cases in which an evicted tenant or a person nominated by them to be the personal representative of a deceased evicted tenant has been or may be hereafter, with their assistance reinstated, as a purchaser of his or his predecessor's former holding or provided with a new parcel of land under the Land Purchase Acts.
(2) Such particulars shall be in the form of a yearly return, which shall be laid before the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made, and shall contain such particulars of each case as are set forth in the Schedule to the Evicted Tenants Act, 1907, if and so far as it may be practicable to furnish the same.
This section was originally in the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907, and it was repealed by the Land Act of 1923. I dare say it was then thought that after the evicted tenants had all been reinstated that there was no occasion for any further return to be laid before either of the Houses of the Oireachtas, giving the particulars of those persons who had been reinstated or who had received another holding. I am very glad to say that quite a number of evicted tenants have been provided by the Land Commission with alternative holdings. I observe from an answer to a question put in the Dáil that there are over 50 of these evicted tenants re-instated since the 1923 Act was put into operation. It will be of assistance to the Minister to have this return available, because he may be asked questions in the other House as to how far the proceedings of the Land Commission cover the reinstatement of evicted tenants. The amendment I have put down is practically the same as the section in the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907, with a few alterations to make it conform to the present situation. I hope the Minister will accept it.
This section, or a section like this section, was in the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907. I think it was Section 3 of that Act. It was discontinued. There was a schedule to the Evicted Tenants Act showing the particulars which had to be returned. It was found very costly to make out that return, and it was found, as 1920 was approaching, that it was hardly justifiable to spend public money on returns of this kind every year. That return was published every year, and the Land Commission had to go to the expense of making it out and publishing it. The Land Act of 1923 repealed that. I do not see that there is any advantage in restoring that in the present Bill. Since 1920 the return would be very small, and in view of the fact that a fair number of cases are being dealt with since 1920, the return would be much smaller now and you would have to start preparing this return every year, getting it printed and laying it on the Table of the House, and so on. I do not think it would justify the expense. The Senator has another amendment down, and that amendment, No. 16, to insert a new section before Section 35, is of much more substance, and if I accept that he would perhaps withdraw this one. That amendment is very much more advantageous to the evicted tenants than the advantage that he hopes to secure from amendment 15, which merely requires a return to be made to the Oireachtas. The other is quite a substantial matter, and I would be willing to accept it. It was also the law under the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907, and I would accept it with some slight amendment. This amendment that we are now discussing would only result in putting the Land Commission to expense. If anybody who is interested in an evicted tenant gets a question asked in the Dáil, he can secure the information that is asked for in this amendment.
The section provided for quarterly returns in the old Act. My amendment asks for yearly returns, and I do not ask or require particulars to be furnished as fully as was provided for in the schedule. However, as the Minister has now stated that the information can be secured as to the particulars of the reinstated evicted tenants by putting a question in the Dáil, that meets my views, and I therefore ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I beg to move:—
16. New Section. After the preceding section to insert a new section as follows:—
"35.—(1) No parcel of land purchased by an evicted tenant under the Land Purchase Acts shall be made available in any bankruptcy or by any other process or proceeding of law to pay, satisfy or discharge, in whole or in part, any debt contracted or incurred by such evicted tenant prior to the date on which the parcel of land became vested in him.
(2) No farming stock or other chattels provided for an evicted tenant by means of a grant or loan under the Land Purchase Acts shall be made available in any bankruptcy or by any other process or proceeding of law to pay, satisfy or discharge, in whole or in part, any debt contracted or incurred by such evicted tenant prior to the date on which the parcel of land purchased by him became vested in him."
I will accept that amendment with a very slight change in the first section, which will then read:—
No parcel of land purchased by an evicted tenant under the Land Purchase Acts and no farming stock or other chattels provided for an evicted tenant by means of a grant or loan under the Land Purchase Acts, shall be made available in any bankruptcy or by any other process or proceeding of law to pay, satisfy, or discharge, in whole or in part, any debt contracted by or incurred by such evicted tenant prior to the date on which the parcel of land became vested in him other than a debt due to the Land Commission.
I am quite satisfied to accept the Senator's amendment with that alteration.
I am agreeable to accept that. I beg to move my amendment as amended by the Minister.
Would the Minister say the reason for this discrimination? To me it seems peculiar. I do not quite see the equity or the reason for the discrimination.
