This is an amendment to imply a building clause in a lease and to give the lessor the benefit of Section 7. I agreed on this amendment with Senator Brown.
DUBLIN PORT AND DOCKS (BRIDGE) BILL, 1927. - LAND BILL, 1927—REPORT.
I move the deletion of Section 11. I put down this amendment in order that I might be able to obtain from the Minister a statement as to the position in regard to these fee-farm grants. It is proposed to apply the same method of acquisition in the case of fee-farm grants outside the congested districts as already exists inside them, and if that intention is carried out it appears that a very great injustice is liable to be done to the holders of fee-farm grants. According to the statement the Minister made in the Dáil, the price which the Land Commission will pay to the grantee will be fixed on the supposition that the land is to be acquired for the purpose of the relief of congestion, and, of course, we all know that in order to finance the division of land for the relief of congestion the price must be very low to secure the interests of the State. In many cases these fee-farm rents are very well secured, and in certain cases there could be no intention of dividing up the land. The grantee in some cases may be an institution. I know one case where the grantee is a religious institution—a monastery—where there is a very extensive building on the land and the land has been very much improved, and where the question of sub-division could never arise, and yet in spite of that the price will be fixed on the supposition that the land will be divided up. A very low price will, in consequence, be given and the grantor will receive far less than the full value of his security. I do not know if I am right, but that is may reading of the Minister's remarks in the Dáil when he said that he (the Judicial Commissioner) must redeem the rent in such a way as to leave a sufficient allowance for the grantee. In other words, he is going to resell the land to the grantee, on the assumption that the land will be divided among congest. I ask the House to take the view that that is a wrong and unreal assumption, acting to the prejudice of the well-secured interest. I ask the House if they think that is fair, and if they think it is not fair I think the section might be dropped altogether, and that we might leave the position as it is at present.
There are three possible courses. One would be to leave the position as it is at present, another would be to treat fee-farm grantees as tenants and the third would be to adopt the compromise contained in this section. On many estates there are a large number of small holdings with valuations of £6, £8, and £10, as fee-farm grantees. These are not at all so uncommon here and there throughout the country. We have cases in the Land Commission of twenty to twenty-five small-holders, actually congest, with valuations of £7 or £8, who are fee-farm grantees, all having to be treated as separate estates and bought as fee-farm grantees. In other cases there are farms of anything from 50 to 100 acres and in other cases farms of 100 to 200 acres, and very big estates held under fee-farm grantees. It is difficult to apply the same legislation to all of them. As I say, we might have left these as they were. If we did we would please some fee-farm grantors and grantees and we would displease others. There are many fee-farm grantors and grantees very anxious for this section. There are fee-farm grantors whose relations with their grantees are of the very best and who have some sympathy with the plight in which they find they are now. In some cases these grants were made in 1919 and 1920 at exorbitantly high rents; they are not able to meet the yearly rents and have got into some arrears. There are other cases still where the events of 1919 to 1923 made it extremely difficult for people to work their lands and consequently to pay their fee-farm rents yearly, and they are now in arrears.
I now that there is a large section of fee-farm grantors who would be anxious for a way out on the lines of adding some of the arrears to the purchase money, andthat is one of the things that this section does. No matter how you try to solve this problem you will not have a simple alignment with the grantors on the one side and the grantees on the other; you will have both in favour of this and both against it. On the other hand, you will have the very same position no matter what you do. I was pressed very strongly indeed to treat the fee-farm grantees in exactly the same way as if they were tenants, but I declined to do that. Undoubtedly a very good case could be made out for treating fee-farm grantees as tenants. There would be the examples I have mentioned of small farms here and there on estates with valuation of £6 or £7 held by fee-farm grantees in circumstances exactly the same as tenants. There are other considerations that could be urged in favour of treating fee-farm grantees as tenants, but I declined to adopt that expedient, and as a way out I suggest this section. The position under the 1920 Land Bill, and also under the 1923 Land Act, was that fee-farm grantees inside the congested districts purchased in this way, that is to say, the land was vested in the Land Commission was untenanted land and re-sold to the fee-farm grantees. That position was first enshrined in the Act of 1920 and continued in the Act of 1923, in view of the fact that there are strong arguments in favour of treating fee-farm grantees as tenants. But actually I think the compromise that I have suggested in this section, putting the fee-farm grantees living outside the congested districts in the same position as those living inside it, is the fairest one. I do not pretend that there is a principle behind it; it is a matter of expediecy and I think it meets the equities of the case. I do not think that it would be fair to treat the fee-farm grantees as though they were tenants, start by giving them 25 per cent. of a reduction in their arrears and 25 per cent. reduction in their rents and then fix a fair rent on that basis. I have always declined to do that. On the other hand, it is difficult to resist the argument directed towards showing that fee-farm grantees outside the congested districts should be placed in exactly the same position as those inside. In any event, I have adopted that particular method and I think it fairly meets the equities of the case.
