I should like to ask the Minister whether it is the intention of the Land Commission to issue bonds bearing a rate of interest in excess of 4 per cent. I realise that at the present time the national credit stands rather under 5 per cent. but in my view it is very probable that with more favourable economic conditions we will be able to get back to a rate of interest nearer 4 than 5 per cent. I would deprecate any proposals to issue land bonds bearing a rate of interest of more than 5 per cent. If they stood above 5 per cent. holders of such bonds would be under the necessity of insuring against loss if they were redeemed by being withdrawn, on account of the fact that the Land Commission has the right to redeem portion of them every year. It is most inconvenient for bond holders to be liable to lose five or six points on a security for which they may have paid £105. I would deprecate any proposal to pay a rate of interest that would render these bonds being priced more than at par in the near future.
Land (No. 2) Bill, 1952—Committee and Final Stages.
As the House is probably aware, the determination of the rate of interest on the new series of land bonds is a matter for the Minister for Finance. Under the 1934 Act land bonds are created by Order of the Minister for Finance, who is required, when fixing the rate of interest for a series of bonds, to have regard to stock exchange quotations with a view to fixing a rate which will secure that the market price of the bonds will be at or near par for a reasonable time after creation of the series. The considerations which Senator Johnston has in mind will, I am sure, be borne fully in mind by the Minister for Finance when he is making the new Order. I am not in a position to inform the Seanad what the new rate of interest is likely to be. The situation may have changed and, in any case, I doubt if, until the legislation is passed, the Minister for Finance has really examined the question in the way that he now will have to examine it when a decision will have to be made in regard to the new issue. I will convey to the Minister the considerations that Senator Johnston put before the House.
I only want to say that we should not assume the permanence of 5 per cent. interest, although it may last longer than we expect.
Might I say something in regard to the acquisition of land and the fixing of the price by the Land Commission? Normally, the procedure in such a case is that the Land Commission, having decided to acquire or resume a holding, negotiate in an informal way with the owner as to price. If the owner agrees, there is not any difficulty; he accepts the price. If there is disagreement, the Land Commission can fix the price which they will pay for the holding and the owner can, if he feels dissatisfied with the price, appeal. His appeal comes in the ordinary way before the appeal tribunal—a judge of the High Court. On that appeal the owner of the land must attend with his valuers to give evidence as to the value of the property to enable the tribunal to decide what is a fair price. The owner and his witnesses give evidence, and they are cross-examined on their evidence as to the value. Strangely enough, however, there is no witness from the Land Commission to give evidence of value. Apparently, there are some files produced; neither the owner nor his advisers see those files, and whatever assistance is given to the judge by the owner and his witnesses, it would appear there is no assistance given to the judge to help him from the point of view of the Land Commission. Therefore, we have the position, apparently, that from the back of a file or from the innards of a file, on which the owner is cross-examined, the judge gets some information which the owner does not know anything about.
I am not complaining that grave injustice is done because the Land Commission inspector or witness as to value is not cross-examined, but justice in a case of this kind should appear to be done, and the Land Commission, I suggest, should have their witness there, No. 1, to assist the judge to determine what the real or fair value is and, No. 2, to give the appearance that everything in the normal way is done with a view to ascertaining what is a fair value of the property. In many cases of that kind the judge has been unable there and then to decide what the fair value is. He then says he will send the case to an assessor. The case is then sent to an assessor and the owner does not know who that assessor is. I am sure in many cases he does not want to know, but we should all like to see what is the nature of the report that such an assessor would give.
For these reasons, I would ask the Minister to tell us what exactly is the nature of the evidence afforded to the judge from the point of view of the Land Commission and why the witness who could give such evidence is not available for cross-examination by the owner.
These remarks hardly arise on this section.
Of course, I accept your ruling, but I thought they were revelant on this particular section. It deals with the bonds and enables parties who are late to bring in applications. I thought my remarks would be relevant, but if they are not I am sure they will be relevant later on.
Perhaps the Minister would say something.
