Committee on Finance. - Land Bond Bill, 1969: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Final Stages.

Wednesday, 23 July 1969

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 241 No. 8

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Question again proposed: “That section I stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. J. Lenehan:  Before the House adjourned last night I was dealing with land bonds. Land bonds, of course, were a very original and very subtle method of confiscating lands. The landlords got the opportunity of giving their land for nothing or taking bonds and wisely they took the bonds. For various reasons land bonds have become unpopular but in defence of bonds it must be said that if they are considerably below par at the moment at the same time in view of the tremendously inflated prices paid for land it would appear doubtful if those who take bonds are losing anything worthwhile. Anyway, in the main, they are being given to big landholders who can afford to take a little cut. There is one point I should like to make clear. As I understand it, for some years past smallholders are entitled to get cash. I hope that is a fact and that these bonds are not being pushed down the throats of smallholders who do not want them and who may not be in a position to wait until they could realise even the deflated value of land bonds.

In my part of the country farms are small and I would not like to see them taken over and paid for in land bonds unless the people want to take these bonds. My main point is, whether they are paid in land bonds or not, when the lands are taken over they should be brought quickly into use and distributed. [1282] I do not think land bonds have anything to do with that tremendous holdup. This is a main problem down in my territory. It takes years and years to take over land and then it is years and years before something is done with it. I would ask the Minister to do something about that.

Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  I should like to ask the Minister why he selected the figure of £40 million? Since the Land Bond Act, 1934 was passed the Land Commission have got about £25 million, in a period of 35 years. I am being genuine when I say that the Government are very fond of big figures when it comes to money. There should be a more realistic approach. The Minister is now legislating for ever; this legislation will last for ever. I notice that the Minister shakes his head. I would seriously suggest that in view of the antipathy to land bonds the Land Commission should get away from land bonds altogether. Even if the Oireachtas gives them this Bill, they should, on the whole, get away from land bonds altogether. Even if the Oireach-Minister on this: they have got away from land bonds in recent years. I will make a bet with the Minister — I have not the figures — that the Department of Lands is paying a lot more money in cash for lands.

Minister for Lands (Mr. S. Flanagan): Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  That is right.

Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  That was a guess on my part, except that I know the background a bit. The game is hardly worth the candle any longer, especially with the fantastic rate of interest. If you are going to have the bonds at or near par for some reasonable time after being issued, I do not know what rate of interest the Minister will fix. But, if you have the Metal Box Company, one of the British prime companies, paying 10½ per cent for money and, as I said the last day, a big number of companies in one week raising money at nine and seven-eights per cent and only getting £99.5 out of every £100, this game is over.

I do not know whether the Minister will consider the matter or not. He probably will not. One of the difficulties about dealing with, if I may say so [1283] with respect, the establishment — let us put it that way — I mean the Minister and his civil servants and I am certainly not referring in particular to or throwing any odium on the Land Commission in this connection — is that once they make up their minds about something it is very difficult to get them to see reason afterwards.

This figure of £40 million for £25 million is, in my opinion, just ludicrous. Frankly, when we are dealing with millions, in practice, it makes no difference. These are just words written into the Bill. In practice it will make no difference but I do think that this House ought to show a sense of responsibility and I would much prefer to see the Minister having a figure of £30 million in there instead of £25 million. This is what is known as my conservative socialism or my social conservatism; I do not know what it is, but I do hate to see huge figures in relation to money in legislation. I am a great deal more careful of public moneys than I am of my own. We ought to feel that way about it. I do not know why the Minister made up his mind at £40 million. If he had even added £10 million to the £25 million instead of £35 million, I would have said that he was providing, on the basis of anything that I can see, for the next 20 or 25 years. The land is not left; it is being raked over time and again.

