Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 23 Apr 1931

Vol. 14 No. 16

Land Bill, 1930—Fifth Stage.

Question proposed—"That the Bill do now pass."

Before this Bill is passed, as I expect it will be, I would like to address some remarks to the Chair in relation to the policy of the measure. We have always been anxious that lands should be vested as quickly as possible. This Bill provides for the early vesting of land, and we are assured by the Parliamentary Secretary that before the 1st of May next, long lists of holdings will be published, and great areas of land in this country will be vested. I think the Parliamentary Secretary would be much better advised if, while expediting the vesting of land, he took more care of the interests of tenant farmers and of persons not yet tenant farmers or owners of land whom we hope to see in possession of economic holdings before many years have expired.

My idea of expediting the vesting of land would be, firstly, to vest all holdings in respect of which judical rents have been fixed. You could make no mistake in that, because you would be quite certain that the person you were making a fee simple owner was a person who had tenant right. The next thing I would do would be to vest all holdings to which section 24 (1) of the Act of 1923 applied—that is, all holdings which were in occupation of tenants and in respect of which no fair rent had been fixed. That is the system that I would adopt in the vesting of land, and I would leave to another day the question of vesting holdings which, in a country as narrow as ours, with resources as limited as ours, must be regarded as nothing short of estates—holdings in respect of which an advance of more than £3,000 is to be made. I do not think that it is just, in the circumstances of this country, to make an advance of public credit for the purchase of land to a greater extent than £3,000 to any one man.

The Bill which our Party introduced in the Dáil, the Bill which has been criticised but which still holds the field, is the simplest solution of the question of vesting land. It provided that Section 70 of the Act of 1923— that is the section dealing with the list of holdings to be vested—should be amended "by the addition at the end of the section of the words ‘provided that in the case of holdings subject to judicial rents to which Section 24 of this Act applies the appointed day shall be fixed at a date not later than the first day of December, 1929, and in the case of all other tenanted and untenanted lands to which Section 24 of the Act applies the appointed day shall be fixed at a date not later than the first day of June, 1932.'" You have heard this Bill discussed for days. It was closely discussed and analysed on both sides, and I submit that, as a measure of policy, that one section holds the field and is the only reasonable method of dealing with the vesting of land, while still preserving to the State the power which the State ought to have and thus go on, reasonably and prudently, with the settling of the farmers on the land. The Parliamentary Secretary and his Government thought otherwise, and they have produced a Bill of about fifty sections. I do not intend to criticise the various sections of the Bill. It would probably be out of order to do so at this stage, but I do want to repeat that, in my opinion, it is wrong, where lands have not been subject to judicial rents, for the State to advance money without an inspection of the holdings so as to secure that the holdings are value for the money. It may be said that a year or two ago we passed a Bill providing for a general reduction of 35 per cent. in all cases where judicial rents had not been fixed and that we gave the right to the landlord and the tenant to serve a notice and have an inspection. But there are numerous cases in which neither the landlord nor the tenant will desire inspection and in which the interests of the State are likely to be sacrificed.

I do think that the tenant farmers who have sub-tenants are being very badly treated in this measure. They are being crushed out. I am not in favour of charging a sub-tenant more than the value of his land, but I think it is a case in which the State ought to intervene and compensate the middleman in the same way as it is compensating the landlord—treat the tenant in the same generous way as the landlord is being treated under this Bill.

There is another question of principle in the Bill which, in my opinion, will be of far-reaching importance. There was a clause introduced into this Bill on the Second or Third Stage in the other House providing for compensation for disturbance in the case of resumed holdings. Anybody having experience of the long land struggle in this country and of the land question in general will at once fix on that as the most important clause in the Bill, because not alone does it provide for compensation for the value of the holding which is being resumed, but it also provides compensation for disturbance. These holdings are resumed for one purpose only—for the purpose of settling congests, landless men and people who can suitably conduct small farms. Of course, when a holding is divided, it must be sold to the incoming tenant—the small man —at a fair price. If the owner of the resumed holding gets a fair price, with compensation for disturbance, and if the small man is to get in at a fair price, the difference must come from some source. There is no provision in this Bill for bridging that gap. There is no provision whereby the State will come in to subsidise the transaction. I was very glad to hear Senator Sir John Keane say, by way of interruption on the Second Reading of this Bill, that in such a case the State ought to come in. I was stopped on Second Reading when I endeavoured to suggest an alternative method of acquiring land for the benefit of congests—by empowering the Land Commission, instead of taking land compulsorily, to acquire land by purchase and to place a fund at their disposal in the same way as a fund was placed at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board. That method would be successful. No general system of compulsion in Ireland can be successful. It is absurd to suppose, at this stage of the history of the land system in Ireland, that the farmers of Ireland, or any substantial group of farmers, can be placed under the heel of compulsion. They cannot. They never were placed under the heel of compulsion, and they never will be. Land in Ireland has always been held by force. Land in Ireland will always be held by force. Let there be no mistake about that.

