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CHAPTER X: land-law reformers - Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Individualism: A System of Politics 
Individualism: A System of Politics (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889).
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It is easier to diagnose a disease than to prescribe a remedy. Most persons admit that the land law of this country is not what it should be. But it does not in the least follow that the cure proposed by each of the army of quacks ready to prescribe for the malady is the best, or even a wholesome treatment. At the same time it is a mistake to speak of land-law reformers as if the term denoted a number of persons with a common aim. They detest the present system, and there their agreement ends. It is impossible to deal with them as a single body with definite plans, because as a rule they disagree among themselves on almost every point of the program. Furthermore, they seldom set forth their views as a whole; and to pick out one proposal from one reformer and another from another would be manifestly unfair to both. Consequently in our endeavour to ascertain the opinions of this somewhat motley crew it is necessary to deal with them separately. I propose in this chapter to discuss the suggestions of a gentleman who has put himself prominently before the public in connection with what is called the Free Land League, and whose views on land-law reform are pretty clearly sketched in a lecture on the land question delivered some few years ago at the Oxford Reform Club, and since published with the sanction and approval of a cabinet minister who has since passed out of public notice. At the time of the delivery of the lecture, Mr. C. A. Fyffe described himself as the Liberal candidate for the city of Oxford, and although the election has since taken place, he is still in a position (so far as I know) to sustain that rôle. Commenting upon the plans set forth in the lecture, Sir Charles Dilke was not ashamed to write: “What may we expect with regard to the treatment of the land question in the next Parliament? On this subject I will commend to notice a pamphlet which has been written by Mr. Fyffe, who is Liberal candidate for the city of Oxford, and who I hope will represent the city of Oxford. Mr. Fyffe in his pamphlet has discussed in a thoroughly practical way the difficulties of the agricultural interest in this country at the present time, and has shown methods for their solution which are deserving of much attention.” I think Mr. Fyffe's views, though not altogether clear and definite, are shared by a considerable number of neo-radicals at the present time, and I am therefore of opinion that a careful examination of his proposed alteration of the law is not by any means a mere waste of time.1
Before prescribing a remedy, our social physician must needs diagnose the disease, and this he does through the mouth of an imaginary “intelligent foreigner.” Unfortunately for the correctness of his diagnosis, the intelligence of the created cannot exceed that of his creator, and the foreigner is consequently a very unintelligent foreigner indeed. He expresses surprise at seeing the condition of a great manufacturing country unlike that of his own. He cannot understand larse farming and its effects; still less the necessary results of the introduction of machinery. Let him speak for himself: “I see substantial farmhouses with good useful buildings, and often with immense cornricks about them; but. . . I do not see the little houses scattered about, that one might expect, or the frequent large villages that would be met with in any equally rich district on the mainland. . . . And when I go from your lonely country districts into your towns, I observe enormous over-crowding and over-competition.” Mr. Fyffe and his foreigner are unable to see the economy of concentration in the case of manufacture as opposed to the impossibility of concentration in the case of agriculture. His foreigner is equally surprised to find that a population which exports millions of pounds' worth of manufactured goods should be obliged to import provisions. “I find,” says he, “that you pay to the French and other nations annually the following sums: For butter, £12,000,000; for cheese, £5,000,000; for potatoes and vegetables, £4,000,000; for poultry and eggs £3,000,000. And I am not surprised that under such circumstances the English people, conservative as they are, are now asking themselves whether there is not something in their land system which needs a good deal of amendment.”
The intelligent foreigner having pointed out the evils in a land system winch, acre for acre, produces more food from the soil than is produced by any other system from the soil of any other country in the world, calls in the physician, Mr. C. A. Fyfe, whose "own ideas, such as they are, have been gathered in the course of some years' superintendence of corporate estates amounting to about seven thousand acres,“ and who has so far bungled his own affairs that he has now '' the misfortune to be personally interested in a small landed property, of which,” says he, “I have at present one hundred and fifty acres on my hands; so that I address you to-night in the character of a distressed agriculturist.”
“What a spectacle for the gods! The distressed agriculturist, after hopelessly collapsing under the load of one hundred and fifty acres, boldly comes forward and volunteers to undertake the management of the whole land of the country. But then, what city clerk does not know exactly how to smash the Mahdi, or to drive the Russians back beyond Sarakhs? The only difference in the cases is that somehow the city clerk does not succeed in propounding his views from the shoulders of a cabinet minister, that is all.
