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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 67

Nationalization of the Land. — [Dunedin "Echo," April 22, 1882.] — II

Nationalization of the Land.

[Dunedin "Echo," April 22, 1882.]


It cannot be denied that there is in the mind of the [unclear: masses] strong prejudice against State leasing. They have been taught to value "a bit of their own land" as the greatest boon under heaven, and the ingenuity of our politicians has been [unclear: taxed] provide them with a means of acquiring a portion of terra [unclear: fi] in fee simple. We may, therefore, hope to do no more [unclear: th] limit the quantity of land disposable in agricultural areas, [unclear: h] might not, for instance, be unpopular to confine the sale of land to the system of deferred payments. Of the thirty-two [unclear: milli] acres of Crown land, but a small portion is fitted by Nature [unclear: fr] agriculture as at present practised in the Colony. We [unclear: ha] seen that the Ormond idea, of selling the worst land to save the Colony from taxation for ordinary purposes, is not likely [unclear: t] prevail. No party advocated the sale instead of the leasing, the other day, of the Otago runs, the question being how to lease them to yield the best results. The area re-leased—whether wisely in the way it has been done is not here under consideration—has for ten years been reserved from alienation. What have, therefore, practically to consider is, the best [unclear: way] proceeding to nationalize the agricultural land still available, the pastoral land being virtually nationalized, at least in one important part of the Colony.

One portion of the old Otago runs reserved is to be disposed of on pastoral deferred payments—a system which may [unclear: be] page 11 brought into force in Canterbury in the present year. Some of this land is fit for agriculture, and is thrown in to make the "mountain tops" marketable. The system has now been tried, and we believe has not been a success. From any point of view, the advocate of nationalization in opposing it will have on his side powerful influences in Canterbury, and is not likely to experience much difficulty in changing the system in Otago. We would substitute for sale the leasing of these mixed miniature runs, for the same term, namely 15 years. At the end of this time, the lessee should be entitled to have his improvements protected over 320 acres, and in renewing the lease, the rent to the former lessee should be reduced by the interest on such improvements. The true theory as to improvements is, that for the present they should be confined to agricultural land. One object gained would be the encouragement of agriculture, and another an improving class of occupiers. The necessary legislation is required.

The question of dealing with purely agricultural land in areas not exceeding 820 acres is divisible into two parts—legislation and administration. We cannot hope to repeal the existing law at present, and must therefore proceed cautiously, using the abundant precedents the statute book affords. Government should have the power of setting apart land for leasing on a twenty-one years' tenure, all unexhausted improvements on the part of the tenant to be protected to him at the end of the term.

Financially the comparison will stand as follows: A deferred-payment settler now pays—partly through the higher upset price placed on the land, and partly through excessive competition from the payments being deferred—about 50 per cent, on the average more than if he bought for cash. For land worth a pound an acre he pays 30s., in twenty half-yearly instalments of 1s. 6d. each. On a two-hundred acre section he pays at least £30 a year for ten years. That is the present system. What does an equitable leasing system offer? The State is to receive interest on the cash value of its land, and if it get this combined with the indirect advantages of occupation and cultivation it does well. The value of a corresponding selection of 200 acres is as many pounds, for which the State receives 4 per cent., or £8 a year, as rent. For 21 years the rent is fixed, and then an equitable rent by valuation is assessed for another term, all improvements being allowed for, which confers fixity of tenure. Suppose, then, we had the necessary legislation, and a Government anxious to give this system a fair trial, would any considerable number of people prefer it to the present system of deferred-payments? The answer which experience of the working of the deferred-payment plan gives is—that the difference in the amount of the annual payments would tend to give the leasing system the preference, with all whose capital was small in proportion to the cost of maintenance on the farm. The page 12 struggle to make the periodical payments at present is proverbial, with three out of four of the deferred-payment settlers. Reduce the payments to nearly one-fourth of the amount, and there would be no struggle at all, but with fresh energy and power left for making improvements.

