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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 56

Free Land, Not Free Landlords. Landlordism: What it is; What it Does; and What Should be Done With it

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What it is; what it does; and what should be Done with it.

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In the Land Question we must regard the people as divided into two distinct sections:—those who own land and those who do not. The real Land Question lies in the relation of these two sections of the community to each other. When we consider that land is essential to every man, as a dwelling-place and as the source whence all the necessaries of his life are derived, it is evident that every man, down to the very poorest, whatever his occupation may ho, is deeply interested in (he land, and that those who possess it have an immense power and advantage over those who do not. The latter class are, in fact, entirely dependent upon the former for the means of existence. Farther, as land is limited in quantity and cannot by any possibility be increased, while population increases rapidly, the relation between these two classes becomes more and more strained; the demand for land and its produce becomes more and more urgent, and the landlord's power accordingly more and more arbitrary.

Mr. Arthur Arnold, however, tells us that, while in France and in the United States of America there are only land-owners and tenants, in England we have no landowners,—only landlords and tenants. The distinction is a fine one, but it is significant, and, properly considered, will conduce materially to a solution of the question. It is true, the Nation is the only landowner, and has absolute power to resume possession whenever she thinks fit. What is it then that landlords actually possess? It is not the land itself, but a Power over the land, or rather over the people who dwell upon it. The land itself only marks the boundary within which this power may be exercised. We may discuss this power without personal reference to those who happen, for the time being, to be the depositories of it. Landlords are doubtless responsible to the nation for the way in which they use their power, but they are rot personally responsible for its existence. While the power exists it must be in some hands, and may as well be in those of its present holders as in any other.

What then is this Power which we may not inaptly call Landlordism? It is the power to determine absolutely who shall and who shall not dwell upon the land. It is the power page 4 to exact whatever portion of the tenant's earnings the landlord pleases in the shape of rent It is the power to impose upon tenants whatever condition he please, such us improvements in his property, for which improvements, though lie has contributed nothing towards them, he may eventually demand a higher rent. Let us look a little more closely into the working of this power. We are told that the greater portion of the land of this kingdom is in the possession of about 30,000 individuals. Throwing off five or six millions of the population as against small owners, we have 30,000 landlords to 30,000,000 of people—that is, one landlord to every 1000 persons. These L0O0 people are under the absolute control of the one landlord. No one can remain on the land without his gracious permission. He can eject from his borders any he pleases for political reasons, for religions reasons, for personal reasons, or for no reason at all but his own caprice. Upon those whom he condescendingly allows to remain, he has power to impose whatever obligation lie pleases, in the shape of rent and improvements in or additions to his property. He must necessarily leave them sufficient to keep them alive and induce them to work on, or he would get no rent at all; but beyond this he can take every shilling they earn as rent. And, for the most part, however hard the tonus may be, they have no alternative but to submit or expatriate themselves; for, if they step off one man's land, they must step on to somebody else's only to find the same conditions existing. It may be objected that landlords as a rule do not exercise their powers in this arbitrary and despotic manner. Perhaps not; some, however, do, and all may. Many a despotic ruler has governed his people wisely and well, but that does not make despotism right. Many slave-owners also treated their slaves with great humanity, but that does not make slavery light; and I ask, Is it right or reasonable that thirty millions of freeborn Britons, who have washed out the despotism of kings with their blood, should still bend their necks to this despotic yoke of landlordism? Is it right or reasonable that freedom-loving Englishmen who, at the cost of twenty millions, struck the fetters from the bands of the slave, should still be subjected to such a servitude as landlordism at home? T may be reminded of the good that some landlords do in improving their lands, and of the interest they take in the welfare of their tenants. True, some landlords are model men—all honour to them; but some page 5 are not. If a man devotes his lime and capital to the improvement of land, he thereby enters the lists of the industrial classes, and deserves his reward as much as the manufacturer, the merchant, or the artisan. But this is no part of landlordism, lie may do all this without being a landlord. He may be a landlord and do nothing. As a rule, improvements are left for tenants to make, the landlord contenting himself with reaping the benefit at the earliest opportunity. In speaking of landlordism, then, I speak exclusively of the power possessed by landlords, net of how they use it, nor of anything they do. The real fundamental Land Question is—Ought such a power to exist? Can it exist consistently with the natural rights and liberty of man? If any man answers in the affirmative, and asserts that it is right that the great majority of the nation should be dependent upon the absolute will of the few as to where they shall live, how they shall live, upon what conditions they shall live, then there is no final solution to, no permanent settlement of the Land Question. You may limit the power of landlords by legislation or by Land Courts, hut as long as the two parties exist, there will be a perpetual struggle for freedom on the one hand, and resistance on the other. There can be no effectual solution of the Laud Question but by the total abolition of Landlordism.