However, Mr. Fyffe begins well. It was doubtless a revelation to the reformers to learn that “there is no law of primogeniture, except when a man dies without a will.” The previous belief may be inferred, namely, that every landowner is by law compelled to leave the whole of his realty to his eldest son. Another disillusion awaited them when the news was to be announced that perpetual entail was also a bogey of the reformer's imagination, having been practically knocked on the head as far back as the days of the Red and White Roses. Surely the reformers' occupation was gone!
At the same time, while admitting that the custom of primogeniture is an arguable question, it is possible to differ from Mr. Fyffe on the wisdom of altering the law in case of intestacy. In all such cases law should follow custom, otherwise great injustice may be done. For example, out of a hundred landowners one forgets or neglects to make his will, or by some accident or fraud the will cannot be found. Meantime he has made careful provision for all his younger sons and daughters, setting some up in business at great expense and settling large sums on others at marriage—all with the intention of leaving the land to his eldest son. Such is the belief of all, such the expectation of all. Is it just to disappoint these expectations and to leave the eldest son not the richest 'but the poorest of the family? No; the excellence of all laws relating to intestacy depends on their strict observance of the prevalent customs. In the words of Mr. Justice Stephen: “Laws ought to be adjusted to the habits of society, and not to aim at remoulding them. . . . If the law deviates from these guiding principles it becomes a nuisance.” Alter the custom if you can, Mr. Fyffe, but in the name of justice and common sense leave the law alone. As to family settlements, if there is nothing more to be urged against them than the lame economic arguments brought by the lecturer, they may safely be left to take care of themselves. Perhaps, however, this is the place to remind the great school of reform by State interference, that whatever of evil (and of good) there may be in the present curious system of limited entails, by means of disentailing assurances and resettlements, it is mostly due to the action of the State in standing virtually as trustee for or protector of a non-existent person. And before proposing any new law for doing away with the effect of this abnormality (be it good or bad) it might be more consistent to remove the cause. The idea of a non-existent owner is not altogether natural, and whether it might not be dispensed with is an open and an arguable question.
But Mr. Fyfie's cure is far more drastic, if less intelligible. He trusts that “the simple course will be taken of abolishing family settlements altogether.” Until the meaning of this is made clearer it is useless to offer any observation on it. Will Mr. Fyffe tell us how he proposes to make the proprietorship of land everywhere ownership in fee simple? Is he also prepared to abolish trusts altogether?
When we are told that all mortgages and charges on land “ought to be made public, and to be registered in some Court open to public inspection,” we readily assent; but are at once met with the warning that to cede an inch is to lose an ell. “It is an open question whether in the public interest all mortgages and charges whatsoever on land should not be made null and void.” If so, the sooner the question is closed again the better. Firstly, it is an impossibility. Whoever holds a valuable property can borrow on it, whatever the law may be as to the precise nature of the transaction. Secondly, if there is one form of credit which is open to fewer objections than any other, it is that highly expedient and useful arrangement for tiding over an emergency, by borrowing at a low rate of interest on what is practically absolute security. How many manufacturers have been saved from collapse in periods of depression and commercial crisis by the accident of holding estates which were never bought with such a view? As for simplification of transfer, Mr. Fyffe has nothing to say to it, except that the abstract of title would be cheaper and less bulky if it were not for these charges and mortgages.
So far there is nothing either very startling or very original in all these suggestions. Indeed the whole subject of land ownership is a difficult one, not to be dealt with by rule of thumb or by uninstructed persons. Instead of raking up and refurbishing the rusty old weapons of Owenite law-tinkers, Mr. Fyffe might do better service if he would rummage in the dustiest corners of Oxford libraries and contrive to unearth some of the lectures delivered there seven hundred and fifty years ago, in which abundant evidence will be found that the foundations of law be beneath the surface, and that in the learned discussions of the glossators and scholastic jurists are more Likely to be found the true solutions of these problems than in the amateur superficialities of nineteenth century demagogues.
