Land Bill, 1984: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak briefly on this Bill. I would like to compliment the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Deputy Connaughton, for the work and thought he has given to the land question over the last few months. However, it takes a great deal of research to follow this Bill. The explanatory memorandum could have been a little fuller. It is an opportune time for the Government to review landholding and land leasing with a view to introducing a leasing system for some areas. The Minister's intervention will be generally welcomed if he does not attempt to interfere with the three Fs, which have been a very significant force and have produced a lot of blood, sweat and tears for over 100 years. If the Minister is able to avoid that his work will be successful and the agricultural industry will respond to his efforts.

I am rather disappointed that provision is not made in this rather comprehensive document for the cut-over bogs in the central plane of Ireland. Bord na Móna have approximately 5,000 acres of cut-over bog. This acreage will increase in the next decade to about 80,000 acres. They have altogether a quarter of a million acres. The greatest proportion of this land was purchased, confiscated, CPO'd or whatever one likes to call it, for sums ranging from half a crown per acre up. It is a national disgrace that neither the Government nor Bord na Móna have yet come up with a policy to deal with this national resource. It will be a deplorable situation if this generation allow the creation of a new brown desert in the heart of Ireland towards the end of this century. While I am aware that an interdepartmental committee have been sitting since 1977 and they have representatives of practically all the interested parties involved, I am disappointed that they have shown a certain lack of progress over the last five years. It is absolutely unacceptable. I expected that there would be a provision in this Bill which we have been anticipating for some time.

The Land Commission have almost gone out of business. There will be many a dry eye after them. This agency were set up with the best of intentions. Their scope for changing the face of Ireland was readily recognised but, because of the never-ending shenanigans they carried on, or they succumbed to interference their demise will not be missed. They are leaving undone the job they were charged with doing. The Minister, in this Bill, will not be able to bridge that gap. That is the great disgrace of this century. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century the people charged with land policy gave a tremendous inheritance to the people who followed them, which we still enjoy today. Even in this Bill I regret that the Minister is not enhancing the work done by Davitt and Dillon, as well as James Fintan Lalor from my county and that it is of a less beneficial nature.

I would like to refer the Minister to section 4. I would like to ask him if I am reading section 4 (1) (b) correctly. If we take the case of a farmer with a half yearly payment to the Irish Land Commission on foot of his folio of 15 shillings per year, am I to take it that the Minister now has power to waive that? If his purchase was made under the 1883 land purchase scheme he would be coming to the end of his payments. Some of them would nearly be up. Am I reading this correctly, that the Minister now has power to discontinue the collection of those small amounts? Under subsection (1) (b) will he now have the power to levy his own charge on the tenant? What exactly does that subsection mean? I have read it and re-read it and it is quite confusing. Section 4 (1) (a) states:

The Minister for Agriculture may, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, waive, and shall be deemed always to have had power to waive, the payment of any sum of less than £2 falling due for payment on or after 1st day of November, 1979, being a sum due in respect of—

(i) a purchase annuity,

(ii) a land reclamation annuity,

(iii) any other annual payment to the Land Commission.

I assume that the land reclamation annuity would be from the old B plan of the 1949 land drainage scheme. That facility where farmers were able to avail of the reclamation scheme continued for a number of years into the fifties. Tremendous work was achieved by that because it got across to farmers in every county the benefits that existed and the improvement that could be made to land by proper land reclamation procedures and practices carried out under professional supervision.

Section 4 (1) (b) states:

The Minister for Agriculture may, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, by order substitute another amount for the amount mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection and that subsection shall apply and have effect in accordance with the provisions of any such order for the time being in force.

I do not know what that means if it does not mean that the Minister has taken unto himself power to waive annuities that are petering out by virtue of the fact that the Land Purchase Acts were in the last century. I expect they would be coming to the end of their repayment. The Land Commission over the years agreed to redemption of many of these small amounts and in other cases have not agreed to people redeeming their annuities. I do not know why that should be. If, as this section would suggest to me, the Government now propose to introduce a new kind of rent or to extend the payment of increased annuities, I am absolutely appalled. I do not wish to make any further comment on that until we have an opportunity on Committee Stage to hear the Minister explain this. I am confident that my interpretation of this section is faulty.

We read in the papers this week that the Government and the Minister for Agriculture propose to introduce a new land purchase tax. While it does not arise directly under this Bill——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator should be careful.