There is good reason—
Before the Minister answers, I would like to have an opportunity of explaining this. It is not a revolutionary proposal at all. A similar section appears in the Soldiers and Sailors Land Trust Act. It is simply intended to provide that those persons who are provided with public money should not have that money made available for the payment of debts that had been incurred prior to their getting a parcel of land, farming stock, or other chattels——
Its meaning is quite clear. The only point Senator Keane made was, "Why do you not do the same with the congested district tenants?"
Well, I think Senator Linehan has answered Senator Keane. The idea of making the distinction is that a debt contracted before the lands or other property were obtained should not be satisfied by an execution against the lands and farming stock so obtained. It was found in practice that if some such provision as this was not inserted, in the circumstances in which a lot of the evicted tenants are, there would be no use in reinstating them and giving them money to buy stock. As a matter of expediency, the line was drawn prior to their getting this land and stock. If a man gets land from the State and money to stock that land, the least he might do is to pay the annuity on it. I think that is obvious.
I move to delete the section. I hope the Seanad will give close attention to this section. It is one which gives the county councils power to acquire land in the event of an abortive sale to recover the arrears of annuity and rates. I can conceive no body more fundamentally unfitted to resell and negotiate land than the county councils. You all know the personal feeling and the jealousies and the machinations which are inclined to centre in connection with parcels of land in this country. The nearer you get down to the people the more tense and awkward that situation becomes. In this section you are giving the county councils power to acquire land from the Land Commission, and to hold that land or divide it up. There can be no justification for that business at all. There is an increasing tendency to make the county council a dumping ground for awkward problems that the central authority wants to get rid of. If the county councils get this land, what are they to do with it? How are they to deal with it?
I see no useful purpose that this section can do. You are more apt to have wirepulling. Picture what you are going to add to the present irrelevancies of the county councils' discussions. I am sure you will agree with me as to the amount of time that is wasted by the county councils over petty matters that are often not germane to the business of the councils at all. The most difficult problem of all others is that connected with land. The county council, when dealing with matters of that kind, cannot get away from personalities. I know that the section is permissive, but being permissive does not make it any better. You would get all kinds of influences at work inducing the county councils to acquire land, and you would have all the undesirable consequences that flow from that. I press this amendment of mine most strongly. I ask those Senators here who have experience of county councils to say that it will not add to the efficiency or the prestige of the county councils to have work of this kind imposed on them.
I do not rise for the purpose of seconding the amendment, but to remind Senator Sir John Keane that there are urban councils, at any rate, that do own land, and make good use of it for the benefit of the inhabitants of their particular area, whether for the purpose of planting potatoes or grazing cows. Such land in the neighbourhood of a township is of enormous value—in urban districts at any rate—and I do think if this privilege is to be given to county councils there should be some exceptions made where there are a number of townships that do not rejoice in urban councils. Communal lands are of extreme value to the residents of these townships.
It seems to me, if Senator Sir John Keane is right, that county councils and all local government bodies should be abolished, and that all local services should be centralised, because, according to the Senator, apparently county councils are unfitted for the exercise of their functions. This section is permissive. It is not mandatory on the councils to take the lands. What Senator Sir John Keane fears is that the councils will unwisely take lands, and that they will make unwise use of the lands. That frame of mind, if taken logically, leads to the abolition of county councils. There were some discussions here, and in the Dáil, on this section, and all that discussion comes to this, that the county councils are not able to take care of themselves, that they are incompetent bodies who can be got at and wangled, and that they are given over to waste. Now, all that comes from people who are very careful and jealous about removing the rights and privileges of local bodies and local authorities. What is the idea of this section? Senator Sir John Keane has not put it in the way in which it has been expressed in the Dáil. The usual criticism of the section is: "How can the county council farm land?" Nobody wants the county council to farm land. The county council wants land for a great many purposes. They have tillage schemes, cow-parks, housing and a hundred and one other things in every county, and this is a case of giving them land to meet cases like these.
There is, let us say, land near a town. Let me take a case that justifies this section. It is the kind of case that will often happen. There is land near a town. There are annuities due on it. There are rates due on it. Arrears are accumulating and for one reason or another it is very difficult to sell it. The annuities and the arrears are meanwhile being paid out of the grants towards the rates. These losses fall on the general body of the ratepayers. The county council could use these lands. But they have to acquire them under the powers given under the existing Acts. That would be a very long process and they might find unforeseen difficulties in the way when they wanted to acquire these lands. The county councils are fairly well tied up under the existing Acts so far as their powers of acquiring property are concerned. If they tried to acquire this land under the existing Acts they might find great difficulty.
