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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 2

General Conclusions

page 125

General Conclusions.

If then the arguments already adduced have any

General Conclusions.

weight in them, the conclusions from them and the objects to be aimed at will not be doubtful.

These are, that the distribution of ownership of land is such that it is held in amounts far beyond the average means of its holders to perform their duties according to the ideal of the English system, in the outlay of capital on it and the building of cottages; and that the most is not being made of the land as an incentive to individual exertion and as the most powerful agent for the promotion of individual industry and thrift.

It has also been shown, from experience drawn from every part of the world, equally from Europe as from countries of Anglo-Saxon descent, that land is not necessarily the luxury only of the rich, and that if it should be placed within the reach of other classes, and the means be given of dealing with it in a simple and expeditious manner, it will become the luxury of a much wider class, and indeed of all classes proportionate to their means. The same experience has also been gathered from recent experiments in Ireland. It has been shown that while in every part of the civilized world efforts have been made successfully to free land from the obstructions and impediments of an obsolete feudal system, to withdraw the sanction page 126

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of Law to its accumulation in few hands, and to place it, as far as is consistent with the rights of property, within the reach of all classes, and to promote its ownership by the many rather than the few, in this country little or nothing has been done in this direction; all the influence of the State and of society has been in favour of the concentration of land in few hands, our laws of tenure sanction and assist this, the system of transfer fosters it. It has been shown that as a result we have a state of landownership such as is almost unique in the civilized world.
The objects to be aimed at by any legislation are not novel or destructive; they are not opposed to the rights of property, but in support of them; they savour not of communism or socialism, but are on the lines of individualism; they seek to make the best of individual property, for all its functions, and in all its actions on the social system; they are such as other countries have pursued with success; they claim that the State has some control over its own destinies, some voice in the disposition of its area, and that society is not necessarily the sport of an economic law favouring only accumulation, which, however we may disapprove it, we are powerless to resist. The objects then to aim at, are a wider distribution of landed property, to the extent that it shall in the main be held by those who have the means of performing their duties, and that it shall be brought within the page 127 reach of all classes of the community according to

General Conclusions.

their means.

The means by which these objects may be attained may be summed up under the following heads:—

1.The withdrawal of the State sanction to the accumulation of land by the law of primogeniture.
2.The limitation of family settlements to the extent of prohibiting entails in the manner invented by Sir Orlando Bridgeman, by which property can be settled upon unborn persons, and a family law of primogeniture secured.
3.The requirement that there shall be for every property some person or persons who shall have full power of dealing with the property by sale or otherwise.
4.The assimilation of the law relating to land and other property, and the simplification of the law relating to land tenure, so that its transfer may become simple and inexpensive.
5.The withdrawal of all State influence and sanction in favour of accumulation of land, and the exercise of it in future in favour or a numerous proprietary of land, consistently with the full recognition of existing rights.

It can easily be shown that these measures hang together; and that the pivot of them all is the abolition of primogeniture.

(1.) By the abolition of primogeniture is meant the removal of the State sanction to an arrange- page 128

General Conclusions.

ment by which, in the absence of a will, property in land descends to the eldest son of the intestate to the exclusion of the other children, a law which seldom operates without producing injustice. It is not contemplated that the property shall be compulsorily divided among the children against the will of the parent. The freedom of willing would be retained and preserved; and any interference with it would, it is believed, be alien to the feelings of the great majority of Englishmen. It is only possible in France and other countries because, as already shown, the custom of equal division of property is so universal and so entwined in the feelings of the people, that it is scarcely possible for them to conceive an unequal distribution, and because public opinion considers that a parent who does not provide for all his children according to his means is neglectful of his parental duty. Where such is the public opinion compulsory division by law is possible; but that is very far from being the opinion of Englishmen in the existing social conditions of England, where historical and family traditions so largely affect the opinions and habits, not only of the wealthy, but of all classes, that it would be absurd to expect either that a custom of equal distribution would speedily grow up, or that a law compelling it would be acceptable. An historic family has to be maintained, an ancient residence in and about which the traditions of a family have centred has to be page 129 preserved, the political institution of the peerage

General Conclusions.

has to he regarded; these and many other causes will long sustain and probably justify the custom of making a difference in favour of eldest sons in many families; though possibly not to the extent which is now often the case.

