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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 86

Land Common Property

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Land Common Property.

The demand for the nationalisation of the land is not a new demand. Long before the close of the last century the demand was heard. And that demand has grown stronger as the evils of private property in land have increased, and the nature of such property has been better understood. Originally private property in land was impossible. Without the air we breathe and the light of day we cannot live. Without the earth we can have neither food nor clothing. And the earth, like the air we breathe, and the light of day, was the free gift to the whole human race of that eternal power which directs the atom and controls the whole of universal nature. And the same right must belong equally to every subsequent generation. Every human being, whatever the age or whatever the clime, has an equal right to life. No one has a right to deprive another of the means of life. No ene generation has a right to determine the conditions under which another generation shall live. The present can never be bound by the sayings and the doings of any past generation, or any number of generations. No one has or can have a right to monopolise the earth or any portion thereof more than the air we breathe, or the light of day. And here I may give a passage or two from Judge Blackstone bearing upon this point. He says :—"We think it enough that our titleis derived by the grant of the former proprietor,. by descent from our ancestors, or by the last will and testament of the dying owner; not caring to reflect that (accurately and strictly speaking) there is no foundation in nature, or in natural law, why a set of words on parchment should convey the dominion of land." And again he says:—"It is well if the mass of man kind will obey the laws when made, without scrutinising too nicely into the reasons of making them. But when law is considered not only as a practice, but also as a rational science, it cannot be improper or useless to examine more deeply the rudiments and grounds of these positive constitutions of society." Archdeacon Paley tells us that there can be no doubt that, originally, land was common property. "There are no traces," says he, "of property in land in Cæsar's account of Britain; little of it in the history of the Jewish Patriarchs; none of it among the nations of North America; the Scythians are expressly said to page 2 have appropriated their houses and cattle, but to have left their land in common." Sir George Campbell shows that in all the different States in the East of Europe, as well as among the Hindoos, land was common property. W. Cobbett, in his "Legacy to Labourers," says :—" The earth, the water, the air and all that in them was, were the common and general property of mankind; and as to any particular spot of earth, piece of water or tree, or other vegetable or living creature, one man could have no more claim to any of them than any other man had." I might refer to many other well-known writers on this important subject were it necessary to do so. We know how land became what is termed private property in this country. If we turn to Ireland, and to Scotland, we find that the idea that the land is the property of the people cannot be got rid of. And it is well known that it was to root out that idea that the wholesale burnings and evictions took place in Scotlandon the estates of the Sutherlands, &c., &c. But it is said that by occupation and cultivation labour is inseparably mixed with the soil, and that therefore the occupier has a right to the soil so cultivated. But a moment's reflection will show to any one that such occupation and cultivation can give no right to the soil itself. The spontaneous productions of nature belong to any one who gives the labour requisite in gathering them. You may take the fish of the sea, or the fowl of the air, and the labour so bestowed gives the right to their appropriation; and, in like manner, the cultivation of any portion of the earth's surface by one man or a body of men gives to him or them the right to appropriate the products which are the result of their labour. But in taking the fish from the sea or the fowl from the air you do not appropriate either the air or the water; and in appropriating the products of the soil you have cultivated, and which are the result of your labour, you have no right to appropriate the soil itself. The land is the property of the whole people, not excepting even the poorest. It belonged to all past generations; it belongs to the present; and will belong to all future generations as long as the race exists. Every human being has a life interest in the soil. Of that he can never be deprived. But we are asked, what would you do with the present owners of the land? Strictly speaking, owners there are none, and never can be. But the holders of land you may divide into two classes, those who can show a title based upon purchase, and those who cannot. And first with regard to those who can show a title based upon purchase. That which never had a right to begin can never have a right to continue, and that which never could legitimately be held as private property, could never legitimately be bought or sold as private property. Nevertheless, where such title can be shown their right to some compensation may be recognised, but in no case should it exceed the purchase-money actually paid (from which should be deducted the net rent already received, and when the net rent received is less than the purchase-money, the difference to be paid as compensation, and the value of unexhausted improvements, if any. But those who can show no title based upon page 3 purchase, and who have received the rents for generations, in very many cases for centuries, in all such cases no compensation is or can be due. Turn over the roll of our great proprietors, and how many of them can show a title based upon purchase? They are but a few indeed. Yet
400 peers and peeresses hold 5,728,979
1,288 great land owners have 8,497,699
2,529 others hold 4,319,271
10,888 hold 51,885,185
2,184 hold 38,875,522
955 hold 29,663,849
421 hold 22,880,755