If so, the next question is, What order of things is to take its place? Perhaps I shall not be suspected of going very wildly wrong if I take the Duke of Argyll as my finger-post. At a meeting recently held under the auspices of influential landowners to form a limited liability company, whose business should be to purchase estates and resell them in small portions, the Duke of Argyll propounded two principles. Arguing in favour of increasing the number of landowners, his Grace said that it was a good thing to make a man a freeholder, to give him an interest in the soil; that it made him less revolutionary, more conservative, that is in a right sense, not a party sense. Very good. If this is true, then, the more men we can make freeholders the better. If it is a good thing to make a hundred men freeholders, it is a better thing to make' a thousand j still better, a million; best of all, the whole nation. Then we should be conservative in the highest degree, and perfectly secure against revolution. But it would not be expedient to cut up the land so as to give every man his slice. Certainly not. Nine out of ten would not know what to do with it, and would page 6 find themselves much worse off than at present. The Duke felt and admitted that in many canes it might not he expedient or profitable for a man to own a plot of land to cultivate single-handed, so he propounded another principle, the principle of co-operation. And he spoke well of co-operation, pointing out what it had done in cheapening supply and aiding manufacturing enterprise. And he said, Why should not ten or a dozen men form a co-operative association to own a larger plot of land to be worked for the common benefit,? Very good again. But if a principle is worth anything, it will bear carrying out to its fullest extent. If ten or a dozen men may co-operate to hold land, why not a hundred, a thousand, a million? Why should not the whole nation form this co-operative association, and hold the land to be worked by those most competent to utilize it for the common benefit? What do we come to here but Land-Nationalization? And so I lie Duke must admit the principle of Land-Nationalization, or eat his own words. But the land, we are told, is the nation's already; we have not to make it so. What is it then that stands between the nation and its willing workers? Nothing bat this incubus of landlordism, which excludes numbers from the soil they would gladly cultivate, repels capital which might be profitably employed in its improvement, and draws off every advantage gained from the national into the private pockets of the wealthy landlords.

Let us next glance at the remedies proposed for the admitted evils of our land system. First there is Mr. Arthur Arnold and his so-called "Free Land Li ague." The first object of this organization is to simplify and diminish the cost of conveyance. Who will benefit by this? None but landlords. Landlords will say to purchasers, Now you will have no cost for conveyance, you can therefore afford in give a higher price for my right in the land. Purchasers will look at it in the same light, and thus the only result will be to transfer to landlords the fees now paid to lawyers, and increase to a large extent the saleable value of their property. No wonder that landlords favour this scheme. Another object of this association is to abolish the right of primogeniture and restrict the power of entail. The former is virtually a dead letter, operating only when a landlord happens to die intestate. The latter will simply liberate future landlords from the control of their predecessors. Neither of these projects will in the page 7 slightest degree affect the relation between landlords and their dependent lack-landers. This association would be more appropriately named "The Free Landlord League."

The next organization is that referred to above, set on foot by some great landlords in the form of a limited liability company, the professed object of which is to purchase estates in the market and resell them in small portions, spreading the purchase-money over a series of years. Now every one knows that a limited liability company is a costly piece of machinery; it must have paid officials and offices for the conduct of its business. To the cost, therefore, of the estates they purchase must be added the cost of conveyance to them, their office expenses, the interest they oiler to their shareholders, four or four and a half per cent., the cost of conveyance to their purchasers, and so much of the principal as may be necessary to liquidate the whole within a given time. Now if farmers on a large scale, with the aid of animal and mechanical labour-saving power, and paying a moderate rent, cannot make agriculture pay, can it be expected that men of small or no means, destitute of these advantages and paying a much heavier rent, can make it profitable? The consensus of opinion on all sides respecting peasant proprietors, both at home and abroad, even where the land is already their own and they have nothing to pay, is that the life is one of incessant toil and privation, a severe struggle for existence without any of those features which render life happy, enjoyable, or progressive. If such is the case in countries where the system is of natural growth under the most favourable circumstances, what is it likely to be if artificially introduced under less favourable circumstances in a country which has in reality passed beyond that stage of civilization?

