In the course of this debate previous speakers have referred to a number of matters with which I would like to deal. On the question of land purchase as a whole, there are a few points with which I would like to deal very briefly. In the first place, it has been suggested that the Land Commission is responsible for the stoppage of credit to farmers. That cannot be, because the small farmers about whom there is no question of their land being resumed by the Land Commission have no more credit than the larger farmers. The fact is that agriculture does not pay. Another objection raised was in connection with fixity of tenure. Now, we must all recognise that in these times there is no question of fixity of tenure in land. Everything is subject to the law of necessity, but I should say that for the great mass of farmers there is no danger as to their fixity of tenure. Senator Baxter used very strong arguments regarding the division of land in Meath and in other counties. He used arguments which on the face of them were fairly strong. One argument was that in Cavan and in the poorer counties in the West the people had to depend largely on the rearing of cattle. He then went on to say that these cattle have to be sold to the farmers in the rich counties, and from that he argued that if we took the land from the farmers in the Eastern Counties there would be no market for the cattle raised by the farmers in the poorer counties.
If we follow that argument to its logical conclusion we would see that it would mean that the population would be retained on the poor and barren parts of the country and that the rich lands must be left to the support of cattle. That is the logical conclusion of these arguments. But I do not believe that Senator Baxter's fears would be borne out as regards the position of the people in the poorer counties. We must remember that the people in Cavan had always to depend largely, not on crops, but on cattle rearing. During the economic war their market was closed to them for three or four years. Yet these people survived the economic war better than the people in the rich lands. I am quite satisfied that if the lands in the Eastern and richer parts were divided and there was no market for cattle in these rich areas the people in the poorer areas would adjust their economy as they did in the time of the economic war. Senator Johnston's argument was that it was unwise to break up the larger farms. He gave reasons which on the face of them appear to be strong. I suppose we would all agree that crops can be produced more cheaply by mass production. But against that we must remember that we are primarily concerned with people not with the production of food and cattle.
We know that modern machinery and mass production will give a bigger return than can be obtained by working smallholders. Still, if you take a 200-acre farm and divide it into five 40-acre farms it will be at once seen what a difference there will be. There would be five families planted there in ideal conditions, tilling and working their own land. That is a very much more desirable thing, from everybody's point of view, than to have those men working as farm labourers for somebody else or having the land grazed by cattle. If we could achieve the ideal of peasant proprietorship, as it is understood in other countries, that is, the creation of farms on which the whole work of the farm would be carried out by the families occupying them, as against what we might call factory farms, it would go a long way to solve this problem. What we should aim at is the farm of about 40 acres which will provide for a large family.
I must say, as an advocate of land division, an enthusiastic advocate of land division, that I do not at all agree with the general conduct of land division nor have I ever agreed to it. I do not agree with the procedure both as regards the acquisition and distribution of land. I am afraid that the three Governments which attempted land division in this country—the British Government, the previous Government and the present Government—were not getting full value for the expenditure which has been made on land division, nor do I believe that the procedure employed has ever attained the real object, that is, planting the greatest possible number of people on the land. The first objection I have to urge against the present procedure—it may not apply so forcibly in other areas as in the Southern counties, where the land is rich and the annuities high—is that when land is acquired the owners do not get a just price. That is due to the procedure followed by the Land Commission in valuing land. I understand that the land has to be valued on the basis of what the letting value would be to the Land Commission. That is in itself clearly unjust. The value of land is the price that it would fetch if it were put upon the market. There is no doubt about that.
Another reason why the owner does not get a fair price for the land is the practice of the Land Commission in redeeming the land annuities out of the value fixed upon the land, leaving the owner with much less than the actual market value. There was always a value on land. Even before the farms were ever purchased in the old landlord days, land, in our part of the country, realised as much as £20 or £25 per Irish acre. To-day that land should be worth much more than £25 or £30 per acre, but according to the Land Commission system of valuation, with the redemption of the annuities, it would not realise half of that. One result of the under-valuation of land is that most of the land which is changing hands in the course of time is never acquired by the Land Commission. It simply passes from one large owner to another, often at a very low price and the Land Commission gets only a very small portion of the land that is available, with the result that there is not sufficient land for division.
I think land division is one of the questions on which there should be unanimity amongst all parties. It is one of the things on which we really could agree. We believe that the Ireland of the future will be a far greater and more prosperous country than it is at present, and we should do everything in our power to lay the foundations of that more prosperous Ireland. The shortest way to lay these foundations is to plant the people on the land. There is no question about it, that those who say that the work of land division has been completed do not understand the situation. We must understand the factors which brought about the necessity for creating the Land Commission and for land acquisition and replantation. We are all familiar with the confiscations which took place in the 16th century, when our people were banished from the rich lands to the poorer lands of the West. That left a permanent problem of congestion in the West. In the East, apparently, it had been repaired, because at the time of the famine the country was covered with small holdings. After the famine most of these small holdings were deserted, and were absorbed into larger holdings. Later on these farms were converted into ranches by the landlord. Another thing which contributed to the desertion of the countryside was the over-development of the cattle trade. With the repeal of the Corn Laws in England, landowners found that it paid them better to put cattle on the land than to till it, and the result was that a large number of small farms were merged in larger farms. That process of amalgamation is going on even at the present day. Even some of the lands already divided by the Land Commission are in process of going back into larger farms because of the over-development of the cattle trade.
