I want to deal with this motion under the four heads set out therein, the first being the method of selection of allottees. Deputy Hughes, in moving the motion, has already dealt fully with the Minister's statement on the Second Reading of the recent Land Bill, and I do not want to reiterate what he said on that occasion. To my mind, the Minister's statement was an indictment of the policy of his Department over a period of years. I assume from what he said on that occasion, from the facts which he gave us and from the powers which he has taken unto himself in that measure, that he has now abandoned the policy which he had announced in 1943. The present Minister for Lands, at a Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, stated that:—
"The fruits of Government policy should go, other things being equal, to Government supporters."
My quotation is from the Irish Independent of September 29th, 1943. On another occasion in this House— on the 7th April, 1943—an extract was read from a letter signed by the present Minister in which this statement occurs:—
"From the list certified as competent I was bound to appoint the person best suited to the position from a political point of view."
The Minister was, of course, then speaking in another capacity, and not as Minister for Lands, but I take it that the recent measure, and particularly the Minister's speech on the Second Reading of it, indicates that in future allottees will be selected not because of their being Government supporters, not because of their holding a particular political point of view, but rather on the grounds of their capacity to work land, of their experience and training in farming operations, and generally speaking, on the grounds of their financial capacity to provide the necessary equipment by way of machinery efficiently to work the land. Therefore, I do not propose to delay the House on that aspect of the matter, or to go back on certain aspects of the present administration in the allotment of land. I assume that we have seen the end of that type of administration, and that in future the allotment of land will be based strictly on impersonal and impartial grounds, and, as I have indicated, on the capacity of the individual who is seeking land for allotment.
The second head of the motion—the standard of living attained by those to whom allotments have been granted— raises a rather big field of inquiry, and it is difficult, in the absence of figures, to indicate present-day conditions on the land. We do know that a big number of people who got land failed to work it themselves and sublet it. For that reason, it is rather difficult to advance to the Minister any arguments by way of statistics which would strengthen the demand for this particular sub-head. On this side of the House, we feel that it is essential that a public investigation be made on the standards of living on the land from the point of view of ascertaining whether our present system of holding and working land is best in the interests of the nation as a whole. I know there will be many viewpoints on what I have to say, but I feel that the principle of sub-dividing land into very small holdings has already gone too far, and that we have to approach this problem on a broad national basis. It is questionable whether it is a wise policy to give a small parcel of land to a man, particularly a man with a family who cannot hope to raise a family solely out of the land. It is also questionable whether it is wise to put landless men on the land who have no hope of gaining an economic livelihood from the land. That particular aspect of the problem raises the question of whether or not land should be given to people who have at present an alternative means of livelihood and do not intend to take land and work it as a whole-time occupation. For that reason, we feel that that aspect of the land problem is one worthy of very serious consideration, and one which would properly form the subject of such an inquiry as is envisaged by this motion.
On the next heading—the size and nature of the minimum holding which, as a result of experience, can be regarded as economic—that is to a certain extent tied up with sub-head 2 of the motion. According to the Statistical Abstract for 1945, we have something like 383,735 holdings in the country. Of that number, 241,809 holdings are of less than 15 acres. I question very seriously whether any man with a family can hope to make a living out of a holding under 15 acres in existing conditions. In addition, you have 89,311 holdings between 15 and 30 acres and 62,786 between 30 and 50 acres. When we get to the larger holdings, the figures begin to dwindle. Of holdings between 50 and 100 acres, there are 50,594, and of holdings between 100 and 200 acres, there are 21,316. Over the 200 acreage there are 7,230 holdings.
We hear in this House from time to time persistent and, if you like, importunate demands for the further division of land. It seems to me extraordinary that after 25 years of native administration, and after something like 70 odd years of native and foreign administration, we are still confronted with a land problem. One would have thought that the area of land in this country is so circumscribed in relation to the number of uneconomic holders or landless men seeking land, that we had already disposed of this problem in so far as the State could dispose of it. I think every member of the House will agree that it is a physical impossibility to allot land to every uneconomic holder or to every landless man. We simply have not enough land to go around them all.
On that point, I would like to quote from the Report of the Banking Commission of 1938, page 313, paragraph 506, in which this question was discussed. It states:—
"The area of available land sets a limit to what is possible in this direction, and a point must be reached when further intensification of efforts to procure land for division will be possible only at the cost of inflicting injuries on the agricultural system generally which, in the light of the interests of the country as a whole, would more than offset any beneficial results."
Again, in paragraph 507, Mr. Deegan, who gave evidence before the commission, is quoted as saying:—
"There is now comparatively little land left outside the purview of the Land Commission, but large holdings previously vested in tenant purchasers under the Land Purchase Acts can be acquired for division."