There is one small aspect of this measure to which I would like to call attention. You will have observed that provision is made for the payment out of moneys without complete investigation of title to persons who represent themselves as owners of land. That may be a reasonable thing, but I think that any loss sustained in the financing of a matter of that kind should be borne by the class of persons which is benefited. Under this Bill, it is to be borne by the State. We had an amendment down which sought to provide that a fund should be constituted out of the moneys retained—the guarantee deposit—to be called the "Title Compensation Fund," and that that fund should be used for the purpose of meeting claims made by rightful owners in cases where the wrong persons had been paid. I think that that amendment was reasonable, but it was not accepted.

These are the main objections that we had to this measure. We think that it ought to have been a simpler measure, that it ought to have provided for the vesting of judicial holdings, and after that, for the vesting of ordinary tenancies, and that until there was time for the proper distribution of land the Minister ought not to have gone farther than that.

I do not propose to add much to what Senator Comyn has said, but I feel that it would not be right to let the Bill go through its final stage without making one or two observations. I may state frankly that the Committee Stage which we went through last week was, to me, a disappointment—not so much because of the few amendments which we got accepted, but rather because of how little we learned either from the House or from the Parliamentary Secretary as to the reasons for his objection to the amendments, and because of what I might call a lack of defence of his own measure. Senator Comyn has referred to one clause that we argued fairly vigorously last week —the clause dealing with the Title Compensation Fund. Frankly, I think a mistake was made, in spite of all that the Parliamentary Secretary has said, in not accepting that amendment or bringing in an amending clause on the same lines. I think that losses will be made by the State owing to the absence of such a clause.

Apart from that, it was interesting to hear certain points of view, as expressed by Senators on that occasion. Senator Brown, speaking, I presume, for what I would look upon as the landlord interest—the vendors who will be—strenuously opposed any such proposal. With due respect to his legal ability, which we all admit, I think he made a wretchedly poor case, and that all the arguments of equity, and in favour of protection of State funds were on our side. That, in spite of Senator Brown, and in spite of the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary. We had another interesting disclosure last week, when Senator Jameson, throwing up his hands to heaven, asked why we, as Senators, should stand up in face of what the experts had said. To me, that was an extraordinary attitude. It was the most revelatory attitude I have yet seen in the Seanad. To my mind, it condemned us as a totally unnecessary and superfluous body. Some of us think we are such, and that this House is not in any sense justifying its existence, but Senator Jameson was the last person whom I expected to say "Why worry about these things; the experts are satisfied; we cannot say any more." I suggest to the House that Senator Jameson may have been encouraged in that view by the attitude of many Senators who are here "two by two and by captain's command," and whose opinions, when we do hear them expressed, lead one to believe that we are a fit case for expert direction, and for nothing else.

Many of the amendments which we discussed in committee were highly technical. Some of them were highly technical even from the legal point of view. Many of them were highly technical from the point of view of the city man, who has not had experience of Land Commissioners, land legislation, or land courts. Still, I think, that some of us who belong to the category of city folk did try to analyse, understand and reason out the various sections of this Bill believing, as we believe about all Bills, that it is up to us to try and understand our work, and to do the right thing by the State. Otherwise, we are shirking our job. That being so, it is disappointing to find that not only are amendments turned down but that they do not evoke anything like a convincing explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary in charge of the Bill.