(2.) When it shall be determined that the law itself will not sanction or invite inequality, it will follow almost as a matter of course, that it must be forbidden to individuals to make a family law of succession different from that of the State. Freedom of willing will be permitted, and every person will be allowed to make what distinction he thinks right among his children or relatives, but he will not be permitted to transmit these distinctions to another unborn generation. If freedom of willing is conceded to him, he must not in his turn deprive the next generation of the same privilege. The freedom of willing is a part of the paternal authority, and no parent should be deprived of this power by an antecedent generation.

(3.) The last principle being decided on, the next one becomes easy of accomplishment. The distinction in favour of an unborn person being cut off and prohibited, it follows that the present generation must have more power over the property, and the power of sale is one of the first and most important attributes of property.

(4.) The two last principles are indispensable to the next, that of simplifying the transfer of land.

page 130

General Conclusions.

The main difficulty in the transfer of land arises out of the complications due to the law of settlement or entail; so long as these exist, and so long as ownership may be divided between the present and the future, between the living and the unborn, it is impossible to expect or to hope for simplicity of title. Even the late Lord St. Leonards has said that "no young State ought ever to be entangled in the complication of our law of real property."

Why then, it may be asked, should any old State maintain and preserve these entanglements? They are retained only because they are necessary for our present system of family settlements. It will be easy enough to get rid of these difficulties if we come to the conclusion that these entails are injurious equally to those who are the objects of them, and to the community.

(5.) But not less important than all these is it that the general influence of the State shall no longer be used in the direction of the accumulation of land. It is unnecessary to suggest the subjects where an opposite influence might be used, and where it will be possible for a very different policy to be pursued by Parliament than has hitherto been done.

The action taken under the Bright clauses in Ireland has already shown how it is possible with the unanimous consent of all parties to make a most important move in the direction of giving page 131 active assistance for the conversion of tenancies into

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ownerships. This particular method may not he applicable to England; but an altered public opinion on the subject may justify other measures; and it need hardly be pointed out that the land held in mortmain in England and Wales amounts to 1,300,000 acres, of which no less than 500,000 belong to charities.

As a preliminary, however, to any action, it is necessary that public opinion should pronounce itself strongly on the broad question, whether it is satisfied with the present condition of landowner-ship in this country. Public opinion may even without a change of law produce considerable effect. It may induce not a few of those who have hitherto considered that the interests of a rural district are best concerned where all the land in a parish or district is concentrated in one hand, to change their opinion, and to hold that as a matter of safety to the owners of property generally, as well as in the interest of all classes around them, it will be wise to favour the multiplication of landowners, and to give facilities for the creation of small owners of all classes rather than continually to reduce them. Such public opinion can, however, only be formed by a full and free discussion of the subject.

Does the land of this country produce what may reasonably be expected of it by a proper outlay of capital and labour on it? Does it act to its full extent as a stimulus to industry, thrift, and page 132

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prudence? Is it a stable and satisfactory state of society where land is, or is considered to be, only the luxury of the rich? Is it not expedient that land should be brought within the reach of all classes, even at the risk of losing something of its value as an article of luxury?

It has been attempted to answer these questions by arguments and illustrations drawn from the history and experience of this and other countries. It is believed that the result of all this experience is that a country is happiest, and its economical, social, and political condition most sound, where there is a numerous and varied proprietary of its land, and where no class is divorced from the soil. This state of things, it is believed, will and can only result where the trade in land is free; that is, where the transfer of land is simple and uncostly, where all dealings in it are reduced to their simplest form, where each successive generation has full and unrestricted dominion over it, where the State gives no sanction or facilities to an accumulation of land for successive generations, and where the laws give equal facility for its dispersion as for its acquisition. Under such conditions, when artificial stimulus is removed, free competition will have its full effect, and will on the one hand prevent the undue subdivision of land, and on the other its too great aggregation.

London : R. Clay, Sons, and Taylor, Printers