While differing from the Minister as regards the differentiation between fee-farm grantees of a certain valuation, I think he has certainly made a reasonable compromise in favour of the grantors. I cannot really see why fee-farm grantors should be any more sacrosanct than ordinary landlords. A great deal of property changed hands in Ireland in the last couple of hundred years, and if a man bought a fee-farm grant it was a matter of choice. Having accepted the principle that land had to be treated from a certain standpoint, I think it would have been better to let all fee-farm grants be treated exactly as other land has been treated. I think that was largely the recommendation of a special commission which was set up. Certainly if such a proposition had been before the Seanad I would have supported it. The section before us is a very reasonable compromise in favour of fee-farm grantors, and to oppose it would be very unwise. I accept it as a compromise. I regret that the section has not been made wider and that all fee-farm grantees have not been included. I know several cases myself which will just be outside the section, where the persons concerned are really bona fide tenants, as the Minister suggests, and where great hardship will be done. As I said, I cannot see why fee-farm grantors should be any more sacrosanct than ordinary owners.
I do not think the House is really fully seized with all the circumstances of this case. I know a case where a fee-farm grant was instituted in the thirties at a very low rent indeed, and on the security of that low rent buildings of a very considerable magnitude were erected on this property, thereby naturally enhancing the value of the security for the rent.
The section does not apply in such a case. The Senator should read sub-section (b).
Will the buildings still remain as security in a case of this kind?
The old position still remains.
Is the rent apportioned between the land and the buildings?
In a case where the rent is less than an ordinary agricultural rent, the grantee has no course open to him except to come forward and ask the judge to redeem the rent, and the judge will have to take into account only the security of the land for the rent.
I must confess I was puzzled about the case because, according to the way the Minister has put it, even the most favourably secured grantor is going to be fined down to the position of less security.
This section applies only to three conditions:—
(a) that the applicant is in bona fide occupation of the parcel of untenanted land uses and cultivates the same as an ordinary farmer in accordance with proper methods of husbandry; and
(b) that the rent payable by the applicant in respect of the parcel of untenanted land in equal to or exceeds what in the opinion of the Land Commission would have been the fair rent of the lands comprised in the parcel if the same had at the passing of the Land Act, 1923 constituted a holding held by the applicant as a statutory tenant thereof subject to a third term judicial rent; and
(c) that the applicant is willing to repurchase and that the parcel should be resold to the applicant.
As I understood Senator Sir J. Keane, he was proceeding to frame a case where there was a smaller rent than an agricultural rent reserved under the lease. In that case nobody touches the rent. If the rent is to be redeemed at all, it must be redeemed according to the Acts that have been passed previously.
The rent is redeemed on the basis that the land is going to be divided for congestion?
The Senator should read Section 11, which he is dealing with.
Then the explanation that the Minister gave to the Dáil does not apply to a case like that?
There is a further point, that the arrears of rent which are really interest, are treated as capital, and go to form a capital fund which is very different to the old arrangement, because the capital revenue and rents were kept distinct. In this case the three years arrears are treated in effect as a capital sum, while in actuality they are interest payments. That is a further hardship on the grantor. I really think that there is an element of rough justice in this case which acts very harshly on the amply secured grantors. I may be wrong, but that is the way I read it.
Amendment put and negatived.
This is to achieve the same object as amendment 3, which was down in the name of Senator Sir John Keane.
This is to meet the case made by Senators Sir J. Keane and Brown on the last occasion. It was pointed out that after an Inspector had been sent down to inspect the lands long delay occurred before the transaction was completed. I pointed out that there was another side to the case, and the promise I gave to meet it is this amendment, which takes the form of a new sub-section to be inserted before Section 23. If that section is passed, regulations will have to be made by the Land Commission setting out the time within which notice would be given. It would be a short time. It is the only thing I can suggest to meet the case put forward. A particular case was mentioned on the last occasion, where the Land Commission had served notice say after a year. That particular holding was a "retained" holding, and it was pointed out that notice was served two years ago and that nothing has been done since. That case is nothing like as bad as it looks. To begin with, as the Land Act is at present every holding worth more than £3,000 must be "retained" to start with. There are two proceedings, one is retaining a holding and the other resuming a hold ing, and every holding on which a greater advance than £3,000 is to be made to the landowner in order to purchase must be retained. On vesting of the landlord's interest in the holding it is for the Land Commission to consider whether they will resume the holding, but the steps are set out quite clearly. So far as tenanted land is concerned every tenant knows, or should know, that the law at present in force provides that if an advance is to be greater than £3,000 the holding has to be retained—it does not add or subtract from the security of the holding— that in fact the Land Commission must serve notice on him because he must get that notice. So long as the holding is so big that it will take more than £3,000 to purchase it then at some stage we must serve notice to say that it is a retained holding.