We have had considerable experience in this House, though not as long experience as some people have had. We have dealt with many subjects here —finance, foreign exploitation of industry, flour milling and other subjects. A lot of these things involved very big interests—both domestic interests and external interests. In so far as our views have been expressed in debate or by motion or by amendment, we want all and sundry to understand that if and when we do get power we will exercise ourselves to the best of our ability to see that those fundamental viewpoints are carried through, whether it is going to affect landlords selling under this Bill, flour millers coming into Limerick, or foreign syndicates exploiting the country. I have nothing to add as regards the Bill. The Committee Stage was frankly a disappointment to me, not so much because our amendments were rejected—we are used to that— but because we did not learn much from the Parliamentary Secretary in charge of the Bill as to the reasons for the various clauses for which he fought or the reasons against the various amendments which he turned down. Senator Johnson referred to-day to a mere "nod of the head" of the Parliamentary Secretary. We had a great many nods last week, and I suppose we have got to be satisfied with them.

I must confess that I was somewhat at a loss to follow Senator Comyn, particularly at the outset of his speech, when he said quite definitely that, in his opinion, the Land Commission should, first of all, publish the list of judicial tenancies. I do not think the Senator was aware, when making that statement, that if the Land Commission did as he suggested they would succeed in defeating the object which the Senator had in view, because many of the tenants who have got advances from the Land Commission up to and exceeding £3,000, are judicial tenants. In fact, the majority of these tenancies are judicial. I might also remind the Senator that the Land Bill from which he read an extract merely re-enacted the law of 1923 on that particular subject. In that re spect it is identical with the section relating to the publication of lists in this Bill. The Land Commission will, of course, take tenancies, whether judicial or non-judicial, according as they appear on the schedule of particulars supplied by the landlord. The particulars of these holdings will be published in the list of vested holdings and the annuities will be fixed in respect of judicial holdings in accordance with the Act of 1923 and in respect of non-judicial holdings in accordance with the Act of 1929.

The Senator will probably remember that, in the case of non-judicial holdings, there is an automatic reduction of 35 per cent. provided by the Act of 1929. If other non-judicial tenants are dissatisfied with that automatic reduction in their payment in lieu of rent, they are entitled subsequently to object, and there is ample provision made in this Bill for the hearing of their objections. It is, without doubt, provided in the Bill that the tenants of holdings in respect of which advances of £3,000 or upwards have already been made are to be deemed to have entered into subsequent purchase agreements on the date of the publication of the lists, but in later sections of the Bill it is provided that these agreements can be afterwards cancelled, and that the sections in the Act of 1923 relating to retained hold ings shall apply in their entirety to these classes of tenancies. The position has not been altered in the slightest, and the Land Commission has, under this Bill, the identical power that it had under the previous Land Acts to retain and resume land.

The section to which the Senator referred at some length relating to the payment of compensation for disturbance and injury in the case of a certain class of tenancy is, in my opinion, the most important section in the Bill. It will facilitate the Land Commission considerably in resuming land of that character for the purpose of relieving congestion, particularly in the western areas. Most of these holdings at present are utilised for the purpose of providing land for the big type of farmers who are removed from certain western areas. If any impression at all is to be made on the problem of congestion, it is necessary during the next few years that a larger number of these big farmers should be taken out of these areas and transplanted in areas where there is plenty of land available for the purpose. This section will facilitate the Land Commission considerably in carrying out that work.

The Senator seemed to imply that the landlords were getting some special treatment under this Bill—that the financial terms of the previous Acts had been altered in some way for the purpose of facilitating the landlords. I do not know whether the Senator wanted to convey that meaning to the House or not, but he must be aware that this Bill does not alter in any respect the financial terms of any one of the previous Land Acts. The only way in which the landlord is facilitated under this Bill is by the provision for distribution of the purchase money more quickly than it would otherwise take place. As a matter of fact, that will greatly facilitate the Land Commission. It will relieve the Land Commission of a certain amount of work. It must be apparent to anybody that there is a considerable amount of work involved in the keeping of accounts for all the estates with which the Land Commission is dealing at the moment. That money will not be distributed until the landlord shows title to the land and until the Land Commission is satisfied that his title is bona fide.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 4.55 p.m. until Wednesday, 6th May at 3 p.m.