Agricultural Credit Bill, 1960— Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 8, Section 9 (6), to add a new paragraph as follows:—

"( ) Where a person who is not the registered owner has paid in whole or in part moneys payable on foot of a charge created under this section in respect of moneys lent or advanced by the Corporation to such person as a person in occupation of the land, and such person is ejected from the land by the registered owner, the moneys so paid by such person shall be recoverable from the registered owner as a specialty debt in any court of competent jurisdiction."

This is an amendment to which I referred on Committee Stage. Its purpose is to provide that in the case of a person who is in occupation of a farm and who obtains money from the Agricultural Credit Corporation, when the person who has the title to the land and who is the registered owner returns to eject the person in occupation, that person shall be entitled to recover from the registered owner the money which he has paid back to the Agricultural Credit Corporation.

In this country, it is quite remarkable how people go away and leave their land, very often with the intention of returning within a year. They find employment in England mostly and do not return for as long a period as perhaps 20 years. Then, when they do come back, whoever has the land may have to get out. In the West of Ireland particularly, when a person is going away, he asks one of the neighbours to look after his place, but such an arrangement never gives any title to the person who remains on. In that kind of case, even after a lapse of 12 or 15 years, the person appointed caretaker might decide to take over the land in the hope that the true owner would not return. That happens.

It also happens as between brothers and father and son. A son or brother is left behind as a caretaker. The brother or son uses the land for his own benefit. In time, he will find it necessary to go to the Agricultural Credit Corporation. That is the kind of situation where grave hardship can be done. It can be argued that the person who remains on the land has had the use of it; that he cannot pay any rent to the person who has gone to England. That is not so. If the emigrant owner returns, he can sue the person for occupation rent. It is in that situation that I should like to see the moneys paid for the improvement of the land offset against occupation rent.

The Minister on the last occasion had some doubts as to whether this was covered in the Bill. Happily, it has not been ruled out of order. I hope the Minister will take the view that it is as much in order to provide this remedy for a person in occupation as it is for the successive registered owners.

There is one further point I want to make. I suggest that the right to recover the money should be over a period of 20 years. I do not want to limit it to the ordinary period of six or 12 years because I feel it is too short a period. In those circumstances I think it would be better that the money paid over a long period should be recoverable by the person ejected by the true owner.

I think that in the case of the vast number of holdings in this country at present—and certainly in the western areas where the holdings are uneconomic—it is seldom the registered owner is now the beneficial owner of the property. This section of the Bill is a very admirable one because it now enables many people to obtain loans from the Agricultural Credit Corporation who could not obtain such loans previously because they were not registered as owners of the property.

I cannot visualise many cases where the Corporation will advance money to a person in occupation, unless they were satisfied that the registered owner was deceased or that the registered owner had lost title by process of time. I feel that the amendment is not very desirable, nor is it necessary. Usually, it is because of the fact that the registered owner is deceased and that it is some other person who is in occupation. I do not think, because a person leaves a holding for a time and puts it in the hands of a caretaker that he has lost his beneficial interest. If he has lost his rights through process of time, then he would not be entitled to regain possession legally when he returned if somebody else has been in beneficial occupation for a certain number of years.

The loan advanced is of benefit because it makes the land more productive or it is used to improve the buildings. Quite a number of years will have elapsed before the return of the registered owner and the person in occupation would have benefited from the increased productivity of the land and from the improved buildings. For that reason, I do not think it right that a person should be able to obtain a refund of money which he has paid to the Agricultural Credit Corporation a considerable number of years previously. A considerable number of years would undoubtedly have passed before this person returned. I cannot foresee where the advance would be made except where the person was deceased. The amendment simply refers to the registered owner and I am not quite sure if the words "registered owner" would cover a personal representative.

I wonder to what extent would this amendment apply, were it to be accepted? We hear from time to time about people setting their land in conacre and clearing out. It has even been said that Land Commission holdings are left vacant. If an amendment such as this were to be accepted, it would only facilitate operations which we should not tolerate at all. If the owner of a holding in the west of Ireland, or anywhere else in a congested area or in any area, leaves land which the State has provided for him, clears out having set the land in , he gets remuneration from his employment in a foreign country—Great Britain probably—and he gets remuneration from the setting of the land in conacre. Surely he should still be liable for any payments due on that land, and should not involve anyone else in those payments. That whole system is wrong, and an amendment such as this which would tend to facilitate such arrangements would not be at all desirable.

