Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 18 Feb 1931

Vol. 37 No. 2

Land Bill, 1930—Second Stage.

I move the Second Reading of this Bill. The Bill is entitled an Act to make provision for the early vesting of holdings in the purchasers thereof under the Land Purchase Acts, and for that and other purposes to amend those Acts and the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act, 1891, and also to make provision in respect of the variation of certain tithe rent charges and variable rents.

I propose at the outset to survey very briefly indeed the results achieved under the earlier Land Acts, as such a survey appears to me to be a necessary preliminary to the discussion of a Bill of this character in order that Deputies may get a complete picture of land purchase operations to date.

The Act of 1870 was the first step on the road of parliamentary land reform which culminated eight years ago in the passing of the Act of 1923. But, as one would expect, this first Act tackled the problem in a rather gingerly and timid fashion and produced remedies which at the time were called "rank Socialism," but which to-day would not bring a blush even to the cheek of the most extreme Tory diehard. It gave very limited and strictly qualified compensation for disturbance and improvements, it legalised the Ulster Tenant Right Custom and, by the John Bright clauses, it made the first tangible move in the direction of State-aided land purchase.

It failed because of its very limitations and because it still left the landlord his arbitrary power to raise rents at will.

The next step or milestone on the road was the Gladstone Act of 1881 which boldly accepted the "Three Fs" which the tenants had long been fighting for, viz., the right of fixity of tenure, the right of having a fair rent fixed on the holding, and the right of free sale of the interests of the holding. This Act established the Land Commission and gave it large judicial and administrative powers to grapple with the problem. As a court it was empowered to hear applications from the tenants and fix fair rents, and it was also empowered to deal in a somewhat larger way with land purchase, by advancing up to three-quarters of the purchase money to be repaid in 35 years by annuities of 5 per cent.

There followed the Ashbourne Act of 1885, which can truly be said to have laid the foundation of State-aided land purchase as we now know it. For its day it was a bold measure, and credit must be given the Tories who steered it triumphantly through a highly critical Parliament. The entire of the purchase money was advanced at 4 per cent. and the period for repayment was extended to 49 years, but, as the Act was admittedly experimental, not more than £5,000,000 was advanced, and a 1/5th of the purchase money was retained as a guarantee deposit. Three years later the £5,000,000 was doubled, and by the Balfour Act of 1891 a further £33,000,000 was made available for land purchase operations.

Five years later another Balfour Act, in 1896, abolished the guarantee deposit and introduced a system of decadal reductions which made the financial terms easier for the tenants.

We come now to the next milestone, the Wyndham Act of 1903, which may be said to have marked the definite turning of the State to the solution of the Irish land problem, by means of the creation of a peasant proprietary. Up to that, whilst the State was extending this idea in its enactments it was doing so rather against its will and largely because of the force of circumstances.

The Wyndham Act, as Deputies know very well, arose out of a conference of landlords and tenants presided over by Lord Dunraven; it abolished the slow and costly system of sales of individual holdings and decreed that purchase should proceed by transfer of whole "estates" to the occupying tenants.

The Wyndham Act, in common with all the earlier Acts, was founded on a strictly voluntary basis. Sales were transacted either directly between the landlord and his tenants, or indirectly between the landlord and the Land Commission and the tenants. From the beginning it was universally popular, and during its period sale agreements poured in from all over the country.

Next in chronological order we have the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907. This Act, though a short and rather minor one in the land code, is remarkable in that it was the first measure to give Parliamentary approval to the theory of compulsory acquisition in land purchase. Then there followed the Birrell Act, passed in 1909, which, though its financial provisions had the effect of considerably slowing down land purchase, increased and extended the compulsory powers of acquisition introduced by the Evicted Tenants Act.

We find, therefore, that prior to Saorstát legislation the tenants had secured the legal recognition of the "Three Fs," the abolition of dual ownership, and the acceptance of the theory of compulsory acquisition of land, though its application was limited.

In terms of figures the results of half a century of beneficial legislation were somewhat amazing. There were vested in 330,000 tenants 11,000,000 acres of land at a price of £110,000,000. And there remained to be dealt with at the advent of the Saorstát Government 100,000 holdings comprising 3,000,000 acres, at an estimated price of £20,000,000, in addition to about 1,000,000 acres of untenanted land. That was the problem that faced the present Government when it assumed office in 1922. And one of its first great reconstruction measures was the Land Act of 1923. This Act is so recent that here I need do no more than remind you briefly of its main features; later it will be necessary for me, in order to explain this Bill, to go into some detail with regard to a number of them.

The Act of 1923 abolished the relationship of landlord and tenant. It straight away reduced the tenants annual payment, or rent, or whatever you wish to call it, by 25 per cent.; forgave him all arrears prior to 1920, cut down any arrears between 1920 and 1923 by 25 per cent., and added the balance to his purchase money to be paid off by a small addition to his annuity. Never before had tenants been able to win such immediate advantages from a Land Act, and there was still to come the further reduction of 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. in annual payments which was to follow the final vesting and the setting up of the annuity.

Perhaps the most sweeping feature of the Act is that contained in Section 24, which decrees that, with certain exceptions, all tenanted land wherever situated, and all untenanted land, situated in any congested districts county, and such untenanted land situated elsewhere as the Land Commission shall declare to be required for the relief of congestion, or the facilitating of resale, shall vest in the Land Commission on the Appointed Day. Nothing like this had been attempted before, and the powers taken by this section have already yielded most valuable results for the State.

The financial provisions of the Act of 1923 continued, as you know, the system of payment in stock returned to by the Birrell Act of 1909. The vendors are paid 4½ per cent. Land Bonds, equal in nominal amount to the purchase money and carrying interest as from the date on which the purchased land is vested in the Land Commission.