But here is a case where there is land near the town and it is useful for housing purposes, cow-parks or tillage, and the unfortunate ratepayers are paying out annuities due on that farm. The owner of the farm can snap his fingers at everybody. The county council is the ideal body to acquire that land if they want to build houses. They can do that if they want to do it, and no one is forcing them to do it. No one is forcing the land on them. In the same way it might be useful for a hundred and one other purposes. It is only right that if the land would be found useful for the purposes of the county council that the county council should have power to take over that land on which the annuities and rates are not paid and we should facilitate their doing that in every way and not put them to the trouble and expense of having inquiries that they would have to go through in order to acquire land under the existing Acts. If the county councils are to be able to meet the cases where annuities are due on land and where no one would buy that land, for one reason or another, and where the land is suitable for the purposes for which the county council may require it, then they should be given that power. They have an absolute discretion as to the exercise of that power.
The Land Commission are not attempting to hide behind the county councils. It is the Land Commission's duty to collect annuities, and they are accepting that responsibility, and will do everything they can to collect them. It is vital that the county councils and the Land Commission should collect the annuities, for, if not, the arrears will have to be made up out of the rates. I see no objection to a certain limited co-operation between the county councils and the Land Commission in carrying out that function. It is in order that there should be opportunities for co-operation, which could be exercised at the discretion of the county council, that the section is inserted.
This section is not limited to acquiring land which is going to be used for any of the purposes mentioned by the Minister. It gives the county council the right to buy land from the Land Commission and they may then, under a scheme which has to be approved by the Minister for Local Government, either let the land or sell it, that is, they become a kind of brokers in the mean time. I think if they were confined to buying land for the purposes they are statutorily entitled to use the land for that would be all right, but the section goes beyond that.
I agree that it gives the county council power to buy land other than for statutory purposes, but my argument is that it would be mainly for the statutory purposes they would acquire the land, and, so far as these purposes are concerned, it gives a readier method of acquirement. But I would not wish to confine it to that. The county council might be able to sell the land where the Land Commission could not. It is difficult, however, at this stage to foresee the possible uses, outside those that are statutory, to which the county council might put land. If in some cases they did find where the Land Commission was not able to solve the difficulty of getting annuities, that they, themselves, could buy the land and make economic use of it, even though that use was not within their statutory powers at present, I suggest they should have the power to acquire the land with the consent of the Minister for Local Government. It is important to collect the annuities, to stop every possible gap, and to make it plainer and plainer that there is no way of stopping the collection of annuities, and it is necessary we should have all the powers necessary for that purpose.
I would accept a compromise on the lines Senator Brown has indicated, that is the acquirement of land for statutory purposes. I see a great danger in this, and I must stress it. I can see an agitation by evicted tenants to be re-instated on the land acquired by the county councils. I need not elaborate on that. When we realise all that involves, there can be no doctrinaire attitude about the county councils. We have to face facts as we know them. I am not in favour of taking away from the legitimate powers of county councils, but I object to add to their powers and allow them to become a sort of agrarian talking shop. Senator Sir Nugent Everard says that urban councils are not included in the section. It would appear that urban councils require accommodation land more than other councils, but I do not know that they are authorised to acquire this land at all. I think it is an undesirable section. Losses are likely to be incurred which would fall upon the rates. You are passing certain of the appropriate statutory duties of the Land Commission on to the county council, which is undesirable.
There is a suggestion that the county councils may become brokers of land. It is possible that they would, but the section provides that the Minister must approve of any re-sales, so that he must also become a broker.
I think it was intended, but the section does not say it, that before the Minister concurs he has to know the purpose. I think it would meet the case if some words were inserted making it necessary he should know the purpose, so that when he is giving his concurrence he is approving of the purpose.
Quite so. The section provides that "any lands purchased by a county council ... shall, unless the said Minister otherwise directs, be sold subject to the approval of the said Minister." The Minister would hardly direct without some knowledge.
That is when you come to the scheme. The first thing is the purchase. There all that is required is concurrence in that act—purchase, not his concurrence for the purpose for which purchase is to be made.
I think this section is a valuable one. The Minister suggests that there may be in counties parcels of land in possession of people who are not paying their annuities, and which the county councils may be in a position to dispose of satisfactorily. I have no fear that the county councils are to become brokers for the purpose of the transfer of land from one section of the community to the other. The county council can only acquire land if the Minister approves of the purpose for which it is to be acquired.