I did not understand—not for the first time, and not for the last time—what my namesake was getting at. There is no question of land let in conacre being involved at all. The amendment says:

Where a person who is not the registered owner has paid in whole or in part moneys payable on foot of a charge created under this section....

I know the Agricultural Credit Corporation extremely well, and I suppose the last thing they would do, if they were to exist for a thousand years, would be to lend money to a person in occupation of land which was set in conacre.

Not even in the 230 years the Minister mentioned.

Not even in the 231 years the Minister foresees, would they lend money for permanent improvement on land into which a man was planted for a period of 11 months by conacre letting.

With regard to the more serious remarks of Senator Walsh, I thought at first that he was speaking in favour of the amendment. He misled me completely in his first few sentences. He sees the point of the amendment quite clearly. Let us take a simple example of a hayshed erected at a cost of £400 or £500. The normal cost to-day would be about £500. The normal period of repayment to the Corporation is seven years, or 14 half-yearly instalments, but let us suppose it is ten years. He would have repaid £400 out of the £500 in eight years and surely a hayshed, if reasonably looked after, will have a life of 50 or 60 years. He would have paid back £400, leaving £100 owing on the land when he is turfed out by the registered owner or the person who has succeeded the registered owner.

Section 9 covers nearly three pages of print, and together with the other sections and the Agricultural Credit Corporation Acts, 1927 and 1947, dealing with land mortgages, it all adds up to a considerable volume of legislation. This is a simple subsection designed to protect people who are there, let us not forget, as of right. There is no question of their having got in there by force or anything of that sort. They are there as of right, but if someone else has a superior right, he can come back and take possession over their heads. If we are to have a much greater use of this kind of legislation than we have had in the past, I cannot see any serious reason why this simple straightforward amendment should not be accepted.

If this amendment is not accepted, I want to say that I shall come once more to the conclusion that it is a case of the managers being prepared to accept nothing from anyone else. We are all aware that no one must suggest that the managers have overlooked any point or are not omniscient. If the amendment is not accepted, it will be one more proof that the managers regard themselves as omniscient. Perhaps I shall not get an opportunity to take it before an arbitrator.

As Senator Walsh has clearly pointed out, from his experience of dealing with land owners, Section 9 visualises the position of the occupier who is de facto the owner but who has not established his ownership legally. It is not likely that ejectment will arise in such cases. We have to assume that the Corporation will not too readily make loans to occupiers who are not the registered owners. They will be very careful about using Section 9 for that purpose. Naturally, they would like to avoid being dragged into a legal case afterwards where there is some dispute with regard to the ownership of a holding.

The occupier who applies for this loan should be fairly sure of his position, and if he is not sure, I think we should say to him: "It is your own look-out." If he seeks a loan from the Corporation, naturally to the questions put to him he will answer that he believes he is the owner but is not the registered owner. There are some legal provisions facing him which he cannot get over at the moment if he seeks a loan and gives that impression to the Corporation. I do not see why we should have to put a provision in here to save him unnecessarily or unduly, as it were, as this amendment would appear to do.

He would, of course, have the ordinary remedy in court before an arbitrator, if he were put out, and if he had improved the place when he was there by spending money out of his own pocket. I think it will probably be found that more often than not in the case Senator O'Quigley has in mind, the real owner and not the occupier will have the grievance. If an occupier who is not sure of his position seeks a loan, and if he has a certain fear that the other man may take the holding from him, he certainly will not spend his own money on improvements. He would be inclined to spend the money he had received by way of loan on himself rather than on the land. The real owner could come back then and be faced with a charge on his land. Therefore, it is more likely that he would have the grievance than the man who had borrowed the money.

In any case, it would appear that an amendment like this is putting a borrower of that type of loan in a privileged position. I do not say there is a case for it but, if there were a case for it, it is the sort of thing that should be done generally in some Bill dealing with ownership of land. Wherever we may borrow money and repay it for the improvement of the land, and so on, the same thing should apply all round. I do not think we should legislate for this type of loan in this way.

But you are legislating for this type of loan. It rounds it off, though.

Yes, we are, but we are not making general provisions. I mentioned on Second Reading that there was a similar provision in the Act in respect of Gaeltacht housing and in the Land Reclamation Act. These two Acts have been in operation for some years. I am not aware that any case has arisen where the occupier has a grievance such as is visualised by the mover of the amendment. It is very unlikely to occur. It is just as likely to happen that the real owner would have the grievance rather than the borrower. Therefore, I do not think we should deal with it in this way.