Do not misunderstand me. This is not a question of principle, really, because the amount of land bonds that will go out will depend on many factors, particularly on the present antipathy to land bonds that exists. Unlike Deputy Lenehan up there, who weeps bitter tears for small people — we all know that kind of act; he thinks the big fellows should get the land bonds, should be rooked, or words to that effect; he did not mind what happened them — I am concerned about the honesty of the State. I am concerned that the State should be upright and should be seen to be upright. I would urge the Minister — I am not going to press him; I have said what I have to say — that, instead of this figure of £40 million, he and his officials should reconsider it even at this late stage and take some figure that has some [1284] relation to what the realities will be for the next decade. It is good enough for us to legislate for a decade. We need not be legislating for the rest of time.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  I would appeal to the Minister, as other Deputies have, to try to pay in cash instead of in land bonds. Payment in cash would be much fairer and would be a more honest system. It would expedite the purchase and distribution of a large pool of land before we enter the EEC. Deputy O'Donovan has stated that we in this House are interested in justice and in seeing that the State deals justly with all the people and cherishes all sections of the people equally. I claim that in this connection we want justice, not confiscation. The present system of paying in land bonds is unfair and unjust. It delays, hinders and frustrates the acquisition of land.

At the present time nobody seems to have confidence in land bonds. The Minister knows as well as any one of us that when a vendor sells land he may have financial commitments or he may want to buy another farm. If he is paid in cash he can buy another farm immediately, perhaps to his advantage. He can meet his creditors and pay them off as quickly as possible. If he is paid in land bonds we know the trouble he has in trying to sell and the delay in many cases in trying to get somebody to buy them. That is one of the objections that landowners have. Land bonds have the reputation of not being easily convertible or, if they have to be cashed quickly, very often have to be sold at considerable loss. I understand that the Government stockbrokers do not operate for land bonds. They do not stand ready to buy and sell land bonds as they do in the case of National Loans. It is very unfair that trouble and inconvenience should be caused to landowners when they are trying to cash land bonds. The possibility of payment in land bonds operates to the detriment of the Land Commission in acquiring land. It certainly interferes with the goodwill that should exist and which the Government should try to retain. The question of land bonds very often leads to bad public relations [1285] between the Land Commission, auctioneers, solicitors and vendors. As a solicitor, the Minister, I am sure, knows a fair amount about that.

Every one of us in public life is conscious of the appalling hardships which have arisen from the depreciation in the value of bonds. Five per cent land bonds are now under £70; six per cent land bonds are only slightly over £70 and 3½ per cent land bonds are only around £60. So I have been told. Therefore, a man who invested £100 and who is selling them now would get only £60. Taking into consideration the depreciation in the value of money, I suppose in real money terms he would be getting only about £20, roughly one-fifth. That is very unfair. We all know many cases of both voluntary and compulsory acquisition of land where people have suffered very serious financial loss. Taking a figure of £70 now for land bonds that were worth £100, we can see that the landholder who sold a few years ago has suffered already a 30 per cent loss in the value of his money. No other section of the people are asked to suffer as seriously as those people are.

The position, I think, has become even worse within the past year or so. I can give the Minister particulars of a farm sold in my own county over a year ago or so for £12,000. Possession was taken on 12th December, 1968. The 8 per cent land bonds came into operation in January. The purchase money is only now being allocated and already there is a depreciation of about 20 per cent. Therefore, this man who sold his farm to the Irish Land Commission last year in good faith for £12,000 is now getting only something over £9,500 — between £9,500 and £10,000 in actual money. The Minister will have to admit that this is unfair and unjust. The man in question sold voluntarily. He wanted to buy again. Now, he is in the position that land has increased in price since then. To buy a farm similar to the one he sold for £12,000 would now cost him perhaps £13,000. Therefore, he would have to put £3,500 to £4,000 to the money he is getting [1286] now from the Land Commission in order to purchase a similar or a suitable farm. That is not giving any encouragement to holders of land to hand over their land voluntarily to the Irish Land Commission.