The method of fixing the price of tenanted land employed in the Act was new to land purchase legislation. Heretofore a price was arrived at on an agreement or bargaining basis, but under the Act of 1923 this vital matter was settled automatically by reference to the tenure and the rent. The new standard price was to be a sum the interest on which at 4¾ per cent. was to be equal to the new standard purchase annuity and that annuity was itself to represent a reduction of 35 per cent. on judicial rents fixed before August, 1911, and a reduction of 30 per cent. on similar rents dating from after August, 1911. In the case of nonjudicial rents, the landlord and tenant may agree upon the new annuity; if they do not agree the Act of 1929, which gives the tenant a reduction of 35 per cent. on his rent, comes into operation and if, then, either the landlord or the tenant object, the annuity is fixed by the Commissioners subject to a right of appeal to the Judicial Commissioner.

Such are the main features of the Land Act of 1923. Since then four more Acts have been passed, and now I am before you to-day asking you to give your sanction to yet another.

Sometimes a person is asked is there to be no finality to Land Acts and land purchase. I think Deputies will agree that that is an exceedingly difficult query to answer. It would certainly take a much wiser man than I am to answer a query of that character. In any event, I do not think I will have very much trouble in convincing Deputies that the Bill which I am asking you to give a second reading to is such that it will give rise to no opposition.

There are aspects of land purchase to which we all wish to see finality, and finality within a reasonable period, and one of these is the placing of every purchasing tenant definitely on the road to become an owner in fee simple. We have made good progress in that direction since 1923 but we have a long way yet to go and if the statutory requirements which have governed our procedure up to the present are still to be insisted on many years must elapse before the last tenant to be dealt with can be started on his annuity repayments. We have over 80,000 holdings remaining to be vested under the 1923-29 Acts and more than 20,000 holdings on Congested Districts Board Estates to be resold to purchasers. Without a disproportionate and uneconomic expansion of staff we cannot, under present conditions, hope to vest in the tenants more than 5,000 to 6,000 of the 1923 Act holdings and 4,000 of the Congested Districts Board holdings each year for, say, the next five years. That rate of progress is not enough for the needs of the case. We can improve upon it and improve upon it enormously, and without endangering the solid, financial and administrative security which must always be a primary consideration in land purchase operations, if we are given power to vary in certain vital respects the legal requirements to which we have hitherto been bound, and it is with a view to securing those necessary amendments in our land code that this Bill is being presented.

Now, let me say at the beginning that this Bill enunciates no new principles, revolutionary or otherwise, with regard to the acquisition and distribution of land, nor does it propose to alter in any respect the basic financial clauses of the 1923 Act. This Bill is largely an administrative Bill, necessitated by the limitations of the machinery of procedure in the earlier Act and rendered possible by 7 years of valuable experience acquired in the working of that measure. But whilst it does not, to any large extent, change or add to the principles of the first Saorstát land measure it does introduce an entirely new, elaborate system of machinery and I am hopeful that its immediate and permanent effects will go a long way, indeed I trust all the way, towards removing real difficulties that have been met with in the administration of the Land Acts. The machinery it will set up is in its main features something quite new not alone to Land Commission procedure but to the practice of the law itself. At any rate so the lawyers tell me. But I am fully satisfied that not only will it stand the test of practice but that it will, in time, accomplish all that I claim for it.

Stated very briefly, the first object of this Bill is to get the Appointed Day for all tenanted land fixed at the earliest possible moment and the lands vested in the Land Commission, thereby securing to every tenant the commencement of his redemption period and the fullest reduction in his annual payment to which the law entitles him.

The second object, certainly not less important, is to speed up the vesting of holdings to be resold by the Land Commission to their tenants on Congested Districts Board Estates and to allottees of parcels of untenanted lands, thus giving these purchasers at the earliest possible date all the benefits of the annuity system of repayment.

Tenants on the estates of the Congested Districts Board have harboured for many years a grievance, and it must be admitted a very genuine grievance, by reason of the delay in vesting their holdings in them and the clauses in the Bill framed to meet their cases should banish that grievance for ever.

Other clauses deal with bona fide agricultural sub-tenants and extend the advantages of the annuity system of repayment to the "Clare Island" class of holders, thereby doing away with a lengthy and troublesome procedure and enabling this class of holding to be quickly and simply consolidated with other types. In the past it has been very difficult to consolidate a holding on which the tenants were paying "Clare Island" annuities. "Clare Island" annuities are not a charge on the Guarantee Fund, and before a parcel of land subject to a "Clare Island" annuity could be consolidated it was necessary for the Land Commission to obtain a deed of charge for the alienation of the parcel. This new procedure will enable, by an easy and simple method, these parcels to be consolidated.

Before explaining the procedure of the Bill it will be necessary for me to review in some detail the procedure under the '23/'29 Acts. From the passing of the Act of 1923 tenants, as I have said, ceased to pay rent as such and became liable for an annual payment in lieu of rent and for a capital sum representing compounded arrears of rent, if there were any arrears during the three years preceding the passing of the Act. The Land Commission is obliged to pay to the vendor a sum equal to the payment in lieu of rent each year up to the Appointed Day. Compounded arrears of rent are added to the purchase money and repaid by an annuity consolidated with the purchase annuity. They are paid to the vendor by the Land Commission as part of the purchase money.

For the immediate purpose of the collection of payment in lieu of rent and compounded arrears of rent the landlord or vendor is bound to furnish the Land Commission with a complete schedule of particulars of his tenancies. This schedule provides the basis on which the Land Commission work towards vesting. After the particulars have been checked and the holdings surveyed and reported on, a provisional list is published of the holdings which will vest in the Land Commission on the Appointed Day. All objections having been disposed of, a final list of the holdings is published, and that final list is conclusive evidence that the lands comprised in it will vest in the Land Commission on the Appointed Day.

The next step is the fixing and gazetting of the Appointed Day whereupon the lands vest automatically in the Land Commission and since 1927 in the tenants as well, and the tenant from that date gets whatever extra statutory reduction in his annual payment he is entitled to and his redemption period commences to run. Under the Act of 1923 a period intervened between the Appointed Day and the date of the vesting of the lands in the tenants, during which the tenants paid, instead of payment in lieu of rent, an annual sum equivalent to the standard purchase annuity; but now by Section 17 of the Act of 1927 a twofold vesting takes place on that date, viz., to the Land Commission and then from the Land Commission to the tenants, and vesting orders are done away with accordingly. The vendor, on his part, receives the purchase money, plus the interest thereon, from the Appointed Day, as soon as the Judicial Commissioner has ruled on the allocation schedule. Such is the existing procedure with regard to tenanted land.

