Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Friday, 27 Mar 1931

Vol. 37 No. 19

Land Bill, 1930—Fifth Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."—(Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands and Fisheries.)

The Parliamentary Secretary deserves the congratulations of his Party, and of his colleagues on the Front Benches in particular, for having got through the Bill with practically no alteration. A few proposals made from this side of the House, which were accepted, have been considerably watered down and, in their actual application, I doubt very much if any substantial result will accrue to the tenants whose grievances are said to be remedied under these new sections. On the other hand, the section which was inserted on the Committee Stage dealing with compensation for damage and disturbance is a blot on the whole measure, and I am very sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary ever introduced it. The problem has been enormously increased, and the potentialities of that section have been greatly increased by virtue of the information that the Land Commission has placed at our disposal, showing what the present position is in regard to these resumed holdings. It seems quite clear that an extravagant price is being paid for them on the present level of compensation, and the only possible justification for the new arrangement would be that the State was going to step in and bridge the gap. To the inquiries that have been made from this side of the House as to what is really the Government's policy in this matter of relieving congestion, there has been no reply. Do they agree with us that this section as it now stands is going to prove a definite barrier in the way of relief of congestion and the settlement of the land problem in the West of Ireland? If they do not, then it simply means that the State is going to dispose of these lands on resale at a loss. I cannot imagine the Minister for Finance coming along with the Estimate for the Land Commission and asking the Dáil to vote a larger amount of money yearly to provide for the losses on resale.

My opinion is that the Land Commission exists to try and make the resale of land a business and economic proposition. It is difficult enough for them to do it at present. The Parliamentary Secretary has admitted that only a small amount of the money expended on improvements can be recovered but, if this new burthen of compensation is going to be added, it is our settled opinion that it is going to complicate the problem and make matters much more difficult. We would be prepared to discuss the question of providing additional facilities, or giving additional powers, or even additional finance, if we were satisfied that such additional finance was going to be spent specifically on the relief of congestion and for the purpose of dividing up the land. According to the latest report of the Land Commission, the present position is that there is practically no untenanted land available on the Congested Districts Board estates. It is stated on page 24 of the report that the 78,000 acres which now remain for distribution are almost entirely mountain and turbary land. Therefore no relief can be expected in the matter of congestion in the western counties from the acreage of untenanted lands still on hands unless the Land Commission are going to reclaim 78,000 acres, as they are already doing in certain other areas, and are going to spend vast sums on their reclamation.

It seems to us that there is a strong case for assuming that the scheme for planting people on land in other parts of the country might, at least, be as economic as the manufacture of land, because really that is what it means, in the West. If we leave out of consideration the fact that while reclaiming land we are giving more employment, it seems to us as an economic proposition that if these reclamation schemes are to go ahead in certain areas the slowing down of the division and resumption of land in the midlands should not take place. The total number of people, in one way or another, that has been placed on the land since the present Administration took over and since the Land Act of 1923 came into operation is 12,200 allottees. That includes some people who had land before. In fact practically nothing in the way of division of land has taken place in the West that was not already contemplated, or was not in hand, when the old Congested Districts Board was in existence.

As regards the amount of money that has been spent, it does not show at all favourably, even if you include the special allocations made to deal with housing in the Gaeltacht and with other Gaeltacht industries. The showing which the old Congested Districts Board could make as against that figure is very good. In the last year in which the Board functioned it spent £197,000 on improvements in the West. According to the figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary there was only £120,000 spent last year. To that might be added the sum of £80,000, and I do not think that we need be specially thankful for the granting of that sum because the Government, having set up the Gaeltacht Commission and having expressed a strong interest in the revival of the language in the Irish-speaking districts, had to do something. As I said, even if we add that sum of £80,000 for the total provision as regards housing and the improvement of land, the two figures together are only equivalent to what the Congested Districts Board spent on land improvements alone in the year 1920-21.

Considerable assets also fell into the hands of the Administration, amounting in the case of stock and security to something like £190,000. I have not yet got the figures to show whether, as matters now stand, the Congested Districts Board estates are not actually paying for themselves and leaving a surplus in hands to be expended as the Minister for Finance shall think fit. If the scheme of work in the congested areas was being done in the way it had been done and in a way in which the people there have a right to expect, I think that it could be made an economic proposition and that even greater facilities than those at present given could be provided. There were free grants for improvements. There were parish committees established in these areas where loans were given for the purpose of stocking the land. The amounts involved under those heads would not necessarily be very great, because, as I have previously pointed out, a sum of £1,000 in those areas would be equivalent to a sum of £10,000 in other areas. I call attention to the matter in order to get a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary as to what the policy is going to be in regard to the resumption of holdings the acquisition of land in the Midlands, and the transfer of the larger or even smaller migrants from the West. In regard to people in the congested areas for whom no land is available except mountain and turbary, is the only future for them to lie in the hope that the Land Commission will reclaim these lands at enormous expense? Is all hope of transferring them to more fertile areas completely excluded?

