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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Suggestions for A British Farmer Settlement on Co-Operative Principles in New Zealand

Suggestions for A British Farmer Settlement on Co-Operative Principles in New Zealand.

The supreme problem awaiting solution in all civilised lands is how to secure to the worker a fairer share of the results of his toil. I do not propose discussing the question, as I take it that all thoughtful men are prepared to admit that the social evils resulting from the non-solution of this problem are fast reaching the acute stage, when one of two alternatives must be confronted—reform or revolution.

I am a reformer, and hold that no social redemption is to be looked for apart from sound constitutional action.

I have had twelve years' experience of the Colony of New Zealand, where nearly every aspiration of the old English Radical reformer has been more than realised. Free secular public schools, churches wholly and absolutely free from State patronage or control, triennial Parliaments, universal suffrage, local option, free trade in land—these, and a dozen other reforms only as yet a British reformer's aspiration, are in full operation; and the result is seen in one of the most loyal, peaceful, and prosperous communities on the face of the earth.

But a danger threatens us. European inequalities of social condition are developing, and with them the cognate evils of extravagance and despair. To the remedy for this dangerous symptom the colonial mind is now anxiously turned. Mr. Henry George found nowhere a more ready ear than in New Zealand, but, to the honour of the Colony be it said, his blatant proposal of confiscation was not accepted. The thousands of happy owners of from five to fifty acres of land failed to see why a proprietorship which had cost them years of toil and struggle should be deemed theft. And if the title to fifty acres was good, why not the title to five thousand? If fairly come by, whence the page 29 justification of forcible ejectment? and if not fairly come by, there was the court of justice.

So men's thoughts are rather turned to the great principle of co-operation, peaceful and increased production of wealth and the means of subsistence, and a just distribution of that wealth among all who help to create it.

Hence the formation of co-operative associations in the colony.

By the last New Zealand mail I received a report of a farmers' co-operative association in the Canterbury district, and a most successful attempt at self-help it appears to be. Some 2,107 farmers and others belong to it; they have a reserve fund of £6,000; their annual business already amounts to over six million pounds sterling, and the profits for distribution for the last year were £10,804.

A further development of this co-operative principle is now contemplated in reference to land settlement. The question is asked—Why restrict cooperation to the mere distribution of the products of industry? Why not extend its operations to the production and exchange of all things necessary for human use and enjoyment, and to the utilisation of land, labour, and capital combined? In a word, why should not those who co-operate to produce the world's wealth, co-operate also in its ownership and enjoyment? The cogency of the argument will at once appear if we take one article of New Zealand produce and trace its career. The frozen meat industry of New Zealand is today resulting in over a million and a half carcases of mutton being annually sent to the British market; but how stands it with the unfortunate producer of that meat? He gets but 2d. per pound for it, and if we add id. per pound for freightage and freezing, we only get about one-half of the price paid for it by the consumer. Who gets the lion's share of the price? Both producer and consumer are defrauded in order that sundry companies may pay large dividends.

The remedy is self-evident. Landowner, farmer, and customer must have an equal share in the joint enterprise. English co-operators must buy up New Zealand land, and cultivate it in the interests of their fellow co-operators. Regular consignments of this produce must go to the great co-operative distributors, while the colonial co-operators receive in exchange the British commodities which they need.

Here is one solution of the social problem. The producer's heart rejoices in a twenty-five per cent, increase in the reward of his toil, and the consumer thanks God for a twenty-five per cent, reduction in the price of his leg of mutton. Meanwhile, the glutted home labour market is relieved by the steady exodus of industrious men to the colonial farms, while the merchants and manufacturers at home are kept employed in meeting the demands of the prosperous settlers. With the view of embodying this idea in some definite form, it is proposed to take advantage of sundry large areas of land now thrown upon the market in New Zealand, to form a special co-operative settlement. An appeal will be made to British co-operators to raise a fund for the purchase of a block of land, and the settlement of this land will be exclusively confined to associated members, under rules strictly on co-operative lines. It page 30 is hoped that a suitable block of land may be secured at the same price paid by the original settlers on the Canterbury Plains, viz., £2 per acre. These farms to-day are valued at from £5 to £25 per acre. On the assumption that a block of from 25,000 acres to 50,000 acres is thus secured, it is contemplated to sell it to the shareholders of the company on the deferred-payment system, extending over ten years.

With a view to the conveyance of a definite idea of the individual bearing of the question, the following table is submitted of the exact annual payments required to secure a farm of 100 acres, at £2 per acre, £200:—
First instalment to be paid on entrance 20
Second instalment to be paid at end of first year together with interest on balance of £180 at 5 per cent, per annum, £9 29
Third instalment, principal and interest 28
Fourth 27
Fifth 26
Sixth 25
Seventh 24
Eighth 23
Ninth 22
Tenth 21
Total, principal and interest £245

A careful calculation as to the necessary outgoings for a year, earlier than which it would not be wise to calculate on any return from the land, shows that each settler should not have less than £250 as capital. As there would probably be men whom the company might deem very suitable for the development of the settlement, who might not be able to command this capital, arrangements would be made for advancing the necessary capital, and receiving it back by way of instalments, as in the case of the land. As, however, no element of charity enters into this scheme, the arrangement would be on a strictly business basis.

The initial step is therefore the formation of a limited liability company, with an available capital of £50,000. This capital should be as widely distributed as possible—say, 50,000 £1 shares, and no shareholder to hold more than 250 shares. In order to reduce to a minimum the necessary preliminary expenses, the machinery of the respective branches of the co-operative association should be utilised, and it is hoped that secretarial and other work will be purely honorary. Capitalists and practical men who are willing to join a Colonisation movement on these lines are invited to address the undersigned—

Arthur Clayden,

52, Camden Hill Road, Upper Norwood.