We are talking about land purchase annuities. It is possible that it may be connected. I do not for a moment accept everything that I read in the national media because it is very seldom that Government statements, documents or press releases are published verbatim. I would like to avail of the opportunity to remind the Minister that, if my memory serves me correctly, in the 1965 Act when the Government of the day introduced a surcharge to deter non-nationals from purchasing land, which was the rage almost 20 years ago, it proved absolutely useless to combat the people who were coming in and buying up the larger farms and estates throughout the country. The surcharge under that Act was something like 25 per cent. I am speaking entirely from memory.

I do not see, if the Government's proposal is as the papers suggest, how it will have the desired effect. I hope the Minister will give very careful consideration to the proposals he now seems to envisage. I do not think imposing any sort of penal taxation will have any great effect on the transfer of ownership of land. I know it is quite frustrating for people such as the Minister or the Land Commission to find, in relation to the occasional landlord with many hundreds of acres, some of these people buying up everything that comes on the market, in many cases to the detriment of the small farmer who is trying to eke out a living and whose holding with an additional acreage would prove very beneficial to him and become much more economic.

That would be a disastrous way for the Government to do this and it would not be a good way of raking in additional taxes. I found it confusing too, when the Minister in his Second Reading speech advocated the optimum usage for all lands. Is all the Government land utilised to the optimum advantage?

If I were talking to the Minister for Lands it would be an embarrassing question to ask him because the present embargo policy on recruitment to the public service is having a disastrous effect on the Forestry and Wildlife service. Here we have the only productive sector in the public service where by natural wastage, forestry workers who are retiring are only being replaced one for each three who retire. It means that the management and the husbandry of our forests is falling into decline. This is not in the national interest because thousands of acres of forests will not mature as commercial timber but will have to be relegated to either pulp wood or fire wood. If there is a case for derogation from that — I know it is not exactly the Minister's area of responsibility — it is important that land under Government ownership should be utilised to the fullest and should be a shining example of top class husbandry because Government lands should have the resources of the State behind them.

People are not born equal whether we like it or not and some people are able to utilise their property to a much greater degree than others. We must recognise that. Some people need much more help. This entire question of land is the most vexed question that one can come across. I am glad that the Minister is moving in this direction. He should make haste slowly because Land Bills do not come through the Oireachtas that often.

Another appropriate area that we should look at is the entire farm modernisation scheme which comes under Directive 161 of the Common Agricultural Policy. The Minister here should reintroduce land reclamation grants for all rather than have, as at present, the position where once the modernisation plan is completed, after six years no grants are available. In the farm modernisation scheme there should be at least national grants available for land reclamation because it is something that will be of great advantage to the country as a whole. Many farmers find, especially since for two-third's of the first six-year plan period, the agricultural industry has been in recession, they have not been able to get around to carrying out all the improvements to their land that probably were envisaged originally. I ask the Minister to look closely at the question of making it easier for people to reclaim their land and especially to drain their land.

It is one thing to give a farmer more land so that he will have a more economic holding but if you can improve his economic worth by enabling him to improve his land by reclamation inducements or reduced interest rates on loans for reclamation purposes, it would be better than just leasing land to him. I hope the Minister will look closely at this and perhaps reintroduce the national land reclamation scheme for those people who have not been able successfully to reclaim all their land during the period of the farm modernisation scheme.

We also have the problem of farmers who are in the other low, and to a lesser extent the other high categories for the farm modernisation scheme. These people have been unfairly deprived of development grants. I agree that as far as buildings are concerned it would not be as easy to argue for the retention or extension. On the land reclamation side it is imperative that the greatest possible acreage should be made available to aim at the utilisation of all our land.

There are quite a number of points I want to pursue on Committee Stage. I expect that most of the queries I have will be answered by the Minister. The point that I find most contentious is that there is not a tremendous incentive to move people away from full ownership of the land on which they were born and, in most cases, where generations of their families have been born. I am sure the difficulties that people endure in order to hold on to their holdings are passed down from father to son, right through the generations. For that reason land is something that people hold on to.

I note that the Minister has not taken account in the Bill of the fact that the farm retirement scheme has not been the great success many of us thought it would be. The underlying reason for that in my view is not something dealing with the principle of land leasing but the fact that in cases where the acreage is quite small and the pension comes to £20 over the means test for the non-contributory old age pension, the people who opted for the farm retirement scheme are at a complete disadvantage compared with their neighbours who did not avail of that scheme and who applied for and got the old age pension. That is a problem. It would not cost the State very much if the fringe benefits that are afforded to people on non-contributory old age pensions were also offered to people on the farm retirement scheme. Those people are in the autumn of their lives. They are a category of people who have always paid their way, have always met their commitments and are very conscious of being able to meet their overheads. That has been the tradition through difficult decades. They must see that it is an economic step for them. When you are talking about people on an income of £30 or £40 a week then a small concession towards that might have the desired effect and might bring considerably more land into the pool for the Minister to reallocate.

