Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 6 May 1947

Vol. 105 No. 16

Committee on Finance. - Vote 52—Lands.

I move:—

That a sum not exceeding £780,150 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1948, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Offices of the Minister for Lands and of the Irish Land Commission (44 & 45 Vict., c. 49, sec. 46, and c. 71, sec. 4; 48 & 49 Vict., c. 73, secs. 17, 18 and 20; 54 & 55 Vict., c. 48; 3 Edw. 7, c. 37; 7 Edw. 7, c. 38 and c. 56; 9 Edw. 7, c.42; Nos. 27 and 42 of 1923; No. 25 of 1925; No. 11 of 1926; No. 19 of 1927; No. 31 of 1929; No. 11 of 1931; Nos. 33 and 38 of 1933; No. 11 of 1934; No. 41 of 1936; No. 26 of 1939; and No. 12 of 1946).

The net Estimate for Lands for the financial year 1947-48 represents an increase of £44,510 over the amount voted for last year. This increase is almost entirely accounted for in sub-heads A and D. Apart from these increases, the items in the present Estimate closely correspond with last year's provisions, the greatest disparities being the decrease of £2,000 in sub-head B, for travelling expenses, and the increase of £500 in sub-head N, for advances to provide funds for the maintenance of embankments or other works. Last year's provision for travelling expenses, £29,000, represented an increase of £4,000 over the preceding year's figure. It proved to be in excess of requirements. The reduction of £2,000 this year is proposed solely as a measure of more precise estimation. It in no way implies a decrease in activities.

The increase of £500 in sub-head N is required to meet the initial cost of certain embankment maintenance funds which are in process of creation in connection with land-purchase proceedings. Advances from sub-head N are repaid by tenant purchasers in the same way as advances for the purchase of land under the Land Acts. The only other noticeable increases are £300 in sub-head F, for telegrams and telephones, and £200 in sub-head C, for incidental expenses. The increase in incidental expenses arises mainly through anticipated higher expenditure on advertisements.

Sub-head I, improvement of estates, etc., remains unchanged at last year's figure. The continued shortage of building and other materials greatly affects the Land Commission's potential output upon land division. Last year, the expenditure under sub-head I was approximately £196,000. In prevailing circumstances the sum of £254,800 proposed in the present Estimate is considered to be the maximum amount that could usefully be expended.

More than one-half of the entire Estimate is allocated to the allied sub-heads H (1), H (2), H (3) and H (4) which are related to making good the deficiencies in the Land Bond Fund. These deficiencies chiefly arise through the halving of tenant-purchasers' annuities and through other State aids to land-purchase, for example, the costs fund and statutory contributions given by way of bonus to vendors of estates over and above the prices repayable by tenant-purchasers. Some slight deficiency also occurs in the Land Bond Fund as a result of the writing-off of annuities on land permanently submerged as a result of erosion.

Some of the other sub-heads involve token amounts only which have been inserted to meet possible but unlikely contingencies. The remainder scarcely call for explanation as the changes this year are in no way out of the ordinary.

Last year's trying weather seriously affected the Land Commission's activities. Farmers throughout the country were engaged long after the usual season in a superhuman struggle to save the harvest and many of the Land Commission's staff turned in the time of crisis from their ordinary duties and gave valuable assistance in the fields and in organising the campaign for volunteer workers. Almost 800 employees, and this includes head-quarters staff as well as labourers, went to the assistance of the farmers for an aggregate of almost 7,000 working days. I take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the work done by the staff of my Department in association with the magnificent achievement of the farmers during last harvest time.

While we hoped 12 months ago that some expansion in the development of land settlement would follow the apparent easing of emergency conditions, many unpredictable difficulties arose that dashed the hope. The weather during the early months of the year was such as to make travel in rural areas most difficult and inspections were in many cases quite impossible. There was also a further brake on progress in the form of test litigation challenging the Land Commission's power to resume land. That issue is still sub judice. Precise figures for land division during the past year are not yet available but roughly 9,000 acres were acquired and roughly 15,000 acres were divided among about 1,400 allottees.