There is nothing to prevent the Land Commission taking it up from the county council.
It would be better to avoid that. Senator Sir John Keane painted a certain picture. Let us consider for a moment what happens if there is an abortive sale. The tenant is in debt to the Land Commission for annuities which he refuses to pay. He gets all he can out of the land, and he does not give a shilling to the Land Commission. The Land Commission puts up his land for sale, and the sale is abortive. The county council says: "We can use this land and use it for certain purposes. So far we have been paying the annuities." The Land Commission say "Exactly," and they take the fellow by the back of the neck and put him out of the place. The county council is in a much stronger position than any other body in dealing with that land. Senator Sir John Keane says the county council can divide the land amongst the evicted tenants. I would rather see it divided amongst any other persons than the person who has it and who will not pay the annuities.
I think this section is absolutely necessary. We have found it very difficult on many occasions in Co. Monaghan when tenants were allowed to run into arrears for many years, and perhaps left the rates unpaid as well, when the land was put up for sale, to get any purchasers. In Co. Monaghan we instructed the solicitor to attend the sales to see that a certain price was got. This section puts the county council in the position of being able to purchase the land. On occasions we found it necessary to acquire land for afforestation and other purposes. I support the amendment.
Where there are defaulters in respect of the payment of annuities the ratepayers of the county have to pay the annuities for these people. The section enables the county council to take such action as would safeguard the interests of the ratepayers and help the Land Commission to secure that the annuities shall be paid. I have great pleasure in supporting the section.
I undertake to introduce an amendment on the lines suggested.
Would that satisfy Senator Sir John Keane?
No, but there is no use in my challenging the matter. Senators may not know the possibilities of this, but I would remind them that somewhere about 50 per cent. of these land sales were abortive.
Surely the Senator would agree that in every abortive sale the lands should be handed over to the county council?
New section. Before Section 37 to insert a new section as follows:— 37.—From the date of the passing of this Act no deduction on account of arrears of land purchase annuity shall be made from any grant paid to a county council.
This raises a very important point. I think the facts are familiar. In the pre-Treaty days it was necessary to have penal measures by which to insure that the land purchase fund would not fall into arrears. For that reason arrears of annuities were deducted from the grants and paid into the land purchase fund. That was the method, that any arrears of annuities were deducted from the grant-in-aid on rates. That has gone on ever since, and I am asking the House to say it is time it ceased with our own Government. It is absurd to say that with all the forces of Government, and with, I hope, the improved political situation and a recognition of the fact that debts must be paid, the Central Government are not enabled to do their own work and not to pass this debt on to the county councils, who are powerless in the matter. Under the new section they have power apparently to traffic in land, but hitherto they had no power. Lists of arrears were sent down to them, and they had quietly to submit to deductions being made from their grants. We should get the people back to doing their own work, and not passing their difficulties on to the local authorities. I can give a case which is, perhaps, exceptional. The sea has broken into the old racecourse at Tramore, and it has been flooded for years.
I understand the place is now in the hands of a man who is no mark. The annuity is piling up year after year and is deducted from the county council. That is a monstrous injustice. I know it is a special case. The land is of no value whatever now. I do not know what the law is and whether the rating authority can step in and re-value the land. I think the annuity represents about £100 yearly and, year after year, that amount is accumulating against the rates payable to the Waterford County Council.
Will the Senator say who should pay it?
Certainly, the State; not the ratepayers. They are paying at present.
Who should pay?
The general taxpayer, who has to pay for things not as important as this. The time has gone by when the rates should be mulcted for the payment of arrears of annuities. I do not make any charge against the Land Commission that I cannot prove, but the effect is, when it is known that the land purchase fund is going to be replenished automatically, naturally those concerned are not as diligent in collecting as they otherwise might be. The debt is passed on. The line of least resistance is obviously not to press the tenant but deduct from the grants. Other creditors are prejudiced in that way. As the amount owing for annuities accumulates ordinary creditors find it difficult to collect their debts. It is a lax and a demoralising practice, and I ask the House to say that it should cease, and that the Land Commission should do their own work and collect these annuities, just as the revenue authorities do their work. There is no reason why there should be a difference between the methods of the Land Commission and other Departments. The local ratepayers are heavily burdened, now that there is such great agricultural depression, and they should not have to bear this special penal imposition.