I hope that the Land Commission will be revamped, that the work they originally undertook will be tackled with greater vigour. I do not know how the Minister will achieve that but I accept that he has made tremendous progress in the short period he has been in office. I know that people who do not raise too much dust in their offices always remain very popular. I am confident that the Minister will face the challenges and endeavour to improve the situation.

I accept that some of the criticisms I have offered here this evening are not 100 per cent relevant to the Land Bill, 1984. Nevertheless, there is a tie-up there and if we place ourselves in the shoes of the people whom this Bill is designed to help, encourage and assist in expanding their holdings, we realise that they will be looking at the other angles I have mentioned which will certainly impinge on them.

With a return on capital of 2½ per cent, the lowest form of return on any investment in this or any other country, agriculture is not in a position to take on additional surcharges, whether on the sale of land or in respect of annuities. I hope the Government will look long and hard at these press statements to ensure that the effect of this legislation will be positive and will bring about an improvement in the area of land structure.

I hope that in the counties bordering on the central peat plain, Kildare, Offaly, Laois, Roscommon and parts of Galway, there will be some State or semi-State structure set up in the very near future to re-allocate the great landbank there so that it can be used for productive purposes. I hope that the Ministers concerned and the chief civil servants will go down to the Bord na Móna experimental farm in Clonsast and see the £1,000 two-year-old cattle that have been produced there in two years on what was industrial bog up to a few years ago, and then look at the small farmers who are bordering those areas. There must be a policy and the first people to benefit from a re-allocation or a division of Bord na Móna lands should be the small farmers who are bordering the bogs. The size of their holdings should be brought up to an acceptable standard. The centre of the bog area should be allocated into appropriately sized farms for the kind of soil structure that is there. Whether it would be viable or feasible for even a whiz-kid young farmer to take on a 100-acre farm from scratch without having any mineral soil land to go with it is a question that has to be scientifically tackled. We only have the coming decade to decide on that. This is an area in which the Minister must interest himself. There are 250,000 acres there which have the potential to carry a great number of farming families. On the other hand we must also see if a portion of that land can be utilised for agri-industrial purposes, because through industrialisation of that landbank we could expect to maintain a high number of the industrial jobs that Bord na Móna have provided in these areas for the last 50 years. We are entitled to expect a continuation of that service.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is the Senator drifting from the Bill?

I was still on section 4.

I welcome the Bill and wish it every success. It is a Bill merely to make it possible to lease land. To get people to offer the land for leasing and others to take it is another matter. It will take a lot of talking and a lot of convincing before we will get many of the older people to avail of this. Younger people will avail of it before older people will do so. Somehow or another with older people there is a type of stigma — if you let your land on the 11-month system or lease it you are a broken farmer. Rather than do that, they are prepared to keep the land. It is the same as the stigma which attached to the county homes, as they were then known. There is no such thing now as a county home, but the buildings are there still under another name and there are some people who would sooner die on the roadside than go into a building like that. When you went into the county home it meant you did not have money or anything else. We will come up against this sort of thing.

I do not expect any Government to give special concessions to those who will lease their land or those who take the land. I feel that the farming organisations in particular will have to put weight behind this. I happened to be at a meeting not too long ago at which the Minister was present. It was a meeting called by Macra na Feirme in Boherlahane at which the people from Macra na Feirme, the IFA, the co-operative movement and so on spoke only about 100-acre farms and 100 cow milk men. I am interested in the small farmer and he is the man who could gain most from this leasing. Under the 11-month system that was in operation the small farmer never got a chance of getting that land because when it was put up for public auction the big farmer was there to eat it up and the small farmer had to do without it because he could not pay the price the big farmer could. The result was that the small farmer stayed small and never got an opportunity to become a bigger farmer unless he would get land from the Land Commission.

One million acres of land are supposed to be derelict. All this land is not owned by old people. Indeed, some of the old people I know are far better farmers than some of the younger farmers. Much land is not being properly worked to its full advantage. Some of it is owned by younger farmers and by people with other business interests. People with big businesses in towns have invested their money by purchasing land in the country. They are not working that land to its full advantage. I know several farms purchased in that manner and under the previous owners they were far better worked than they are today. The Land Commission should have a close look at this type of farm.

