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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 14

Free Trade in Land. Why it is Needed.*

Free Trade in Land. Why it is Needed.*

From the Domesday Returns of 1874 (which, as we have pointed out, very greatly understated the facts as to the size of the Targe landed estates, having altogether omitted London, and unenclosed woods, &c., and leases reputed to be for 99 or more years,) the main facts appeared to be that in England and Wales
  • 12 persons own 1,038,883 acres.
  • 66 persons own 1,917,076 acres.
  • 100 persons own 3,917,641 acres.
  • 280 persons own 5,425,764 acres. (or about one-sixth of the enclosed land).
  • 523 persons own one-fifth of all England and Wales.
  • 710 persons own one-fourth of all England and Wales.
  • 874 persons own 9,267,031 acres.
  • 10,207 persons own two-thirds of the whole of England and Wales.

In Northumberland County, which contains 1,220,000 acres, some 26 persons own half the county.

One man owns over 186,397 acres in England.
Another owns over 102,785 acres in England.
A body of 4,500 men own 17,498,200 acres or more than half England and Wales.
In Scotland, where the total area is 18,946,694 acres-
One man owns 1,826,000 acres, and has besides
32,095 acres, in England.
1,358,095 acres.
Another has 431,000 acres.
Another has 424,000 acres.
Another has 306,000 acres.
12 owners have 4,339,722 acres, about a quarter of Scotland, and more than the whole area of Wales. Equal to 8 entire English counties: Beds, Berks, Bucks, Cambridge, Cheshire, Derby, Cornwall and Cumberland.
20 owners have hold more than 120,000 acres each.
24 owners have hold more than 4,931,888 acres (a fourth of Scotland).
70 owners hold about 9,400,000 acres (a half of Scotland).
171 owners hold about 11.029,228 acres
330 owners hold about two-thirds of all Scotland.
1,700 owners hold about nine-tenths of all Scotland.
In Ireland, where the total area is 20,159,677 acres—
1 person owns 170,119 acres.
12 persons own 1,297,888 acres.
3 persons own over 100,000 acres each.
14 persons own over 50,000 acres each.
90 persons own over 20,000 acres each.
135 persons own over 10,000 acres each.
452 persons own over 5,000 acres each.
292 persons own 6,458,100 acres (nearly [unclear: ?] of the island).
744 persons own 9,612,728 acres (nearly ½ of the island).
1,942 persons own two-thirds of the whole island.

In the United Kingdom there are altogether 77,799,793 acres of Land, and out of 72,119,961 acres included in the returns it appears there were 12 great owners who possessed 4,440,467 acres. Well may the late Mr. Kay, Q.C., in his excellent letters on the Land Question [Kegan Paul & Co.] exclaim: "We have been cutting away the bate of our social pyramid, while nearly all other civilized countries have been pursuing an exactly opposite policy!" In France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Holland, Belgium, and Italy feudalism has been suppressed, and in all these countries small estates long since began to multiply. Here, not only are they decreasing, but the very class of yeomen is all but extinguished. What were the laws by the abolition of which on the Continent the people broke up the Landed Monopolies? They were the same laws which now in this country allow Owners to make deeds and wills that for many years prevent the land from being sold, or the estate from being divided, no matter how expedient it may be that it should be sold, or no matter how foolish or extravagant the owner may be. They were the same laws which now in this country (if a landowner leaves no deed or will) give all his land without diminution or charge in one undivided estate to his next heir. The same laws page 130 which here allow leases of 99 to 999 years, subjecting land to all kinds of antiquated covenants that go on affecting society for generations after the death of the grantor, and after all the circumstances have been changed. The consequence of such laws, leases, deeds of settlement, and wills are manifold, being every way unjust.