The results of the Land Commission's operations during the past seven years in respect of tenanted land reveal that although purchase particulars have been lodged in respect of over 2,900,000 acres, only some 550,000 acres have been vested in the Land Commission. This means that while all tenants in the Saorstát are getting their 25 per cent. reductions in their rents, a very large proportion, because of the fact that the Land Commission has not been able to fix the Appointed Day, are still deprived of the additional reduction, whether 5, 10 or more per cent., to which they are entitled, and of the advantages of their sinking fund repayments. Not infrequently examples come to light down the country that emphasise in a telling way this disparity. For instance, John Murphy, on the Jones estate, because his landlord furnished his particulars early and there were no special difficulties in the case, has been enjoying his full statutory reductions and every possible statutory advantage since the Appointed Day on this estate was fixed, say, two years ago. Just across his mearing is Pat Kelly's farm on the Brown estate. But the Brown estate is a complicated one and there are many errors in the landlord's schedule of particulars, so Pat has been for the same period paying merely payment in lieu of rent, which gives him only the advantage of a 25 per cent, reduction on his former rent. Naturally, Pat has a grievance and cannot understand, seeing that the two estates come under the '23 Act, that there should be two years' difference to his disadvantage between them.

Now, as I have said, the main object of the Bill is to remedy this and similar inequalities of treatment by providing statutory machinery that will vest all the holdings at an early date and thus give the tenants at one step the benefits they are entitled to under the Act of 1923. The procedure will be as follows:—Taking the vendor's Schedule of Particulars as the basis, checking it as far as possible from information already in the Land Commission or readily available, calculating from these particulars the standard purchase prices and the standard purchase annuities, there will be published a list, called under this Bill a "List of Vested Holdings," which will be, if not varied, conclusive evidence that the holdings are, or will be, vested in the Land Commission on the Appointed Day named in the list. In some cases the Appointed Day may be the date of publication of the list. In many other cases the Appointed Day may be the gale day prior to the publication of the list, or perhaps the gale day subsequent to the publication of the list, but in any event it will be in or about the publication of the list.

On the publication of the List of Vested Holdings the tenants will be deemed to have entered into subsequent purchase agreements, and on the Appointed Day will at once be credited with the advantages to which they are entitled under the Land Acts; they will get their full reduction in rent (thence-forward annuities), and the redemption period will commence to run. This new procedure, by abolishing the publication of Provisional Lists and by postponing until after the Appointed Day the extremely important tasks of surveying and, where necessary, inspecting holdings and checking boundaries, of ascertaining rights and easements, or disposing of objections, &c., will in one stroke give the tenant practically all the benefits he is entitled to under the land code. It certainly will clear the way to speedy progress, and I am hopeful that within 12 months from the passing of the Bill every bona fide agricultural tenancy in the Saorstát will be vested in the Land Commission.

When all this necessary work has been completed in respect of each estate the holdings will be vested in the tenants by Vesting Orders, and the fee-simple will thus pass into possession of the tenants. From the Appointed Day the tenant pays the equivalent of annuity, and from the publication of the Vesting Order he pays actual annuity, but, as I have said, he gets full credit for every sum he pays from the Appointed Day, both with regard to reduction and the redemption period, so that as far as he is concerned the vesting of the holding in him amounts virtually to a mere, formal act.

Now, as the List of Vested Holdings deems the tenants to have entered into subsequent purchase agreements and as the fixing of the Appointed Day vests their holdings in the Land Commission, what, you will naturally ask, becomes of holdings which the Land Commission may wish to retain either for rearrangement or for relief of congestion, or of holdings that are not admissible by the Acts? Well, we have made provision to deal with such contingencies. With regard to the former, notwithstanding that a holding has appeared in the List of Vested Holdings, and that the tenant has been deemed to have entered into a subsequent purchase agreement to buy that holding, the Land Commission has the right under this Bill to retain and resume it, if necessary. With regard to the latter cases, i.e., holdings that appear in the List of Vested Holdings but which are subsequently found not to come under the Acts, the Land Commission, after hearing the parties concerned, may make such order as the justice of the case may require, and there is a right of appeal to the Judicial Commissioner. Likewise a tenant who claims the benefits of the Acts, and whose holding does not appear in the List of Vested Holdings, may apply to the Land Commission to have his holding so returned. Such applications are heard by the Land Commission, with a right of appeal to the Judicial Commissioner.

Now I come to the important matter of the purchase money; for this Bill is designed not alone to help the tenants, but to enable the vendors to receive their purchase money at the earliest possible moment. The purchase money will come to credit on the publication of the List of Vested Holdings, and the Land Bonds will then be issued. It would be rather much to ask a vendor to wait for his purchase money until all the necessary inquiries that I have described have been completed after vesting. So, therefore, as soon as the title can be read the purchase money will be distributed, and if any person is overpaid he will be under a legal obligation to repay such sums as may be necessary to redeem the excess bonds issued to him. The Land Commission will, in the first instance, endeavour to recover the overpayment, and State assistance will be called on only after failure to do so. It is anticipated that most of these overpayments will, in fact, be recoverable, and that the State will not have to suffer any appreciable loss at all. A safeguard which will in practically every case be ample to meet any demands of this nature will be the 10 per cent. of the purchase money which may, at the discretion of the Land Commission, be withheld as a guarantee deposit. There may also, of course, be cases in which subsequent inquiry discloses that the tenants have been paying too little, as from the Appointed Day, and the Bill makes provision for recovery in such cases also.