Social welfare has been mentioned. I have been on old age pensions committees for 30 years but they are about to be abolished. We had the case coming up time and time again of the small farmer with maybe 20 or 30 acres of land. He may not have been married or, if he was, he had no family, so therefore he could not make over the land to a son or daughter. It might have been a bit risky to make it over to his first cousin or a niece or nephew. He would not get the old age pension if he were to let the land, because he would have a few pounds more than would qualify him for the pension. He just ran his farm low. He kept a few cattle which kept him occupied and gave him just enough to keep him going. I always felt very sorry for that type of man because we had the other type of farmer with 300 or 400 acres of very good land in South Tipperary. He was able to make the farm over to the son or the daughter and he could live in the house, enjoying everything he had before and getting his full pension. I always thought that there was something very unfair about this. I felt that social welfare should have some special scheme for the small farmer in this position. The same applies to income tax. I know widows and such people who let their land and got a bill from the Revenue Commissioners for income tax on unearned income. Income from the letting of land was regarded as unearned income. I never agreed with this because people might be making more out of the land if they were working it themselves than they were by letting it, but this was the only way they could manage at that time because there might be a young family or something like that.

It has been suggested that the advantage of leasing as against the 11-month system is that when a person takes land on the 11-month system he is likely to abuse the land. I am afraid that land will be abused even more under the leasing system because a person will take land for ten years. He will do a good job on the land for seven or eight years. If he knows by that time that the lease will not be renewed at the end of the ten years, I am quite sure he will not spend much money on that land for the last two years. He will get what he can out of it without putting anything into it. How that can be safeguarded against I do not know. When the land is leased a guarantee should be given that on the expiry of the lease it will be returned to the owner in the same condition. If the man who leases the land builds it up and doubles his herd of cows he will be a very worried man if he feels that at the end of the ten-year period the lease will not be renewed. The family who own the land may want to take it over again. Questions will be asked about such matters and there must be some clarification.

My chief concern is for the small farmer. I live in an area where there are a number of small farmers and they will not get much of a chance to lease land or take land under this scheme. I hope that this leasing scheme is not an excuse for getting rid of the Land Commission because the Land Commission are the only hope that those small farmers have. The Land Commission have been ridiculed and people say from time to time that they have outlived their usefulness. I do not agree. I know that the Land Commission in their early days did much useful work. During the thirties and the forties huge estates were divided all over the country and large numbers of landless men and smallholders got land from the Land Commission.

What has really happened is that the Land Commission have slowed down. I cannot understand the system they operate. If a farm goes up for sale in an area and the local people think it should be taken over and distributed amongst them, they hold a meeting and go to the Land Commission. The Land Commission must refer it from the local office to Dublin. By the time the Land Commission decide to go ahead and buy this farm or place an order on it, the farm is sold. That does not always happen but it happens in many cases. I cannot understand why they cannot act instantly when it is drawn to their attention that there is a farm for sale in which a number of small farmers are interested. This would definitely solve many of our land division problems. When eventually the Land Commission take over a farm for division. I have known them to hold that farm in their possession for seven or eight years before distributing it. They let it either for grazing or tillage. I have seen some of their farms that were let for tillage in County Tipperary for seven and eight years running, with the result that when they were finally divided the land was no use to the farmers for at least three or four years because they had to build it up again. When one inquires when such a place will be allocated, the reply may be that it will be allocated either in January or February. The man who gets the farm gets it on his own merits but the man who does not get the farm feels that the blame rests with the politicians.

Enemies are often made over land division. I do not believe that politicians ever had much influence over the division of land, but people seem to think they have. We are told that the land will be divided next spring; then spring arrives and it is not divided and there is no reason given. Some other applicant must have come into the picture and the facts are investigated again and another year passes by. Much of this work could be cut out. I have seen quite a number of Ministers come and go in the Land Commission since I came to this House and before. They all came in with a great flourish of trumpets thinking that all those things could be done, yet they failed to do it. If the present Minister is able to do it, he will be a great man. It is the system in the civil service which must be to blame for all of this.

In the letting of grazing land by the Land Commission, their greatest concern is that the herd must be free from tuberculosis. One of our greatest problems in regard to bovine TB is that a man who has a herd free from tuberculosis may be joined by two or three other farmers whose herds are not free from tuberculosis.

I wish the Minister well with this Bill. He has quite a lot of hard work to do, as have all of us in the different political and farming organisations, to make the Bill a success.

I unreservedly welcome the Bill. It is the first initiative in the area of land tenure legislation since 1965. Our Irish land tenure system has its own peculiarities, and one of its most outstanding oddities is the 11-months letting system. This is an oddity in that, by and large, it deploys the land given to its tenure in a very inefficient manner. Because of its leading feature, which is insecurity of tenure, land farmed under it is badly managed and often abused. This is the natural upshot because the lessor every year in letting the land will look for the highest bidder, while the lessee will always try to get as much as possible out of the land because he knows he may not be there for very long. It always happens then that the principles of good husbandry like fertiliser use, seeding, weed control, boundary maintenance and so on are all ignored. That is only natural because of the very nature of the system.