It has been pointed out to me that the new section which has been introduced to deal with holdings deteriorated by abuse, through the neglect of the landlord to repair drains, does not cover the question of coast erosion, which is a pressing matter in some areas. I wonder would the Parliamentary Secretary be in a position to include that matter in the Bill, and to promise that when it goes to the Seanad he will endeavour to have it adopted there.

If Deputy Derrig will analyse the figures in the statement which I supplied to him some days ago he will see that the Land Commission is not paying an extravagant price for land resumed in the congested areas. In 1928 the total resumption price only represented 20 years' purchase of the rent.

In congested areas.

There was no land resumed in congested areas in that year. In 1929 we did resume eight large holdings in congested areas, and the total resumption price represented 19 years' purchase of the rent. In other counties the price paid represented about 20 years' purchase. In 1930 the price paid in congested areas was somewhat higher, and amounted on an average to about 25 years' purchase. The other figures relate to estates purchased by the Congested Districts Board before the Board was transferred to the Land Commission, and the landlord's price was already fixed, and consequently the Land Commission had no option but to accept the number of years' purchase fixed by the Congested Districts Board.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary question the figure of 50 years' purchase which we made out?

You question it?

I am going on to explain. The second part of the return relates to estates purchased by the Congested Districts Board in the years before it was transferred to the Land Commission, and as I have just said, the landlord's price was fixed by the Board, and would approximate on an average to about 21 years' purchase. What the Land Commission has done since is to fix the compensation for the tenant's interest in the holdings which we have resumed. That compensation depends on the market value prevailing for land in that particular district. Deputy Derrig knows sufficient about conditions in the West of Ireland to realise that competition for land in the majority of districts is very keen, and where a small holding, or, at least, a reasonably small holding, is put up for sale you have at least 100 competitors for it. That happens in practically every county in the West. Naturally the keener the competition the higher price for the land is.

The Land Commission is obliged under the Act of 1881—that is the Act which determines the compensation for the tenant in these cases— to give the market value. If you take the tenant's interest in addition to the price paid to the landlord it may happen that in some cases the number of years' purchase appears to be exorbitant. In such cases you must take into consideration many additional factors. It may happen that when we resume land of that character there may be two or three houses on it. As a matter of fact in the year 1929, when we resumed a certain holding of this character there were four houses on it. One was a public house, one was a post office and there were two others. What the character of the other houses was I do not know. In such cases the Land Commission sell these houses for cash and the money realised goes to reduce the price of the land on resale to the tenants. The cash value of the houses when realised reduces the number of years' purchase. It sometimes reduces it by 27 or 28 years, as it did in this case. In all these cases as the Deputy is aware the Land Commission resell the land at an annuity for which the land is security. They invariably lose a substantial sum, but in any case they never fix an exorbitant annuity. In no case have I heard a complaint from tenants that the Land Commission have fixed an annuity which is exorbitant. There are factors and special conditions that must be taken into consideration in connection with the acquisition of these holdings. Really to understand the position clearly Deputies would want to have all the facts and circumstances relating to the acquisition of these holdings presented to them.

If the Parliamentary Secretary has not received objections to the annuities, is it not because he has taken away the right to object, even where the tenant refuses to sign.

Under the new Bill they need not.

They need not sign?

Under the new Bill they have the right to object to the annuities which we fix. That right is set out in this very Bill.

In what way?

Read the Bill we have been discussing for the last three or four weeks. I think the Deputy himself proposed an amendment to this particular section. The point is that in connection with the acquisition of these holdings special circumstances must be taken into consideration. As I say, in many parts of the West of Ireland, it is necessary to acquire many such holdings in order that the Land Commission may be enabled to carry out schemes of re-arrangement. It is necessary to carry out these schemes for the purpose of doing away with rundale lettings and giving the tenants compact holdings. There are houses sometimes on the holdings resumed. The Land Commission naturally do not want to retain these houses. They endeavour to sell them in all cases. They invariably succeed in selling these houses for cash and the money realised goes to reduce the price of the land on resale to the tenants. Consequently in such cases there is a very substantial reduction in the number of years' purchase. The losses on the resale of land have not been very great. In 1928 the total losses on resale of land resumed only amounted to £246. On lands resumed in 1929 the total loss was £2,432. On lands resumed in 1930 the total loss was £820. I do not anticipate that proportionately the loss will be any greater under Section 43 of this Bill.