The Minister also knows that the 8 per cent bonds came into operation in January last and that the price of those bonds today is down, I think, to 91. Therefore, in respect of cases which still have to be completed, the owner is taking a loss of 10 per cent. The Minister will have to agree that this is outrageous and that some provision should be made to deal with such cases. How the Minister is going to do it I do not know. I should like to suggest three of four different methods. We should see that justice is done to those people and we should certainly try to retain good public relations. I understand that during Mr. Blowick's term as Minister for Lands — the Minister can contradict me if I am wrong but I have been told it — there was a system whereby a bonus on the purchase money could be awarded in such cases. I have been told that it is in section 6 of the Land Act, 1953. If my information is correct might I suggest that some sort of similar concession should now be made to deal with very real cases of hardship which have arisen and which seem to be arising regularly.

If the price of land bonds drops — we all know from past experience that they can drop very quickly — the Minister should have a provision made to allocate additional bonds. If you are not prepared to pay in cash and if you still want to pay in bonds I think there should be provision to allocate additional bonds to bring up the purchase price to par. I think power should be in the hands of judicial commissioners to make such concessions, where necessary. Another method would be that if, between the date the Land Commission take possession — the operative date — and the payment of bonds, bonds are issued at a higher rate of interest, the vendor should be allowed to exchange the old bonds for new bonds or he should be paid with the bonds that are in operation on the date they are being issued. I think the acquisition date is the operative date at the present [1287] time: I have given the House the case of the farm acquired on 12th December and the person is only being paid at the present time. Instead of making that date the operative date, if the Minister could make the date of payment the operative date, it would get over many of the difficulties that are arising at the present time. When people hand over land voluntarily or when the Land Commission acquire the land, many snags arise. Some people will tell you that solicitors may be a bit slow in dealing with cases. I have heard some people blame the solicitors. I do not know how good their cases are but they do. I know that there are delays even here in title and in different Land Commission offices here. Many snags arise. It may take as long as a year to clear title and to get everything in order. I would ask the Minister to make the operative date the date of payment and to issue land bonds at par with the land bonds on that particular date.

We were told that something like £600,000 was paid out in cash last year. Under what circumstances were people paid in cash and paid in bonds? What law governs this or at whose discretion are the particular people paid? Are they paid at the discretion of the Land Commission or are they paid at the discretion of the Minister? At whose discretion are they paid?

In fairness to everybody, if the State wants to seem to be just to everybody — not merely just to itself — I believe that land bonds should be accepted. They are not accepted at the present time by the State for the payment of death duties, income tax or any other State debt. They should be accepted at par value and, if not, at least at some reasonable value. People cannot understand why the Government will not accept them. Have the Government not got faith in their land bonds issued by themselves? If the Government or the State make a landowner accept land bonds, surely, if anything happens to that unfortunate man inside a year or two years, the State should accept what they have made him accept? Surely they should accept from his solicitor or his wife land bonds in payment of death duties? If he is in arrears of [1288] income tax, or anything like that, surely the Minister should accept the land bonds which the State has made the particular man accept and surely the State should accept them back at par for such purposes?

As the Minister himself knows, solicitors are paid their costs in land bonds. It means an immediate loss. It also means a lot of trouble and inconvenience to the people concerned. The market is so uncertain that very often there is difficulty in disposing of the bonds. I should like to hear the Minister's views on my suggestions.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I should like to endorse the remarks of earlier speakers on the Committee Stage of this Bill when they pointed out that land bonds are a very unfair method of paying people for valuable land. The case made by speakers on our side of the House is very strongly endorsed by an answer I received this very day in the form of a tabular statement to a question I addressed to the Minister for Finance. I asked the Minister for Finance if he could give comparative figures for the present value of land bonds issued over the past ten years, and the present average value of fixed interest securities issued on the Irish Stock Exchange in the same year as each of the issues of land bonds. The reply to this question is quite startling. Take, for instance, 1960. Land bonds were issued at 6 per cent in that year. At present, they are worth 67 whereas Exchequer stock issued at the same rate of interest in the same year is worth 73?ths. The land bond people are getting a very raw deal indeed. Take, again, 1961. Land bonds were issued at 6 per cent. Exchequer stock, in that year, issued at the same interest rate, is now worth 73? whereas the land bonds are worth only 67. The story goes on. The figures for 1968 are also interesting. The 7½ per cent land bonds are now worth 83, the Exchequer stock and development stock issued in that year — there were three issues in all — are worth on average 93¼ at the moment. Therefore, there is a difference of 10 per cent between the value of land bonds issued at 7½ per cent in 1968 and the value of Exchequer stock and development stock issued at 7½ per cent in that year.