The proper context in which to view this abuse and waste of resources is in relation to the well-compiled statistic that one million acres of agricultural land in the Republic are farmed under this shortterm letting system, about one-twelfth of all the usable land in the State. God has finished making land in Ireland, as he has finished making it everywhere else, but when we consider the pivotal economic role of agriculture in this country, it would be only mild to describe this as an awful waste.

The Bill under discussion provides in a very imaginative way for a new set of procedures which should shift land letting in our system to a much more long-term arrangement. This can be only for the good. It formalises an arrangement in a legal framework by which the lessee can, by agreement with the lessor, rent the land for an agreed long term of three years, five years, ten years or whatever, with legally guaranteed security of tenure which helps to lead to better management, greater output, better income and a contribution to greater exports which will boost the national income. The advantages for the lessor, on the other hand, are an agreed arrangement on price over the period of the lease and an almost certain guarantee that the land will appreciate in value over the period to a greater degree than would otherwise happen, because of better husbandry and lack of abuse. Benefits are the lessor's tenure security and the guarantee that the holding will be handed back on the expiry of the lease with no strings attached. There can be no legal claims for burdens placed or compensation for disturbance, which can be a feature of our existing renting system.

The selling of this new but eminently commonsense idea as part of our land tenure system is absolutely crucial. We, as public representatives, have a very special responsibility to encourage it in the national interest. Others, too, have a pivotal responsibility — the farming and the rural organisations, the co-operatives, the agricultural advisory services, people providing agricultural consultancy and people like auctioneers and solicitors who play an extremely important role in advising and arranging such lettings.

Ranged against the advice and blandishments towards this new departure will be the traditional attitudes more entrenched in the farming side than in any other walk of life in Ireland. There will be many older landowners who will view entering into a long-term lease as being tantamount to giving away their land. There will be the general fear that the formula under discussion will lead to the placing of legal burdens or incumbrances, the fear of attracting unfavourable notice from the Land Commission, the fear of what such a contract might do to the eligibility for old age pensions or social welfare payments.

Some will express the fear — many genuinely, more no doubt mischievously — that long-term tenancies amount to a new form of landlordism. Where this fear is genuinely expressed, it is not surprising in that we are only about three generations away from the land war.

I greatly welcome the Minister's provisions that render most of these fears groundless. There is an assurance that the Land Commission will not seek to acquire any lands which are the subject of the new lease arrangements and that they will not accept any claims for tenancies in respect of tenancies made recently or from now on. The amendment of provisions of the old Land Acts which could lead to the placing of legal burdens or other such complications under the new lease as proposed is particularly welcome, to dispel the fear a lessor may have that long-term tenancy might establish a right of at least limited ownership by a person renting the land.

Most welcome, too, is the fact that the Minister has ensured that the Minister for Social Welfare included in the recent Social Welfare Bill provision for new rules of assessment of means for old age pension and social welfare payments to be brought into effect where land is being leased. This provision will give a very favourable regime of means testing to an old age pensioner or to a social welfare recipient who would opt to lease his or her land, usually to a much younger person.

The Minister has gone the full distance in his legislative proposals to protect the interests of both parties, as far as that is possible under the law. The fears that are rooted in attitudes and very often understandable prejudices, must be dispelled by careful explanation and by the united effort of all of us charged with responsibility to give a lead in the interest of progress.

I congratulate the Minister on the provision in the Bill which places a special responsibility on officers of the Land Commission who are to be employed in selling the measure and assisting where difficulties arise. We can only hope that will be followed by similar leads elsewhere.

I would now like to turn to the area of future legislation on land structure reform. I have no doubt that the Minister will, in the near future, bring such legislation before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I will bore nobody if I restate the general situation of land use and its various products in the economy. Despite problems with the Common Agricultural Policy and surpluses in the highly consumer-oriented affluent society markets to which we sell most of our products, nothing still holds a greater potential for growth or potential to add to, greatly to enhance the national income by export earnings, than the produce of our land. But our peculiar structural set up and the attitudes built into it are a greater blocking mechanism and an agent for stymieing growth than bad business activity among our farmers, bad husbandry and the lack of the entrepreneurial drive. Nevertheless, agriculture still accounts for almost one-fifth of the gross national product. It accounts for at least one-third of all exports. Twenty per cent of the workforce are directly engaged in farming. Thousands of people are employed outside the area of primary agriculture in the agri-related areas such as food processing, transportation, engineering and so on. Against this background of inescapable and central importance to all our livelihoods we have the most immobile and often very peculiar land structure set up. That is, of course, a natural corollary of our particular land history.

