A Chinn Chomhairle, the Bill which I am now introducing has for its purpose the completion of Land Purchase, and, in view of its importance, I must ask the indulgence of the Dáil to make a longer statement than is usually made on a First Reading. It may be too much to say that it is the first Land Bill ever introduced in an Irish Parliament, but at least it is the first for more than a hundred years. It may be also too much to expect that it will be the last; but, such as it is, its main purpose is to complete the work that was begun in the year 1870, and which was continued all during the latter half of the last century, and which is still unfinished. This is the seventh measure of its kind. As a result of the operation of previous Land Acts, 400,000 homesteads have been set up, the property of the occupiers. A rental of £7,000,000 has been purchased and about £130,000,000 of Land Stock has been issued. These figures represent a great achievement, and they are in the main the work of the Land Act of 1903. We are all the captains of our time, and, for its time, the Wyndham Act of 1903 was a great measure. Its foundations were laid in Ireland by Irish representatives, by the Land Conference of 1902, and the men who composed that Conference and the man who was responsible for giving its findings legislative effect builded even better than they knew. They effected a revolution which, I do not think it is too much to say, ranks in importance above every other event since the Union until we come to the Revolution which ended with the Treaty and the repeal of the Union. Seventy thousand tenancies, with an annual rental of between £800,000 and £1,000,000, are still to be purchased. This figure includes all tenancies, judicial, non-judicial, present, future. I use, of course, the words "present" and "future" in their technical sense, future tenancies being tenancies created since 1883, and in respect of which the occupiers have not the right to go into the Land Courts. We are dealing with all tenancies, and when the operations under the Bill which I am now introducing are completed there will not be left, I hope, a single agricultural tenant or landlord in Ireland; there will only be owners of fee-simple. In one sense it is not a big problem. The unpurchased tenants are only a small minority compared with the tenants who have purchased, and an even smaller minority of the total population of the country. That is one point of view. From other points of view it is a very big and a very difficult question. It is a difficult question for many reasons. We have to deal with the problem at a time when we are only just emerging from an atmosphere of unreason and irresponsibility. The operations of this Bill will take between £25,000,000 and £30,000,000 to complete. Almost £50,000,000 in hard cash has been wasted during the last twelve months in wanton destruction, and it is quite impossible to compute the sum which has been wasted in consequential damage. Apart from these reasons there is an additional reason, that the State, in common with all its neighbours, is unable to borrow money on the terms on which money was borrowed for the purposes of previous Land Acts. These are some of the matters which make the task at the moment extremely difficult and intricate. We recognise, however, that these difficulties must be faced and, as far as possible, overcome, and we feel that we will have the co-operation of all parties in the Dáil and of every man of good-will in the country in that task.
The Dáil will recollect that at the recent Conference the representatives of the landlords and the tenants were unable to agree as to prices or arrears. The question in regard to prices can be stated quite simply; the difference is merely as to amount. The tenants have their own way of envisaging the question. They ask themselves what deduction shall annuities represent as compared with present rents. They ask for a flat rate reduction—that is to say, that the same reduction should apply to judicial tenants, first, second, and third. As far as the tenants who have had their rents fixed before 1911 are concerned, that is sound. If a tenant who had his rent fixed between 1881 and 1896 failed to go into court in order to have a second rent fixed between 1896 and 1911, it is only fair to say that the omission was due to his belief that he could not get a reduction. Tenants are like the rest of us— they are not particularly anxious to pay more than their legal liability; but different considerations apply to tenants who have had their rents fixed after 1911. There are only about 5,000 outstanding unpurchased tenants in the whole country. Practically all these tenants went into court between 1911 and 1914, and practically all who went into court got reductions. Their neighbours missed the opportunity; they could hardly be expected to foresee the European War, and after the European War broke out, with its effects on prices and profits, it was, from the tenants' angle, out of the question to go into court. I say there are only 5,000 tenancies involved out of a total of about 70,000; but such as they are, they have got an advantage which their neighbours missed, and they cannot therefore be put on the same level that the unpurchased tenants urged—that is, they have failed, that they are at a disadvantage as against tenants who purchased under the previous Acts, that they are paying higher rents, and that some concession must be made to them in view of that fact. There are a number of reasons for the failure of the existing tenants to purchase. In some cases the landlords refuse to sell, and in others the tenants refuse to buy. Land stock began to fall shortly after issue, and fell rapidly after the outbreak of the European War. During the period of the war the British Treasury curtailed its advances for land purchase, and in addition, as a result of the effect of the war on profits and prices, there was not the same inducement for either tenants or landlords to buy or sell. The rents had become relatively unimportant. These are all the reasons for the existence of the present problem, and in view of them we cannot go into rights. At the same time the facts remain, and the Government have tried to keep all the relative facts in mind when fixing the tenant's annuity. In the light of all these facts we recommend, and the Bill provides, that tenants who have had their rents fixed before 1911 shall pay an annuity which shall be 35 per cent. reduction on their existing rents, and that the small number of tenants who have had the advantage of going into court after 1911 shall pay an annuity which shall be a reduction of 30 per cent. on their present rents. That is the tenants' side of the question.