To do our author justice, he is not satisfied to follow in the footsteps of the land reformers of the last generation. That is not enough for him. He opens up a prospect of changes based, not upon freedom or its semblance, but on State interference. In plain words, Mr. Fyffe is a State socialist. “After all,” he says, “we are great communists in this country;” from which fact (melancholy or the reverse) the inference is drawn, why not let us be more communistic? Possibly this argument has weight with some who would shrink from drawing a parallel inference from the allegation that after all we are to a certain extent dishonest people in this country. Anyhow, whether in other matters communism is good or bad, there can be no doubt that it must be good in the matter of laud, which we cannot surely bring ourselves to believe to be a “purely commercial object.” Phraseology of this sort is invincible. How can any one prove or even argue that land is a “purely commercial object”? What does it mean? The explanation throws no light on the subject. “Land,” we are told, “has two characteristics, which taken together distinguish it from any other commodity. The use of a portion of it is absolutely indispensable, and it is not capable of being increased.” One would have thought that the use of a portion of air, water, food, clothing, and a variety of other things (not of course including common sense) was absolutely indispensable, and certainly as to some of these it is true that they are not “capable of being increased.” Water and air for example. At the same time what does it signify to the wretch to whom these said things are indispensable whether or not they are capable of being increased, if he himself is not capable of getting them. A man in want of a loaf derives no consolation from being told that bread is one of those things which are capable of being increased, or even that it falls into Mill's third class of commodities. But is not land capable of being increased to all practical intents and purposes? Land, which is rendered doubly productive, is practically doubled in quantity. But leaving that on one side, is it not a fact that within the last two centuries the English people have increased their land by millions of square miles, in spite of the quaking-insular policy of those who, with punctilious respect for the proprietary rights of Red Indians over their hunting-grounds, evince the most callous unscrupulousness in curtailing and even destroying the proprietary rights of their own fellow-countrymen ? It is true that if a man with one acre of land wants another, he cannot have it in the same place; he must move: but what does it matter what form his labour takes, whether it consists in bringing goods to himself or carrying himself to the goods? That is to say, by the application of labour land can be increased—and by land is meant useful land, valuable land. At all events at the present time there are more acres in the world waiting to be claimed, cleared, and utilised, than there are people anxious to claim them. “When the planet is thickly populated with civilised people we will undertake to reopen this discussion with Mr. Fyffe. Just now we must let his theory pass and turn to his practical proposals based thereon, for he himself trusts less to his metaphysical arguments than to the brute force of the many. Says he: “We know perfectly well that the accumulation of landed property in single hands might easily reach such a degree that the nation would not put up with it; and I therefore ” (not be it observed for any speculative reasons) “make no apology for assuming that the public interest ought even now to be the first principle in regulating our land laws, and that private property in land must be subject to such limitation as the public interest dictates.” Would not this argument hold with respect to the accumulation of corn in single hands, which actually did take place with much effect at one time? And are we not therefore to “assume that private property in corn must be subject to, etc.? ” Forestalling and regrating were terms familiar to the ears of our forefathers, but we vainly hoped we had got past those days of paternal government.
Wait a moment. Do we know perfectly well that landed property in single hands might easily reach such a degree? It has not reached that point yet, and the tendency is even now in the opposite direction. Again, is it not a contingency equally probable in the case of other kinds of property? Suppose some half-witted or misanthropic person contrived to collect at any cost all the extant works of some great painter with the malicious object of burning them. Would the nation “put up with it”? And if not, what course would it adopt? And furthermore, does this possible danger justify us in assuming (without any apology too) that “the public interest—ought even now to be the first principle in regulating our laws relating to personalty of a kind strictly limited in quantity”? After all, it would be a harmless proposition. What is meant by it? Ko one denies that property in land must be held subject to such limitation as the public interest dictates. What one objects to is Mr. Fyffe's limitation. Even Oxford reformers must have heard of compulsory purchase of land for purposes of public utility, of railway concessions arid the like. If it can be shown to the general satisfaction that any square yard of this country could be bought by the State with advantage, there is nothing in the laws or the constitution to prevent such compulsory purchase from being effected. The only dispute between the reformers and ordinary mortals is as to the expediency of purchasing the land against the will of the holder without any conceivable cause shown.
The whole question lies in a nutshell. Is a system of land tenure, such as we now have, under which the holder enjoys undefined rights over the land subject to the public right of purchase at full market value—is this a good system or not? The reformers say no, and each reformer has a project of his own which is better. Mr. George would tax landlords about 90 per cent, of their rent, and let them alone. P'rofessor Wallace would buy them out by degrees over a period of about twenty years, by which they would be robbed of the difference between the value of the freehold and that of a twenty years' lease. Mr. Hyndman would expropriate them at once without compensation or so much as “by your leave.” But we are now concerned with Mr. Fyffe's project. His plan is not wanting in that simplicity which characterises the systems of Fourier, of Henry George, and of Prince Krapotkine.