In order to facilitate and expedite still further the distribution of purchase money, I propose in this Bill that distribution is not to be held up merely because title is imperfect, provided, however, that in the court's opinion any adverse claim is unlikely to be sustained. And where any person subsequently proves within the time allowed by the Bill that he was entitled to share in the distribution of the purchase money, the Land Commission will pay him such sum as the court may allow. In addition, the provisions of Section 63 of the Land Act, 1903, whereby the purchase moneys of superior interests not exceeding £30 or £100 can be distributed without investigation of title, have been extended by this Bill to the purchase moneys of estates. Another provision to meet the convenience of vendors and persons deriving income from charges on land, etc., is that which enables the interest on the Land Bonds representing the purchase money to be paid to the persons entitled to receive the same pending the distribution of the purchase moneys. As I have explained, vendors are not entitled under the present procedure to receive any dividends on purchase money until it is distributed by the Judicial Commissioner.

In this Bill it is provided that the interest on the Land Bonds will be paid to the persons entitled pending the distribution of the purchase money. This marks a big change in the present practice where no interest on Land Bonds is paid out until the purchase money is distributed, so that during the interval that elapses between the payment of Land Bonds to the credit of an estate and the distribution by the judge, these parties are deprived of all income from the bonds. With regard to sub-tenants, too, it is necessary to provide special procedure in view of the automatic vesting on the publication of the List of Vested Holdings. A somewhat similar arrangement to that in the case of retained holdings becomes necessary. After the publication of the List of Vested Holdings and the fixing of the Appointed Day vesting the tenancies in the tenants the Land Commission shall declare that the sub-tenants are to be deemed to be tenants of their portions of the holdings, and these portions will be deemed to be separate holdings, and the standard annuity having been ascertained in accordance with the Acts of 1923-1929, each sub-tenant shall be deemed to have entered into a subsequent agreement for the purchase of his separate holding on the date of the declaration.

The tenant's subsequent purchase agreement will be withdrawn as from the date of the declaration, and the Land Commission will redeem all the intervening interests. The right of the tenant to recover any arrears of rent that may be due to him by the sub-tenants is preserved to him under this Bill. I come now to the next important innovation in the Bill—the provisions for expediting resale to tenants on Congested Districts Board estates and to allottees of parcels of untenanted land. The procedure after the passing of this Bill regarding these classes of purchasers will be as follows:—The Land Commission will publish from time to time lists of holdings on C.D.B. estates. These lists will give such details of these holdings as are available and will specify the annuities subject to which the Land Commission is prepared to resell them. The same provisions will obtain in regard to holdings on parcels of untenanted land; these, too, will be published in separate lists called in the Bill "lists of holdings of untenanted land." This plan will have one great advantage—it will obviate the necessity for getting purchase agreements signed, a laborious and difficult task that hitherto seriously obstructed the rapid vesting of these holdings. The effect of the publication of these lists will be to put the tenants at once in the same position as tenants of retained holdings under the 1923 Act. They will become liable for the payment of a sum equivalent to their purchase annuities, and on vesting they will be given full credit for all such payments. Even if the holdings are rearranged or resumed, the tenants will get full credit for all payments already made by them.

When, ultimately, Vesting Orders are made in respect of these holdings every person named in the Orders will be deemed to have entered into a subsequent purchase agreement for the purchase of his holding as from the date of the Vesting Order. But all parties interested will be afforded an opportunity for making objections to the Vesting Order. The Land Commission will consider and deal with such objections, and a right of appeal will lie from them to the Judicial Commissioner. In practice the tenant on a C.D.B. estate will be, for our purposes at all events, in the same position as a 1923 Act tenant. They will get credit for every payment they make, for all the sinking fund payments, from the date of the publication of the lists. In the case of exchanged holdings a triple result will be achieved by each Vesting Order; each Order will deem the tenant to have entered into a subsequent purchase agreement for the exchange of the original holding for the vested holding; the Order will operate as a surrender of the original holding to the Land Commission; and finally it will transfer to the vested holding all encumbrances, charges and equities affecting the tenant's interest in the original holding without any further conveyance.

This represents an innovation in Land Commission practice and will enormously speed up these exchange transactions. An important change also has been introduced regarding fee farm grantees and long leaseholders. The Act of 1923, as you will recollect, excluded land subject to these tenures from the provisions enabling tenants to purchase and regarded it as untenanted land. Section 11 of the 1927 Act enabled holders under such tenures in non-congested counties to sell their lands in certain cases to the Land Commission as untenanted land and to repurchase them on Land Act terms, the holders being thus placed on the same footing as grantees or leaseholders in congested districts counties under the 1923 Act. The provisions in this Bill permit grantees and leaseholders whose lands are not required for the relief of congestion and who satisfy the conditions laid down in Section 11 of the 1927 Act to purchase as ordinary tenants, their lands being treated as tenanted land. This change will give the grantees and lessees all the advantages already bestowed on ordinary tenants. I am sure that innovation will meet with the approbation of many Deputies in this House. This was a concession which I think Deputy Gorey made a very big fight for during the debate on the 1927 Act, and I think he was ably supported by other members of the Farmers' Party. What I have described are the main provisions of the new Bill. A number of auxiliary provisions of lesser importance remain which I do not consider it necessary to deal with in any detail at this stage as Deputies will have an opportunity of discussing them fully on the Committee Stage.

There are just one or two other sections I would refer to briefly. Section 31 is an effort on my part, a mere layman, to settle a dispute among lawyers and high judicial dignitaries by declaring the Appointed Day to be definitely the date at which landed property should be considered to have been converted into personal property. I trust I have succeeded in settling this dispute satisfactorily. Then there is the question of water supply, an essential matter, as Deputies will readily realise, that must be considered when land is being divided, and when every holding must be given an adequate supply of water where possible. I propose to give the Land Commission power to take and use water for domestic and farm purposes, providing rights of access and fixing compensation and so on. The Bill also provides for the repayment to the British Government of the annuities arising out of the improvement expenditure on lands allotted to British Ex-Servicemen under the Soldiers and Sailors Act, 1919. The capital cost of these improvements has been met each year since 1922 by the British Government and the annuities chargeable on that capital cost are consequently returnable to that Government. Not the least of the difficulties of the Land Commission are those in connection with the transferring of migrants to their new holdings. It is frequently most difficult to get migrants to move, and one of their main objections has been the cost of transferring themselves, their families, their stock, their farm implements and machinery to the new holdings, so I am proposing to give the Land Commission power in Section 38 to make grants in such cases towards their removal expenses. I have sketched as briefly and as clearly as possible the purpose of this Bill and I have endeavoured to show the particular niche it will occupy in our land code. Every clause dealing with its dominant feature—the speedy vesting of all lands—has been subjected to the most minute and careful examination, and I am confident that although novel and possibly far-reaching in its effects it will successfully grapple with the problem. At all events it represents an honest and sincere attempt to meet and deal with all the remaining obstacles in the way of the vesting of lands.