[1289]Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  It is 12½ per cent more, actually. It is 10 points more.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I defer in these matters to my former lecturer.

I should like to make some suggestions to the Minister as to how he could remedy the situation which I have outlined and remedy these injustices. I would suggest, first of all, that the figures I have quoted of the average present value of other loan issues in the same year as land bonds would provide a very good yardstick for the Minister if he were to consider providing some compensation for those people who have been paid in land bonds, which have depreciated faster than the average for fixed interest securities issued in the same year. He might consider taking some action to provide finance to those people to bring the value of their holdings up to the average value of fixed interest securities issued in that year. He could perhaps do it in the form of a lump sum. In relation to future policy I would suggest that either the Minister should substitute cash for all sales to the Land Commission for land bonds, or else he should consider making land bonds redeemable at par, say, 20 years after issue. This by providing the prospect of one's land bonds being saleable at par would ensure that instead of going down, as they have done, they would maintain a reasonable value throughout the period.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  There is no point in pretending that the land bonds system does not suffer from defects; it does, but that is not to say that it is not basically a sound system. The debate that has taken place on this particular section and that took place last week on the Second Reading is very similar to the debates that have taken place in this House over the years on this vexed subject of land bonds. I would say straight away to Deputy Bruton that these bonds of course are redeemable at par. If a person holds on to them he will have returned to him the full face value of the bonds and in the meantime——

Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  He will have to live a long time.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  ——he will have [1290] accumulated all the interest to which he became entitled.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  How many years?

Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  Sixty to 70 years.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That is not very realistic.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  I am merely pointing out that in fact they are redeemable at par.

With regard to the suggestion made by Deputy O'Donovan that the increase from £25 million to £40 million is unrealistic and represents an attempt by the Government and the Department at a pretence of grandiose proportions, this is simply not so, because at the present time the £25 million which is authorised has been exhausted and at the present rate of land bond issue an additional £15 million covers only a matter of a few years. In the past 12 months, for instance, the amount of land bonds issued was roughly 1¾ millions. With the price of land continuing to increase, to purchase the same amount of land — roughly 25,000 acres per annum — will obviously involve at that rate an increasing rather than a decreasing rate of issue for these bonds.

Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  When the Minister speaks of 1¾ million does he mean the number of land bonds that were created last year or the number that were actually issued?

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  Issued.

Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  That surprises me, I must say.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  At the same time, when the Deputy did make the point I thought it well to point out to him that there is nothing grandiose about this; it is simply an effort to avoid a situation where a further Land Bond Bill would have to be introduced in the House in a matter of two or three years.

Deputy O'Donovan and other speakers also mentioned the problem of the rate of interest and, very rightly, Deputy O'Donovan asked at [1291] what rate of interest will the new bonds have to be issued and asked also whether it will be worth it. These questions are very well put. Indeed, everybody in the House is aware of the fact that, in recent years in particular, the value of money has been declining and, more important still, the cost of money has been spiralling at a fantastic rate. Obviously, this will create very serious problems for the Land Commission in the future. The question for the person who ultimately gets the land that is required will be whether, with the cost of money at the present time and the cost on the administrative side on top of it, it will be possible to allot land at a price that will make it attractive to a prospective farmer to accept.

Unfortunately, I do not have any control over the cost of money and, for that matter, the Department of Finance have only very little control over what is, in the last analysis, not a national but an international problem. I do agree however that the State must, as various Deputies have rightly said, be just and be seen to be just in regard to the issue of bonds which depreciate and because of that fact as I have mentioned and certain other factors, will inevitably mean that the person who wishes to cash his bonds will receive less than the face value of the purchase price. That the State never intended any injustice in this matter is clear from the fact that there is a statutory obligation to preserve the value of the bonds at or near par for a reasonable period after their issue.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  How long does the statutory obligation last?