The central idea is to empower any corporate body or single individual lacking land to take it on payment of a reasonable sum to the owner. “I would therefore suggest,'' says our author, ” that an individual or a company requiring land for any useful purpose, and not necessarily affecting the public at large, shall have the right of going before the local Land Court and obtaining an order for the compulsory sale of the land." It is true that the object alleged must be one that is beneficial to the neighbourhood, and that no substantial objection can be adduced by the landed proprietor, whatever a substantial objection may be—most certainly the objection that the land belongs to him and that he wishes to keep it will not be accepted as substantial. Why not? Because “he who needs ground for his own occupation seems primâ facie to be a more suitable owner than one who lets it to another. It is not, however, necessary to dwell upon the grounds which would naturally influence the Land Courts in the exercise of their discretion.” Certainly not. And now a word upon this argument of Primâ facie, suitability. Does it apply" to the horses of a livery stable-keeper? Is the person who wishes to ride one of such horses clearly a more suitable owner than he who merely lets it out for hire, and ought he therefore to have the power to purchase it at a fair figure? Again, as to suitability, there can be no doubt that a hungry man would be a more suitable owner of a cake than the confectioner who puts it in the window for sale; and really one fails to see why this test should not at once decide the ownership apart from any vulgar question of price, reasonable or otherwise.
The lecturer has not got quite so far as that yet, and he leans to the view that some compensation should be made to the owner. First let us see on what basis this compensation is to be calculated, and then let us follow the economic reasoning by which it is supported. Now the principle of valuation by which the Land Court is to be guided is the beautiful and elastic principle of equity. “By an equitable value, I do not mean either an agricultural value on the one side or a fancy value on the other, but such a price as an owner desiring to sell would accept from an ordinary purchaser.” Now who is the thought-reader that is to find out what price one who does not want to sell would accept if he did want to sell? One has heard too of men so desirous of realising that they have parted with really marketable things in a hurry for “an old song.” Then how desirous of selling is the owner to be pictured by the Land Court thought-reader? Is he to be anxious to sell, or willing to sell, or prepared to consider a good offer? But before solving these problems we must learn what it is which the landowner has to sell, or ought to be taken as having to sell. How are we to find out, not what the rent actually is, but what, morally speaking, it ought to be?
“I think we ought to proceed in this way,” says our teacher: “first the labourer should be kept in decent comfort ” (please define); “then the landlord should have a trifling payment for, as it were, putting the tenant in a position to use his capital.” And how much might this be we are anxious to learn; and here is the answer, “Say, the value of what the land would grow uncultivated.” The thought-reader is non-plussed; we must have recourse to the Wandering Jew this time. What sort of land was this before a spade was stuck into it? Was it forest, or moor, or marsh, or barren rock, or was it perchance under the waves of the sea ? And in any case what would the market value of its produce have been at that time? Were there any inhabitants in the neighbouring country, and did they build with timber, or burn peat, or did they graze sheep or cattle? “Nonsense,” shriek the reformers, ''nobody asked the value of what the land did grow before it was cultivated, but the value of what it would now grow uncultivated.” Now this in no way alters the question; for at what point in its history is the piece of land to be supposed to have begun to be cultivated? And what is cultivation? The richest acre of golden wheat at harvest-time has not been cultivated for weeks and months. The poorest acre on the wooded hillside is being cultivated when the leaves fall in autumn, or else pasture land is not cultivated at all. But wordy speculations of this kind make such a dust that it is a relief to get back to something definite. Mr. Fyffe is prepared to be generous, or at least to admit that generosity might be shown. After proceeding as aforesaid, he allows a reasonable percentage to the landlord and the farmer on the actual capital they have put on to the laud, and a fair return to the farmer for his work and superintendence; and then, “if there is something over afterwards, the landlord might have part of it as purely unearned income, over and above what he may fairly claim.” What that is we have seen. At this point one feels strongly tempted to commend to Mr. Fyffe's careful perusal a little work written about seventy years ago by one David Ricardo, and entitled, on the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. He will find therein some elementary truths simply stated which will cause him much surprise; amongst other matters he will find an explanation of rents, and how they are arrived at. He will find that the wages of the labourer are settled by circumstances over which neither landlord nor farmer has any control; he will find that after paying these wages, the normal profits of the farmer, together with the return of his outlay, are next deducted from the gross produce of the land, and finally if there is anything left over (on an average of years), it passes to the landlord as rent.
Now, this is precisely the state of things for which the heart of the candidate is yearning. He is after all in the same boat with his constituents, who are still buckling on their armour for an onslaught upon perpetual entails and compulsory primogeniture. “What he is struggling to bring about is the existing custom of the country, But it is no satisfaction, they say, to live even in Paradise without knowing it.
In order to bring the new order of things about, the first requisite is of course a District Land Court. Without this it is clear there could be no means devised of giving one party to a contract the best of the bargain, and that, it need hardly be said, is the ultimate object of the reform. Having got the indispensable machine, how is it going to be worked, and what is it going to turn out? Under the heading of “necessary changes in the law between landlord and tenant” (we had no idea there was any law so situated), we find exposed to view our three old friends from Ireland, known as the three F's. There they are in all their hideous nakedness, just as might have been predicted. Manufactured for Irish consumption only, it was not to be expected that they would long he excluded from the English market.