Then there is Mr. Chamberlain's scheme to invest local authorities with power to purchase land and let or resell it in small allotments. This can be carried out only near villages or towns where land is most costly, and if such land is taken exceptionally and compulsorily Irons landlords, heavy compensation will be demanded, which, with other necessary expenses, will greatly exceed the value of the land for any agricultural purposes. If loss is incurred, who is to bear it? the ratepayers or the taxpayers of a wider area? A new species of poor-rate and pauperism. Where is the local authority disinterested enough, and free from the influence of page 8 landlords and their tenants, to lie entrusted with such a [rawer as this? Who would fix the price of the land? the landlords? surveyors? arbitrators?—perhaps Mr. Chamberlain himself. Such partial dealing with the land can do no good; it may do much harm. Suppose a few hundred labourers are placed upon allotments of land by this or other means, would that afford any perceptible relief to the teeming millions of our great towns and cities? The stronger and abler labourers flock from the country to the towns because they there get a better remuneration for their labour. They push out of employment the feebler class, who would do no better on land than they do in town.

Mr. Broadhurst's proposal to give lessees compulsory power to purchase the freehold of their premises may be dismissed with a word or two. Whether it will he any advantage to the lessee depends upon the terms upon which he acquires the freehold. If carried out, the lessee becomes the landlord, and can exercise all landlord's powers over future tenants. It is simply the substitution of one landlord for another, with no advantage to any one beyond, hut with this disadvantage, that with the multiplication of such landlords, each claiming the right to do what he likes with his own, great injury may be done to property.

These proposed alterations in the law may cause some land to change hands, hut whether they will lead to any wider distribution is extremely doubtful. There will be the same opportunity and the same inducement, for the wealthy to accumulate land as now, and they will doubtless avail themselves of it. Again, suppose the number of landlords increased ten or a hundredfold; that will not make the land more accessible to those who want to utilize it. It may have the opposite effect, for great landlords can afford to be generous if they are so disposed, whereas small ones cannot, and tenants may therefore find themselves under harder conditions than before. The only way in which the land can he made accessible to all who wish to utilize it, whether on a large or a small scale, is for the nation to pension off the landlords and take it under their own care and management. Every legitimate want could then be satisfied without difficulty and without extravagant cost.

The schemes above referred to leave the main question un-touched. They simply shuttle the cards, or pass them from hand to hand. Landlordism with its baneful influence still remains.

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Nor will any special legislation with a view to contract or regulate the power of landlords, or to limit the rents they shall receive, be of any avail. These partial measures disturb existing relations, but settle nothing. What an anachronism is a Land Court! If me are to have Land Courts to fix fair rents, why not Labour Courts to fix fair wages, Capital Courts to fix fair interest of money, Price-current Courts to fix fair prices? The paint law, the law of supply and demand, which regulates wages and interest and prices, will regulate rent. The fair rent of land is what any one will be willing to give for it in open competition with his fellow-man. Whoever has it for less has an undue advantage. The only effectual remedy is the total abolition of landlordism.

How is this to be effected? Happily we have a valuable precedent in our crown lands. Formerly a large part of the country belonged to the sovereign, and was as much his property as land is now the property of landlords. But sovereigns, setting little store Upon what cost them nothing, conferred large portions of it on courtiers and favourites, and then came to Parliament when they wanted money. Parliament at length determined that no more of the crown lauds should he thus alienated, took them tinder their own management, and allowed the sovereign a fixed income in compensation. These crown lands, though Mr. Arthur Arnold says they, in common with all corporate property, are the worst managed in the kingdom, now produce, I believe, a profit income of some £ 20,000 a year. If the whole of the land had been thus taken, as it might and ought to have been, instead of £20,000 a year, the nation might by this time have been making nearer twenty millions a year. We might now have been free from income-tax, house-tax, customs and excise duties, and the national debt might have been greatly reduced, if not extinguished altogether. This is what must be done now. Better late than never, hut the sooner the better. The nation must resume possession of the laud, and take it under its own management. It can then give freedom of action to those fundamental economic laws which govern the land in common with all human affairs, and, without difficulty, provide for all legitimate demands whether for small or large allotments. How can this be carried out? Will it not produce great social and monetary disturbance? Not at all. Parliament will decree that from and after a certain quarter-day, all rent of land will be due and payable page 10 to the public exchequer. Six or twelve months previously, all persona having any claim upon land will be required to send in full particulars of their claims and of all charges upon them. A register of these particulars will he made and the gross rental of the country ascertained. From this gross rental a deduction will be made for the cost of management, as paid by landlords, and for contingencies, such as losses from bad tenants or from no tenants, and deductions of rent in bad seasons. Then, as in the place of a security difficult and costly to realize upon, we shall give a security which can be sold any day for the nominal sum of half a crown per cent., some consideration may be allowed for this. Interest paid for loans on, mortgage will also be deducted. The net rental income being thus ascertained, perpetual annuities to the amount will be secured rateably to all having claims upon land. All fixed rent charges, whether perpetual or terminable, would be paid in full, and the reversion of the latter secured to the rightful owners. Mortgagees would receive notice that their loans would be paid off. They are entitled to the capital sum advanced, but this need not be paid in cash. If so paid the owners would have to place it somewhere, perhaps at their bankers at one per cent. We may save them this trouble with advantage to themselves by giving them consols at the price of the day, on which they can realize when they please. Thus can this great change be carried out without any either social or monetary disturbance beyond what takes place when an estate changes bauds or a mortgage is paid off.