This is a very important Bill, and it deserves the closest consideration of every member of the House. The Parliamentary Secretary has stated that new machinery is being set up to expedite land purchase procedure. We welcome any step that is taken to do that and to confer upon the tenants benefits that it was intended under the 1923 Act should be conferred upon them. The Parliamentary Secretary has now given us a long history of previous land legislation. The Land Commission operations are going on for more than half a century, and he admits that according to the present routine procedure there is no possibility that the final work of completing land purchase will be finished for a good many years. During all that time the State will have to bear the expense of maintaining the Land Commission. When the Parliamentary Secretary comes forward with a Bill of this kind, in which he states a new and elaborate system of machinery is being devised for the removal of difficulties, we must always remember in connection with this particular Department, that it would seem that very often in order to remove difficulties new difficulties have to be created.

Only to-day the daily Press tells us that a special additional staff will have to be engaged to deal with this work. If this special additional staff is merely temporary the taxpayer might not feel very aggrieved, but unfortunately every time the Land Commission proceeds to remove obstacles they have to employ a fresh additional staff and that staff remains there. The obstacles apparently are not removed, but the staff remains and becomes a permanent fixture. We had a very good example of that in the Gaeltacht Housing Act, when last year we allotted £5,000 for the payment of an additional staff to deal with that housing grant. I have been in some parts of the Gaeltacht where, strange to say, no inspector has yet set foot to know whether the people wanted these houses or not. On the other hand, it may be that they are in more deserving places preparing schemes in view of impending political possibilities.

On a point of order, may I ask what is the connection between Gaeltacht housing and the Land Bill?

The connection is that this new system of machinery which is laid down in this Bill demands an extra staff.

Which the Deputy has been always advocating.

Yes, provided it was necessary and provided the work was going to be done. In setting up an extra staff which is going to concentrate upon the new method of procedure, we must remember we are going to have all the old staff, and that the traditional procedure will still be carried on. In other words, the traditional procedure which is necessary, and which has been emphasised over and over again from the Government Benches as being absolutely necessary before estates can be finally vested in the tenants in fee simple, must go on. We must furthermore take into consideration the fact that even when the tenant purchaser is placed on an annuity basis at the present time he very often finds that he is unable to meet the obligations placed upon him. The terms on which tenants purchased were laid down in the 1923 Act, but there was no provision in that Act that when times were bad or if depression prevailed amongst the farming community there would be any alleviation of the charge fixed upon them.

Where would they come from?

That is not my business.

It was your business if you could take it out of someone else's pocket with the gun or something——

I did not bring the debates of 1923 with me. That is pretty far back, but not so far back that Deputy Gorey should forget that he said substantially what I am saying now, only that he probably said it much more emphatically than I would dare, because he was then in the very important position of being leader of the Farmers' Party, when there was such a party. The tenants complain that they are suffering from depression, from a great fall in agricultural prices. In fact, the circumstances are that many thousands of pounds are due in respect of arrears of land purchase annuities, showing that the condition of the farming community does not even permit them to meet these charges.

Deputy Gorey may get up afterwards and make a splendid speech urging that I am favouring embezzlement, that the farmers should not pay their way, or something else. At this hour of the day, when the farming industry is in the condition in which it is, if any Deputy thinks that he can get away with the real problem of reducing these charges upon agriculture to the very minimum by saying that we are preaching some kind of false doctrine, then he is only trying to fool the community, and I submit that that will not go. These people have a perfect right to have the whole case reexamined, and if necessary——

Is the Deputy now going into the question of land annuities rather than confining himself to the Land Bill?

I am dealing with the question of the annuity basis.

The Deputy ought to confine himself to the Land Bill and not deal with the payment of land annuities.

I have a right to deal with what is not in the Bill—the manner in which the land purchase code may be amended—as well as what is in the Bill. Is not that so?

Up to a certain point.

The question of the reduction of land purchase or an extension of land purchase annuities is a burning question in the country. Statements have been made by speakers on the Government side that that is a matter of no consequence; any reduction which might be effected would not matter a jot—it would not be worth speaking of. Furthermore, they say that it would not matter inasmuch as in the long run it might increase the period over which the annuity would still have to be paid, and whatever advantage the tenant might gain by a reduction in the annuity would be more than counterbalanced by an extension of the period. But they forgot to deal with this point, that the present Government are not able, because they have handed the power to another authority, even to go into this question of extending the period of land purchase annuities, or of granting a reduction. They have handed over the power in this matter just as they have handed over the finances to another authority, and they are not in a position even to discuss the matter; they are not in a position to state exactly how the sinking fund stands, let alone having the power to remedy it or try to reduce the charges, if that course were feasible.

If the case of the tenants who are actually paying annuities is bad— and it is bad—the position of the unvested tenants is very much worse. When the Land Act of 1923 was passed it was generally anticipated, and I think the Minister for Agriculture will not deny that he led the country to believe, that the Appointed Day would be fixed in a very short time. Deputy Gorey said on that occasion that the only thing they were concerned with—they were quite satisfied with the arrangement by which, on the Appointed Day, the tenant's annuity would begin to run—was that that Appointed Day should be fixed as early as possible after the passing of the Act. Since we came into this House the Minister for Agriculture has admitted that he himself thought at that time that the Appointed Day would be fixed within at least five years after the passing of the Act. Five years have passed and seven years have passed and still only a small percentage of the tenants have been vested.