With regard to the vendor, what price is the State to pay for a rent of £100 fixed before 1911? This is the first occasion on which an Irish Parliament is faced with a problem of acquiring property compulsorily. It may not be the last, and I am sure we can all agree that the issues which such a necessity raises, the implications of acquiring property compulsorily, are serious, and are not to be decided at haphazard. I do not propose on First Reading to produce elaborate figures. The Government have given to the question the consideration which its importance demands, and the price they suggest is a figure which approximates to 15 years' purchase. The tenant's annuity, therefore, is, in the case of this £100 rent we have been considering, £65. The purchase money will be paid in bonds with interest 4½ per cent. and sinking fund ¼ per cent. The capital value of £65 at 4¾ per cent is £1,368, a figure which falls seriously short of the price. If we were able to borrow money at the rates current prewar we could meet the case easily; if we were able to borrow money, 3 per cent. land stock at the rates current between 1911 and 1914 would produce between £1,500 and £1,600 for an annuity of £65. There is no use, however, in regrets, and we are faced with the problem now, and in the circumstances the Minister for Finance recommends that there be a State contribution in relief of the purchase money of the tenant of 10 per cent., which brings the figure to exactly £1,505. With regard to tenants who have had their rents fixed after 1911, they are receiving 30 per cent. reduction. In the case we have been just considering, £100 rent, the annuity would, therefore, be £70. The price will be the capitalised value of £70 at 4¾ per cent, plus 10 per cent. State contribution. Non-judicial holdings must be valued by the Land Commission. Rents vary over a very wide range, and there are no standard figures in any way, and standard reductions cannot be applied to them. The State, however, will make the same contribution of 10 per cent. towards the purchase money. This contribution will be confined exclusively to tenanted land. The price of untenanted land will be fixed by the Land Commission at a price which will be fair both to the Land Commission and the vendor. In order to relieve encumbered estates the Bill provides to make up in some way for the bonus which was payable under previous Acts, and which we cannot afford to pay, that landlords may redeem their encumbrances and their head rents in bonds, and not in cash. These are the provisions of the Bill in regard to price.
As I say, I will not produce at this stage elaborate figures to justify it. I will only say this, that in fixing these terms the Government have kept in mind our financial credit, and they have also kept in mind something that is much more important—what I will call our national credit. They wish to be fair both to the landlord and tenant. They wish to do justice to both; and in approaching the question from that point of view, we are supported by the knowledge that we are truly representing our constituents—not only truly representing the great majority of our constituents, but also truly representing the authentic traditions of our country.
With regard to the scope of the Bill, all tenancies are to be dealt with as I have said, and in addition, as far as possible, all uneconomic tenancies will be made economic. The difficulty in the way of effecting that purpose is not so much the shortage of land, but the shortage of land in the right places. For the relief of congestion, we propose to take up any land of any kind anywhere. We propose to take up, in the first place, automatically, all untenanted land in the congested districts, and afterwards, as it is required, we will acquire, compulsorily, untenanted land outside those districts. Evicted tenants who have been evicted since 1881 will be dealt with; and power is taken to make advances wherever land is available, to the sons of tenants and labourers and other suitable persons of that sort. The machinery of the Bill is quite simple. On the appointed day the holdings will vest in the Land Commission. Different appointed days will be named for the different estates and districts. The appointed day is the date on which the holdings vest in the Land Commission. On and as from that day the purchase money will be placed to the credit of the vendor, and the tenant will receive his reduction of 30 or 35 per cent. as the case may be. The interest in lieu of rent period is abolished. We have endeavoured, in this way, to avoid the delays and obstructions of the previous Acts. The Bill, of course, is essentially a Land Purchase Bill. But we recognise the necessity of dealing with the question of arrears. Any arrears that have accured due up to the first gale day of the year 1920 shall no longer be payable; and arrears since that date shall be payable subject to 25 per cent. reduction. One year of these arrears, subject to 25 per cent. reduction, will be paid immediately on the passing of the Bill; the balance, where there is a balance, will be paid according to the regulations to be made by the Land Commission. In settling these terms with regard to arrears we have to keep in mind the fact that until the landlord has received his purchase money, and is in a position to redeem his mortgages and head rents, he is under the necessity of paying his rent and interest in full. These are the main provisions of the Bill.
Since the Treaty was signed in December, 1921, we have been engaged in a work of transition, laying and protecting the foundations of the new State. That work is now almost accomplished, and we can turn to the creative work. We have now an opportunity, after so many centuries, of turning to the creative work which the Treaty, for the first time, put in our power to do. We can at least begin to travel on the road that President Griffith indicated when he said, "Ireland is yours for the making; make it." It is as one step, and I hope a long step, on that road that I commend the Bill to the Dáil, and I beg leave to introduce it. The Bill will be ready for printing about Wednesday of next week.