I do not think the remarks are relevant. This particular section provides that the purchase money on tenanted land will in future be paid in land bonds and fixes the date as the date on which the land vests in the Land Commission. In the existing legislation we had what is known as the appointed day, and so that the position as regards dates will be symmetrical and water-tight we are taking as the fundamental date in future, the keystone of the arrangement in connection with the transfer of the purchase money, and so on, the date of vesting in the Land Commission, and the purpose of this section is to make the date of vesting in the Land Commission the significant date.
The authority and powers of the judge in regard to appeals in the Land Commission do not arise, I suggest, on this measure at all. The position is that the notice which the Land Commission issues fixing the price on the land which they propose to acquire may be taken to be the witness or the evidence from the Land Commission point of view. The owner objects and the judge hears the objection. I am not concerned with what happens then, nor are the Land Commissioners concerned, in the sense that we have no responsibility in the matter. It is entirely a matter for the judge.
This procedure has been laid down by statute and a certain practice has been followed over the years which has given satisfaction, as far as I know, that is, within the policy that is being operated. You may agree or disagree with the policy, and obviously there may be wide points of difference about that—we could discuss it for a long time here—but in the implementation of the policy of land acquisition for the relief of congestion, and so on, which has been going on since 1923, this practice of determining the price on appeal is well established and I have not heard it questioned. The judge, as a layman, that is as far as the determination of the value of land is concerned, may feel he would like to have advice. On the one hand, he has the opinion of the Land Commissioners that the land is worth so much. On the other hand, he has the evidence from the owner. In order to give a right decision he may feel he would like to have an expert opinion, and it has been the practice that in such a case, if the judge wishes to have a further opinion, he consults his assessors.
That is the recognised practice, and I have nothing to say to it. In any case, presumably the owner of the land is represented by counsel in court. Senators know that counsel in dealing with land legislation have not been in any way backward, whenever they found that there were points of law on which they could fight, in carrying the matter to the ordinary courts and to the Supreme Court in many instances. Therefore, I think we can take it that the owner's counsel will see, apart from the fact that the judge is acting in his judicial capacity, that the owner gets the full benefit of the safeguards to which the law entitles him.
The Minister in his observations on the points I raised has been quite correct, if I may say so. However, I think he ought to consider that it would be only fair and reasonable that the report of the Land Commission inspectors or commissioners should be available to the owner for examination in the same way that the evidence of the owner and his valuer is available to the Land Commission. If such were the case I am quite satisfied that a judge would receive more advice than he does simply by looking at a particular report, and furthermore, it would appear that justice would be evenly done if the reports of the Land Commission in the case of owners whose land was being taken over against their will at a price which they were unwilling to accept were laid in the open before everybody. It seems to me that there is no reason whatever why the Land Commission should seek to continue to adopt this attitude that "we have our reports and we are going to make you prove everything and submit yourself to cross-examination in court, while we are not having to come into the open at all." I think for these reasons that the Minister should consider the matter and see that the Land Commission reports as to value in such cases are available to the owner and his adviser.
I would like to support the remarks of Senator O'Reilly. We discussed this matter before many years ago when the question of market value was under consideration, and apart altogether from the explanation that the Minister gave, in which he was perfectly correct, it does appear unfair if the court has only one side being heard in public and one side being cross-examined. It gives room for the belief of injustice, and it has the appearance of injustice when one side alone is open to cross-examination. Even though the market value has helped materially to remove what was a grave injustice, there is still the fact of the court appearing to be used against the owner of the land and against his valuers. It is impossible to convey the full amount of your evidence and its cross-examination when you cannot have obtained a similar advantage against the Land Commission, who have previously put their case before the court.
For these reasons I would like to support Senator O'Reilly on this, and he is perfectly correct. The Minister says, and it is perfectly true, that you cannot blame the judge, though sometimes a wide difference takes place, and in view of the fact that in some instances hardships are being created it would be well to give every possible ventilation to the case that is made against the owner. Nothing can be lost by that and greater satisfaction will be felt by the owner whose land is being bought.