In one very important sphere the Land Commission succeeded in making considerable progress. I am referring to the vesting of lands in tenants and allottees. Altogether 10,192 holdings and allotments were vested as compared with 6,769 vested during the previous year. This time last year, I stressed the paramount need for accelerated vesting and I do so again this year as a very considerable amount of this work remains to be performed.

Some 65,000 holdings of tenanted land, 43,000 allotments of untenanted land and 15,000 holdings on Congested Districts Board estates, making a total of 123,000, remain to be revested. Even last year's great effort is dwarfed by this total, but it is confidently hoped to expand the output still further through the recruitment and training of additional staff for which provision was originally made in last year's Estimate. Delay in vesting land in tenants and in allottees who have proved satisfactory means that the Land Commission's work in relation to such land is only partially completed. Deputies are well aware that the existence of unfinished jobs in any business leads to waste and dissatisfaction. Commonsense and good organisation alike demand that we should press on as quickly as possible with the completion of the Land Commission's uncompleted undertakings. In this way only can the Land Commission eventually concentrate on their biggest remaining task—the important and complex work of alleviating congestion and improving rundale holdings.

During the past year close attention was paid to the needs of the congested districts. Despite the bad weather, numerous inquiries and inspections were carried out there. The Land Commission are keenly alive to the need for completing the work on the remaining Congested Districts Board estates. Those estates, to a large extent, are acutely congested, and migration is the only key to a solution. But migration on a sufficient scale is impossible while the supply of building materials is restricted. The long years of emergency also brought another difficulty in their train, as they depleted the ranks of experienced inspectors. Time alone will make good that loss.

As far as conditions permit, it is proposed for the coming year to concentrate again on the congested districts and the problem is under close examination. We want to avoid as much as possible the dissipation of the Land Commission's restricted potential and we are fully alive to the danger of permitting the problem to be again submerged as this will tend to add to the difficulties of its solution. The Land Commission's capacity for work is, however, limited like the capacity of each and every one of us, and if too much is attempted when general conditions are unfavourable no real progress can be achieved.

During coming months, also, we look forward to helping the national fuel production effort. Surplus turbary on the Land Commission's hands will be made available for letting wherever there is demand and no effort will be spared in arranging necessary development works.

The preparation of schemes for the final allocation of acquired lands in all counties will be pressed forward to the limit of the Land Commission's capacity but in this work, too, the shortage of materials and of experienced inspectors provides a big handicap.

Inspections into the user of allotments will also be continued. I am glad to be able to tell Deputies that last year's Land Act has already had a beneficial effect. I hope that those allottees who still shirk their responsibilities to the community will even at this stage turn over a new leaf. The Land Commission have no wish to deprive any allottee of his holding but if he fails to make the requisite effort, there will be no other alternative.

I shall bring this statement to a close with the usual brief account about the payment of land annuities. The position is very satisfactory. The total arrears on 1st April, 1947, was £279,212 representing less than 1 per cent. of the total amount collectable.

I join with the Minister in expressing appreciation of the services rendered by officials of his Department during the difficult harvest of last year. The House has already expressed its appreciation, generally, of the action of those who volunteered their services in that emergency. The assistance given to the agricultural community went a long way to safe-guard our supplies of native wheat and grain generally. I have often wondered why this important Department —the Department of Lands—which looks after the disposition and utilisation of the land is divorced from the Department of Agriculture. I do not think that there is very much co-operation between the two Departments. I doubt that any conference takes place to unify the outlook and policy of the two Departments. It is of prime importance that there should be harmony in the working of both Departments. I have often felt that, from the point of view of production, of which we speak a great deal here, the disposition of the land, how it is utilised and the opportunities given to the people on the land are of great importance. It is possible that, in the Department of Agriculture, there are experts who do not see eye to eye with the policy of the Department of Lands so far as what constitutes an economic holding is concerned. We discussed a motion in this House on that matter and I was amazed that the Minister failed to appreciate that, in the resettlement of land, it is highly important to ensure that the allotment given to the individual be economic. That is important in the national interest as well as in the interest of the individual. I suggest to the Minister that there should be much closer relationship so far as the disposition and utilisation of land are concerned between the Department of Lands and the Department of Agriculture.

