Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Sir,--Perhaps you will allow me very briefly to reply to some statements in a paragraph headed as above in The Times of Friday last.
Lord Jersey is there reported to have said:--"The State would be an unfeeling landlord, holdings would be put up to competition, with the result that rents would rise very much and hardships be created. If they did not have competition they must have favouritism--the latter would mean jobbery, the former high rents." This seems a very pretty dilemma; but surely Lord Jersey cannot already have forgotten the Irish Land Act, and that it is possible for the State to fix "fair rents" by valuation? If this were done in England, and if the occupiers of land were obliged to become the owners of the "improvements" on their farms, the State being owner only of the "bare land," for which it would receive a fixed quit-rent, then there need be no "competition" and no "favouritism," for farms would pass from hand to hand by sale of the "improvements," just as they often did in Ireland under the old regime by sale of the "tenant-right;" and the State would have no voice in the matter, but would collect its quit-rent from the new occupier.
Lord Jersey then proceeds to express the opinion that "it would be a good thing for the country if those who tilled the land could feel, when they had a few spare hours, that they could supplement their wages by cultivating some land for themselves." This is undoubtedly true, and its good effects have been again and again proved by actual experiment. But even this would be comparatively useless unless it were accompanied by "fixity of tenure" at "fair rents," with complete freedom to dwell upon the land as well as to cultivate it. Under these conditions alone would the benefits of the system by fully realised; and these benefits are so great, tending surely to the extinction of rural pauperism and drawing back from the towns some of those crowded masses who now live there in a state of the most degrading and hopeless misery, that we cannot afford to leave so important a process to the slow and altogether uncertain action of local effort, subject always to the permission, or refusal, of landowners, who, be it remembered might, had it so pleased them, have done this "good thing" themselves, but who, except in a very few cases, have done nothing, or worse than nothing.
We who advocate land nationalization would make this "good thing" universal by giving to every man, be he poor or rich, the right to the permanent occupation of a plot of land to live and labour on. This is the one thing needed to make our agricultural labourers the strength and the safety, instead of, as they now are, the weakness and the danger of England while it offers the only effectual means of relieving the fearful pressure of population in great towns, which is the true cause of that "housing-the-poor" difficulty now again exciting attention--a difficulty which, with free access for all to rural land, will gradually but surely cease to exist.
I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
Alfred R. Wallace,