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  It is a permanent statutory obligation. It is being frustrated in practice by the delay that occurs in the clearance of title and the removal where they exist of queries from the Revenue in regard to estate duty problems.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  May I ask the Minister——

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  If the Deputy does not mind I shall answer these questions later. I am not satisfied that [1292] sufficient efforts have been made to eliminate unnecessary delay over the years and I agree with those speakers who, in saying that the State must be seen to be just, also indicated their dissatisfaction with the period that elapses between the acquisition of the land and the time when the owner has the opportunity of cashing his bonds. I shall take whatever steps are necessary as quickly as I can to reduce the time involved in the clearance of title to a maximum of three months. I want to say equally clearly that if the Revenue Commissioners have to change their attitude in order to provide fair play for the people they will have to do that also.

Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  Hear, hear.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  It is not reasonable, at a time when money is not merely very dear but is daily becoming dearer to the point of absurdity, that an appreciable length of time should be allowed to pass while citizens' money is allowed to be frittered away before their eyes because of bureaucratic inefficiency or a bureaucratic policy of delay. I shall go further and say that if, in 1970, this delay has not been eliminated I shall not be in this position thereafter.

At the same time, I want the House to appreciate that all Governments and Ministers for Lands as well as the Land Commission down the years have been faced with the fact that one cannot produce money out of trees, that the calls on capital moneys for housing, health, education and so on result in, as Deputy Dr. O'Donovan knows — nobody better — an annual battle between various Departments as to position on the priority list. It would be much easier, obviously, for the Land Commission and the Minister for Lands to be able to call exclusively on cash but if he were to do so it would involve the deduction of something like £2 million from the Capital Budget. Should it be from housing, health or education or what?

I think a reasonable and serious effort is being made over the years, in co-operation with the Department of Finance, to increase the actual cash purchase ratio. It was pointed out on [1293] Second Reading that at present at £600,000 the cash purchase figure is very much higher than it had been at any time up to recently. It is progressively becoming greater and it is certainly in marked contrast to the £20,000 provided by the last interParty Government in 1957.

Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  They were just starting the system.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  I am merely pointing out that the amount of money spent on cash purchasing is progressively increasing and is at the highest-ever level now and also that to turn over to a policy of cash altogether would involve the extraction from the Capital Budget, at the expense of some other sector, of a minimum of £2 million a year.

In this connection I should like to explain — I was asked by Deputy L'Estrange to do so — the difference between land that can be paid for in cash and that which is paid for in bonds. Before doing so, however, I want to repudiate the suggestion, made rather to my surprise by Deputy Clinton, that cash purchase cases were cases of friends and those who were paid in land bonds were the unfavoured. It is not in character with Deputy Clinton to make this accusation which, of course, is quite groundless. As the House knows, there are two kinds of acquisition procedure, the voluntary and the compulsory. Compulsory acquisitions are those where the owners object to acquisition or if they do not object to acquisition in the first instance, subsequently disagree on price. The statutory provision is that in these instances the lands are paid for in bonds. Compulsory purchases represent roughly one-third of total Land Commission purchases. The other two-thirds, which are voluntary, could all be financed out of cash if the necessary cash were available. I have dealt with that position.

There are times when a particularly desirable property comes on the market that could not be obtained except by a cash purchase. The Land Commission, in the exercise of their discretion, if they want the land badly enough will negotiate for cash. I trust that this [1294] makes the situation clear to Deputy L'Estrange and other Members of the House.

Deputy Bruton discussed the difference between the price quoted for land bonds vis-á-vis Exchequer stock on the market. I am not an expert on stock but I know that the redemption period is a factor which affects the current price of stocks. Obviously, if the redemption date is relatively near the stock begins progressively to become more attractive and rises in price as the redemption date approaches.