The Minister made reference to the controversial Act passed here last year and he informed the House that good results had flowed from it. The report also refers to the Act in page 6:—

"During the year ended 31st March, 1946, 282 acres, taken up from unsatisfactory allottees, were re-allotted to 31 new allottees. It is regrettable that such action is necessary but it is imperative in the national interest to insist on the proper use of allotments which have been provided for the beneficiaries at considerable expense to the general taxpayer. New legislation was sponsored for dealing with unsatisfactory allottees and the systematic inspection of allotments continued during the year under review."

The Minister told us that inspection will continue. I think that the House agrees with the Minister that there is responsibility on himself and his Department to see that land given in that way as a gift from the State to individuals to make their circumstances economic is properly used. But the fault may not always be with the allottee. The parcel provided may not be economic so far as he is concerned. The Minister accepted the policy in operation for a long time and was not prepared to have any full examination of it. A considerable number of allotments are not being properly worked. I am afraid that the Minister will not ensure their proper working solely by compulsion. More is necessary. It is not economic in a number of these cases to maintain the equipment necessary to cultivate land properly. It is not economic in some cases to maintain two horses and you can scarcely have good cultivation without a pair of horses.

No attempt has been made by the Department to introduce or foster a co-operative organisation by which allottees on an estate might come together and co-operatively equip themselves to do their work. I suggested on former occasions that such an attempt might be made. That policy ought to emanate from the Department and be put on trial. It would be well worth a trial, to see how far the small man can be helped by co-operative methods, by bringing assistance to him to provide the necessary machinery for cultivation and so on and to eliminate the kind of waste that is inevitable if a man tries to equip himself on a small holding. It is impossible for a man in those circumstances to equip himself properly. If we are going to launch out now on an acquisition and division policy, my advice to the Minister in regard to the Act passed here a few months ago, arming him with powers to dispossess an allottee and giving that allottee no opportunity to defend himself in court or anywhere else, is that compulsion will not be successful. If we are to make a real success of land division, the matter must be studied much further. One way in which substantial help can be given is by the introduction on large estates of some kind of co-operative organisation that will supply the community there with the necessary equipment.

The Minister has referred to vesting and has given figures. I did not get them, but we have them here in the Report of the Land Commission. So far as the revesting of tenanted land is concerned, there is a total of 106,724 holdings to be vested. Up to date, 35,604 holdings have been vested, in 24 years. Last year 4,118 holdings tenanted were vested, comprising 109,645 acres, representing a purchase price of £843,776. The Minister comtio plimented himself and his Department on what has been achieved and said they have set a new record. It is true that they have set a new record in that figure and I appreciate that that new record has been established. However, even on that basis of vesting 4,118 holdings, it will take 17 years to vest the remaining portion of the tenanted land in this country. On that basis, it will take over 40 years to do the work intended under the 1923 Act. I think that it is grossly unfair to assume that the tenants should have to wait 40 years before they become the real owners of their property. I need not stress that, as I know the Minister is anxious to have the work completed. As a matter of fact, he referred to that uncompleted work as being unsatisfactory. I merely stress what he is already saying—there is urgent necessity for a speed-up when we see that only 35,000 holdings out of a total of 106,000 have been vested in 24 years. There is a balance of approximately 70,000 holdings, all tenanted land, to be vested. According to the report, more progress has been made in the vesting of allottees. The work of completing vesting under the 1923 Act is an urgent matter and many people are wondering as to the cause of the delay. They expected to have the holdings vested in themselves long since.