Take the example of a man who borrows £500 to build a hayshed and goes on paying until he reaches perhaps the sixth or seventh year, by which time he has paid perhaps £400 of the loan. He then discovers he will lose possession of the land because the real owner is coming back and will take it from him. In that case, is it not true that he has had that land for the previous six or seven years to develop and make his living out of it? If he had taken that land from the owner, I am quite sure he would have had to pay a few hundred pounds rent a year for the use of it. Actually, he has had it without rent. I do not think he has any cause to complain if the owner of the land comes back and takes it from him. I do not think there is a case for this amendment. I think maybe it would create a certain amount of injustice and probably, in my opinion, more injustice than the justice that is claimed for it by the mover of the amendment.

Everything that has been said by the Minister and by Senators Louis Walsh and Ó Donnabháin is in favour of the amendment, if they understood what the amendment is about. I readily appreciate that, on a technical matter such as this, it is not very easy in a single speech, without question and cross-question, to make the point as clear as it might be made. However, there is no doubt that, if the Minister is right that the Agricultural Credit Corporation will be slow to make loans to people who have not title, then Section 9 is of no use whatever. The very purpose of Section 9, as the Minister told us and as is clear from reading it, is to enable the Corporation to make loans to people who have not got a good claim or title.

I said the de facto owner, not the legal owner.

The de facto owner is in occupation. He cannot by any application to the court, get a good title for himself. He got in there either as a caretaker or because he is the son of the registered owner who is still in England. It is to meet that kind of case that this amendment is brought in but that is not appreciated by those who have spoken against it.

Quite clearly, the Agricultural Credit Corporation will not make loans to the vast numbers of people about whom Senator Louis Walsh speaks, that is, all the people in the west who never became registered owners of their holdings because of circumstances Senator Louis Walsh spoke about. If that is so, if there are so many of these people and if the Minister is right that the Corporation will not make loans except to people who have some type of title, I do not understand what the Minister means by a de facto title. I take it that it means in possession for 10 or 12 years but that they cannot make a paper title. Section 9 is worthless if the Agricultural Credit Corporation will not make loans to that type of person. It means that all these people are debarred from ever being able to get a loan from the Corporation and certainly they will not get one from the bank.

Senator Ó Donnabháin spoke strongly in favour of the amendment but he did not realise it. He said we ought not to facilitate the registered owner to leave his land when he had got it from the State. That is precisely what the amendment seeks to avoid. In this amendment, I want to provide that if the registered owner has got the land from the Land Commission and has gone to England to work for 10 or 15 years he cannot then come back and have the benefit of all his years in England and of the improvements brought about as a result of loans from the Corporation by a person in occupation without having to pay back to the person in occupation so much of the loan repaid to the Corporation. That is precisely what Senator Ó Donnabháin says we should do and that is what the amendment seeks to do.

The Minister says that this is done under the Gaeltacht (Housing) Acts. I have not looked up the Acts but I am sufficiently familiar with the Land Reclamation Act to say that no difficulty has arisen under that Act because the charges are added to the annuities payable to the Land Commission.

Only in certain cases.

That is the vast majority of cases. Therefore, it is not like somebody having a loan for a short term from the Agricultural Credit Corporation. The two cases are not similar. This is not a case for general legislation in relation to the recovering of debts by people in occupation of lands, as the Minister for Finance suggested. We are creating for the first time a situation in which a money lending authority can lend money and charge it on land the ownership of which is not in the person to whom the loan is made. That is quite a new departure in relation to the lending of money. It arises because the money lent is made a charge upon the land. That does not happen in ordinary commercial banking circles. It is because of this special provision that quite a new procedure is being adopted in Section 9, a most helpful procedure as we have all indicated to the Minister.

I regret the Minister has not seen his way to accept this amendment. There is nothing more I can say about it, except that the Minister for Finance has on occasion chided us rather sternly that we on this side of the House never make a good suggestion and that if we did so, he would examine it. On this occasion, we have made a suggestion which I am convinced is good, equitable and just as between all parties. The Minister should take second thought on this amendment which, on further examination, he will find is good, proper and just.

Is the amendment being withdrawn?

I suppose there is nothing for it but to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill received for final consideration and passed.