The Senator's suggestion is that the taxes instead of the rates should pay these arrears. I presume he knows enough about the collection of land purchase annuities to know that the collection is the most efficient in the world. We will always have some arrears for a short time. I presume the Senator knows that this is interest on borrowed money, and that it must be paid, not the day after it is due but the day it is due. He knows that you will never have farmers so meticulous about the payment of debts that they will pay the annuities on the very day they are due. Remember if there are two months' arrears in one case then the money must be found somewhere immediately. The Senator's suggestion is that it should be found from the taxes instead of from the rates. He went on in the most illogical manner to say, because the Land Commission knew they could get the money from the rates then their solicitor is lax in collecting. If, on the other hand, the Land Commission's solicitor was zealous and knew that the money had to be found immediately from taxation that would ginger him up at once.
He would have the Finance Minister at his heels. He is a great deal quicker than the county councils, who have no power to bring pressure to bear on the Land Commission.
I am admitting, only for the sake of argument, that the Land Commission is lax in collecting. It is not so as a matter of fact. The Land Commission goes on collecting the whole time, as the money must be found. It is found from the rates now, but the Senator's suggestion is that it should be found from taxation. One of the results, he says will be that that will immediately affect the Land Commission solicitor, and that he would proceed with the greatest energy. The Senator explained that the Minister for Finance would have to deal with it. What about the Minister for Local Government? Other things being equal presumably both are doing their job. One man is anxious to keep the county councils right and the other to see taxes collected. We must assume that both are doing their work. We cannot legislate on the assumption that the Minister for Finance will be anxious to do his work while the Minister for Local Government would be the direct opposite. That is the logical position the Senator put up. The Senator must be very innocent. He wants to know why the unfortunate ratepayers rather than the taxpayers should be saddled with this burden, having started by admitting that it must be paid and that no collection, no matter how efficient, will obviate the necessity of having some arrears for a short time. I wonder does the Senator know why the ratepayers are asked to pay? Surely it is because in the ordinary case the farmer does not pay the annuity promptly.
The Land Commission in recovering it may have to put the land up for sale. The tenant gets a few neighbours to prevent the auctioneer selling it and to intimidate people from buying it or buying his stock if put into the pound. The neighbours have to do their duty as citizens or pay for not doing it. They have either to pay a portion of the arrears of annuities out of the rates or see that the tenants pay. I think that is a perfectly proper dilemma to put them in. I think there is some commonsense behind that. They who might have obviated the difficulty should be made pay a share of what must be paid, rather than the general taxpayer. The Senator must know that otherwise it would be extremely difficult for us to do what we are gradually succeeding in doing, getting people to buy farms and stock that have been seized in respect of land purchase annuities. Every day the situation is getting somewhat easier. We find it easier now to get farms sold because people are no longer soft-hearted. They ask themselves: "Why should we pay this man's annuity? Why should we not take advantage of the fact that his farm is for sale?" People are cooperating more than in the past in liquidating their debts. The Senator, who is all for security, law and order and everything that is right, wants to alter the whole process.
The Minister draws a parallel between the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Finance. The Minister for Local Government is powerless except that a certain amount of annuities that are in arrear are charged against the rates. The Minister for Finance, as suggested by Senator Keane, is certainly in a position to ginger up the collection.
He would show that there was a certain amount of money outstanding.
The Minister for Finance has no more power in the administration of the Land Commission than the Minister for Local Government.
The parallel between the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Finance is not the ridiculous parallel that it is suggested it is. After all, the money is not a gift to the taxpayer. It is merely a forestalling of the payments. As far as I know the number of annuities in arrear are ridiculously small. From year to year a certain number remain unpaid. From my knowledge of county councils the preparation of their estimates is a very troublesome process. They know that grants come from certain sources, and having estimated for these grants they find sometimes that they are not paid. That disorganises their financial arrangements. I feel that if the amendment were accepted there would be no loss to the State, while things would be made much easier for the county councils. I think what the Minister suggests has arisen, not from that innate desire to see that rates should press heavily but from the fact that the people are awakening to a sense of duty, and to see that men who are not making an attempt to farm their land should be deprived of it. That spirit is growing and will continue to grow.
