I think the majority of Senators have a fair idea of what this Bill contains and so I do not intend going into any great detail, at least at this stage. The Bill is roughly divided into four parts. The first part sets out the ordinary legal definitions of the expressions contained in the Bill. The second part is concerned with changes that were thought necessary in the administrative machinery of the Land Commission. Since the coming into operation of the Free State a number of the Government Departments that formerly were controlled by boards and commissions of one kind or another were changed so that the Minister became responsible completely for the administration of the Departments. The Department of Agriculture is one of these; the Local Government Department and the Education Department are others. These Departments were formerly run by boards and commissions and, at the present time, the Ministers responsible to the Oireachtas for the administration of these Departments substitute the boards in all the functions that the boards formerly carried out. While the Minister under this Bill is getting complete administrative control over the Land Commission, there are certain matters excepted from the matters over which he has control. These are set out in Section 6. They are: the determination of the persons from whom land is to be acquired or resumed; the determination of the actual lands to be acquired; the determination of the price to be paid for land; the determination of the persons to be selected as allottees; the determination of the price at which land is to be sold; and the determination of the new holding which is to be provided for a tenant or proprietor whose holding has been acquired by the Land Commission.
In Section 7 a new appeal tribunal is being set up. Heretofore, all appeals against decisions of the Land Commissioners were heard by the judicial commissioner. In this new section we are associating with the judicial commissioner two lay commissioners, and this appeal tribunal will hear practically all appeals against the decisions of the Land Commissioners with the exception of those which are purely a question of law. We have, therefore, on this appeal tribunal a legal man and, associated with him, two practical men who have a thorough knowledge of Land Commission work, whose function is to decide questions which really require long experience of the operation of the Land Acts throughout the country as well as a legal knowledge. Where there is a question of law concerned, the legal man decides that question.
Part III of the Bill is concerned with the revision of purchase annuities, rents and other annual payments. In pursuance of the Government promise, all rents and annuities are being reduced by half. We are also reducing tithe rents by half where the payer is an ordinary farmer. As well as reducing rents and annuities, which have been set up heretofore, by half, power is being taken to reduce future annuities by half. There are still about 80,000 holdings, I think, which were vested automatically in the Land Commission under the 1931 Act which have not yet been vested in the tenants, and the payment in lieu of rent which these people are paying at the moment is being cut in half. When the annuity is set up in the case of these people, that also will be reduced by half. Also, in future, when untenanted land is to be acquired for distribution among uneconomic holders, the annuity which will be put on the land will be cut in two. Senators will notice that a number of sections here are more or less along the same line. That is simply because it was necessary from the drafting point of view to treat the different annuities that are being paid into the Land Commission and into the Board of Works in separate paragraphs. Power is also being taken to fund all arrears due to the Land Commission and to forgive all arrears which amount to more than three years of the man's land annuity. A somewhat similar provision was made in previous Land Acts as in the case of the 1923 Act which provided that where a tenant owed more than three years' arrears he had not to pay more than three. We are funding these arrears over a period of 50 years and it will mean that, no matter how much a man owes to the Land Commission, when we add his funding annuity to the half of the annuity he will have to pay, in no case will the total annual charge— that is, revised annuity plus funding annuity—amount to more than 65 per cent. of his original annuity. If we had attempted, as some people believe we should have attempted, to make everybody who is in arrears pay up, it would have meant that in a number of cases we would be asking, in future, land annuitants to pay, when we counted the revised annuity plus the funding annuity, an annual sum greater than that which they had to pay in the past, and we do not believe it is a good policy to do that.