When we suggested here that provisional vesting was possible without vesting the estate in full fee-simple in the tenant, that the full legal effects need not follow and that a new interpretation could be given to the Appointed Day, we were told by the Minister for Agriculture that we were upsetting the whole procedure, that we were making a very radical change which would upset the whole present method, including the Local Registration of Title Act. We have since ascertained that title is of very little importance in the determination of the vesting of the tenants. In so far as title is concerned on the landlord's side we will find that a short-cut can be discovered when it is found necessary, although it is not so very long ago since the Minister for Agriculture told us that this question of title was really so complicated, with persons who might be claimants scattered widely apart from China to Peru, that no short-cut was possible. Nevertheless, he is here presumably giving his benediction to a very considerable short-cut which it is now sought to effect.

These unvested tenants have paid £6,000,000, according to the last figures that I got some time during the past year. They have been paying at the rate of from £800,000 to £900,000 a year. They paid £845,000 last year. They got no benefits out of that payment. None of the money went to redeem the purchase price, and they had to do without the 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. reduction which would be given to them on vesting. In the meantime money appreciated greatly. There was a fall in agricultural prices, as I have already stated, and the tenant had to sell perhaps twice as much produce as he had to sell seven years ago in order to get money to make his payment in lieu of rent. No relief was forthcoming. It is now proposed in this Bill to fix the Appointed Day and, without finally vesting the land in the tenant, to give him the full financial benefits so far as making his annuity run from that day, and so on, are concerned. What is going to be done in the matter of the £6,000,000 which the tenants have already paid? The total amount necessary to complete land purchase was estimated at £30,000,000. The tenants who are unvested have paid one-fifth and probably more of the total amount necessary to complete the job. Are they going to be at a dead loss so far as this £6,000,000 or more is concerned?

The Parliamentary Secretary stated that this provisional vesting and the publication of the lists will practically coincide. I understood from the Parliamentary Secretary that although there is a definite provision that the Appointed Day can be fixed retrospectively that, in fact, it will not be, but that it will, if not actually coincident with it, fall about the same time as the publication of the lists. Therefore, we can take it that, so far as the tenants who have paid out six millions of money and who have not got any value for it so far as a reduction in their purchase money is concerned, the Government is not going to take any steps to give them justice or something in exchange for all that money. It is not my business to suggest how that is to be done, but I think there are ample provisions in the Bill for dealing with it. There are provisions in the Bill for holding up mortgage encumbrances, for dealing with difficulties in regard to purchase money, with regard to the Guarantee Deposit Fund as well as provisions by which the landlord need not be at a loss. Under that provision he can still have his dividends paid out to him, even though he is not entitled to get his full capital sum. All these provisions show that there is in the Bill as it stands machinery not alone to vest immediately but to vest retrospectively, and to give the tenants, if the Government wish to do it, the benefit of not alone paying off their annuities from to-morrow or to-morrow twelve months, but of paying their annuities off from the date of the passing of the 1923 Land Act.

The Parliamentary Secretary called attention to the provisions with regard to the landlord. The Minister for Agriculture has stressed at great length in this House the difficulties with regard to title. He said that these difficulties were simply insuperable, they could not possibly be overcome, and the suggestion that anything in the nature of provisional acceptance of title could for a moment be justified was scouted by him. We were told it was utterly impossible, and that even this House could not do the impossible. Nevertheless, in Section 33 of the Bill we see that the court, even in a case where the title is admittedly imperfect, is to have the power to pay out his purchase money to the landlord. He is to get away with the spoil even though his title may be imperfect. There will be a very good argument for that—that if you want to take a short-cut in land purchase procedure for the benefit of the tenant you cannot have the landlord living on air in the meantime. You must make corresponding provision for him. Later in the Bill we read that when the claimant has established this imperfect title, has been paid his money and has cleared away, a subsequent claimant may come along with a better title. If the subsequent claimant should prove that he, in fact, is the man who has the real title he is going to get compensation. Where is he going to get compensation from? The first claimant is going to be paid his purchase money while the second claimant is to be paid in the form of compensation. The second claimant is to be paid compensation because the first claimant was paid in the wrong. But where—and I commend this to Deputy Gorey, who is so anxious to know where the money is to come from —is the money going to come from to compensate the second claimant, who proves that he, in fact, was the man who had the real title? It is going to come from the Irish taxpayer.

Therefore, under this Bill we are going to pay the landlord his purchase price on his imperfect title, though title is such a high and mighty subject that I am almost afraid to refer to it, but fortunately I have somebody else here now who is capable of dealing with it. The first claimant is to get away with the purchase money, and then later on, when compensation is awarded, when it is recognised that a mistake has been made, the compensation is to be paid at the expense of the Irish taxpayer.

A guarantee deposit fund is to be set up. It is suggested that this is a great step, because one-tenth of the purchase money may be withheld by the Judicial Commissioner pending financial adjustments. It is suggested that it is an adequate safeguard. As far as I can see, there is nothing in that to prevent a claimant or an owner getting away with the spoil, because in the first place the dividends will be paid out during the transition period, the full dividends on the Land Bonds will be available for the owner pending distribution, and later on compensation, if it has to be paid, will not be paid out of this guarantee deposit fund. It will have to be paid at the expense of the taxpayers.

With regard to sub-tenancies, the Parliamentary Secretary stated that before the Land Commission would determine that they were to be in fact holdings entitled to be treated as separate holdings and vested as such, they would have to be bona fide agricultural lettings. There are no provisions in the Bill dealing with this matter. There is no provision in the Bill to determine when a sub-tenancy will in fact be taken over by the Land Commission as a separate holding. There is no provision in the Bill to show upon what principles the Land Commission are going to proceed. They have a complete discretion in the matter of deciding that any letting in the way of a sub-tenancy by a farmer may in fact be taken over by them as a separate holding, but, as far as I can see, there is no safeguard for the direct tenant. The provision that intervening interests will be redeemed, and that the Land Commission will buy out those redeemed interests, and in that way compensate the direct tenant for turning the sub-letting into a separate holding, is not in fact worth much, because if the annuity on a new holding, plus the annuity on the holding from which it was taken away—if the two annuities are less than the total purchase annuity, then it is deemed under this Bill that the intervening interests are of no value.

