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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

President's Address (S386: 1886)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A summary of Wallace's presidential address to the Land Nationalisation Society, given at their fifth annual meeting on 29 June 1886, and later printed in the Report of the Land Nationalisation Society 1885-6. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S386.htm

    [[p. 3]] Mr. Wallace began by remarking that there were several indications of the essential principles of Land Nationalisation having made progress in quarters where it had hitherto been received with little favour. He instanced Mr. Jesse Colling's Allotment and Small Holdings Bill, which, he was informed, was now modified so that local authorities were no longer empowered to sell the freehold of land to occupiers, but were in all cases to retain a perpetual ground rent equivalent to about half its nominal value. This may be considered to ensure that the occupier shall always be owner of the tenant-right and pay a rental for the bare land at a low valuation.

    Mr. Bradlaugh's Land Cultivation Bill adopted the principle that the State should take possession of all lands which had been allowed to go out of cultivation, paying the landlords the rental for 25 years as full compensation, and thereafter letting (not selling) the land to working cultivators.

    It is worthy of note in this connection that under the old Saxon law of England "the mere neglect to cultivate or inhabit the land involved its confiscation to the King's hand," and that this law was continued during feudal times is shown by the fact stated by Hume in his History of England, "that in the year 1634 Sir Anthony Roper was fined £4,000 for depopulation or turning arable land into pasture land, under the provisions of a law enacted in the reign of Henry VIII." It would be well if some of our legal authorities would ascertain whether this or similar laws cannot be put in force against landlords who are now yearly turning thousands of acres of arable land into pasture, and thus depopulating the country.1

    [[p. 4]] As an instance of the extraordinary carelessness with which people write upon the land question he might mention, that, in last month's issue of the Nineteenth Century there was an article by Lady Verney who quoted a French economic writer, M. Lafargue, as follows, as regards the peasant proprietors of France:-- "There are ten millions of small proprietors in France who, with their families, consume as much as they produce; they eke out a scanty subsistence, and vegetate miserably, condemned by their voluntary isolation to a labour as severe as it is unproductive. The condition of agriculture brought about by our subdivision of the land, and the distance from each other of the morsels belonging to one owner, condemn a man to work such as animals and machines ought to execute; and not only reduces him to the level of a beast, but curses the soil with sterility. . . . Three millions of the small proprietors are on the pauper list of France."

    Now it had never struck Lady Vernon or the editor of the Nineteenth Century that such a state of things was absolutely impossible. Ten millions of proprietors and their families would amount to 37,000,000, the total population of France being 36,900,000! The real number of peasant proprietors was about three millions.2

    Mr. Wallace then suggested that what they required in the future would be to get some members of Parliament to put forward preliminary resolutions or motions, or to bring in bills something to this effect. The first should be a resolution that no land the property of the State should be ever sold or permanently alienated. Hitherto the practice had been just the reverse. Secondly, that all manorial rights should become the property of the State, holders being compensated on a fair basis. It would be a comparatively easy and small operation on the basis of the actual net proceeds. Thirdly, that all Crown, State, Municipal, or Corporation lands should be let out in small holdings on our principle--that is, at a quit-rent for the bare land, the tenant to purchase the improvements, and the quit-rent to be revised at long periods. If that was applied to the Crown lands, Municipal lands, and vast Corporation lands, especially in Ireland, it would at once throw open a large area of land on which the experiment of Land Nationalisation could be tried. Fourthly, the total abolition of the Game Laws, which not only create crime, but keep land out of cultivation, and set up a barrier against land reform. He would further suggest that a memorial, or petition, should be got up to the effect that, in any proposal for buying out the Irish landlords, the land should be retained by the State to let out at quit-rents on a permanent tenure. This would lay down the general principle that the State should never alienate the land of the country whenever it has been in any way obtained by the State.

    [[p. 5]] Mr. Wallace then made some remarks on the mode of compensating landlords by means of terminable annuities, which he had first suggested, and which had been adopted by the Society. He had found by conversation with many intelligent persons not opposed to the principle of Land Nationalisation, that there was a great objection to this method as being opposed to popular ideas of giving full value for the land, and also of giving the landlords a marketable security which it was thought a terminable annuity would not be. His attention had just been called to this subject by reading Mr. Wicksteed's able book, "The Land for the People," in which that gentleman had suggested a mode of dealing with the landlords more acceptable perhaps to the bulk of the middle and upper classes than the mode their Society had advocated. Mr. Wicksteed proposed that the landlords should be paid in bonds bearing 3 ½ per cent. interest at 30 years' purchase of their ground rents, and he showed very clearly from the past history of the increased value of ground rents in this country that, from their steady increase in value, which there was no reason to believe would stop, these bonds could be bought up and altogether paid off in 40 years, supposing the increase went on as at present, namely, at the rate of two per cent. per annum. That was a point of the greatest importance. If we gave 25 years' purchase it would be done still more easily, and if we took a little longer term, say 50 or 60 years, we might get year by year a large decrease of taxation; and you would have what you specially want, viz., the means of showing the people that, though you pay the Landlords the full market value of the land, the result would be that, owing to the continuous increase in the value of the land, they would be able, by paying off these bonds, to extinguish the debt altogether in a comparatively short period--say of two generations--and at the same time year by year reduce taxation, and at last, when the debt was all paid off, the whole of the ground rents would become the property of the State and serve in lieu of taxation altogether.