1.They prevent the sale of estates which would otherwise come into the market.
2.They lessen due parental control.
3.They induce careless Landowners to be tenfold more careless than they otherwise would be about the education of their sons.
4.They maintain in influential positions men unworthy of those positions.
5.They deprive many Landowners of the means of properly managing their estates.
6.They tend very greatly to retard the progress of agricultural improvements.
7.They render it necessary to make deeds and wills very long and expensive.
8.They render it often very difficult and costly for a purchaser to ascertain the state of title to a plot of land he may wish to purchase.
9.They often leave actual titles to large plots of land uncertain, in spite of all the labour and expense bestowed on their careful investigation.
10.They deprive the small farmers, the shopkeepers, and the peasantry of almost all chance of buying land.
11.They aggravate all these evils in Ireland by the additional curses of Absenteeism and Agent-management.
12.They create and perpetuate a class of Land Monopolists so strong and united as to be able to control both Houses of the Legislature, the result being that all our laws are tinctured with some concession or other to them—be the concession just or unjust.
13.They drive out and decimate the rural populations, forcing these to emigrate to foreign soil or take refuge in already overcrowded towns, congesting the labour markets, aggravating social evils, and lowering the moral and physical stamina of the masses generally.
14.They are a main cause of the oppressive taxation of the trading and operative classes, for, by means of the Parliamentary power secured by ages of undisturbed monopoly, the Landholders have shaken off their own liabilities to the Crown, and devolved nearly every fiscal burden upon those beneath them in social position.
15.They give a short, easy, and summary right of seizure to Landlords, to the unjust deprivation of other classes of creditors, who have to be content with what the Landlord chooses to leave of a debtor's estate, and in most cases have legal charges to pay which he has escaped the necessity for.
16.They confiscate the property of tenants by giving fixtures to the Landlord. Even trade fixtures were for centuries appropriated in this way. Agricultural improvements were only admitted to consideration a year or two ago, and then in very partial fashion.
17.They lead to the Game Laws, which sacrifice the productive powers of the soil, rob the agriculturist of results rightfully earned by the sweat of his brow, and drive into crime thousands of men and boys that in any other country would rise to honourable careers. Moreover, the judicial power in such cases is retained for the game-preserving class of county magistrates, the most prejudiced and incompetent administrators of justice in the country.
18.They encourage an ingrained selfishness of views as to the rights and duties of landed property which leads to the curtailment of public rights of way and of common, to the immuring of nature generally, and thereby grievous loss to the national taste and appreciation of many pure and exalting pleasures.
19.They create a class of men fabulously rich, the effect of which stimulates a striving to be at rich in the next classes, and so on until it has come to be the case that in England, where the necessaries of life are cheapest, the cost of living is unduly increased. It is much more expensive to educate children, to start them in careers, to provide them with a home—than in any country where such land laws as ours do not exist.
From the Consular Reports of 1869, upon the tenure of land in Europe, it appeared that in 1858 there were in Prussia 800,000 day labourers (working for wages) who owned plots of land and were cultivators of vegetables and fruit; that only 108 landowners had estates sufficiently large to be rated at £1,500 a year, and that in the whole kingdom there were but 18,197 properties exceeding 400 acres each, while there were
Between 200 and 400 acres = 15,048
Between 20 and 2000 acres = 389,823
Between 3½ and 200 acres = 609,828
and under 3½ acres each = 1,087,081

These figures do not include residential sites or house-gardens.

In Belgium there were in 1846 only 758,512 landowners. In 1865 these had increased to 1,069,326, under the operation of a land system only partially free.

In the Channel Islands, under a free system and peasant proprietary, the average rent of middling land has risen to £4 and £6 per acre. The same figure in Switzerland. Whereas in England 30s. an acre would be thought a fair and rather a high rent.

In France, according to M. Lavergne's "Economic Rurale,"

  • 50,000 proprietors hold an average of 750 acres each.
  • 500,000 proprietors hold an average of 75 acres each.
  • 5,000,000 proprietors hold an average of 7½ acres each.

* Summarized from the argument of Mr. Kay, but with considerable additions.

The operation of Lord Cairn's Settled Land Act of 1882 has only provided a slow and very partial remedy for the main evils here alluded to. We give a full description of this Act on the next page.