If the House agrees that land purchase annuities must be paid—as I take it Senator Keane will insist—then I think this amendment should be rejected. A good deal of the disposition to refuse to pay annuities has been caused by the preachings of people who are themselves members of county councils. If you relieve them of the responsibility of making the ratepayers pay for annuities that have not been paid by the occupiers of the land you are going to make the position even worse than it is. I think the general experience is that those who fail to pay annuities are people with large holdings and best able to pay. They do not believe in making the sacrifices that small peasant farmers make to meet their debts. They are not prepared to put up with the same hardships in order to meet their debts. That is the class of people mainly responsible for the greater portion of the arrears of annuities. I know that is the general complaint throughout the West of Ireland, with which I am well acquainted.
There is a general demand that the names of these defaulting annuitants should be published. It is felt that that demand should be acceded to, and that in every county the names of defaulting tenants should be broadcast in the local newspapers. In that way a certain amount of local moral pressure would be brought to bear on these people to make them meet their debts. That will be found to have more effect than if the State, through the central exchequer, were responsible for annuities falling due. It is not fair to the ordinary taxpayer of a county that he should be made responsible for arrears in an adjoining county or in another part of the country. I think if the occupying tenant is not to be responsible the charge should be a county charge, rather than a national charge.
I think there is a great deal in the amendment proposed by Senator Sir John Keane. There should be no obligation on the county council because of the non-payment of annuities. It is up to the Land Commission to try, as far as possible, to recover these annuities which are due to the Commission. The present state of affairs is that, if any person fails, or neglects, to pay his annuity, the amount of that annuity is deducted from the agricultural grant. It is, therefore, chargeable to the ratepayers, and it is a loss to them. No one wants, certainly I do not, to encourage the non-payment of annuities, but I do think that the Land Commission could make a great effort to recover annuities due to them. County councils are often up against local prejudice of one kind or another, and I think the machinery would be very unwieldy if every county council were obliged to take action for the recovery of annuities. That would be a very troublesome process, and you might get individuals on the council who are interested in the locality from which the defaulting annuitant came, to refuse to give their consent to the county council taking action. The Land Commission is in quite a different position. I think it is up to the Land Commission to recover all annuities that are due to them, and that it should not be an obligation of the county council. The Land Commission has a simple way for recovering these annuities. I think a greater effort should be made on the part of the Land Commission to recover all annuities due. It would be much easier for them to do so than to get the county council to collect them. I agree, of course, that the annuities should not be charged on the general taxpayer.
I believe if this amendment is carried it will do a lot of harm, and will lead to a worsening of the position in regard to the payment of land annuities. Senator Bennett said that the number of people who have not paid their annuities is ridiculously small.
What I meant to say was that the actual loss to the capital fund was small. There may be delays in payment by a number of people.
I believe that is a very good state of affairs, and that nothing we do here should be calculated to bring about a change in that state of affairs. I believe if this amendment is passed we will have a considerably greater amount of arrears to the Land Commission in the future, and, consequently, a greater reduction in grants to the county council.
I believe that the various county councils who have had the matter under consideration are taking steps in some cases to publish in the local Press the names of people who owe annuities. Even the threat of publication in the county I come from has had a considerable effect in regard to the payment of arrears, but if the county council or the local authority has no interest in the matter in future, there is a great danger that some councils will encourage defaulters to continue to remain in arrears rather than to pay or to take any steps to encourage them to pay. I believe it would be a great mistake to pass this amendment.
Arising out of the discussion, I should like to ask whether the fact that the amount of the accumulated arrears is comparatively small, is not due to the fact that so much of the arrears was deducted in the grants that would otherwise be payable to the county council, and that the number of people who are actually in arrears is not very small? I would like further to ask whether the Minister is not aware that in many instances county councillors themselves are very large defaulters?
I wish the Minister would deal with the case I mentioned, where the sea has flooded a large area of land, and state, if for all eternity, the ratepayers are to continue to pay an annuity for this land. It is held by a man of no means, but there is an annuity payable on it. In regard to what has been said about the improvement in public opinion, if there is an improvement it is very belated, and it is rather hard to explain, because in 1925 or 1926 the Banking Commission reported, when dealing with rural credits, that 50 per cent. of the land annuitants were in default. Perhaps the prospects of getting loans under the new credit schemes has induced more annuitants to pay up. We are advised in our county council that if, in publishing the names of defaulters, we were to make a single mistake, we would be liable for an action for libel. These names are furnished by the Land Commission, and we have no means of checking them. We might give the right name and the wrong address, or the right surname and wrong Christian name. If we gave the wrong address or the wrong name we would leave ourselves open to an action; that is the reason we are afraid to publish the names. For the life of me, I cannot see any difference between the payment of these annuities and the payment of any other debt to the State. The State does not attach any such conditions to the collection of income tax. Why should it attach it in this case?
