Before this Bill is passed, as I expect it will be, I would like to address some remarks to the Chair in relation to the policy of the measure. We have always been anxious that lands should be vested as quickly as possible. This Bill provides for the early vesting of land, and we are assured by the Parliamentary Secretary that before the 1st of May next, long lists of holdings will be published, and great areas of land in this country will be vested. I think the Parliamentary Secretary would be much better advised if, while expediting the vesting of land, he took more care of the interests of tenant farmers and of persons not yet tenant farmers or owners of land whom we hope to see in possession of economic holdings before many years have expired.
My idea of expediting the vesting of land would be, firstly, to vest all holdings in respect of which judical rents have been fixed. You could make no mistake in that, because you would be quite certain that the person you were making a fee simple owner was a person who had tenant right. The next thing I would do would be to vest all holdings to which section 24 (1) of the Act of 1923 applied—that is, all holdings which were in occupation of tenants and in respect of which no fair rent had been fixed. That is the system that I would adopt in the vesting of land, and I would leave to another day the question of vesting holdings which, in a country as narrow as ours, with resources as limited as ours, must be regarded as nothing short of estates—holdings in respect of which an advance of more than £3,000 is to be made. I do not think that it is just, in the circumstances of this country, to make an advance of public credit for the purchase of land to a greater extent than £3,000 to any one man.
The Bill which our Party introduced in the Dáil, the Bill which has been criticised but which still holds the field, is the simplest solution of the question of vesting land. It provided that Section 70 of the Act of 1923— that is the section dealing with the list of holdings to be vested—should be amended "by the addition at the end of the section of the words ‘provided that in the case of holdings subject to judicial rents to which Section 24 of this Act applies the appointed day shall be fixed at a date not later than the first day of December, 1929, and in the case of all other tenanted and untenanted lands to which Section 24 of the Act applies the appointed day shall be fixed at a date not later than the first day of June, 1932.'" You have heard this Bill discussed for days. It was closely discussed and analysed on both sides, and I submit that, as a measure of policy, that one section holds the field and is the only reasonable method of dealing with the vesting of land, while still preserving to the State the power which the State ought to have and thus go on, reasonably and prudently, with the settling of the farmers on the land. The Parliamentary Secretary and his Government thought otherwise, and they have produced a Bill of about fifty sections. I do not intend to criticise the various sections of the Bill. It would probably be out of order to do so at this stage, but I do want to repeat that, in my opinion, it is wrong, where lands have not been subject to judicial rents, for the State to advance money without an inspection of the holdings so as to secure that the holdings are value for the money. It may be said that a year or two ago we passed a Bill providing for a general reduction of 35 per cent. in all cases where judicial rents had not been fixed and that we gave the right to the landlord and the tenant to serve a notice and have an inspection. But there are numerous cases in which neither the landlord nor the tenant will desire inspection and in which the interests of the State are likely to be sacrificed.
I do think that the tenant farmers who have sub-tenants are being very badly treated in this measure. They are being crushed out. I am not in favour of charging a sub-tenant more than the value of his land, but I think it is a case in which the State ought to intervene and compensate the middleman in the same way as it is compensating the landlord—treat the tenant in the same generous way as the landlord is being treated under this Bill.
There is another question of principle in the Bill which, in my opinion, will be of far-reaching importance. There was a clause introduced into this Bill on the Second or Third Stage in the other House providing for compensation for disturbance in the case of resumed holdings. Anybody having experience of the long land struggle in this country and of the land question in general will at once fix on that as the most important clause in the Bill, because not alone does it provide for compensation for the value of the holding which is being resumed, but it also provides compensation for disturbance. These holdings are resumed for one purpose only—for the purpose of settling congests, landless men and people who can suitably conduct small farms. Of course, when a holding is divided, it must be sold to the incoming tenant—the small man —at a fair price. If the owner of the resumed holding gets a fair price, with compensation for disturbance, and if the small man is to get in at a fair price, the difference must come from some source. There is no provision in this Bill for bridging that gap. There is no provision whereby the State will come in to subsidise the transaction. I was very glad to hear Senator Sir John Keane say, by way of interruption on the Second Reading of this Bill, that in such a case the State ought to come in. I was stopped on Second Reading when I endeavoured to suggest an alternative method of acquiring land for the benefit of congests—by empowering the Land Commission, instead of taking land compulsorily, to acquire land by purchase and to place a fund at their disposal in the same way as a fund was placed at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board. That method would be successful. No general system of compulsion in Ireland can be successful. It is absurd to suppose, at this stage of the history of the land system in Ireland, that the farmers of Ireland, or any substantial group of farmers, can be placed under the heel of compulsion. They cannot. They never were placed under the heel of compulsion, and they never will be. Land in Ireland has always been held by force. Land in Ireland will always be held by force. Let there be no mistake about that.
There is one small aspect of this measure to which I would like to call attention. You will have observed that provision is made for the payment out of moneys without complete investigation of title to persons who represent themselves as owners of land. That may be a reasonable thing, but I think that any loss sustained in the financing of a matter of that kind should be borne by the class of persons which is benefited. Under this Bill, it is to be borne by the State. We had an amendment down which sought to provide that a fund should be constituted out of the moneys retained—the guarantee deposit—to be called the "Title Compensation Fund," and that that fund should be used for the purpose of meeting claims made by rightful owners in cases where the wrong persons had been paid. I think that that amendment was reasonable, but it was not accepted.
These are the main objections that we had to this measure. We think that it ought to have been a simpler measure, that it ought to have provided for the vesting of judicial holdings, and after that, for the vesting of ordinary tenancies, and that until there was time for the proper distribution of land the Minister ought not to have gone farther than that.