There is another question: It will be necessary to resume a much greater area of land in future in order to provide for the migrants whom we will have to remove if we are going to make any impression on the problem of congestion. This is the most important section in the Bill to my mind. It is a section which gives the Land Commission a power that we have been long looking for. It will smooth and do away with the difficulties which we experience at the moment in negotiating the acquisition of land of this character. It will enable the Land Commission to avoid many of the delays that are inevitably inherent in the whole problem of migration. As I have already said, we will have to deal with a large number of migrants in future and it is absolutely necessary that the Land Commission should have some such power as this. It is also necessary that the Land Commission should have complete power to acquire any holding, no matter what size, which in their opinion it is necessary to acquire.

As a matter of fact it is much more important and much more economical from the standpoint of the State that the Land Commission should resume large holdings, holdings sufficiently large to enable us to place on them three or four or more of these migrants. We have resumed in fact holdings of that character in 1929, at least one holding of that character, on which we were able to place six or seven migrants. It is much more economical from the point of view of the State that we should have complete power to resume the large holdings. It saves money, it saves time in the office, it saves administrative and other expenses as well.

I endeavoured to make it clear to Deputies on the Committee Stage of the Bill that it was really more important to enable us to resume large holdings than it was to enable us to resume small holdings. It is equally important so far as the West of Ireland is concerned that we should have power to resume small holdings also, because if we are going to carry out successfully the present policy of the Government it will be necessary for us to resume small holdings. It will also be necessary to resume these holdings in order to carry out schemes of rearrangement for the purpose of doing away with the rundale system that is such a trouble and annoyance to tenants and such a fruitful source of litigation. The Land Commission in carrying out this policy for the relief of congestion in the West insist on the tenants on rundale estates agreeing to the Land Commission scheme of rearrangement. If a tenant objects or refuses to agree with such schemes then the Land Commission suspend proceedings until such time as the tenants come to their senses and agree to the arrangement being carried out. It will be necessary to resume small holdings for that purpose. It will also be necessary to resume a number of holdings probably not quite so small as the holdings I have just dealt with, large holdings in various parts of the western counties. It will be necessary to migrate the tenants of these holdings to eastern counties where there is land available and where land can be resumed at a reasonable price. Hence it is absolutely necessary that the Land Commission should have the power which the Dáil has given them in this particular section. In my opinion, it is the most important section in the Bill. It will undoubtedly help the Land Commission to speed up the migration of farmers from these western areas and so will help us to relieve the problem of congestion in these areas.

In rundale cases, will the Parliamentary Secretary be good enough to say where the majority of the tenants agree to the Land Commission scheme, has the Land Commission power to compel the other tenants to come into the scheme?

Yes, in a sense, but we never resort to the compulsory powers we have. We usually try gentle persuasion, and in the end the tenants succumb to it.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary deal with the question raised by Deputy Derrig in regard to coast erosion?

That is outside the province of the Land Commission, and I understand there is a Committee or Commission dealing with it, and we do not intend to interfere with them at all.

But take the case where we are advancing a certain sum of money on a holding, and where as much as six or seven acres may have been washed away by the sea. What is to happen in that case?

I assume the Commission that is sitting on coast erosion will deal with that aspect of the question. When the report of that Commission is available the Land Commission will be able to consider the problem.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary say if it was understood that where the Land Commission retained certain moneys, out of the Guarantee Deposit, for the purpose of making good and restoring embankments, that that can also be applied to the drainage of estates which have been neglected since 1923? Will the Parliamentary Secretary state, clearly, whether the Land Commission may not do that work now and recoup themselves out of the Guarantee Deposit?

They may, provided it was still the liability of the landlord.

I should like to point out that the Parliamentary Secretary, in his opening statement, apparently intended to excuse the Land Commission for giving high prices for land by referring to the fact that in some cases in the purchase of small holdings as many as 100 competitors were found to be bidding for the land. Apparently he offered that as an excuse for the Land Commission paying high prices.

While in his winding-up statement he refers to the Commission requiring to be careful in acquiring land at a reasonable price.

The Deputy misunderstood, I think. I said the Land Commission had to give the market value of the tenant's interest. That is determined by the prices prevailing in the district.

I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what he considers is the market value of such land. Does he consider the market value the price that was given, say, by a man who comes over from the United States with his life earnings in his pockets and wants to buy a home to live in, and is prepared to give an exorbitant price for a piece of land? Does he consider that a reasonable price for such a piece of land? There are also competitors bidding in the shape of police pensioners and people who got large sums of money for past services rendered to the former Government, and who are thereby in a position to give exorbitant prices for pieces of land to secure a home for themselves. Does the Parliamentary Secretary consider that the price of land enhanced in that way is a reasonable excuse for the Land Commission in paying such prices as have been given for land in recent times? I think it is most unreasonable.

I have already dealt with that.

You have in your own way, but not in a way satisfactory to us.

Question:—"That this Bill do now pass"—put, and agreed to.