    From the report of the last Agricultural Commission he found that considerable pains had been taken to ascertain the real cost of management of great estates and it was stated that it varied from 15 to 20 and sometimes 30 per cent. It was, therefore, not the actual rental of the land the landlords would require to be compensated for, but the net rental, viz.--the rental less this percentage. The State would receive the rents, less say 2 per cent. for collection, and the balance, after paying the landlord's interest, would be clear profit and go to reduce taxation. The system of terminable annuities was always objected to as giving a temporary instead of a permanent security. If by adopting Mr. Wicksteed's plan we could do away with this objection by giving the landlords consols and yet pay them off in 40 or 50 years we should get all the benefits of Land Nationalisation even more certainly and quickly than by the present scheme of the Society.

    [[p. 6]] Note.--The following extracts from Mr. Charles Wicksteed's book, "The Land for the People" (Reeves, 188, Fleet Street, E.C.), will give further information respecting his method of expropriation:--

    "First. Value the ground rental of the country (by ground rental I mean the rent of the land), without buildings or removable improvements."

    "Second. Compensate the landowners by giving them Government bonds to the amount of 30 times the ground rent, bearing a fixed interest of 3 ½ per cent. per annum, which would be the amount of the ground rent3 . . . No money would pass, but the owner of the bonds, could, of course, sell them to private individuals, just as he might have been able to sell his land before."

    "Third. As the land was valued and the bonds were given to the landowners, the land so valued would fall under the control of Land Boards to be created, or of some local body already in existence. These bodies would collect the rents and pay the interest on the bonds through the Imperial exchequer."

    "Fourth. Assuming that the rent would increase, devote any excess over the original amount of interest to the redemption of the bonds.

    "Fifth. As the bonds are paid off, use the interest thus set free, not in redeeming the bonds but in relieving taxation, pp. 8, 9. (Mr. Wicksteed goes on to show that rents, taking town and country together), have always been increasing during the last 300 years, that they have increased with great rapidity during the last fifty years, and must continue to do so while population grows; that they will increase more rapidly than ever if our industries are liberated by the Nationalisation of Land. But assuming the increase of rents during the past 40 years to be the normal one in the future, then the Nation's liability, by his method, will be extinguished in 40 years, an immense reduction of general taxation going on the meanwhile. Assuming, however, that the increase be only half this, still the Nation's liability will cease in 71 years.

    A remarkable coincidence in treatment of the question is shown by an important letter in last week's Statist in which Mr. H. Seymour Trower makes a very similar suggestion as regards Ireland. He says:--

    "Mr. Giffen takes the judicial rent to be £8,000,000, equivalent, at 20 years' purchase, to a capital of £160,000,000. Why should not the Irish Government, when constituted, create the requisite amount of Irish three per cent. Consols, transfer the stock to the landlords in discharge of all claims, and make the agricultural soil of Ireland national property.

    "The interest charge on £160,000,000 at 3 per cent. is £4,800,000. A rental of £8,000,000 leaves a big margin for redemption by sinking fund. One per cent. or £1,600,000, just half the surplus, would cancel the entire debt in less than fifty years. The debt redeemed, the rents would become a substantial unencumbered addition to the Irish revenue. I adduce Mr. Giffen's figures, without adopting them, merely to show how the scheme would work financially."

    "For the landlords the terms suggested would be less favourable than those contained in Mr. Gladstone's Land Bill by just the difference in value between English and Irish credit."

    "The tenure of land in Ireland is based on confiscation in the past. The landowners of to-day, although not responsible for that past, owe their inheritance to it. It is impossible they should altogether escape the Nemesis of wrongs upon which their entire claim for compensation ultimately rests.

    Again, our new treasurer, Mr. Soper, in his tract on "Landlordism: What it is; What it does; and what should be done with it," makes an almost identical proposal by compensating landlords by means of bonds which will give them an income equal to their rentals, less costs of management and losses from bad tenants and bad seasons.

    Mr. Wallace concluded with the following remarks:--

    "Here we have a remarkable identity of plans proposed by three original thinkers. It is more in accordance with general public opinion than our plan, it will enlist in its favour a large body of the upper and the commercial classes who have an almost superstitious regard for what they consider to be a permanent and negotiable security; and as we can give them this and retain all the essential advantages of our plan, I certainly think it will be true wisdom and sound policy to adopt it. As the originator of this plan of terminable annuities I may be supposed to look upon it with some parental affection; but the success of Land Nationalization is more to me than any scheme, and as I feel that this success will be ensured by the adoption of State Land Bonds or Consols in lieu of terminable rentals to compensate landlords, I willingly sacrifice my weakly offspring for the public good, and I strongly recommend the Society to make this alteration in its programme."

    Mr. Wallace then announced his proposed lecture tour to America and Australia, which would necessitate his absence at the next Annual Meeting--a matter of little importance to the Society, as there were several talented Vice-Presidents who would worthily occupy his place.

Notes Appearing in the Original Work

1. The statements as to these laws are taken from a pamphlet, "Land Lessons, Irish Parliaments, and Constitutional Criticisms," by Clio. James Duffy & Sons, 1, Paternoster Row. [[on p. 3]]

2. Average 3.71 to a household--37 millions proprietors--rather more than total Population!! Total population, 36,900,000. The actual peasant-proprietors of France are about 2 ½ millions, and this is perhaps an over-estimate, because those having land in different communes will often be counted twice. [[on p. 4]]

3. For the re-assurance of those who may regard these terms as too liberal to the landholders, Mr. Wicksteed stated at the Society's General Meeting that he by no means bound himself to the proportions here indicated. These marked the limits of national generosity. Any reduction in these terms would, of course, hasten the process of Land Nationalisation. [[on p. 6]]

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