That should not be news to the tenant because the Act states that no greater advance shall be made than £3,000 except in certain circumstances. All that the serving on a tenant of notice that a holding is to be retained means is that this section is in the Land Act. Afterwards comes the question of resumption and that can only be considered when the landlord's interest in the holding cannot be vested in the Land Commission if there are arrears of rent. In the case quoted the last day although the name was not mentioned I looked up the circumstances of it in the Land Commission and I think I am right in saying that there were arrears in that case and consequently, the land could not be vested in the Land Commission. That is the reason why such a long time lapsed between the actual serving of the notice that the holding was retained and the vesting of the holding in the Land Commission. If the holding is once vested, then, the negotiations about resumption could take place and there are the serious negotiations. The mere fact that there is notice served that it is to be retained does not inevitably mean that the holding is going to be resumed. What would happen on resumption would be the Land Commission would consider it from two or three points of view. (1) They might make an advance of five or six or ten thousand pounds as they have discretion to do. (2) They might make an advance which, while not covering the whole holding would be nevertheless more than £3,000. (3) They might say we will make advances of £3,000 provided you put up two or three thousand pounds in cash but they cannot begin to consider that question which is the really serious question for the tenant until the holding is vested in the Land Commission. On the other hand the holding cannot be vested under the Act of 1923 as long as arrears of rent are due and that is the reason why you have certain delays, because on a big proportion of the tenanted land there were arrears.
May I suggest as a matter of drafting that the words "within such time as may be prescribed" are out of place and should come in in the line before. It would then read "shall, after considering the reports of their inspectors, and within such time as may be prescribed."?
That is so.
Section 23, line 60, delete the word "and" and insert in lieu thereof the words, "Where the Land Commission have withdrawn from the purchase or resumption then."
This is a verbal amendment. The House will remember that in Committee I moved that there should be an appeal from a withdrawal by the Land Commission from a purchase where they did not like the price fixed by the Judicial Commissioner. I did not think it was fair that they should be able to withdraw, and I moved an amendment which gave a right of appeal to the Judicial Commissioner from that withdrawal. That amendment was carried, but we did not notice that it involved a verbal change which has not been made. In line 60, after the word "determine", what follows is only applicable to a case where the Land Commission are able to withdraw, and are allowed to withdraw, because it says that for seven years after that they are not to have another chance to go on this land. Therefore, the verbal amendment is necessary.
I do not know whether the new section moved by the Government will take the place of the amendment or whether it is in satisfaction of the amendment on the Paper in the name of Senator Sir John Keane. There was one point that the Minister said that he would consider, and that is where delays occur, after the decision of the Judicial Commission and the actual taking possession of the land. If there is an unreasonable delay there must be loss.
You are now on amendment 6, whereas we are on amendment 8.
I did not know that Senator Sir John Keane had withdrawn his amendment.
Amendment 6 was put down to satisfy as far as the Government could satisfy the amendment proposed by Senator Sir John Keane, and that amendment proposed by the Government has been already passed, and they have come to another.
I understood that the Ministe was going to do something to-day to meet the difficulty.
He has done a little. The main point made by Senator Sir John Keane was that, owing to the delay in knowing whether his land was going to be taken or not, the owner was prevented from tilling or utilising the land other ways as he had the notice hanging over him and he did not know when they would come down on him. The Government have now gone the length of saying that the moment they have made up their minds they must make known their decision. I think that is a substantial concession.
Section 36, sub-section (1). After the word "Health" in line 51, to insert the words "if he approves of the purpose for which the lands are being acquired."
The next amendment, No. 9, is in the name of Senator the Earl of Kerry and in his absence, perhaps, I should say it was intended for the purpose of making quite certain what I think is legally certain on the interpretation of the section. I shall, therefore, take responsibility of withdrawing it.
In Section40, sub-section (1), to delete in line 4, the words "residing in the neighbourhood of the lands."
I accept that amendment.