If you take a portion of a holding away and make it a separate holding there is no proof whatever that the annuity on the new holding plus that on the part remaining of the old holding—that the two annuities together are going to be greater than or even equal to the purchase annuity on the original holding. In other words, the fact that you divide up a holding and create a new holding upon it, that you turn the sub-tenancy into a new holding, may very often destroy some of the amenities in regard to the original holding. At any rate, you will create a situation whereby you cannot possibly say that the purchase annuity to be fixed upon the two holdings should be equal to or greater than the total standard purchase annuity.

I am afraid that I am not making myself very clear, but in any case it is a Committee point, and I simply want to emphasise that there are no principles whatever laid down in this matter—nothing to say when a sub-tenancy is, in fact, agricultural or is not. Therefore we are completely in the dark. The Parliamentary Secretary has not even told us the principles on which the Land Commission are likely to proceed, or the extent of the work that lies before them in this matter of sub-tenancies. With regard to the arrears due by a sub-tenant to the tenant, if the sub-tenancy is being made into a new holding, would it not be reasonable that the arrears in that case should be added to the purchase money instead of leaving the direct tenant in the position that he has to follow and recover from the sub-tenant whatever arrears may be due?

The provisions regarding rights of way and conferring waterways and the provisions regarding regulation of turbary seem to be very good ones and if they will do anything at all to stop the litigation that arises in these cases they would be very welcome and confer a great boon upon the country. As to the question of migrants, we are not clear—I am not at any rate—when the Parliamentary Secretary refers to migrants and to the provision for paying their expenses whether he means migrants who would be regarded as substantially large farmers in many areas and who are transferred to one of the Midland counties or whether he is referring to the migrants like those in Connemara who are being shifted on to reclaimed lands, or whether these expenses will, in fact, be provided for both classes of migrants. It seems to us that in some cases the migrants ought to be able to pay their own expenses.

As to the provisions regarding fee-farm grants or long leases we would like to have more information from the Parliamentary Secretary as to what exactly is the reason for extending the scope of the provision to allow these people to come in under the 1927 Act. I know that these long lease holders and fee-farm grantees have in a great many cases a claim, and a very sound claim, and we are in favour of these claims being examined. On the other hand, when you want to have a general position allowing any holder of that class in the congested areas to apply to be taken over by the Land Commission and to avail of State facilities, you want to be quite sure that nobody is being allowed pass through the net whose land would under ordinary circumstances be taken over for the relief of congestion. I know I will be told that that is fully safeguarded. We are not in opposition to the principle; we simply want more information as to what exactly is the justification for extending this to the congested areas: what is the number or the extent of the cases concerned, and any other information which the Parliamentary Secretary chooses to give to enlighten us.

In so far as the Bill carries out this provisional vesting, and in so far as it seeks to confer upon the tenants the great benefit of allowing their annuities to run from an carly date, we are in favour of it. We are in favour of any measure that will be for the advantage of the tenants, and the Land Commission can never say that they have come to this House to ask for powers to help tenants to get final possession of the land, and that they were refused. They have got the fullest powers from the very start since the 1923 Land Act was passed; they have got the fullest powers they have asked for from the House. If the delay is protracted and unnecessary the responsibility is upon the shoulders of the Land Commission. We hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will go further than his statement that this provisional vesting and this fixing of the Appointed Day is likely to take place within the next twelve months. We hope he will be able to be more definite before this Bill passes through the Committee Stage and be able to assure the House that by a certain date what this Bill seems to us to contemplate will in fact come into operation and that these 80,000 tenants, nonjudicial as well as judicial, will get this reduction. We think that a time-limit could be fixed to give them the financial benefits they are entitled to and that they have been deprived of wrongfully during the past seven years.

Mr. T. Sheehy (Cork):

I rise most enthusiastically to support the Bill before the House. I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his very clear and lucid history of the Land Acts since the 'seventies. I was proud to see that in his address he remembered the work of the brave leaders and of the rank and file, of the brave men who went to the scaffold and the brave men thrown on the roadside during that great and memorable struggle that brought us into the happy condition we are in now. I had the honour of serving as a young man under the flag of the Land League. Every Land Leaguer was my friend. I stood in the ranks and never flinched. Thank God, I am here to congratulate the Government of this sturdy State on putting the coping stone on our work. More power to the Government. Since they came into office in 1922 they have had several Land Acts to their credit— Acts that are carrying on the great work of land purchase. To-night the coping stone is being put to the work of half a century, and many thousands of our countrymen, from Donegal to Cape Clear, will rejoice when they read the papers to-morrow and see that the Appointed Day is about to arrive, and that the Government are using every possible means to bring that happy day into existence.

I was surprised at the attitude taken up by the last speaker. I thought that he would be broadminded enough to look back and see what brought us to the happy position of considering this Bill to-night. I might remind him and Deputy Flinn that we had no cheeseparing when we were fighting to get possession of the land. We had none of these little quibbles or small points. We went boldly into the breach and fought until the last landlord handed in his gun. I am surprised that there should be such a lack of enthusiasm amongst some Deputies here to-night. Deputies should remember that we are dealing with the farmers and their position. The farmers whose lands are now proposed to be vested will have no thanks for the men who will by any act or criticism stay the happy day when they will be the owners of the soil, and succeed to the land of their sires, thanks to this Government that has finished the grand work of rooting the Irish people back in the land.

I do not share the enthusiasm of the last speaker. When I read this Bill I felt it was not quite bad enough for me actively to oppose it, but I certainly felt that it is not good enough to be worthy of any word of welcome. The Parliamentary Secretary, in introducing the Bill, struck a note of personal, perhaps even of Party triumph. I am sure that every landlord and every land agent in this bit of a nation will applaud, but that note will not be re-echoed by the small farmers in the Twenty-six Counties.

