I would have no objection to paying a grant for half an acre. A smaller area than that would involve fairly costly fencing and it might not prove a profitable proposition for a person to plant such a small area. There is, of course, the shelter belt scheme. Many farmers in the West are availing of that and ten or 15 years hence those shelter belts will add considerably to the beauty of the countryside.
The work we are engaged on here is national afforestation. We are not planting timber to beautify the country or provide employment. We are planting timber to provide our own future needs. We are only too pleased that useful employment can be provided and the scenic attractions of the country improved, but our primary object is to provide this country with the timber it will require at some date in the future when what we are planting to-day will reach maturity. At the moment we are using about 37,500 standards per year. Some experts regard that as very low in comparison with other countries. It is low. Per head of the population we use less timber here as compared with any country in the western hemisphere. I believe, as do most people who have a knowledge of trends, that the consumption of timber per head will increase very much as the years go on. I have taken Mr. Cameron's target as being a fair one, that is, that, in 50 years' time, the consumption of timber per head in this country will have increased almost four times as much, which would be 150,000 standards for the whole country in a single year.
The next question we come to is what will produce 150,000 standards? In other words, in 50 years, if this nation is using four times as much timber, how much timber would we want to plant to-day to guarantee that? Let me say that approximately 12,000 acres of good mature timber will produce 150,000 standards, or four times our present consumption of timber. The Commission on Emigration which furnished its report some years ago, stated that there is not much likelihood of a population increase. I do not want to pass comment on that, except to say that I hope they are wrong in their findings, but on the basis that there is not a population increase, or only a small one, this year we have planted 15,000 acres and of that 15,000 acres, we have planted 12,000 acres to meet four times the present-day consumption when that timber will fall mature, and 3,000 acres for export.
Lest Senators should take it that, because we have planted more than our needs, that is the end of the thing, that is not the case. If that were so, if 15,000 or 16,000 acres a year were the Government's target, there would be no need for this Bill because we are getting in just enough land to meet that 15,000 acres target. We are not content with that and we want a greater intake of land, and that is why I am asking the House for this Bill. The Bill was designed specifically because the intake of land in some cases was very slow. In many cases, offers of land which the Forestry Division was very anxious to take because it was most suitable, fell through simply because the owner or owners could not prove title.
Some Senators seem to think that there should be a rough and ready way of brushing aside this question of title, and say: "Why are the Minister and the Forestry people so concerned about title?" But the State must be just the same as any individual here. If any of you bought a holding or a farm, you would first go to your solicitor and ask him to make sure you have good title, so that in five, ten or 20 years somebody cannot come along and say: "I have a claim on that holding. The person who sold it to you has not full title. I have a claim on it." What can happen to the private individual can happen much more easily to a Government Department like the Forestry people. It is just as essential for the Minister for Lands and the Forestry people to have absolutely water-tight title to their land as it is for the private individual—hence the trouble.
Each Senator listening to me knows quite well that if any person came from England or America after a lapse of some years and found part of the old paternal home, as Senator Kissane described it, planted under trees, that person would go to the nearest solicitor who would examine his title and say: "You have a case against the State." Goodness knows what would happen then. It is only right and just that any Minister should be as careful about the public money as he would be about his own.
A good deal was said about the price we pay for land. Senator Kissane and Senator Hartney in particular seemed to think we were not paying enough, and Senator Cogan was, I think, in step with them. Would it surprise Senators to know that only 1 per cent. of transactions fail because of disagreement on price and that where there is disagreement on price between the owner of land who is selling and the Forestry people, the individual is looking for a fantastic price? That only happens very occasionally, so that it does not matter.
If Senators have got any complaints from people who have sold land and are dissatisfied with the price, on the one hand, or received any complaints from people in cases where they were willing to sell, but for the fact that the Department were not giving a good price, I would like to hear of them. I have got no complaints and as a rule the Minister is the first to get complaints, genuine and bogus. Every Minister is under constant bombardment by people writing in to complain on different subjects, but no complaints have come in to my Department on the question of price.
I think it was Senator Hartney who thought the Department of Finance had a strangehold on Forestry and that it was the stranglehold Finance had on the Minister for Lands that caused the Minister for Lands to bring in this Bill to obtain a greater intake of land. Such is not the case, for once. The Department of Finance is usually under fire from every Minister, but in this particular instance that is not so because this Bill will not improve the price of land.
Our difficulty in this regard was not the question of price, but that of title. Let us take the case of a man who owns a holding or farm most or all of which is suitable for forestry and which he wishes to sell. What I propose to do is to go to that man and ask him will he sell. If he agrees to sell, I fix the price with him. Then we investigate title and may find he has bad or faulty title. Perhaps he is one of a family of four, five or six, whose parents died intestate and consequently all the family have some claim. If these people have been away a number of years and the person who has stayed at home wishes to sell, I propose to ask the lay commissioners for an acquisition order, with the consent of the person selling.
