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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Resumption of the National Estate

Resumption of the National Estate.

The present Government entertain very strongly the opinion that it huge mistake was made in the early days of the Colony when land was sold in large blocks at low rates with the view of expending the proceeds in opening up the Colony, and that the result has been, while increasing to an enormous extent the export of frozen mutton grown on the extensive pasture lands, to diminish the demand for agricultural labour and to restrict the amount of land available for the plough and "petite culture." In the words of Tennyson inspecting England before the coming of Arthur—

"And so there grew great tracts of wilderness
Wherein the beast was ever more and more,
But man was less and less."

The Labour party in imposing a progressive land tax made no secret of their hostility to large estates. The policy of this tax is usually known as the "bursting-up" policy, and the leader of the Labour party, the Minister for Labour, said:—"The graduated tax is a finger of warning held up to remind them that the Colony does not want these large estates. I think, whether partly or almost entirely unimproved, they are a social pest, an industrial obstacle, and a bar to progress." This is strong language, and was bitterly resented; but it no doubt embodied the views of the Labour party at the meeting of Parliament. Much has happened since to modify those expressions. It was found, for instance, that a very large proportion of the inhabitants of the Colony were shareholders in banks and financial institutions which are interested either by way of ownership or advances in these large estates. The advocates of land taxation wished to tax the unearned increment, and not the product of industry; it was consequently thought advisable to deduct from the value of all estates that of the improvements effected upon them.

I wonder whether rural landowners in England would not jump at the chance to exchange the income tax they now pay for a land tax based on the value of their laud after deducting from it the value of all buildings, fences, hedges, ditches, gates, and acts of husbandry.

Moreover, there is a provision in the Taxation Act which I page 20 commend to distressed landowners who can find no market for their property, but are trembling lest the advancing wave of democracy sweep away the little that is left to them. Under that provision where an owner is dissatisfied with the valuation of the Land Tax Department, and puts in a declaration that his land is not worth the amount of the departmental valuation, he may call upon the Government to bring down the valuation to his figure, and if they decline to do so they must purchase the estate at the owner's valuation. It is recognised that to take land except for the public advantage would be tyrannical, while to give less than its value, at least as estimated by the owner, would constitute robbery.

This procedure was adopted by the owners of one of the largest estates, if not the largest, in the Colony—an estate which was coterminous with a whole county, possessed its own port for the shipment of produce, and had on it as handsome and well-appointed a country-house as you would find built within the same period in England. The total area of that estate was 85,861 acres. The Government valued it at £304,826, or £3 11s. 5d. per acre all round; while the owners valued it at but £260,220, or £3 0s. 11½d per acre all round. They asked for a reduction in value of £41,606, or that the Government should purchase it at the owners' valuation, This the Government decided to do, the purchasers accepting in payment Treasury Bills at 4½ per cent., with six months to run. After setting apart a sufficient area to be sold with the Mansion House this estate was divided into three parts, one-third to be sold by public auction, one-third to be leased in perpetuity, and one-third to be leased for grazing runs.

The independent valuations made and the general opinion seem to indicate that the Government have not made a bad bargain, while the owners, I happen to know, are congratulating themselves hugely on having disposed of the property.

There are now open for immediate settlement on this estate 20,000 acres of good agricultural land, a third of which is estimated to be worth £7 5s. an acre, and the remaining two-thirds worth £5 an acre; 0,000 acres are available for dairy purposes, and a large area for pasturage.

If, then, the Government can find the money without unduly saddling the Colony with additional debt, and will strictly hypothecate and earmark the proceeds of sales to the service of that particular debt, it would appear that the experiment in the resumption of the national estate is likely to be satisfactory both to the Government and to the landowners.