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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Large and Small Holdings

Large and Small Holdings.

It may not be out of place to say something about the vexed question of large, or comparatively large, properties. It would be more correct to say comparatively valuable properties, as the land is, in its natural state particularly, of various value. Where these properties belong to the bonâ fide pioneer settler—the man who took up the land and started the colonisation when there was hardly any population, and in some cases at the risk of his life—the spirit of justice and fair play says, "Keep faith with him; leave him alone to the enjoyment of the fruit of his labour." These properties—many of them sheep stations—are in a large proportion owned by men who came to the page 20 colony as working men, wage-earners, shepherds, carpenters, blacksmiths, &c, who, by their energy, capacity, and self-denial, have succeeded, under great difficulty, and have even escaped the money-lender. The footing these men were known to have attained attracted attention to the colony, and many immigrants. This may by some be called sentiment, but it is the spirit of doing to others as we should wish others to do to us. As to the men and loan companies who have become possessed of these properties second hand, in most cases cheaply on the ruin of the pioneer by usury, no sentiment need be wasted. The most objectionable form of absenteeism and land monopoly is that of these companies creating employment for a class of inspectors, and a department whose situations and reason of being depends on getting owners out, and keeping them out. Put these properties again in the hands of settlers and the occupation of this department employing a manager or two and locking up vast areas of country would be gone. If the State requires such properties for more bonâ fide settlement, on paying a fair value, there need be no delicacy about the matter. I once said to the manager employed by one of these companies that, had a large number of properties of all sizes fallen into its hands by the inability of the original owners to pay the heavy rate of interest exacted, "Is it not rather hard on all those people who have spent their lives in making these holdings, to be turned out of their homes penniless, and mostly at advanced age? Your company cannot make more, or even as much, out of these properties." His reply was—"That is all sentiment; they are euchred." No evictions in Ireland have been more unjust than some of those effected quietly and in an underhand way in this colony. Where have such wholesale evictions taken place in any other country in the world—evictions that appeared sometimes to be for the purpose of giving the holding to a more favoured person on the same terms, or easier than the original owner was able to pay? I should be quite prepared to find many objections raised to giving the pioneer settler any special consideration, such as that it was not possible to make those distinctions, &c. Things are easily impossible to people who do not want to do them. Still, as land is limited, a maximum value, a liberal one, based on the present value of these properties, either town or country, might be arrived at, and a tax so arranged that, in time, as these or other properties exceeded the limit of value, the income derived from the value outside the limit should virtually belong to the State, thus practically limiting the value of land to be held by the individual, and in this respect com- page 21 panies should be treated as an individual to prevent the palpable possibility otherwise of one large shareholder holding more land than he could do otherwise.

To actually cut off part of a property now by sale to get it within a limit of value, as advocated by some, would be open to the objection among others that if land fell in value it would be hardly possible to restore the property to its limit by sticking a piece on again. I am far from advocating that land should bear more than a fair share of taxation, as it is the people who work the land in this country that, by giving employment, support nearly the whole of the rest of the population of the towns; and it seems likely that must remain the case for many years to come, until, at anyrate, population has become so dense and labour so cheap that capitalists can compete with European and Indian manufacturers, which would mean cheaper labour here than in those countries to make up for higher freight. An income-tax seems an equitable way of taxing those that have. It lets the labourer escape direct taxation, and for purposes of equity there seems no reason why incomes over £150 should not contribute less or more. The Customs duties on food are paid by all. In the case of farmers, as they generally "find" their men, it is paid by the farmer. Common sense also points to the need of a different method of dealing with the remaining land now, so as to have it taken up in moderate farms to give all wanting land a fair chance to obtain it. Much of the remaining land being bush land, only fit to occupy when cleared as grazing land, perhaps a minimum size for a farm of this description, on which the occupier is to depend for a living, should be such that gave a man a chance of making at least as much out of his farm as he would if he was working for wages, which, for shepherds and such men on sheep stations, ore about £100 per annum. The settler should at any rate have 5 per cent, on his capital in addition to the rate of wages. It is good grass land that keeps properly two long-wool sheep to the acre all the year round without help from extra feed grown for winter; and on land that could not be ploughed it is difficult to provide much extra winter feed. Sheep, with good management, might return gross from 10s to 20s per acre, and such land would keep about one head of cattle to five acres. It appears, therefore, that the minimum size for such a farm on such land should be about two hundred acres. A scheme of taking up land of this sort would lead, with the help of sufficient State education, to the establishment of a healthy, vigorous, and independent population. My idea is that, from a national point of view, page 22 it would almost pay to give the land away to induce settlement. "What is wanted is produce for export to bring money into the country.