I want to take Senators over the ground step by step in case any member of the House may think we are taking an advantage in this respect. The lay commissioners will make an acquisition order, giving the Minister for Lands perfect title, although the person who sold it has not perfect title to give him. Then the price is agreed. If thereafter, within a period of six years, any brothers, sisters, uncles or aunts or any other person who has a claim on the farm, come home, the Minister for Lands will pay him again. The Minister for Lands in one part of the Bill is taking power to recover the amount from the person who was paid formerly, but I cannot envisage many such cases occurring. I am afraid in most cases the person who sells will either have disposed of the money by the time that happens or will have left the country and brought the money with him. In any case even though the commissioners give the Minister for Lands perfect title by the acquisition order, if any person who has a claim proves that claim to the satisfaction of the Minister, he will be paid again. I do not think that is taking an unfair advantage of anybody.
Senator Cox mentioned that the period of six years was establishing a precedent. It is not. As a matter of fact, there are precedents for this period of six years, going back to the Labourers Act of 1906, to the Land Act of 1931 and several other Acts not dealing with land. These have all taken that period for establishing claims to compensation. It is not a precedent and in fact I am following many precedents set both before this State was established and since.
In regard to commonages, Senator Hawkins and Senator Kissane thought we were taking an unfair advantage of the common owner who may object to acquisition. I will describe the position and then leave it to the Senators themselves to judge whether I am being unfair in this matter. The usual number who own a commonage is ten —at least that is the case in my part of the country, in Mayo, Galway, Sligo and Leitrim. Supposing eight of the ten are willing to sell, what I do is to ask the lay commissioners to make an acquisition order for the whole commonage. From the moment I ask the lay commissioners for an acquisition order, the person whose land I am acquiring has the very same status and standing before the commissioners as the Minister. The Minister has no advantage over him in this Bill. In the case of a commonage, the commissioners may make an acquisition order for the whole commonage, but I am making provision in Section 6 of this Bill whereby the commissioners can allot a portion of the commonage to the objector or objectors which will be equal to the right they had on the common beforehand. I hope that satisfies Senator Hawkins.
It is true that the objectors may be discommoded in this way, that formerly they had the run over the whole 1,000 acres of the common, but we should not forget that if each of the other owners made full use of the belt and each of the other owners stocked the common to the full strength of his band, then the person now objecting would not be discommoded. Suppose the band in a particular common was ten collops, if each of the ten people who had the right to the common put ten collops on the common, that would be all right, but what generally happens is that those who are willing to sell have not had the opportunity or the cash to stock the commonage and, if my information is correct, two or three lucky ones, from the point of view of being near the common and having the cash to buy the stock, are stocking the whole common and enjoying the profit of the whole common.
These people, naturally, will object to acquisition, but when the lay commissioners have given them their share of the commonage, which would be equal to the number of collops that they enjoyed, they will not have anything to grumble about, because they will have exactly the same profit as they had from their share of the common. They will not have the profit that their co-partners in the common could have had, if they had stocked their portions, and I do not pity them in losing that. It is true that it may discommode the one or two objectors in that respect.
We must take into account the seven or eight who wish to sell. They must have their rights respected and it would be too bad if the one or two who had been gobbling up the rights on the commonage should now be able to prevent the others selling what is justly theirs.
The same applies to grazing rights. In case there are Senators who are not familiar with practice in mountain areas and country districts, I will give this illustration. X owns a certain area of mountain or grazing. What has happened is that X takes in Y and Z and several others as grazing tenants. These people have established grazing rights down through the years. In that case, we propose to acquire the whole area from the fee simple owner and, if there are objectors amongst the grazing tenants who do not wish to give up their rights on that particular piece of hill, just as in the case of the commonage, the lay commissioners may allot a certain proportion to them or may turn down the Minister's request to have the particular grazing right acquired.
I want to assure Senators that there is no compulsion in the Bill, other than the compulsion enshrined in the 1946 Forestry Act. Senator Kissane seemed to be under the impression that we could use the method envisaged in the 1946 Act, which was the same as that employed by the Land Commission for the acquisition of land for the relief of congestion. We could not, for this reason, that the method employed under the 1946 Act was that the lay commissioners could acquire compulsorily for the Minister for Lands a particular piece of land, but then they paid in the purchase price to the courts and that immediately put the onus of proving title on the person dispossessed of the land. In many cases, the persons dispossessed could not prove title because that would involve, for some of them, getting surrender of the claims of brothers and sisters in Australia, America or Alaska, with the result that they were no longer in possession of the land and the money was locked up with the court and they could not get at it, until they could prove title. In many cases, they could not prove title. There had to be some way out of that deadlock, which was the principal matter holding up land acquisition for forestry.
I hope I have explained the Bill and dealt with most of the points made. In conclusion, let me again thank the House for the helpful way in which they have met this Bill. If I may make so bold, I would ask for all stages tonight.