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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

The Land Laws of the Colony

The Land Laws of the Colony.

The chief characteristic of the New Zealand land laws is that they give the selector an option of acquiring land under a variety of tenures. There is the cash payment, giving the purchaser the out-and-out freehold; there is the deferred payment system, which enables a man to pay for the land and acquire the freehold by half-yearly payments of principal and interest extending over a period of years; and there is the perpetual lease, or a lease for a term of years with a perpetual right of renewal.

Until the last few years the greater portion of the lands of the Colony which have been disposed of by the Crown have been sold under the freehold system. Of late years, however, the tenure page 18 known as the "perpetual lease" has been introduced, and that is the tenure which now finds most favour with the persons who take up land. By securing to lessees the value of their improvements under an indefeasible title, with perpetual rights of renewal, they have all the security and permanence of a freehold tenure without being obliged to sink their capital in the purchase of the land. This enables a man with a small capital to take up land and keep his capital intact for improving and stocking his farm. The rental he pays is fixed at 5 per cent, on a low capital value of the land, so that a tenant under this system has all the advantages of enjoying the land at a low rental, and knowing that the improvements he makes will not be for the benefit of any person other than himself. If at the end of the term the tenant does not care to renew, the incoming tenant has to pay to the outgoing tenant the value of all improvements of a permanent character, as fixed by arbitration. If, on the other hand, the original lessee elects to accept a fresh lease he pays a rental of 5 per cent, on the then value of the land after deducting the value of the permanent improvements he has made during his term. The lessee, therefore, and not the Crown or landlord, gets the benefit of all permanent improvements which have been placed on the land during his term. There are certain stipulations under this tenure providing for the improvement of the land, but there is no restriction on the tenant selling his interest so long as the required conditions are complied with. For those intending to take up Crown land this form of tenure seems to present many advantages, especially to the settler with small means.

A very important feature in the New Zealand land laws is the regulations providing for the farm homestead associations and village homesteads. Now that the question of assisting the working classes to obtain small holdings of land is receiving so much attention in England, it may be of interest to state shortly the salient features of these homestead settlements. Every effort has been made in New Zealand to induce the labouring classes to obtain possession of small blocks of land. In every country there is a period of the year when the labour market is slack, and when men, unless they have a piece of land attached to their homes, are idle; and the desirability of providing labourers with a plot of land the cultivation of which enables spare time to be utilised, and at the same time provides so much food for the family, is receiving almost universal recognition.

The Colony of New Zealand has from time to time set apart certain blocks of land which have been cut up into these village page 19 settlements and offered to the working classes. The terms are of a most liberal character. The rent is very small indeed, there are no preliminary expenses to the occupant, and the settler need not pay any rent for the first two years. Married men have a preference over single men, and an advance of £10 is made towards assisting in the erection of a dwelling. There are, of course, very stringent regulations insisting on the land being improved, and no money is advanced towards building a cottage until value for more than the amount of the advance has been placed on the land. These village settlements are, as far as possible, placed in country districts where there is a demand for labour, so that the settler can take advantage of work when it offers. The area of these allotments varies from five to fifty acres, according to the nature of the soil.

These village settlements have been a great success, and the means of providing frugal but comfortable homes for a large number who would otherwise have left the Colony. Three conditions are necessary if success is to be assured: First, in the selection of applicants who have some aptitude for rural life; secondly, the selection of land of good quality for the settlement; and, thirdly, the selection of a locality for the settlement in a neighbourhood where some labour can be obtained. An extension of this system has lately been inaugurated under which farm homesteads can be acquired. The principle is the same, but the area of land is increased, and during the last eighteen months a number of homestead associations on the co-operative principle have been started.