Do landlords object to this mode of settlement? We reply that the only legitimate property that landlords have in the land is the net income they derive from it. And since this income has been created mainly by the growing industry of the nation, it would not be unreasonable if they were required to surrender some portion of it back to the nation. The nation has full power over it as it is, to limit it either through land courts or by means of a land tax. Do they call this confiscation? What is it when a landlord diminishes the income of his tenant by increasing his rent? What is it when a landlord lake possession of tenants' improvements, of houses and buildings towards which he has not contributed a single brick? If landlords have speculated in the future, they have bought castles in the air, and must suffer the conse- page 11 quences. We are not bound to indemnify them for that. If landlords resist a reasonable settlement now, they will unquestionably have to submit to harder terms hereafter. As the people realize more fully the tyranny of landlordism, and the ignominious servitude to which they have to submit, they will become less rather than more considerate.

Some persons object to granting perpetual annuities on the ground that it entails a perpetual burden on the nation. They advocate terminable or life annuities. To this I reply that the annuities will be no additional burden to the State, inasmuch as the land will fully provide for them, and I think perpetual are preferable to terminable annuities, because 1st, we are bound to give as good a security as we take away: 2ndly, it will remove one serious ground of objection; 3rdly, the annual amount will be less. If we gave terminable or life annuities, we should have to give a larger sum, which would tax the present for the benefit of a future generation. Future generations, with a liberated land, will be well able to take care of themselves, and will have full power over these, as over all other annuities, to redeem, convert, or tax, if need be, for national purposes. Another proposal is to convert freeholds into life interests for two or more lives. This would be inequitable, inasmuch as some lives would drop early, while others might be jointly protracted for a century or more. All the evils of landlordism would be perpetuated for an indefinite period, and the nation would be debarred from making those effectual and economic arrangements for the management of the land which are essential to its advantageous possession.

There are some who would compromise this matter by levying a tax upon landlords' rents. To them I would say, "Freedom before money." No payment can compensate for the want of liberty; no monetary advantage can make the yoke of servile dependence sit easy on the neck of an otherwise free people. We want to be free to make those arrangements relative to land which shall give employment to the greatest number of our toiling population, and afford them the largest return for their labour. This cannot be done while the ghost of landlordism remains. Taxes as rent would ultimately find their way back to the pockets of our despotic masters if we allow them to retain their power. We must be our own masters or nothing.