That, of course, obtained since the Land Act of 1936 and it is questionable —it was seriously questioned by the Banking Commission — whether the Minister would be well advised in seeking to acquire land which is already vested in tenant purchasers. The view taken by the Banking Commission was that pursuance of a policy of that kind was likely adversely to affect the credit of the farmer and also to have a depreciating effect upon the value of land. There can hardly be any doubt in the minds of Deputies who have given any thought to the matter that, if a persistent policy of acquiring land already purchased and handed over to tenants were to be pursued, the effect throughout the country would be very serious indeed.
I do not presume to have any expert knowledge of what is or is not an economic holding; I leave that to the agriculturist who has experience of these matters. I do say that in present circumstances no holding should be regarded as economic which is not sufficient to enable the proprietor not only to pay an economic rent for the land, but to make a sufficient livelihood that will enable him to rear his family in decent comfort. If we take it from that angle it should be apparent that anything under 15 acres of average good land would be insufficient for that purpose. On that point again I would like to quote the Banking Commission Report, paragraph 508:—
"In the first place, the size of a farm is a factor which in itself may affect the character of agricultural output. If the division of large holdings is carried so far that a high proportion of the total agricultural area is eventually composed of small holdings, it is possible that such a result might profoundly affect the agricultural output of the country as a whole. This is particularly true as far as the live-stock industry is concerned."
Again, further down in the paragraph, they say:—
"Whether farming is best conducted in large or small units is a question that does not appear to admit of a simple answer on one side or the other, and the balance of advantage may vary according to times and circumstances. Variety in the size of the unit may itself provide a form of insurance for the country as a whole should it happen, for example, at any time that market conditions are less favourable to the typical output of one size of farm than to that of another. Especially in the matter of efficiency, to which we have referred elsewhere, the large holdings may present important advantages, and it would be taking a grave risk, by enforcing legislation of too rigid a character, to deprive the Free State of the possibility of reaping these advantages."
To my mind, when we view market conditions elsewhere and when we view the agricultural developments that are taking place elsewhere it seems to me that we shall have to revise our whole policy, particularly in relation to foreign markets. In the foreign market we are, if you like, confronted with collective production and with the large-scale production which obtains in the United States and Canada. Sooner or later the question we shall have to face in this country is whether or not under our present system of land tenure we can hope to compete with the large-scale production elsewhere whether it is based on private proprietorship or on the principle of collective farming.
Again, on the question of compulsory acquisition, the Banking Commission said in their report:—
"A feature of the compulsory powers which is open to special objection is that they can be exercised even in relation to land which has already passed under the Land Purchase Acts and, as already indicated, these powers seem likely, as matters stand, to be invoked more extensively in the future for this purpose. If the work accomplished under earlier Land Acts were to be liable to be reopened indefinitely under later Acts, possibly in reflection of different views of successive Governments, there would be no finality to land purchase. Moreover, the sense of insecurity must be much greater if the Land Commission is given liberty to undo arrangements which have been carried through by the State itself in comparatively recent times."
I mention this point particularly because I feel, having listened to certain demands made for the further acquisition and division of land, that we are rapidly approaching a point at which the Minister and this House will have to decide when there is to be finality to land purchase. I think that the Deputies who raise this question from time to time, whilst they may undoubtedly have a very good case from the purely local point of view, they have not fully considered all the implications of their policy if that policy were to be envisaged as a national policy. Whilst undoubtedly— particularly in the west—there is grave concern in the congested areas the question for us and for the Minister to decide is, when we must finish the job. As I have already said, it is not possible to give more land to all the men on the land in the congested areas and it is certainly not possible to give land to all the landless men who are seeking land. We are circumscribed in our activities in relation to the amount of land which we have got to give and by reason of the fact that there are more people looking for land than there is land available for them. Sooner or later a decision must be reached on the question of finality to land division. Having made our decision we can then decide the bigger issue as to our agricultural policy. For that reason I think this motion is deserving of support in this House in order that all the facts of the whole economic problem of land division may be fully investigated and a final decision made.
On the question of the extent to which allottees have failed to make good and the reason for such failure, I do not propose to go into that matter now. That question is tied up with sub-head No. 1 of the motion. The Minister has already indicated to this House the measure of the failure of allottees in this matter. On the Second Reading of the last Land Bill he gave us a full and frank statement of the position obtaining on the land. He has given us the number of failures of allottees working the land. He has given us the number of failures of allottees to reside in the houses provided for them on the land, and he has given us the number of cases in which the land was sublet. In that connection all I have to say is that we on this side of the House hope that the Minister will exercise the powers that he has got under the last measure to ensure that the conditions obtaining before that measure was introduced will be put right in the future and that whatever defects have been discovered in the administration of the land policy in the past will be remedied in the future.
I think the motion before the House is a reasonable one. I think it is deserving of the serious consideration of the House. I think that the Minister should try to find a way of meeting us on this acute problem because it is one that reflects our whole agricultural economy. I think the time is now opportune for such investigations to be made so that we may, once and for all, decide what is to be our eventual land and agricultural policy.