1. Fixity of Tenure: “No tenant to be removed from his holding without the permission of a District Land Court.” It is unnecessary to examine the grounds on which the court may refuse such permission, for it is enough that such requirement at once creates a dual ownership.
2. Fair Rents: “The Land Court must have the power of fixing rents in cases of dispute and of reducing them even in the case of existing leases.” This again is plain speaking, and requires no further elucidation or comment. But when this interference with contract engagements is justified by the act of “the English Court of Chancery, in interfering with and setting aside those clauses in mortgages which gave the mortgagee absolute rights over the mortgaged estate in case of default of payment,” we may be permitted to doubt whether Mr. Fyffe has any clear idea of the principle on which equity of redemption is based. Perhaps the Oxford reformers will tell us whether the mortgagor or the mortgagee is the proprietor in the exact sense of the term. However, these supposed analogies had better be avoided by those whose acquaintance with legal philosophy is of so dubious a character.
3. Free Sale: “The farmer should have the right of selling his tenancy to any one whom he chooses, subject to the landlord's right to urge any objection to the new tenant before the District Land Court.” In support of this contention our guide again displays an extraordinary ignorance of history. “Of course,” says he, if the tenant is to be regarded as a sort of feudal retainer of the landlord, it sounds shocking that he should have the right of nominating a successor.“ Now this is just the case in which the nomination of a successor, so far from sounding "shocking,” was, as a matter of fact and history, a thing of everyday occurrence. And what is to be the landlord's safeguard against having any sort of vagabond thrust upon him for a tenant? Simply this: the incoming tenant is to be “put upon his oath as to his means, his character, and his qualifications.” Now, supposing our author put upon his oath as to his qualifications as a land reformer, should we be justified in stigmatising his probable answers as perjury? The spectacle of the incoming tenant on his oath as to his means would not perhaps be very striking: but when it came to his character, unless the whole thing is to be a mere formal farce, there would be some interesting situations. "Are you a sober man? "—“ Mostly, your Honour; six days out of the seven, anyhow.” —" Are you strictly honest? "—" Well I never take anything that doesn't belong to me unless I want it very badly."—" Do you always adhere to the truth? "-" For choice, your Honour, when there is no harm in it."-" That will do; you can pass; —the next incoming tenant.”
So much for the three F's, to which a fourth is added, evidently necessary to the well-working of the other three; and this is the opinion of the lecturer, or of some equally exalted and disinterested person, on all questions of “fairness,” “reasonableness ” and so forth. May we venture to call this fourth F “Fyffe's opinion”? For instance, in case of compulsory sale the landlord might not get as much as he could wish, nor yet the market value of his freehold, nor even as much as the purchaser would be willing to give for it if pressed; but he would get as much as it is “fairly worth.” Here the fourth F comes in. Who is to judge what it is fairly worth? Apparently there is no other test than “Fyffe's opinion.” Again, when the municipality of a growing town takes up the land around it, neither an agricultural value nor a fancy value is to be paid, but an equitable value. Now, what is the measure of this equitable value? Apply the fourth F. There is no other course open. Yet again, before paying his rent, the farmer is to deduct a “fair return for his work and superintendence.” What is a “fair return” ? Apply the fourth F. It solves at once even greater problems. What is the proper rental of the whole country? “When landlords complain of the present bad times, I ask myself whether the good times, which they unconsciously make their standard of comparison, were not the result of injustice, and whether the rents they then received would not have been impossible if there had been anything like a fair distribution of the profits of agriculture.” Exactly; but then landlords do not yet understand the principle of the fourth F. They think that an article is worth what it will fetch in the open market. When they shall have mastered the four F's they will doubtless cease to bewail the agricultural depression, so far as it concerns themselves. They will adopt the stoical attitude of the owner of one hundred and fifty acres, who thus gives his misfortunes the go-by: “Therefore, in so far as the land difficulty merely means the unpleasantness of landlords not getting so large a rent as formerly” (let us pardon the style, in consideration of the sentiment!) “which is what it means to a good many representatives of the landed interest in the House of Commons, I put it by, as a matter which may indeed excite individual commiseration, but does not call for public attention.”