I will not delay the Seanad unduly long on this Bill because I was not here on the Second Reading and I do not intend to make any Second Reading speech, but one thing I would like to ask the Minister is whether anybody in the Land Commission at any time, particularly over the last year or two, thought of making some effort to curtail some of the land legislation and try to embody all those long-drawn-out Acts of Parliament into one Act that somebody will be able to read and understand at some time or another.
I have for a long while interested myself in the Land Commission, and I happen to know of many cases of its activities in my locality, so that I have interested myself in more than my share of Land Commission affairs. I believe that while this Bill is inevitable and it is only fair at the moment to give the benefits of the increased percentages for the bonds, which I understand is the main object of the Bill, yet we have land legislation practically 100 years old, and every Government, different groups who take over, have set out to amend this legislation in one way or another. All of them have had good intentions, I will admit, because it has been our general opinion in Parliament, in the Dáil or here in the Seanad, that everything appertaining to the Land Commission has been well based and in no way hurtful, because the primary object, of course, is the relief of congestion, but all these Acts have succeeded in piling up on top of one another, and I honestly believe that nine-tenths of the time of the officials of the Land Commission is now taken up in trying to explain to one another or to understand themselves what all these Acts are about.
If you can get a man who does understand it.
I have read this Bill through four times and I gave it up, because if I read it a fifth time I would not understand it at all. But I am satisfied that it has a good point or two in it. I am only raising that aspect to find out from the Minister if it ever occurred to him that it would be time for some courageous man to take all this land legislation and codify it in some way with the help of officials and legal men and leave his Department and the officials to administer it—give those fellows who are over there a chance of seeing a little bit of daylight through the numerous Acts that are in force.
The codification of the land purchase legislation is, of course, a very difficult, technical matter. Steps have been taken, as the House knows, to deal with the Fisheries Acts and to codify them, and I think some other parts of our legislation have been codified, but we have not the personnel, I am afraid, at the moment to work upon the codification of the land laws. As occasion arises it is possible to simplify and perhaps make more intelligible parts of the mass of legislation that we have, but those who are engaged in the Attorney-General's office or elsewhere upon this general question of codification are not free, I think, to go into land legislation at the moment. I would be very glad if that could be done, but I know that it is going to take a long time and require experts who have the greatest technical knowledge, from the legal point of view, and it is not easy to get this. But the matter is not being lost sight of by any means.
As regards the point raised by Senator McGee, I have nothing to add to what has been said. I do not think it would be proper for me to go further than I have gone in dealing with the position of the judge. Really, what Senators are inviting me to do is to go into the question of the method and the procedure of the judge in dealing with these cases. To go into the whole question of hardship would take quite a long time. No doubt there are cases of hardship. We must assume that when the Land Commission take preliminary steps and make a decision to take over land, they have regard to all the facts, including the family circumstances.
The position is fairly well known. If the land is producing a sufficient quantity of agricultural produce and is giving proper employment, the owner is quite safe. If the land is non-residential, the owner not even working it in accordance with the ordinary rules of husbandry, he is fair game, in my opinion, and the Land Commission are quite entitled, having regard to State policy and the necessity for relieving congestion, to go after that land—that is, subject to the safeguards that are there and that since 1923 have been inserted. In some directions the powers of the Land Commission have been made more drastic and more stringent. On the other hand, as I have said, there is always the appeal on points of law.
But not on the question of value.
The Senator himself has practically admitted we are paying the market value of land under the 1950 Act. We are paying more: we are paying compensation for disturbance, and so on. I cannot hold out any hope that we will do any more than we are doing. If people worked their land as they should work it, it would be very difficult for the Land Commission to take that land from them.
Who judges that? It is a very serious statement. If you were to go around the country and judge every man on that, I wonder who would have land at all, if you carry it to its logical conclusion.
There is a State machine there, as Senator Baxter knows, that has operated this arrangement. It is not as if we were introducing something that the country and the Oireachtas have not plenty of experience of. It has been working there since the British time, under the old Congested Districts Board.
It is a serious statement for the Minister to make, that if a man is not working his land in a particular way he is fair game. There is no authority in this country set up to determine whether a man is working his land efficiently or not.