Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 13 Jul 1949

Vol. 36 No. 18

Land Reclamation Bill, 1949—Second Stage.

Question proposed: That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

I think I should make it clear at once that this Bill, in itself, is really an enabling Bill. Its main effect relates to the conferring of powers on the Land Commission to charge holdings where the proprietor desires that method of repayment to be employed. The second substantial effect is contained in Section 5, which gives the Minister for Agriculture power to enter on a common watercourse where it is necessary to do so in order to render field drainage work which he has done on behalf of a farmer effective. The necessity for that power arises from the existence in widely separated instances of cantankerous individuals. It is not unknown that where a drain carries the water from several holdings that the farmer who lives at the highest point of that drain keeps his fields drained in good repair, but finds that his exertions are largely negatived by an eccentric or cantankerous neighbour who refuses to keep the main drain open. Under the law as it at present stands it is probably true to say that the first farmer has a remedy at common law by suing his neighbour for improperly obstructing the channel through which the drainage should pass, but a cantankerous neighbour is usually not unfamiliar with the process of law and he is, therefore, able to hold things up for a considerable time.

When you have in contemplation a scheme of the dimensions which I propose to outline to the Seanad in a moment, it becomes necessary to arm oneself with powers to clear the drain by statutory authority—always understood that it is the duty of any Minister or any public servant of the people to have recourse to such powers only in the last extremity. It would be right that I should tell the Seanad now that it would be my purpose to secure the consent in every case of a farmer on to whose land it became necessary to enter for clearing a drain and that it would be my endeavour to get that consent by every conceivable means of persuasion before I had recourse to the powers which I seek in Section 5. However, I am quite certain that the existence of the powers sought under Section 5 will make it very much easier to secure the necessary accommodation by persuasion than it would be if the rare cantakerous neighbour knew those powers did not exist. I, therefore, hope to hold them in terrorem and to be able to report in 1967 that it has never been necessary to use them. I do not want the Seanad to be under an illusion, though. I am not seeking the powers under any guarantee not to use them. Should the necessity arise to use them I would not hesitate to use them for the benefit of the cantakerous party's neighbours and for the benefit of the cantakerous party himself, had he the wisdom to discern it.

Section 6 was inserted in an effort to meet views expressed by the Opposition in Dáil Éireann. I did not think it was necessary and I do not think it is necessary for the purpose of the Bill, but I believe it to be sound Parliamentary practice that where the Opposition in the Dáil or in the Seanad expresses a strong view and if, without disrupting the whole structure of a Bill which is submitted to Parliament, one can incorporate their request—even if it appears unnecessary to the Government—one ought to do so. That is my justification for recommending Section 6 to the Seanad. It was done to meet a view strongly expressed by the Opposition which, on careful examination, I felt could be met without interfering with the general scheme and I accordingly met it.

Section 7 is the usual section providing for powers to make regulations and Sections 8 and 9 are in common form. I believe and hope that Senators were furnished with a copy of this pamphlet—The Land Rehabilitation Project—when the Bill was being circulated. The Seanad will probably wish to know the origin of this project, the purposes which it is hoped the project will serve and the methods by which it is hoped to carry it out. The Government of which I am a member has accepted as the basis of their entire policy the view that the economic future of our people is ultimately founded on the land and that, while there is room for and urgent need of diverse occupations for our people within the four shores of this country, ultimately the prosperity of all sections of the community depends on whether the land and those who live upon it and get their living from it are prosperous or not.

Recalling the history of how our people came to own the land, it is not difficult to sympathise with the circumstances which left us to-day with a great acreage of land the productive capacity of which was far lower than it ought to be, with the consequential result that hard work put into the land by those who lived upon it only too frequently gave the man who did the work a wretchedly inadequate reward.