I would like to ask the Minister why such a lapse of time occurs in the selection of allottees when an estate is resumed. It is very bad policy that an estate should be taken over by the Land Commission and remain in their hands for a number of years before being finally disposed of. The Minister may make the excuse that there is a good deal of work in the selection of tenants and inquiring into their fitness, but that is no excuse and if the Minister has any appreciation of what happens a particular estate in the interregnum he must agree with me that it is very regrettable that there is such a delay. Under the Compulsory Tillage Order, a certain amount of the land must be tilled and there is a lot of conacre going on, on land held by the Land Commission at the present time. Year after year, the fertility of that land is being destroyed, by a Department that is interested in the welfare of the land and that is looking after the interest of land. That Department is setting the worst possible example in the use of land, with no regard for proper husbandry, although they sit in judgment on an individual if he does not operate a proper system of husbandry and very often they dispossess him on that account. When it comes to their own particular land, the land they hold themselves, they can grossly abuse it and make no attempt, good, bad or indifferent at a proper system of husbandry. They abuse the land and destroy its fertility and then put in certain individuals and tell them to make good and if they do not make good they kick them out. That is the policy they operate and the Minister ought to be ashamed of it.

If it is a Department of Lands with any interest at all in land development, it ought to be interested in land development and ought to be capable of setting a good example, especially when it takes powers to dispossess people without giving them any chance of defence. I wonder if the Department were brought before any judicial institution, what would its defence be. It has no defence of any sort. It is a disgrace to the Department that that sort of policy should continue. The policy of serving a resumption notice on an individual and allowing it to lie dormant for years before being put into operation is a bad policy. The moment any man occupying land is notified of the intention of the Land Commission to resume his holding, he ceases to have any long-term interest in it and is going to take all he can out of it before it is resumed. That sort of thing should be stopped. When we remember that it is the policy of the Land Commission to allocate small holdings to individuals, a natural corollary of that policy should be to see that the land is in good heart. The policy of the Land Commission is to destroy the fertility of the soil and to settle men on small allotments and holdings in such a condition that it is utterly impossible for them to carry on. They are without sufficient capital to try to rehabilitate land, which has been deprived of its heart and its fertility. Those unfortunate people are simply being steam-rolled by the Minister. While I am all for ensuring that, when a man gets a gift from the State, he should use it properly, I would at the same time appeal to the House to see that the Land Commission does its job properly and sets a good example. That is why I suggest that there ought to be some sort of co-ordination between this Department and the Department of Agriculture.

In regard to the operation of the Act to which the Minister referred in his speech, he ought to bear in mind that, in many of those cases, there are extenuating circumstances, and that men have failed because of conditions over which they had no control. They failed because the conditions under which they were put in by the Minister's Department were too harsh and too difficult. It would require a super-human effort on the part of some individuals to make good under such conditions.

I put it to the Minister that this is a matter which requires thorough investigation and not by the Department because one could scarcely expect it to bring in a report condemning itself. The Minister said that the machinery within the Department was sufficient to satisfy it as to whether its policy regarding the size of a holding —as to whether it was economic or not—was right. I cannot accept it that a man is himself the best judge as to whether he is doing his work properly or not. This is a matter that, in my opinion, should be examined by an independent tribunal. I am not satisfied that we are pursuing the right policy, so far as the future of the country is concerned, in this matter of the utilisation of the land and of increasing production. There ought to be some revision of the policy that has been operated for a long time by the Minister's Department.