Before following our public-spirited teacher from country to town, attention should be drawn to one passage in his lecture to the reformers which is really significant enough. “During the last few years statistics show that nearly a million acres have been transferred from the plough to grass. But now comes a very striking fact, and one on which a great deal hinges. Though a million acres have been turned into grass, there is no increase in the number of cattle. The meaning of this is, that the farmer's capital is gone, and that he has not the means of getting a sufficiency of stock, even when the land is laid down in grass. This is only one out of a multitude of facts all pointing in one direction.” True, but in which direction? After years of “beneficent legislation,” from the Agricultural Holdings Act at the top down to the Bill for defining a rabbit-hole at the bottom, what do we find ? Why, that the sense of insecurity brought about by all these interferences with freedom of contract, and all these violations of the sanctity of property, has resulted in shortness of credit and dwindling capital. There is nothing new in all this, but our modern reformers are just where the great thinkers left them at the beginning of the century, and must be met with the same old weapons.
I have already referred to Ricardo; let me now quote Bentham: “If the legislator find it good to take away from a particular class of citizens a fifth part of their revenue, why stop there? Why not take away another fifth part, and still another? If the first reduction answered its end, a further reduction will answer it in the same proportion; and if the measure is good in one case, why should it be bad in the other. ? Wherever we stop, it is necessary to have a reason for stopping, but whatever reason prevents the second step will be just as good to prevent the first. This operation is exactly the same as diminishing rents under the pretext that the proprietors are useless consumers, and the farmers productive labourers. If you shake the principle of security as respects one class of citizens you shake it for all. The bundle of rods is its emblem.”
Though this is the language which Bentham addressed to French “reformers” of nearly a century ago, it is equally appropriate to their English imitators of today.
It is merely a question of time. Give but tree scope to “beneficent legislation ” and sooner or later every trade and interest in the country will attain to the ruined condition of British Agriculture. To take but one example, it is a fact that the Mines' Regulation Act alone threw no less than 63,000 persons out of work within less than six years of its coming into operation. In other words, while it is hard to show that it has been the means of saving ten lives a year, it is a fact that indirectly it has killed at the rate of ten thousand. But the appetite has been whetted. The blood has been tasted and the trembling capitalist shall himself be thrust aside in the rush for more.
Mr. Fyffe clinches his argument in favour of the four F's with a little anecdote which, so far as it proves anything, shows that if you want to make extensive alterations in your farm, you had better take it on a long lease. But, as an illustration of the kind of stuff that is used in certain quarters as a substitute for argument, it is worth quoting:—
“One of the best managed farms I know is conducted by two partners, one of whom had always been a local farmer, while the other had been in business in London, and, after leaving London, took with him, I believe, a considerable capital into the country. There, instead of setting up the farming business entirely on his own account, he entered into partnership with the local man, and so combined his own capital with the skill and experience of a professional farmer. Their holding was a sort of oasis in the midst of an impoverished neighbourhood. Unfortunately, however, they were so imprudent as to be content with an annual tenancy under a peer, thinking that his lordship would never disturb them. My lord, however, found it desirable the other day to sell his land, and the result is that the partners find themselves under a new landlord, whom they cannot get on with, and they have, in consequence, to leave the place. In this case the inducement to the capitalist to put his money into the concern was the supposed security of tenure under a peer—this proved imaginary; and I contend that it is necessary to make such security not imaginary but real, and that this can most effectually be done by such changes in the law as those which I have sketched.”
This same anecdote has, no doubt, been pigeon-holed for use as an argument for the abolition of the House of Lords, and may do good service iii many other causes. There are, however, two considerations which seem to throw some doubt on the story; one is the improbability that two men enjoying the friendship and advice of our teacher should be so stupid as to have dealings of any kind “with a peer,” and the other is the circumstance that “my lord “should have found it desirable to sell his land. That a peer, having once held land, should, under any conceivable pressure, have been induced to relinquish his hold, must have struck the reformers as extremely un-historieal; the theory being that he gradually tends to elbow out all his neighbours and accumulate all the land in his own hands. But let that pass. The point is that the farmer persists in paying too much in rent, and the consequences are manifold. To begin with, all the agricultural labourers in many villages are old men. ”Whether they began life as old men, or have been reduced to that condition by the scantiness of their wage, we are not clearly told. Or it may be the absence of young people that has provoked the remark: if so, perhaps a peep into the Board Schools would explain the matter, where the children are still to be found, not, it is true, learning much of their future work, but plodding steadily on in the direction of the differential calculus. So that when we are triumphantly asked,” “Whose fault is this?” some might answer it is the fault of the, reformers, and others might go so far as to single out Mr. Forster or Mr. Mundella as mainly responsible. But the true explanation, according to the pamphlet before us, is the rent. “We come back to the real mainspring of the whole concern—because the farmer has agreed to pay too much in rent.” The question now is, How are we to smash this “mainspring of the whole concern ”? It is partly to be done by reducing the hours of labour, and “the reduction of the hours of labour, I suppose, can only be accomplished by an agricultural labourers' trades union (sic!); but the object is a right one and a possible one. It is a right one because the social improvement of the labourer is all but hopeless if he has to work twelve hours a day; and it is a possible one, because there is a margin of unearned profit in the shape of landlord's rent, which may perfectly well be diminished without inflicting a wrong on anybody.” The attention of all property owners and all honest men is called to the fact not that such stuff can be written and is written to-day without danger of criminal prosecution, but that it is written with the approval and blessing of a cabinet minister, who commends it to notice, after asking the question, " What may we expect with regard to the treatment of the land question in the next Parliament?