In recent years as well, as the House knows, each annual national loan when floated has carried with it the right that anyone who wishes to invest can hand in previous national loan stocks irrespective of their current situation on the market and have them accepted at par. There is also the fact, mentioned by some speakers, that national loan stock is acceptable at face value for estate duty purposes and that land bonds are not. I agree with Members of the House who say that there is no justification whatever for this discrimination against land bonds and the fact that it exists represents a blot on the escutcheon of the Department of Finance and is one which the Department of Finance should remedy forthwith.

Since we now have such a distinguished and humane and fairminded Minister for Finance, I would be extremely surprised if he did not, when this situation is drawn to his personal attention here in the House, take steps to remove the discrimination against land bonds which never should have existed and which should be removed forthwith. I have no doubt whatever that, if the interchangeability of land bonds and their acceptance for estate duty purposes at face value were to be a fact, the disparities that exist at present between national loan stock and land bonds on the stock market would be eliminated or, at any rate, very substantially reduced.

I do not think it appropriate to go in great depth into any other aspect of land bonds because, as I said at the beginning, most of the points made here have been made and answered [1295] time and time again annually on the Estimate for the Department of Lands and other appropriate occasions, but I think it right to point out that the majority of people who are given bonds are actually out of farming and very many of them can afford to hold on to all or most of the bonds and draw the full rate of interest each year. Even where things like costs are concerned my own experience is that I have never bothered to cash them. I left them there and drew my £1 6s 7d every half year, or whatever the appropriate rate of interest was, and had the feeling of security that having a few bonds in the bank would be some help when the annual half-yearly audit and reminder from the manager arrived.

I think that is all I have to say on this. I do not know whether the Opposition are so serious about this section that they intend to oppose it to the point of a vote.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  I hope the Minister succeeds in the action he intends taking to expedite dealings in land between the Land Commission and the vendors of land. The Minister spoke about the efforts of the Government in trying to keep the bonds at par for as long as possible. On the information available to us, their efforts are definitely not succeeding because, as I pointed out already, the 8 per cent bonds issued last January — and that is only six months ago — are now only 91 and the 7½ per cent bonds issued late in 1968 are now only 83. Something drastic will have to be done by the Government to restore confidence in the value of land bonds. I think the Minister agrees that they should have as high a reputation as our national loan stock. Everyone will agree that it is amazing that land bonds and national loans floated by the same Government should have such different values. They represent the same sums of money. I hope the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Finance, will see to it as quickly as possible that this discrimination is ended.

The Minister said many people can afford to hold on to the bonds and draw interest each year. What I think [1296] the State should be interested in is seeing that there is justice for all sections of the community. Many of us know large numbers of people who have suffered drastically, people who wanted — I do not want to repeat what I said before — to buy farms but who owed money and had to wait for a year or a year and a half. I mentioned the case of the married man with a large family and because he had not got a suitable farm the Land Commission took it from him. He wanted to purchase another but if he purchased another of the same acreage it would cost him between £3,500 and £4,000. That is unfair and unjust.

I still think the Minister should make an all-out effort to pay for land by cash. The Minister has told us that in all cases of compulsory acquisition they are paid for by land bonds, but I do not think that all the people who give their land voluntarily to the Land Commission are paid in cash.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  Not at all.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  I want to find out how do they differentiate between people. In what circumstances are certain people who give their land voluntarily paid in cash and others in land bonds? Perhaps, there could be some arrangement to pay even half in cash and half in land bonds. It is most unfair if A sells to the Land Commission and is lucky enough to be paid in cash, and, therefore, gets the full market value, while his neighbour B who also gives his farm voluntarily to the Land Commission may have to take a reduction of 10, 15 or 20 per cent in real money values inside a year. That is unfair and unjust. I should like to know how they differentiate between A and B, both of whom sell voluntarily to the Land Commission, but A is paid in cash and B in land bonds. I am still not satisfied on that point.