The further west one goes in Ireland the more bitterly true that proposition evidently becomes. I was brought up in the County Mayo, in the second most congested area in Ireland, and all my life I have watched neighbours living out of ten or 20 acres, all raising good families on those tiny holdings, holdings where men from richer parts of Ireland would die of starvation if they were transplanted to them on the morrow. But it is not only the land of those small holdings one has to think of, because the land war was fought in Tipperary just as much as it was in Mayo. One of its results, which still remains with us, is that so much had to be spent in the effort to get the land for our own people that too little was done to make that land what it ought to be. And on top of the effort that our people were called upon to make was superimposed the old tradition that one should be circumspect about improving one's land, lest the rent be raised. Memories die slowly in rural Ireland and the grandfathers of most of the men who own the land of Ireland to-day knew that if they dared to improve their land the only consequence would be that the increased increment of their labour would be sequestered for the landlord. It was that vivid memory which provided me instanter with the appropriate reply to an inquirer who asked me, on the first occasion that I mentioned this project, whether if it were carried through successfully it would result in an increase of the valuation on the farmer's holding. It gave one a certain thrill to know the answer by instinct before one had time to work it out by reason, and my reply was: "Over my dead body". Anyone who remembers how we came by the land would, I think, echo that sentiment. It is a useful thing to remember.

I was gratified to discover that the instinct which inspired me to make that answer found an echoing answer from the Valuation of Ireland Act, 1852, Section 14 of which states:—

"No hereditament or tenement shall be liable to be rated in respect of any increase in the value thereof arising from any drainage, reclamation or embankment from the sea or any lake or river..."

I do not base the undertaking that I give to the farmers of Ireland in 1949 on the Statute of 1852, but I reassure them that the purpose of Section 14 of the Valuation of Ireland Act of 1852 will be served just as scrupulously in 1949 by virtue of the Government's undertaking as it was observed in 1852 by virtue of the Valuation Act of that year.

The reluctance of our people to improve the land, lest the rent be increased, had a further exacerbation by events which—I wish to avoid even the slightest breath of controversy here to-day—transpired subsequently. The fear that to improve land would excite the covetousness of bad neighbours undoubtedly played its part in deterring our people from doing all that might have been done to keep the land in good heart. A variety of causes combined to produce, over an area which we tentatively reckon to be about 4,000,000 acres of arable or potentially arable land, a situation the abatement of which calls for a capital equipment and investment quite hopelessly beyond the individual capacity of the farmers who own the land.

In Ireland, there is universal agreement on the proposition that to own land is a natural right not to be abridged, not to be doubted, not to be qualified. The ownership of land may carry duties and obligations, but it is an unqualified right. One, therefore, found oneself confronted with a dilemma. There were 4,000,000 acres of land, the private property of individuals, and on the produce of that land depended very largely the prosperity of the whole community, but no effort that the individuals who owned it could be expected to make would really extract from it what it should be made produce, as they had not the capital equipment or resources to bring it up to that level of fertility which would yield an adequate return for hard work. Only too often, in democratic communities, faced with a dilemma of that kind, the tendency to vacillate and do nothing prevailed. There are so many arguments for and so many arguments against that the time is spent in arguing and the standard of living of the people continues to decline.

The Government of which I am a member determined that vacillations of that kind would serve no useful purpose: that if their thesis is correct that the standard of living of our people ultimately depends on the land and that if one-third of our agricultural land was now left in virtual dereliction, the one certainty was that that land must be brought in as quickly as possible and that philosophical perambulations as to whether public funds should be, with propriety, laid out on private property or not are a barren topic of discussion. We accordingly, resolved to put the work in hand to complete it and to trust that our people are what those who went before us believed them to be, the best people and the only people in the world qualified to work the land of Ireland.

It is true this project is founded on one hypothesis and if that hypothesis is false, every penny spent on this project is thrown away. The hypothesis is that the farmers of this country, who own the land, live on it and get their living from it, are the best people in the world to get the best return from it and that put in the position that the work they do upon it will be fairly rewarded, they will work it to the best possible advantage and that the community who put them in a position to get from the land an adequate return for the labour they put into it, are making a good investment when they invest their money and their savings in the land of Ireland.

The source of this money is simple to discern. The inconvertibility of sterling created the situation in which we had not ready access to dollars. Under the Marshall Plan we became entitled to borrow from the United States of America annual sums of dollars, and the scheme provided that we were lent the dollars and we purchased the commodities which we required in the United States. On the arrival of these commodities in Ireland the individual entrepreneur paid for them in sterling and the sterling was deposited in the Central Bank under the control of the Minister for Finance to construct a fund out of which the debt due to the United States could be repaid as soon as convertibility would enable us to convert the sterling which we held in the Central Bank into dollars for transfer to the United States. The Marshall plan provided in itself a period of five years after the loan was contracted in which neither interest nor principal were to be repaid. Nevertheless, prudence demanded that when the loan was not payable on demand it would be necessary to have the wherewithal to pay the loan when payment would fall due. The problem then was how these moneys could be housed for safe keeping until they would be needed for the payment of the debt. Two courses were open. One, to invest them in what was commonly called trustee securities, and the other to invest them in better securities. There will be financiers who hold the view that the consolidated stock of the British Government is a better investment than the land of Ireland. It is a legitimate view, but it is not the view of the Government of Ireland.