The Minister referred to the fact that quite a number of the members of his staff had been seconded to other Departments, and that a number of the principal officers had gone temporarily to the Department of Agriculture. In my opinion, before these staffs are reassembled in the Department of Lands we should be satisfied that the Department is going to pursue a wise policy in the future, so far as the disposition of land is concerned. I am sure the Minister realises that if the resolutions passed by the international bodies dealing with the provision of food for the whole human race are to be implemented, and if the world is to enjoy a higher standard of nutrition, all that will call for the production of more food than was consumed in the prewar years. As a food-producing country we are keenly interested in the principles and policies adumbrated at the meetings of these international bodies on such questions as the future dietary and nutritional requirements of the peoples of the world. For that reason, it is important that we should give serious consideration to the question as to how our land is held and used. I suggest to the Minister that the time is opportune for having a full examination of that matter.

The Minister ended by making a reference to the payment of the land annuities, and said that less than 1 per cent. was outstanding. That is highly satisfactory. I am aware of the fact that the Minister's Department has relentlessly pursued those who were in arrears in the payment of their land annuities. I suppose the Department felt that, while things were reasonably good with the farming community, this was the time to put the screw on. I suggest to the Minister that just when people are beginning to recover from the depressed conditions under which they have been carrying on is not the best time to put the screw on too much. In any event, the sum outstanding is so insignificant that it is scarcely necessary to make any further comment on it. I suppose the Minister's Department was pushed by the Department of Finance in that matter. At any rate, the Department seems to have done its job efficiently.

An Ceann Comhairle resumed the Chair.

When this Vote was under discussion last year I put up this proposal to the Minister, that the land annuities should be held by his Department as part of a fund which would be utilised for the final settlement of the land question. I observe that when replying the Minister did not even mention a word about my proposal. He is asking the House to-day for a sum that is slightly short of £1,500,000 for his Department. In my opinion that sum is completely inadequate if any genuine effort is to be made to settle the land question.

The Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Post-Emergency Agricultural Policy contains a table that, strange to say, cannot be found in the Statistical Abstract. The table, which is on page 93, reveals the fact that 74.2 per cent. of the farming community, representing 225,993 homesteads, have a total acreage between them of 3,245,000 while those on 78,903 homesteads have 9,672,000 acres between them. That is to say that, roughly, 74 per cent. of our homesteads have 3,250,000 acres between them, while 26 per cent. have over 9,500,000 acres between them. If I remember correctly we have had statements from various Ministers of the Government from time to time such as that the land question is settled, and that there are too many people on the land. In my opinion the Minister is not making any attempt to settle the land question. If he were genuine in his attempts to do so he would not have come to the House to ask for a sum that is less than £1,500,000. That is less than the sum that is collected in land annuities each year. Instead the Minister would have come and asked for a sum of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000. He would treat this matter much more seriously. His colleague the Minister for Defence came to the House and asked for a sum of £5,000,000 for a peace-time Army.

That is what the Minister for Lands should have done, so that in my opinion the work of the Minister and the Department is a huge joke. That cannot be proved better than by a reply which I got to a question about three weeks ago when the Minister told me that the salaries paid by the Land Commission, exclusive of what is paid to labourers and gangers, amount to over £404,000. In the report of the Land Commission for this year we find that it has acquired a total of 9,920 acres. If it costs over £404,000 in salaries to acquire 9,920 acres of land, then the time has come when the Land Commission should be abolished completely, because that Department and the work of the Department have long since become a standing joke in the country. He boasts about the 10,000 holdings that were vested last year. I wonder how many of those were holdings of under £3 valuation and how many were holdings of a valuation as low as £1.1. I would like the Minister when replying to explain the purpose of vesting a holding of £1 valuation. I could quote one particular case of a holding of 18/-worth of land that was vested in the owner. It is waste of time and money to vest holdings of that size in the owners. They are vested without their knowledge. Does it preclude them from ever getting an addition of land in the neighbourhood or does it preclude them from migrating if the Land Commission take it into their heads to go into these small holdings? On the other hand there are holdings of over £10 valuation, which the Land Commission consider to be economic holdings. I move to report progress.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again when No. 4 is concluded.