“And while all this is going on in the country, what is going to be done in the towns, for “people have of late begun to understand that the land question is a town question as well as a country question”? And why a town question? One reason is, we are told, “because the action of our land system has been to drive people unnecessarily out of the country, and so artificially to increase the overcrowding of our towns, and the misery resulting from over-competition.” In other words, the condition of the labourer in the country is so dreadful that he is driven to take refuge in the towns, which are already overcrowded and full of misery. The misery and wretchedness of the towns is great, but that of the country is greater; so much greater that the towns are relatively gardens of Eden, and are a positive attraction for the peasants. Now if this is so, we should expect to find that the lot of the working classes all round is going from bad to worse. But without endorsing all that is urged to the contrary by Mr. Giff'en and the optimists, it may safely be asserted that the condition of the working classes is, at any rate, no worse than it was forty years ago. Hence we must find another reason for the observed influx of the country population into the towns. And that reason surely is not far to seek. Any one with more knowledge of recent events and better powers of observation than Mr. Fyffe's intelligent foreigner, is aware that the economic working of great manufactures requires local concentration. The times have altered since every village had its hand weaver and every cottage lass was expected to “mind her wheel”; and only persons of the type of the intelligent Maori or Hottentot can be pardoned for lamenting that “it is difficult to draw employers of labour away from the large towns, and to induce them to start their works in new places.” Very difficult indeed!
Another reason why the land question has become a town question is because of the system of building-leases, so we are told. And this is how it operates. “Any one wanting a house must go either to one of the ground landlords or to some builder to whom they have let the land.” That is a bad job to begin with. Why should not the ground landlord come to him? Then he has to pay more than the agricultural rental of the site. Preposterous! Surely land in Lombard Street or Cornhill ought to be let for twenty-seven shillings an acre. As a matter of fact it fetches a trine more in the market, but that is on account of the rapacity of the landlord, and must be put a stop to. For, after all, “the value of the land has increased through the industry of the people, not usually through the merit of the landlord.” But this is not the worst. Not only will this landlord make you pay rent during the term of your lease, but when it is over “he will make you pay to renew the lease.” Incredible! “Of course this is particularly hard on tradesmen and men of business.”
It is a pity the reformers could not have been left to ruminate on the woes of the landless in general, without having their attention distracted by the harrowing narrative of their guide's own misfortunes. We have seen how the luckless lecturer bungled his farm of 150 acres, to such an extent that not one of the reformers offered at any price to take it off his hands and set them free for the great work of land-law reform. Well, this ill-fortune (to use a euphemism) follows him up to town. He buys a house, the landlord of which and a speculative builder, some mortgagees, a loan company, some bankers, and “a whole army of money-lenders and lawyers ” had got so hopelessly mixed up and tied in a knot, that when he came to take part in the conveyance, counting “the surviving partners of the bank and the representatives of those who were dead, there were no less than five firms of solicitors making profits out of the sale of the house, to say nothing of the profits made by the bank and the loan company. Of course somebody must pay for all this, and that somebody is the purchaser.” There it is: Alas! that somebody was the lecturer. No wonder the land question has become a town question. Such is Mr. Fyffe's luck, that if he went for a cruise in the Mediterranean the land question would straightway become a sea question. If he went up in a balloon, it would become an air question; and if he went to another place, it would become a “burning question.” It may be some comfort to Mr. Fyffe to learn that the unfortunate somebody who has to pay for the luxury of five firms of solicitors, is not the purchaser but the vendor.