Having carefully surveyed the various securities into which these moneys might be most safely put for safe keeping, the Government readily accepted the view that if you searched the world you could not find a safer place for the savings of the Irish people than the land of Ireland and the people living on it, and it is accordingly the Government's intention to put the money for safe keeping right into the land of Ireland and the people who live on it, confident that when the time for repayment comes, it will be found to be far safer there than it would have been in any consolidated stock of the British or any other Government in Europe.

So the finance was found. Ministers of Finance seldom hear their praises sung, but in all conscience I feel the obligation on myself to say and to reiterate here and elsewhere that but for the financial genius and extraordinary vision of the man whom this country is fortunate enough to have as Minister for Finance this project could never have seen the light of day. Inevitably, much of the kudos that will be got from this measure will accrue to the Minister for Agriculture, and may I reassure Senators I shall collect all the kudos available, but it is right that the Seanad should know, as the Dáil now knows, that all the good—and I think it will be great good—that will come from this project is in a very large measure due to a Minister whose name will be very little associated with it but, in fact, without whose work it could never have been even contemplated. So much, then, for how the finance is to be found and the history that lies behind it.

Let me sketch in very short detail the work that is to be done and then I will wait such queries as Senators may address to me so that I may answer them to the limit of my capacity at the conclusion of the debate.

The project falls into two divisions. The first contemplates that, after consultation with the appropriate officers of our Department, the farmer will undertake to carry out the work scheduled to be done by himself in consideration of receiving a grant estimated to reach two-thirds of the cost of the work to be done. I cannot too strongly emphasise and re-emphasise that this project has nothing to do with employment schemes, relief schemes or such activities of any kind. The aim is to get the work done under this project by the most economical method and the most efficient method and by the employment of that equipment which will enable those who work upon it to receive not the minimum agricultural wage obtaining in the area but a reward appropriate to the work done with the most modern machinery and with resultant increased volume of production for the people who do the work, to justify a corresponding reward. I think we can reasonably hope that a very great deal of labour will be provided.

In fact, I might say a word of warning to Senators that, in so far as our progress may fall behind what I hope for, I believe it will fall behind for the want of available labour. I am able to tell Senators that, although no prognostications have been made of recalling exiles we have already been able to welcome, not unemployed labourers on the unemployment rolls of Great Britain, but highly skilled operatives who have come home and who are coming home to earn that which they had in the relatively recent past to go abroad to earn. What is gratifying is that they are coming home to earn the same reward for the same kind of work but this time with the satisfying addition of the knowledge that the work they are doing is for the benefit of their own neighbours and not of a foreign employer. We will draw as the necessity arises upon the skilled labour force of our people in Great Britain.

We have no desire to stretch out the completion of this project by an hour. Our aim is to complete all the work that requires to be done in the shortest possible time so that every acre of land requiring rehabilitation may be put to work at the earliest possible moment. We will draw therefore upon the skilled labour force in Great Britain, I hope in growing numbers, not only to do the job that needs doing but to train young men here at home to do the job themselves as well. In our day, therefore, we may see the realisation of a dream that many of us have had when work upon the land will not be looked upon as suitable only for hewers of wood and drawers of water and when the workers who work upon the land will be equipped with equipment corresponding to that which has been put in the hands of industrial workers so that when they are so equipped their reward will be more commensurate with the work they do than it has been heretofore and will bear comparison with industrial rates of wages on a more rational basis than it has done heretofore. I mention that at this stage because, although under one part of the scheme it is anticipated that farmers will do the work themselves in consideration of a grant, I would like Senators to realise that it is intended in many cases that farmers will employ just the sort of equipment I have been describing and give contracts to neighbours' sons who, just as they kept tractors and ploughs to serve their neighbours, will now add to that equipment appropriate drainage machines wherewith to work for their neighbours on contract not only to create new field drainage systems but to maintain hereafter the standards we hope to establish. If Senators would care to look at this, I am proud to claim, somewhat unusual Department pamphlet—because I direct the attention of Senators to what for the want of a better word I elect to describe as "buttons and bows" which adorn it—they will see that a case is envisaged where a farmer elects to do the work himself and becomes entitled to a grant of £140 consequent upon doing the work outlined on page 1. Do Senators realise and believe that every applicant under this scheme to date— and we have had 3,543 covering 66,736 acres—has received a map of his holding with a complete diagram of all the works required to be carried out drawn in consultation and agreement with the farmer, just as it appears on page 2.