Amost 95 per cent of all usable land is owner-occupied. That must be the highest degree of owner occupancy, I would say, in the world. While this is excellent in itself, it has one major drawback: it leads to poor land mobility from older management to younger people who would like to take up farming. Twenty five per cent of holdings are still held by people who are 65 years of age. That is quite remarkable. The average in EEC countries for holdings being held by people of 65 years or over is approximately 7 per cent. This has obvious economic social ramifications in that it perpetuates the wrong attitude, which places greater emphasis on ownership rather than usage. Regarding the size of our farms, even today 30 per cent of farms nationally are under 30 acres. That figure hides certain provincial variations. For instance, in my own province of Connacht, or even including the three Ulster counties, over 50 per cent of farms are under 30 acres. This is in an area where land is poorest and the climate is less kind. That may have been forgotten by the Department of Social Welfare in their recent onslaught on the small farmers' dole in the west. All of those farms, with a few exceptions, must be seen as uneconomic and not yielding anything close to a comparable income. Indeed most farms under 50 acres in the State — they account for 60 per cent of all farms in the country — must be seen as uneconomic or as nearly so as makes no difference. One could go on for days enumerating the various deficiencies and problems in our whole land structure.

We might ask ourselves what has been done in the past or what is being done now about the whole area of land structure reform: indeed might I say until the Minister, Deputy Connaughton, came along very little or almost nothing. The Irish Land Commission, which is supposed to act as the Government's agent of land structure reform and land redistribution, has been moribund for years. Since the publication of a Government While Paper on land policy by the previous Government in 1980 which found that the traditional role of the commission of acquiring land and redistribution to local congests no longer met current needs — that recommendation was adopted, at least unofficially, as then Government policy — the meaningful role of the Land Commission has died.

I would advise the Minister in the proposals he will be bringing forward, to scrap the Land Commission. I would urge him to establish a completely new land agency which would promote and carry out a radical reform programme which is what we need. That would have to be carried out within the constitutional framework which guarantees the rights of private property. I am sure all sides of the House would agree that the State must have power to regulate the land market especially where the interests of farmers who are below or about the economic margins are concerned and those farmers who have a potential for increased output and who maintain a family in conditions of economic viability. Their interests must be seen as paramount as against the interests of people who wish only to acquire land for social status or for speculation or just as an inflation hedge. New laws on land tenure must put such purchasers at some financial disadvantage while purchases for genuine family farm expansion or for the establishment of a young competent farmer in business must be put at a positive financial advantage. I am sure that the Government and the Minister will take a careful look at how best this can be done and bring forward the appropriate legislative proposals.

The inter-departmental final report on Land Structure Reform published in 1978 is an excellent document with many proposals and options in this area. I would suggest that careful note be taken of them. I would urge that on the establishment of a completely new land agency to replace the Land Commission it be given full charge to implement public land policy. I do not believe that entrusting such powers to the Land Commission would work. The Land Commission, in the past, has been shown to have been dogged by slow procedures, by a legalistic approach that at times almost amounted to a judicial approach. Such approaches have earned the Land Commission many critics. If it takes three years on average for the Land Commission to acquire a holding and a further average of three years to redistribute it, whatever the legal or administrative difficulties that lead to that kind of delay it is only natural that a small farmer who has been waiting for many years for an augmentation of his holding cannot readily understand that.

First, I would urge that a new land agency would retain most of the powers vested in the Land Commission at present but that such an agency would have up-dated powers. It should have separate and well-staffed sections to deal in an up-to-date and urgent manner with group purchases, with the rearrangement of fragmented holdings, long term leasing as we discussed it here today, with farm retirement and with inter-family farm transfers. Such an agency must be set apart from politics. It must be seen to be impartial. It should have full powers to administer public policy in the land area. It should have an executive at least of people with particular competence. Such people should be competent or expert in farming, in the agri-business and of course in public administration.

I do not make any of those suggestions from any standpoint of being anti-Land Commission. There has been much criticism of the Land Commission during this debate. I fully agree that during the 100 years of its existence it has done an immense amount of good work. It has acquired and redistributed many of the great estates in the country. It has created thousands of viable holdings and indeed it has contributed in a major way to creating one of the most stable rural societies in the world in this country. It is just that its procedures have become outmoded with the passage of time and its functions no longer meet today's needs. The very name "Commission" smacks of the nineteenth century. Gladstone in England had a marvellous penchant for establishing commissions to look into all kinds of problems and social ills throughout the kingdom and throughout the colonies, and the Irish Land Commission is a product of that age of reform.