This is a question that should be faced in a non-Party spirit. We should all unite to see that the greatest possible number of people are placed on the land. If we examine the question in that light, there are some points on which we must agree. We must agree that it is right that the people should be re-planted on the land. We must agree that it is necessary for that purpose that the greatest possible area of land should be placed at the disposal of the Government for distribution. We should agree also that the owner of the land is entitled to a fair price. After all, the owners of the land are not responsible for the development of those large farms, which have been created by the slow growth of economic conditions over many years. They are all our own people, and we should give them fair play. The owner is entitled to a fair price. The person to whom that land is given is also entitled to get it at a price which he can pay. There remains a gap between the price to be paid to the man from whom the land is being bought and the price which is to be charged to the man to whom it is to be given. Undoubtedly, there will be a gap between what the owner will get and what the allottee will pay if he gets it at a fair rent. That is the crux of the whole situation. We must recognise that it is the business of the community to bridge that gap. It is not the business of the individual farmer to provide land for the relief of congestion. It is the community that will benefit in the long run by the division of land, and, therefore, the community must be prepared to make some contribution towards it.
In 1903 a statesmanlike effort was made by the English Government to reconcile two elements in this country that were previously regarded as irreconcilable—the landlord interest and the farmer interest—and the British Government at that time succeeded in reconciling these interests. They bought out the landlord class in the country and settled the farmer in possession of the land. That was done by general consent and general agreement, and with the goodwill of everybody at the time. Can we not do the same to-day? Can we not complete land division in Ireland with the same goodwill? I hope we can. I would suggest that we would approach the question in a big way, not by these piecemeal methods that have been tried from the very start. I would suggest that the Government should obtain the greatest possible area for division, as far as possible in one operation. They should then divide the land in one operation, as far as possible, and so have the work of land division closed finally.
What I would suggest is that during, say, a three years' period the Government should agree to pay a cash bonus of 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. on all voluntary sales to the Land Commission. There should also be some independent tribunal to fix the value of land because it varies in every county. It requires a knowledge of local conditions to enable one accurately to determine the value of land in any given locality. I think the value should first of all be determined by some local body or arbitration court, subject of course to a right of appeal. I think that during that three years' period there should be a suspension of the right of private sale, because otherwise there would be an artificial inflation of the value of land, and it could not be obtained for division. With the Government and the community in general agreeing on the question of a fair price for the land, there is no doubt that the surplus land could be obtained for the purpose of division. You would get nearly all those outside farms which are held by people who are not really farmers, and who have really no desire to hold them. In addition, the great majority of farmers are short of capital at the present time, and the farmer with 60 to 100 acres would be very glad to dispose of 30 or 40 of those acres at a reasonable price.
I do believe that, if we gave a chance to the system of voluntary purchase, it would be quite possible to acquire say 1,000,000 Irish acres of really good land for division, and with that 1,000,000 acres, giving good-sized economic holdings of say 20 Irish acres, we could provide 50,000 holdings right away.
The thing is quite possible. There is no reason at all why it should not be done. I would ask the House to realise what 50,000 additional holdings would mean to us. It would mean 250,000 people provided for. I know the question of cost will be raised. Advances would be necessary, and most of them would eventually have to be repaid. The advances could not amount to much less than £30,000,000, but we must remember that long before the war the British Government agreed to an advance of over £100,000,000. The figure may seem staggering. It was suggested at one time that the cost of housing in Dublin might eventually amount to something like £20,000,000 and we must bear in mind the difference between providing a man with a house and providing him with an economic holding of land. When you provide a man with a house costing say £700, you are simply providing him with shelter, and he must have an income from an outside source, but when you provide a man with a farm of 20 acres of good land you are giving him a means of livelihood for both himself and his family for all time, and you are creating an asset which will be producing for perhaps hundreds of years to come.
I would ask that we approach this question in a proper spirit, and I would ask the Minister to look into the points I have raised, because I feel it is time to get away from the squabbling spirit in which we approach those matters. We should all co-operate with one another, because there is no doubt that, once we study this question, it is one on which we all can agree. In anything else that may be undertaken, mistakes may be made, and things may be done which will subsequently have to be undone, but when you create an economic holding of land you are doing something that you are sure need never be undone.