We have envisaged the possibility that half-way through he might run out of funds and we are prepared to consider an application for what I think my learned friend, the Attorney-General, might describe as a quantum meruit with the qualification that under this scheme the quantum meruit must function as a whole were it to be left for ever in no better title than quantum meruit.

As Senators will observe, it would be conceivable that part of the works envisaged in that part of the plan shaded red could be carried out and, were work stopped, serve no useful purpose at all. On the other hand, suppose the farmer had dug the main drain and supplementary drains to that main drain and had not yet reached the additional minor drains which would flow into the channel marked C-D, it would, in our opinion, be proper to pay an instalment of the grant due, referrable to the work done, because if the farmer never did anything more, that bit of work would be value for money.

On the other hand, supposing the farmer did part of the drainage, and left undone some small part, so that none of the rest of the work would function at all, in these circumstances we would refuse and the work would be nugatory if we did. There is an additional matter relating to the grant to which I wish to direct the particular attention of Senators. If the nine acres envisaged in this example required neither lime nor phosphates, the entire grant would be payable in cash. But supposing it emerged that the land reclaimed, consisting of nine acres, is deficient in lime and deficient in phosphate, we will pay the grant of £140 in kind up to the point of 2 tons of ground lime and 6 cwts. of ground phosphate as required. That quantity of fertiliser spread upon the land will be charged at the rate of £5 per acre.

Therefore, if all of the nine acres required that treatment the farmer would receive £95 in cash, two tons of ground lime and six cwt. of ground phosphate in respect of each acre, not delivered at his holding but spread by machinery on the land. As far as we envisage here—and I direct Senators' attention to this—where land may require phosphate and no lime, or where it may require lime but no phosphate, corresponding provision is made for the payment of the grant partly in kind and partly in cash. In every case it is our intention not to leave a holding until we can say that every acre which it is considered required reclamation and is capable of being laid down has been effectively laid down and will hereafter give an adequate return for the work a farmer or his family may do on it.

We have had, however, to envisage another situation. In the old days this kind of legislation was provided for under the Encumbered Estates Act. These were the days when, if a landowner grew poor and sold out, someone else came in and said: "I will put in a poor farmer." I use the adjective literally, because that became a popular pastime. God grant it never will again. Accordingly this Government determined that provision should be made for the farmer who is poor, one who is prepared to work but cannot find the money to meet his part of the cost to rehabilitate the land. We propose that where a farmer for one reason or another is unable to undertake the work himself, the Department of Agriculture will undertake to do it for him, and if there is agreement with him that it is necessary to do that, we will do it and charge him two-fifths approximately of the cost, subject to the overriding maximum of £12 per statute acre. That £12 can, if the farmer so desires, be charged on his holding on precisely the same terms as land purchase annuities are charged in the first instance.

Some of the more conservative watchdogs of our people's welfare were slightly scandalised at the proposal that a charge of this kind should have a lifetime of 60 years, but anybody who has lived amongst the small tenant purchasers, as we used to call them, knows how profoundly sensitive they are in regard to their land annuities. They have always been vigilant lest by some misguided step they would render themselves liable to a permanent charge. They have always watched with vigilant care to see that the figure on the Receivable Order was altered by no mortal hand except to end it finally. They were wise in that and, with the respect due to so wise an apprehension, I insisted that any farmer in Ireland, who desired to have 60 years to pay back the reclamation annuity, should be allowed the full 60 years to do so. If the Seanad passes this Bill in its present form it will be permissible, but at the tenant's option and initiative, to consolidate the amount, in which case the terms of repayment will be greatly shortened.