In conclusion, and without engaging in flattery I would like to congratulate the Minister on his public attitude towards land reform, especially in the area of land structure reform. Unlike most of his predecessors who failed to grasp this nettle, he is the one who has publicly pinned his colours to the mast in stating that he recognises many of the deficiencies in our system. He has the will and the imagination and he wants to have the power to change much of what is wrong in our total land owning and land structure set-up.

Senator McDonald quoted Fintan Lalor. In the nineteenth century Fintan Lalor was looking at the land problem in terms of landlordism and the land war and he said: "There exists in every Irish cottage a man who will bark for Home Rule but he will bite for land." We have many powerful people in public life in this country, now and in the past, who were willing to bark about what was wrong with our land system and our land structure but very few of them were willing to bite on the very difficult bullet of what we would need to do to reform it. Without engaging in flattery I believe the Minister has the courage and the imagination to bite on that all-important bullet. He has certainly the support of people like me in that area and in that quest.

As one of many Senators with a rural background I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Bill. I want to declare at the outset that my sympathies are totally with the farmers, particularly, as in Senator Willie Ryan's case, with the small farmer. I welcome the Bill in so far as it helps to deal with the problem of land mobility and I feel it will deal with the problem. It is a good start.

Since I spent my youth as a farm worker I feel that I understand fairly fully the trials and tribulations of farmers. For the same reason I am conscious of the dynamism and magnetism as well as the satisfaction that is attached to the farmer's role. In my early years I knew of elderly farmers who, on Sundays in summer, went out into the fields and spent hours watching their cattle grazing. One old farmer confided to me that he looked forward to the experience on a Sunday the same way as a GAA enthusiast would look forward to a visit to Croke Park to support his county team in the championship. I believe that farming is a vocation and a way of life that derives its magnetism from a proximity to nature and its unique dynamism from a necessary instinct to survive. I have spent day after day in remote fields, alone but never lonely, whereas I have experienced — like so many more — the terrible loneliness of the crowded city. The point I want to make is that farming is a very full life, a very difficult life but a very unique and important one also.

For those reasons, among others, I believe that the farmer is entitled to special treatment. Even the Commission of the European Communities, in its publication "Relaunching Europe; Agricultural policy target 1988" states that all countries in some way or another give agriculture a particular role and special treatment compared with other sectors of the economy.

I do not incline to the view that old or elderly farmers should be put out to grass indiscriminately. This is particularly so when for most of them it is a pasture poor with greedy weeds. I join with other members in asking for an attractive new farm retirement scheme which instead of the present unsatisfactory situation would provide pleasant meads. By these means the dignity of elderly farmers would be respected and their expertise would not be lost. Needless to say I include farmers' wives here.

It is heartening to hear the Minister say that he is examining the possibilities for partnership arrangements or phased transfer of management between owner and heir. This should go some way in contributing to a solution of the problem of late inheritance.

It seems to me that this Bill was preceded with considerable publicity and heralding of trumpets. The result is that apparently some people are disappointed with the Bill. They have received it critically and with very little enthusiasm. For example, an editorial in theFarmers Journal on March 10 of this year states:

The proposed legislation does little more than remove the legal obstacles to land leasing; it will prevent squatter rights claims and will recognise land leasing as a legitimate form of Irish land tenure.

The Government proposals, however, do not in the least help to build up a momentum of demand for leaseholds.

The editorial concludes as follows:

To sum up, the development of land leasing is nationally desirable. If leasing is to progress, there must be more than enabling legislation. We must offer direct leasing incentives to less active farmers. We must plan establishment grants and interest subsidies to enable young lease-holders establish viable farming operations.

There is no question that this Bill is a frontal attack on the conacre and 11 months systems of letting. I believe that both these systems are a feature of the Irish method of letting, conacre in particular. I was interested in the derivation of the word "conacre", because it seemed to me that it has possibilities in finding out, for example, who was being conned. It turns out that it is simply a shortening of the words "corn acre". This applies to land that was tilled, but the 11 months system applied mainly to pastureland. In theory I can see the reasoning in the argument that this is a bad system. Yet, I feel that over the years there were many people who benefited from this system. Indeed, in my own case, growing up as a young lad, we benefited too with the small allotment of land we had. Widows and elderly farmers and people who were unable to cultivate or till their land benefited through this system. With this system the auctioneer, back over the years, was a very important individual and filled a very important role. He advised the farmer on the value of the land and in other areas as well; for example he advised him on taxation, on the schooling of his children, where they should go and various other areas. The auctioneer filled a very important social role, and now the position is that the auctioneer is being pushed out, perhaps to make room for lawyers. I have a copy of the master lease produced by Allied Irish Banks Limited and the Irish Farmers Association with the co-operation of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. It is a very complicated legal document and is one on which a farmer would need a lawyer's advice on the different clauses therein. Apparently in this regard the lawyer will take over to some extent and the auctioneer will be pushed out to a considerable extent. I can see a difficulty here in the case of somebody leasing their land in determining what would be a just and proper price to get for it. Over the short period of one year, it is easy to anticipate what prices will prevail and what to charge for leasing, but over a longer term there will be considerable difficulty. I am not sure who will fulfil this role. ACOT and the co-ops are mentioned: I am sure that they will not be able to cater on the broad scale that will be necessary. Over the years, auctioneers, as well as fulfilling those roles, were really bankers to many people, which is a very important area. Altogether auctioneers filled a very worthwhile role.