I will answer one question, but I do not undertake to answer any more irrelevant, ill-timed or inappropriate questions. Why will not it be welcome? Because the only part of this Bill that is really much good is Clause 9. This Bill is a monument of the ineptitude of the Government of the country and its Ministers.

Clause 9 has been called outside this House the "Derrig Clause," and will be called again the Derrig clause. Clause 9 is merely the application to land purchase in this country of the idea of Deputy Derrig. The machinery is slightly altered and is, perhaps, more smooth-running, but the idea is his. If you take that out of the Bill what is left? This Clause 9 is now introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary in 1931, and we are treated to the history of statutory land purchase in this country, but not one word of apology to the farmer who has had to wait till 1931 for this clause.

Statutory land purchase in this country up to 1923 was, with certain exceptions too trivial to be worthy of mention, a voluntary system of land purchase. The machinery then in use was appropriate to a voluntary system of land transfer. That machinery was taken over in 1923 and applied to a compulsory system of land transfer. That machinery was unfitted for, or at least was not modern enough or up to date enough for compulsory purchase. Once you got compulsory purchase, once you compelled the owner of the soil to part with it to the tenant there was no reason why there should be the extraordinary delays that have taken place between the moment of ownership on the part of the landlord and the moment of divesting that ownership from the landlord, and vesting it in the Land Commission, to be held by them until such matters of routine as must necessarily be gone through have been gone through. But in the meantime once the landlord is divested of this land, once Land Bonds appropriate for the purchase of that land are made available there ought to be no further delay in giving the tenant the full benefit of the reduction. As we are told and as we see, he will get it now under this Clause 9. What apology has been made for waiting eight years to introduce that machinery? Small tenants have been paying during all this time, roughly, using round figures, ten per cent. more than they would have been paying if obvious machinery had been introduced, once compulsory land purchase was introduced. That is why I say that the note will not be re-echoed by the small farmer.

There is no suggestion that the small farmer is to receive any reimbursement for the manifest injustice done him because appropriate means have not been resorted to more quickly to divest the landlord of the land. I could give many other reasons for the statement I have made but, unfamiliar though I yet am with the rules of procedure in this House, I venture to think it would not be seemly for me to make on this occasion what would be more properly a Committee Stage speech dealing with the various details of this Bill and dealing with the many omissions from this Bill. But may I say one parting word about Clause 9—the best feature of this Bill?

The idea underlying Clause 9 was resisted two years ago when Deputy Derrig introduced it. What is the impelling fact that has placed it in the Bill to-day? Is it the clamour of the small tenants on the side of the bogs? It is not. It is the clamour of the landlords to get their Land Bonds. That is what has put this clause into the Bill now, that this year and next year are not to be allowed to elapse until the landlord has laid his hands on the most sought after of all securities, this doubly guaranteed security of the Land Bonds. That is what put this into the Bill. Where does the small tenant come into this Bill again? He comes in perhaps under the clause dealing with sub-tenants. During the years that have elapsed since 1923 and during the previous years we have had a good deal of experience of the chicanery to which sub-tenants and many small tenants had been treated, in this way among others:—Many of these sub-tenancies had been carved many years ago out of statutory tenancies, subject to statutory conditions, and in breach of one of these conditions against sub-letting without the consent of the landlord. Many of these tenants had been in physical occupation and paying for these sub-tenancies for a generation, but because technically they had not legal title to the sub-tenancy, many of them have been thrown out of sub-tenancies and many have failed to achieve what I venture to think were their manifest, substantial rights. The provisions dealing with sub-tenants ought to include a clause that would provide that every sub-tenant who had been in physical occupation of his tenancy for six or, if you like, twelve years be deemed to have a legal title in his sub-tenancy subject to his rent. Is there such a clause there? No, not a word about it. So much is there in respect of the sub-tenant as is just enough to facilitate the operation of this Act for the more powerful interests concerned.

I turn to other parts of the Bill and I come to one portion relating to untenanted land. When I first read that portion relating to untenanted land I ventured to think that perhaps I would see something in it that would lead one to hope that the new plantation taking place in parts of the Midland and Eastern counties would cease. New ranches are being created there. We thought the small holders of land in Kildare, Meath and Westmeath would have the large ranches divided up amongst them. Have they been divided? Quite the contrary. Farms over 300 acres in extent have been created in favour of certain persons so that I feel justified in describing it as a new plantation. Is there anything going to be done to stop that? Is there anything in this Bill that deals with untenanted land that will engender any new hope in the breasts of landless men outside the congested districts? If there is I shall be glad to have it pointed out to me. It certainly is not manifest in this Bill. The line I have taken up is to contrast this Bill in its operation as regards the landlord, who is getting his bonds, and the tenant and as regards the rancher and the small man. I have contrasted the more important parts but even if I go into the unimportant parts of the Bill I still find that strain running through it, serving powerfully to show this contrast. Take two sections in what is perhaps the least important part of the Bill, Sections 30 and 31.

Section 31 of this Bill is introduced here in the hope, as the Parliamentary Secretary says, that it will prevent litigation of a very high-class character—litigation as to whether, after a landlord has got these bonds lodged to his credit, after the Appointed Day has been fixed, or in some other contingency—as to whether nominally in the eye of the law they are real or personal property. Is not that a wonderful boon? Is not that something that should excite the warm enthusiasm of Deputy Sheehy? Contrast it with the clause beside it? That clause deals with registration of title. There was one thing that could have been done in relation to the registration of title which they have not done, that is, they could have left the tenant with a pledgeable document, his land certificate, so that he could borrow money if he wanted to without incurring the cost of a mortgage, a reform that is due to the tenant purchaser for many years past. His land certificate, on which he could borrow money, is held in the Land Commission. The Land Commission can be protected by an endorsement. But the tenant is left at the mercy of the bank, the bank's solicitor and his own solicitor, rather than give him a cheap and easy way of dealing with that important side of the small farmer's life. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.