There would be no objection, probably, to a Bill which repealed nothing, but gave Government power, if it thought fit to use it, of applying the leasing system under certain conditions. The agricultural lease system in a crude form has been enacted in the Mines Act, and in Nelson and in Otago small areas may be leased. The Legislature has never been unwilling to countenance experimental legislation in settlement where a due regard has been paid to vested interests. What country in the world can show the same variety and diversity of systems for promoting the occupation of land as New Zealand? Yet one more has never frightened our legislators, but rather has been accepted as an additional means for accomplishing the end in view. The Bill need not cover much paper, nor be encumbered with details. We would leave a large power of making regulations with the Ministry; and however objectionable the principle may be, in the initiation of a new system it is not wise to attempt to define every detail for any contingency that might possibly arise.

In passing on to the notice of reserves and endowments, we may at once lay down the principle that no reserve or endowment should be alienable, unless specifically made so in each case for special reasons by an Act of the Assembly. There was nothing to justify the legislation of 1880, by which a general power was given in the High Schools Reserves Act to dispose of endowments. But we go much further, in considering how to preserve the national estate, and think that no endowments should be alienable under any circumstances whatever. The land-grant system in connection with railways is indefensible, and should be repealed as speedily as possible—a sound reason probably being found in the way the land has been disposed of in the case of the line lately authorised under the Railways Construction Act When endowments are given for such objects as harbours, they should not be accompanied by a power of sale. Fresh reserves ought to be set aside for the endowment of local bodies, for forest purposes, for charitable institutions, and so forth, to be made inalienable, and subject to the general law for leasing and occupation. It may be said that if the land is nationalized there will be no necessity for reserves and endowments, except in the form of the appropriation of the rents. This is true, but it must be seen that the more (inalienable) reserves are made the sooner the final result of nationalization will be accomplished. The battle is one against time. Every acre alienated is so much ground lost Our first duty is to conserve; the more remote being to perfect the regulations. We have a moral right to use every prejudice, page 13 every tendency of the popular or legislative mind, to assist us in the work. To save the land from alienation is to save a great principle from defeat, and the operations against the enemies of that principle must be as widely extended as they are vigorously directed.

Subject to Ministerial veto, all Crown land and endowments ought to be administered locally and by one body. This body would be a reformed Land Board—a transformed Waste Lands Board. The nominee element might be supplemented by the mayors of municipalities, and the chairmen of county councils, by virtue of their office. The Board might thus become a popular body through the wide representation by the ratepayers of town and country. If the chairmen of county councils were elected direct by the ratepayers and the single vote, nothing would be left to make the Board thoroughly representative of the people whose interests were entrusted to its charge. This body, if so constituted, would exercise great authority, and the veto would not he likely to be put in force except for reasons which could be defended in the face of the country. The first thing to be done would be to place the control of all public endowments under the Board, with the right of delegating the management in particular instances to some still more localised body. Every land endowment has a twofold character—the support of the institution endowed, and the proper use of the land. What will justify, for instance, the control of hundreds of thousands of acres of a land endowment being vested in a University Council? The function of such a council is to appropriate the proceeds to education, but hardly to ensure by equitable arrangements that the tenants are placed on a "live-and-let-live" basis. The only (perhaps adequate) justification of corporate endowments is that they are managed by some person or body responsible to those who are in beneficial occupation, and to the community at large. If this principle had been observed in the case of the Irish estates by the London companies, one strong reason for their expropriation would not have existed.

If these reforms are steadily pressed forward by the Liberal party, of the 32 million acres of Crown land and the estimated three million acres of reserves and endowments, there ought not to be more than a million acres from this time forth alienated before the people of the Colony shall have been taught to guard the land as the property of the State and the endowment of posterity—before, in a word, the principle of the nationalization of the land shall have become not only the policy of a great party, but the chief corner stone of the constitution.

Note—We have estimated the area of Crown land at 32 million acres The Secretary of Crown Lands, in his report for 1881, put it down at 34 million acres, distributed as follows: 12½ millions on pastoral lease, 12½ millions chiefly under forest, and 9 millions worthless for settlement, consisting of barren mountain tops and lakes.