I should like to ask the Minister what he envisages will be the situation with regard to leasing as I believe the fees which auctioneers received from lettings made up a very large proportion of their income. I also believe that in regard to the letting of land on the 11-month system, the Land Commission was one of the worst offenders. In some cases, I understand that land was let for up to ten years. I can understand that there would be problems in the allocation of land in determining who should receive what, but over that period such delays were completely unjustified.

Over a considerable number of years, 25 years or more, there has been a demand for this legislation. A book published in 1974 by Des Maguire of the Land Commission — one which I was interested enough to get at that time — dealt with this problem with regard to land mobility and made the case for long term leasing of land. Until recently it was long term leasing of land that was in question. One of the criticisms which I have of the Bill is that it does not state a minimum period of leasing. Des Maguire in 1974, it seems to me though he did not state this specifically in this book, was recommending a period of 12 years for a lease. Also, in his book he dealt with long term leasing in Europe: in countries like Holland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and Italy. Apparently, even at that time leasing was popular on the Continent. There is no reason why it should not be successful here. In a later book published this year he went into the question of leasing and he stated, as follows, on page 57:

Term leasing allows freehold ownership to be retained. It encourages long term planning and development at a relatively low capital cost, when compared with the scale of land purchase and consequential development costs. It allows the available capital of the farmer to be invested in actual farming development rather than in the heavier commitment of land purchase. It can provide a realistic and secure annual income to the owner through the rent received and the provision for regular rent reviews during the term of the lease.

The Interdepartmental Committee on Land Structure Reform, in its interim report published in 1977, stated in relation to the system of letting and leasing, on page 16:

It was submitted to the Committee that in the interests of developing long term leasing in land, the 11-month and conacre systems should be made illegal. We do not consider that such a measure is possible or desirable. Informal neighbourly arrangements could not be monitored for this purpose. Conacre has been shown to be managed to good husbandry standards — and to make it illegal might result in even less land becoming available for tillage farming. We feel that any necessary curbs on these short term lettings can only be implemented indirectly in the context of a more comprehensive set of measures aimed at discouraging the under-utilisation of land.

Paragraph 27 of the same report says:

Apart from the foregoing, the Committee recommends that the practice of medium to long term leasing should be actively supported. Initial emphasis might be on mid- to long-term (six years minimum) leases. We propose to consider further the incentives that might be offered to encourage this form of leasing. In any case the agency should provide the necessary legal back-up for a leasing system, this to include model leases.

In its final report, the Interdepartmental Committee on Land Structure Reform, in May 1978 stated under the heading "Long-term Land Leases":

Almost 25 years ago the Commission on Emigration suggested that Irish farming would benefit from a more widespread system of long term leasing. Since then, leasing has been a recurrent theme in land policy discussions.

In the Four-Year Plan for Agriculture which was published in the last few days, I should like to quote a paragraph on page 125, which deals with leasing:

Public policy and public discussion should encourage farmers to accept that ownership of land and the use of it do not have to be vested in the same person and that the letting of land for a period can be of positive advantage to both parties. Leasing for relatively short periods, say five years or so, should be encouraged initially, rather than on insisting on a period of 12 years or more. A model lease is now available and this will be of assistance to prospective contracting parties. Both parties to the lease should have adequate appreciation of their respective rights and obligations. Fear on the part of farmers that their ownership of the land will be infringed in some way if they lease it, is likely to make them reluctant to enter into leases. It would be important to dispel this fear. Certainly any dormant legislative provisions which might be seen as a deterrent to leasing should be revoked as early as possible.

Of course all this has been covered in this Bill.

There is a kind of vagueness about the length of a proper letting. I have seen in other circumstances that three years have been suggested as a minimum. This would be a matter that could be cleared up in the Bill, and a definite period set down.

I must ask the Senator to move the adjournment.

I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 5.30 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.