If you turn to Scotland, 171 hold 11,029,229 acres; 330 hold two-thirds of the land; and 1,700 over nine-tenths of the whole country. Take the Bedfords, the Beresfords, and the Devonshires. Can any of them show a title based on purchase? No. It is true there may be exceptions, one of which I will here give. The Duke of Richmond is said to be an exception. This family has descended, as most people know, from an illegitimate child of Charles the Second, by the Duchess of Portsmouth. Well, of course the royal child must live, and in 1676 a tax of 1s. per chaldron was imposed on all coal exported from the Tyne and consumed in England. This tax was for the benefit of the child. This tax was levied till 1799, when an Act was passed to commute the tax into a yearly pension of £19,000. That pension was paid until 1825, when another Act was passed to commute the pension into a lump sum of £490,833 11s. 6d. But instead of paying the then noble Duke the above sum, Government gave him Government stock to the amount of £633,333 6s. 9d. The whole of that stock was sold, with the exception of a very small amount, and invested in land. Now, the tax was public money, the pension was public money, the commuted sum was public money, and the Government stock belonged to the public. And as the lands were bought with what the Government stock realised, the lands are as much public property as if they were simply given by royal grant from the public lands. But look at the result. The Duke has estates in five counties amounting to 277,398 acres, and a yearly rental of £79,675, instead of the pension of £19,000, being a difference of £60,672. What compensation can there be due to the noble Duke? But look at the position to which this system has reduced the country. In Ireland millions of acres turned into waste, and the population reduced from 8,000,000 to 5,000,000. In Scotland over two million acres turned into deer forest, and tens of thousands of families evicted to make room for red deer. In 1831 we had over 19,000,000 acres of arable land; in 1880, only 15,651,000. In 1869 we had 3,981,989 acres under wheat; in 1880, only 3,065,895 acres. In 1841 we grew food enough for 24,280,000 of our population, and required foreign supplies for only 1,200,000. In 1880 we grew enough for only 12,152,000, and depended on foreign supplies for more than 22,000,000. page 4 And is this state of things to continue? Is a mere handful ot men to continue to take their £150,000,000 a year as rent, drive away the cultivators of the soil, and make Englishmen dependent on the foreigner for the bread they eat? But we are sometimes told that England cannot maintain her population. At any rate, to-day she does not. But what said the late Alderman Mechi some few years ago [see Hoyle's Resources of British Empire, p. 18]? "What margin," said he, "is there for improvement in British agriculture? I have tested it by comparative results, and find that, if all the land of the kingdom, 50,000,000 acres, which is equal in quality to mine, produced as much as mine does per acre, our agricultural produce would be increased by the amount of £421,000,000 annually." Why, then, should England be depen dent on the foreigner? Let us then restore the land to the people. Let the ground rents be paid into the National Exchequer. Let fixity of tenure by lease be secured to every cultivator. Let all indirect taxes cease. On this question let there be no compromise. Let principle, not expediency, be our guide. Let the happiness of the whole people, not a part, however large, be our aim. And we shall not have to wait many years before the cry of The land for the people, will resound from one end of the country to the other.

Join the English Land Restoration League, Fredk. Verinder, Secretary, 8 Duke Street, Adelphi, London, W.C.

Object.—The Abolition of Landlordism.

Method.-The Abolition of all Taxes upon Labour, and the Products of Labour and the Earnings of Labour; and the Increase of Taxation upon Land Values until the whole annual value of land is taken in taxation tor public purposes.

Minimum Subscription.—One Shilling a year.

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