Amendment put and declared lost on a show of hands.
Section 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
SECTION 38, SUB-SECTION (2).
(2) Where any such turbary rights so reserved to the Land Commission are subsequently let or sold by them, the Land Commission, if they think fit, may make such payment in Land Bonds or otherwise as in their discretion may appear to them reasonable and just, to the person who would have been entitled to such turbary rights if the holding had not become vested in the Land Commission.
18. Section 38, sub-section (2). To delete in line 42 the words "if they think fit, may make such payment," and to substitute therefor the words "other than the Judicial Commissioner or the Judicial Commissioner on appeal from the Land Commission shall award such compensation."
I accept the amendment.
In the absence of Senator the Earl of Kerry I move the following amendment:—
Section 39. To delete the section and to substitute therefor a new section as follows:—
" 39.—Regulations may be made by the Minister for Lands and Agriculture to provide for the lease or sale by the Land Commission of any fisheries vested in them under Section 45 of the Land Act, 1923. If the sale of fishing rights in rivers or waters adjoining or intersecting their holdings be made to the tenant purchasers of such holdings, the purchase price may be made repayable by means of such purchase annuities (to be consolidated with the standard purchase annuites of the holdings in question) as the Land Commission may consider reasonable."
As the section is worded it looks as if the only purchaser contemplated by the section was the tenant, as it says: "The regulations made by the Minister for Lands and Agriculture may provide for the sale by the Land Commission to tenant purchasers of fishing rights." That has been interpreted in parts of the country as meaning that the Land Commission is not going to sell the fishing rights to anybody but the tenant. I know that is not so and that they are going to sell the fishery rights where they can sell them in lump to some body or individual who will be willing to pay for them and run them properly. As the section stands, there is a certain amount of doubt as to whether the tenant is the only contemplated purchaser. I know he is not, but if the Minister accepts the amendment as framed by Senator the Earl of Kerry, it does exactly what this section effects, and there will be no doubt. If it is sold to the tenant what he will have to pay can be paid by annual payments with his annuity.
I understood from Senator the Earl of Kerry that the Minister had discussed this matter with him. I think some modification like this is necessary because in some places we may have the anomaly that one tenant is owner of the fishing rights along his land and another tenant is not. In the case of a lake there would be 30 or more riparian owners and the rights would be divided into so many sections that the fishing would be no longer an asset. I think for the sake of the inland fisheries it is a very important thing to have it made clear. At present the onus is put on the annuitant to ask that the fishing rights will not be included in his holding.
I think we might defer this amendment until Report. In fact I am not quite certain that the law is as Senator the Earl of Kerry would wish it to be.
Further consideration of amendment postponed to Report Stage.
Section 40, sub-section (1). After the word "Bonds" in line 11, to insert the words: "Which in any case shall not, without their consent in writing, be less than the amount, if any, remaining due and payable to the persons mentioned in sub-section (2) of this section in respect of any principal sum or sums of money which may have been lent or secured by them, together with all interest which shall have accrued thereon since the date of the loan, or subject as aforesaid."
I understand the Government is prepared to meet me on this amendment.
I would be willing to accept the amendment if the Senator would agree to add a short clause at the end of the amendment stating:—
"and all such claims, whether they were previously charged on the lands or not, shall be payable in land bonds of equal nominal value as if they were claims attaching to the purchase money on lands sold under the Land Purchase Acts, and the provisions of Section 4 of the Land Bonds Act, 1925, shall apply accordingly."
That means that the payment shall be in bonds.
I would like to ask the Minister what is the exact interpretation to be placed on the words in the fourth line in Section 40: "suitable persons residing in the neighbourhood of the lands." I am interested in quite a number of these farms, which have been purchased by associations like the Back to the Land Association. It seems to me that we would require some explanation as to what the words "in the neighbourhood of the land" means.
I agree that it is a loose expression, but it really means what it says. I do not think any legal difficulties will arise.
I beg to move that the words be deleted.
Perhaps we would be in a better position to discuss it on the Report Stage if the Senator would leave the matter over.
I am quite agreeable.
There is another amendment to Section 40 which the Minister wishes to have inserted. It is merely a verbal amendment; that the word "persons" be substituted in line 9 for the word "person."