Meantime the question for the reformers is, how to get rid of all these crying scandals. Fortunately it is not a difficult task. On the contrary, “the remedy as between tenant and landlord seems simple enough, namely, that proposed by Mr. Broadhurst's Bill, empowering every tenant with more than twenty years' lease unexpired, to acquire, on equitable terms ” (remember the fourth F), “the fee simple of his holding.” Could anything be simpler? You hire a horse for a ride, Mr. Broadhurst gets his Bill through Parliament, and, hey, presto! you acquire the fee simple of the horse. Everybody would be happy. In the case of the leasehold estate “the landlord would get what his reversionary interest is farly worth ”-in the opinion of Mr. Fyffe'e; and the tenant, “if he made the place more valuable by his industry, would get the fruits of his labour.” One cannot analyse the fourth F at every turn. The reader will see that if the landlord did not value the reversion at something more than the figure based on a calculation of the rent, he would clearly have sold the premises altogether and invested the proceeds in something else. Those who have taken the trouble to wade through the Leaseholders' (Facilities of Purchase of Fee Simple) Bill will be inclined to think that its proper title would be Freeholders' Spoliation Bill. The objection has been raised to the Bill that if all the occupants in a certain respectable locality were independent freeholders, some one maliciously disposed might erect a frantic piece of architecture enough to scare the birds and make the horses shy. But we are now told that this objection “could be easily remedied by making the ownership of each tenant subject to the same stipulations against nuisances or annoyances which existed in his lease, and giving to other occupants of the estate the same power of enforcing those provisions which originally belonged to the ground landlord.” Town dwellers who know the difficulty of building a new wing or throwing out a billiard-room or conservatory, owing to the grumbling punctiliousness of neighbours, jealous of their rights of light and prospect, even after the landlord's consent has been obtained, will hardly look forward with glee to the time when all the fellow-occupants of the estate are to have the same power of enforcing those provisions which originally belonged to the ground landlord. Besides, what is the bond which is to hold these fellow-occupants together? Is the memory of the old estate and its boundaries to be handed down for ever? And if not, how is a householder to answer himself the question. Who is my neighbour? Perhaps on inquiry this “simple plan ” is not quite so simple as it looks at first sight, apart from the question of its honesty. But even this is not enough. “I think,” says Mr. Fyffe, ''that the Leasehold Enfranchisement Bill does not go far enough." Here, again, he is a little mixed. There never was any such Bill before Parliament as the one named. Mr. Broadhurst's Bill was entitled "Leaseholders' (Facilities of Purchase of Fee Simple) Bill." There was, it is true, a Bill brought in in 1884, entitled "Leaseholders' Enfranchisement Bill," not indeed by Mr. Broad hurst, but by Lord Randolph Churchill. Has Mr. Fyffe read either? And if so, to which does he refer when he says that it does not go far enough? He proceeds: ''In my humble opinion, the community, say the municipality of a growing town, ought to have the power to take up the land round it, just as a railway company might, at an equitable value “(fourth F) ” to be fixed by some public authority. The community, as it expanded, would then be its own landlord: and the increased value in the land would fall to the benefit of those whose activity had produced it, and not to the landlord, who has sat still." Now, assuming the market value to be paid to the owner (anything less is robbery), the speculating community, say municipality or comnunu', will either gain or lose by the transaction. According to Mr. Fvffe, it will always gain: such is the inference. This being so, why does not Mr. Fyffe get up a company for buying up all these belts or areas round growing towns? He need not pocket the increase. After deducting his expenses, he can present the balance to the municipality and be put on the register of public benefactors forthwith. Is it that there are keen men with as good an eye for a rising market as himself, that deters him from undertaking this remunerative and philanthropic task, or is it the dread that his ill-luck will follow him even here? When bought up, this belt of land “might then either be built upon by the municipality and let to tenants, or be sold in plots for the citizens to make their own buildings. There would be this further advantage, that the suburbs of growing towns would then be planned and laid out by some responsible authority.” Now this “responsible authority ” is just the party we wish to avoid. We know him better by the name of "jobbing official.”
Municipal bodies have quite enough to do, and as some think far too much, without launching into the land speculating and building trades. But as if this were not enough, they are to be empowered to advance money on loan out of local funds to persons anxious to keep a cow or grow fruit and vegetables; otherwise where is the money to come from? The labourer with the holding granted him by the municipality, “will want at least from £20 to £50 to make a fair start. I see nothing else for it.” And the neo-radical's goal is reached at last.
“Every Englishman is entitled in the last resort to have food, fire, and lodging provided for him in the workhouse out of the ratepayers' pockets, without the least chance of their getting anything back; and I do not see that it is by any means so bad an application of public funds, if, instead of waiting till people are paupers, we lend, with due precautions for repayment, in order to give a start to those who, in the absence of such assistance, will certainly live upon the public rates as paupers in their old age.”
Such is the outcome of the Oxford reformer's philosophy -one colossal scheme of national pauperism.
'What follows was originally written for and adopted by the Parliamentary Committee of the Liberty and Property Defence League, and was published by them under the title of Land, 1885.