What, it may be asked, are the advantages which may be page 12 reasonably expected to accrue to the nation from this great change? First, the land being liberated from personal control would be free and open alike to all comers and for all legitimate purposes, in large or small portions. It would be let by public tender for such fixed periods and on such conditions as may appear expedient in the public interest. The rent being thus fixed by the tenants themselves, there could be no ground of complaint, while competition would ensure the full value being obtained. While it is but just that tenants should be compensated for the improvements they make, the creation of anything in the shape of tenant right is inexpedient, being open to the same objections as landlord right. The obligatory payment of a sum for tenant right would be an impediment to many men of energy and enterprise, but of small means, locking up their capital unprofitably or throwing them into the hands of money-lenders, to their detriment or ruin. Lands, therefore, upon which the outlay of capital for improvements would be expedient, should be let subject to such works being satisfactorily executed, and for a term long enough to ensure to the tenant an adequate return for his outlay during his tenancy, the tenant fixing the rent accordingly. At the expiration of the term, the land would revert to the nation improved but unencumbered, and would command a higher rent in compensation for the lower rent paid during the preceding term. Secondly, an immediate material advantage would accrue to the nation under the head of management. The whole of the land being managed by a central board, responsible to Parliament and the nation, with a paid staff, the cost ought not to be more than half that paid by landlords for land-stewards, agents, &c. Then, while landlords usually pay four or four and a half per cent, for loans on mortgage, which of course would be deducted from the gross rent, the nation would pay annuities at three per cent., there would be a saving of one or one and a half per cent, on all mortgages. Under these two heads there ought to be an advantage to the country of something like four or five millions per annum without diminishing the present net income of landlords. Lastly, much land now useless and unproductive might be turned to profitable account. The encouragement and security offered for improvement at home, could not fail to attract capital now invested abroad. Capital being helpless by itself, would attract labour, and employment would be found for many hands page 13 at present unwillingly idle. The impetus thus given to industry and national progress would soon be felt throughout all classes of society, and lead to that revival of trade for which we have waited so patiently and so long. In all the future advantages which would accrue to the nation, the present landlords would largely participate, and would thus be fully compensated for any present loss they might sustain by the change.

Some may object to commit such a power to a government department, on the ground that government departments are not trustworthy. This would be reasonable where the government is a power independent of, and irresponsible to the people; but, happily, in England a government department is and must be just what the people permit it to be. We have already a department of Woods and Forests, which has the management of the crown or national property; but at present it can act only along landlord lines, and must not be a hard landlord. It has only to be enlarged sufficiently to undertake this greater work on clearly defined principles laid down by Parliament. The country would have the pick of the ablest and most experienced men to act on its behalf, and as every act would be public, corruption or mismanagement would be impossible, except with the connivance of the people, or from their neglect to exercise that watchful supervision which their interests require.

To sum up:—
1.Landlordism, by the intervention of personal control, deprives us of freedom of action.
2.Landlordism drains off the proceeds of our labour in the shape of ever-increasing rent, for which no service is rendered in return.
3.Landlordism confiscates the products of labour in the shape of houses, buildings, and improvements, without any compensation whatever.
4.Landlordism subjects us to an ignominious, servile dependence upon the arbitrary will of another.
5.Landlordism repels capital from land, and thereby deprives labour of its employment.

Free Land—what does it mean? Does it mean that the eldest son of a landlord who dies intestate shall not succeed to the whole power of his father, but share it with his younger brothers? Does it mean that landlords shall not have power to fix the descent of their despotism to generations yet unborn?

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Does it mean greater facility to landlords for buying and selling the fettered victims of their rule, the flesh and blood of the toiling millions dependent on their will? Let us not be deceived by a false cry. We ask for bread and they offer us a stone; we demand fish and they give us scorpions. The only Free Land is land free from personal control; land open to every one who will bid a fair rent for it, a rent fixed in open market and paid to the national exchequer for the national benefit. Will Mr. Chamberlain give us free land in this sense? If so, let him place himself at the head of this movement and we will support him. There is no one more able; no one more worthy, as the champion of Free Land, to occupy a pedestal beside the glorious hero of Free Trade. Victory is as certain in the one case as it was in the other.

Fellow-countrymen! are you disposed longer to endure this despotic yoke of landlordism? Are you content to submit to this degrading servitude? If not, let us be up and doing. The time is propitious. Let us with a firm, unanimous voice assert our freedom. Let us form our National Free Laud or Anti-Landlord League, with ramifications throughout every county, town, and village. Put this paper into every hand; read it; think about it; discuss it with your comrades in private and in public. Make anti-landlordism the watchword on every political platform. Enrol the name of every one you can get to adhere to the principle. Affecting, as it does, the very foundation of our national existence, its importance is paramount above all other questions. Let a bill be ready for introduction on the first day that Parliament meets. Let every member be armed with a petition bearing every obtainable signature within his constituency. Let us spare no effort till we have liberated our country from this last relic of feudal despotism, and our people from a debasing servitude. Let us relax not our energies till we have obtained Free Land in a true sense; till we have made every man a freeholder; have given every man a country he can truly call his own; a country to love,—a country to defend,—a country to live for,—aye, and if it need be, a country to die for!