Dr. O'Donovan: Information on John O'Donovan  Zoom on John O'Donovan  I want to apologise to the Minister. I was called out urgently before he was finished. Any reasonable person has sympathy for the Minister who has inherited this awful problem. That does not mean I am blaming his predecessor. Not at all. The figures are appalling. Land [1297] bonds issued last year at 100 are standing at 83 and, as Deputy L'Estrange said, bonds issued in January last are now standing at 91. Naturally we are grateful to the Minister. He made a key statement on one aspect of the problem when he said he will attempt to reduce the delays to three months. That is the core of one part of the problem.

There is another angle quite apart from the question Deputy L'Estrange raised. The Minister said that basically this is a sound system. So it was on the whole. Let us take the figures from 1934 to 1960 and let us call that 25 years. It was quite all right for 25 years but gradually over the past ten years it got worse and worse and it has gone to hell altogether over the past 18 months. The Minister has attacked one angle of the problem. If this tangle continues to get worse it may well be that the Minister will have no option but to abandon the system.

We are grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has tackled the problem in the short period he has been Minister for Lands, and we express our appreciation of his efforts. He still has to answer the question put by Deputy L'Estrange.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  I gather that the £600,000 provided by the Department of Finance for cash purchases of land covers purchases of farms under £5,000 and the Land Commission try to pay in cash for these small holdings which they can acquire at or under that figure. Obviously, there are exceptions and, equally obviously, it is the responsibility of the Land Commission to exercise discretion from time to time in regard to individual purchases as to whether or not it is appropriate to offer cash. I do not think I can go any further than that.

I agree with Deputy Dr. O'Donovan that in the last few years the extraordinary increase in interest rates and the cost of money have raised very grave problems in many spheres and the particularly grave problem which he mentioned and to which I adverted in my own speech in relation to its consequential effect on what the Land [1298] Commission have to charge farmers to allocate land to them. It is indeed possible that in time we shall be forced to abandon the land bond system for reasons outside our control and for reasons not connected with any inherent defect in the system itself which, as the House knows, did work very satisfactorily for a quarter of a century.

The statutory obligation to keep the value at or near par was made at a time when reasonable stability in the cost of money was taken for granted. It becomes a very different thing when money rates of interest spiral as rapidly as they have in recent years. All I can say is that by reducing to the absolute minimum the amount of time which elapses between acquisition and the opportunity of the vendor to cash his bonds, I shall be trying to put into effect on behalf of the State, as near as it is possible to do so in present circumstances, the object envisaged by the statute, that is, that the bonds when eventually realised should be realised at or near par by the owner.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  We have not got the stability of money values we should like to see, and I am still not satisfied on two points I have raised with the Minister. I appreciate what is the Minister's intention here but we should try to see that justice is done to these people. One point is in regard to the operative date. The operative date is the date the Land Commission take possession. Because there is no stability, money is losing value rapidly. Could the Minister not change the operative date to the date of payment? What is wrong in issuing bonds at their value at the date of payment, or, alternatively by, if he could not do that, in making the bonds interchangeable as is done in the case of national loans? If it can be done in the case of national loans why can it not be done for land bonds? If that were done people would have confidence in land bonds and it would be much better for everybody, for public relations, and much easier to build up a pool of land. As the Minister knows, if we enter the EEC we shall be bound by other rules and regulations which may put an end to the Land Commission and the distribution of land as we know it. [1299] Therefore it is of the utmost importance to build up a pool of land in the next two or three years and distribute it among the people.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  In so far as interchangeability is concerned, I can only put the views of the Deputy to the Department of Finance. The objection to the Deputy's other suggestion is that it would be a built-in incentive for the owner to delay the date of payment as long as possible and for that reason——

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  Everybody wants to make money as quickly as he can get it.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  ——to drag things out until the rate of interest goes up another 1½ per cent or so. However, [1300] that does not mean I shall not keep the consideration in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining stages today.

Bill received for final consideration and passed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  This Bill is certified as a Money Bill in accordance with Article 22 of the Constitution.


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