In Part IV of the Bill you have miscellaneous amendments of the law relating to the Land Acts. Section 28 deals with a levy by county registrars on warrant for arrears of payments due to the Land Commission. Under this section we are taking authority to collect annuities on the sheriff's warrant without having to take the annuitant to court. A number of Deputies disagreed with this section, but I heard no argument there which would prove to me that this section is wrong. Every land annuitant has been getting his receivable order for years. He knows exactly the amount he is called upon to pay and, under the present procedure, the Land Commission have to take that man into court and saddle him with a lot of legal costs simply to get the district justice's signature as a legal proof that the man owes a debt which he knows himself he owes and which he never disputed that he did owe. If a man comes along to the Land Commission and disputes the amount of his annuity, the Land Commission will look into that and, if they think there is aprima facie case for letting the matter go before the courts, they can, if they so desire, allow the matter to be settled by the court rather than proceed by direct sheriff's warrant.
Section 29 deals with new powers which the Land Commission are taking for the relief of congestion. Under the 1923 Act certain lands were protected and certain other lands were left unprotected. The result of that has been that, when the Land Commission wanted to relieve congestion, they sometimes were forced to take the lands of a comparatively small farmer who was working his lands, but who was left unprotected under the 1923 Bill, rather than take the lands of large farmers who did not work the lands and who, perhaps, did not reside there, simply because they were protected under the 1923 Act. This section is extending the powers of Section 24 of the 1923 Act. Under that section the Land Commission could take purchased land for the relief of congestion, provided they gave a holding equally suitable elsewhere. They found that it was impossible to operate that because they could never please the man, whose land was taken, with an alternative holding. In many cases they have had to give twice the value of the land in order to get the owner to agree that the alternative lands were equally suitable. Here we are taking authority to take surplus land over £2,000 in value and to pay the owner in land bonds, but if we touch land under £2,000 the Land Commission will have to give the owner alternative land elsewhere. If, for instance, a man has £2,400 worth of land and the Land Commission propose to take £400 worth of it from him, they can take it from him and give him the value of the £400 in land bonds. If, however, they want £500 worth of it from him, thereby reducing the market value of his holding to £1,900, the owner can compel them to give him £400 in bonds and £2,000 worth of land elsewhere.
Under Section 30 we are taking power to fix a provisional price. At the present time the Land Commission have to go through tedious legal proceedings before lands are finally in their hands for distribution. Under this section the Land Commission can take the land, fix a provisional price for it and then put the tenants in: letting the law take its course in the usual way so that while questions of title and so on are being settled in the land courts the incoming tenants will be working their lands. It has taken, I believe, on an average about five years from the time that the Land Commission set their eyes on a piece of land until it was finally distributed. This provision, we hope, will reduce that period of time to the minimum. Under Section 32 the powers of the Land Commission to acquire land compulsorily are extended. We are taking power to acquire land directly for certain purposes. Heretofore, land could only be acquired for the relief of congestion, the residue going to landless men, evicted tenants and other bodies. Under this section the Land Commission can take land for the provision of sports fields, parks, pleasure grounds, or playgrounds for the inhabitants of villages, towns or cities, or for schools, or for the provision of gardens for schools. There is also power to take land for any of the purposes set out in Section 31 of the Land Act, 1923. Sub-section (3) of this section is the result of the discussion which took place in the Dáil. It is really an attempt to put down in black and white the policy which the Government propose for the operation of the Land Commission. There were certain criticisms in the Dáil that under the powers of this Bill farmers could be moved around like chessmen at the will of the Land Commission: that they could say, "there is John Murphy and we must change him somewhere else for the good of his health," and that under the powers of the Bill that could be done. Here we are setting out that, notwithstanding the powers contained in this or any other enactment relating to land law, a man shall not be disturbed in his land except for the relief of congestion in the immediate locality, or except for the provision of these sports fields and school gardens, if he is giving adequate employment and is producing an adequate amount of food for the community. That sub-section is simply in keeping with the policy of the Land Commission and if it were not there it would continue to be their policy.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Land Commission have at the moment complete and absolute power over 80,000 holdings of judicial tenants which were left unprotected by the 1923 Act, the Land Commission use a discretion whenever a question comes up for the resumption of those holdings. As I have said, the Land Commission have absolute power over those holdings. In the case of an ordinary judicial farmer, whose holding was not vested in him prior to 1923, it can be resumed at the moment, every acre of it, and all that he is entitled to get in return are land bonds.