I want the Seanad to understand clearly that unless a purchaser asks for that to be done, the annuity will be charged on precisely the same terms as the original purchase annuity, and will extend for 60 years from the date on which the charge is made. I know how conservative financiers will be aggrieved at this appalling heresy, but those of us who glory in having been born in Connacht, know that there is bred in that part of the island values more enduring than economics, one of which is a firm, unbreakable, resolution that security of tenure shall not be breached. I know that there are logical answers to those who are purblind against the creation of a charge extending over 60 years, but I glory that the sovereign Parliament of a free people can from time to time and within reasonable limits say to economists and financiers: "We don't give two hoots. This is the way we want it and this is the way we will have it." I think I correctly interpret the minds of our people in saying to all the valued advisers whose prudence and circumspection we appreciate and acknowledge that, just for once, this is the way we want it and this is the way we are going to have it, and those who do not like it that way will just have to lump it. We do not often break loose and assert our sovereignty, but just once in a century we mean to do just that very thing. I take it that my duty is to lay this matter before the Seanad in the same detail as that in which I laid it before the Dáil, or perhaps I should have told the Seanad to read the Official Reports of the Dáil?

You certainly should not do that.

I conceive it to be my duty to approach the Seanad in exactly the same spirit. I sometimes find myself in doubt because if I do tell the Seanad scrupulously everything I have to tell I am told I am too blooming long-winded and asked, for God's sake, to shut up, and if I do not tell the Seanad everything the Seanad is entitled to know I am told that I am being disrespectful to the Seanad.

Has there been agreement that we should sit after 6 o'clock?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I was about to ascertain that. I take it that it is the wish of the House that the Minister should continue?

I move that we continue for another five minutes to allow the Minister to conclude.

Or longer, if necessary.

My only point is that the custom has been to adjourn at 6 o'clock, subject to prior arrangement being made. There is no objection, for the sake of objecting, on this side to allow the Minister to continue, if he anticipates that he will finish within a reasonable period—ten or even 15 minutes. I merely wanted to ascertain what exactly the position was.

The project deals with arable land or land deemed to be capable of being made arable. Of that, the Minister must be the ultimate judge. There is no other way in which that can be readily determined, and I must only ask the Oireachtas to accept the view that the Minister for Agriculture for the time being, sustained by his experts, will judge of that fully.

There is provision in Part II to equip young men in the country to become contractors on terms broadly providing that, if they desire to acquire machinery for hire or for the performance of contract work, they can have it, if they are prepared to put up one-third of the price themselves. A loan will be arranged for the second one-third and a grant will be provided in respect of the remaining one-third. In regard to grass seeds, it is hoped in time to acquire a supply of indigenous varieties which will be propagated at home and made available to those whose land has been reclaimed.

I direct the attention of the Seanad to the fact that the £12 which is the over-riding maximum will involve the annuitant in a payment of £4 6s. 8d. over the area outlined in the example set out in the pamphlet of which Senators have a copy, and that means approximately 4/10 in every half-gale per statute acre. We believe that the conversion of non-arable land into arable land must be worth 9/8 per year to any farmer in Ireland or anywhere else in the world. That is what this project is designed to do. That is what is available to any farmer who wishes to avail of it, and I hope and believe that very many will.

Lastly, it has been suggested that this project should be expanded to provide for putting out fertilisers on the land of every individual in the country who wants to put out fertiliser and whose land stands in need of it, whether the land comes within the broader scope of the rehabilitation project or not. That is a view I cannot accept, because I believe the resolution of the difficulty of a person who desires to put fertiliser on his land is to be found in the provision of adequate credit and not in the provision of a grant. Unless the theory sponsored by the Department of Agriculture that the application of hard work, fertilisers and good seed will produce profit for the man who employs them on the land of Ireland from the land of Ireland is true, then all we contemplate doing in this project is waste and folly. We propose that the land will be put into a position which will maintain it as a source of income for the man who works upon it and will enable it to be kept in good heart, if properly worked.

Those who want fertilisers are assured by all the knowledge in the possession of the Department of Agriculture that, given the markets we now have, the application of fertiliser, hard work and good husbandry, the land of Ireland will produce not only good wages but good profit for the farmer who employs them. I cannot see why any man's neighbour should be asked to make another man a free gift of the means to make a profit, while the man who is to have the profit sits on his sash and does sweet Fanny Adams. I will never ask Oireachtas Éireann to make that kind of provision. Credit, advice and access to supply—yes; but a free gift of the substance of profit is no part of the community's duty, and I do not believe that the farmers who live on the land and get their living from the land in Ireland will ever ask that of their neighbours. If they should ever change their minds about that, they will want another spokesman, because I will never ask it for them.

Sitting suspended at 6.10 p.m. and resumed at 7.15 p.m.