Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Dear Mr. Hyder,
It is with much pleasure that I am able to congratulate the Society on the result of its energetic and uphill work for a quarter of a century, as shown by the large body of able men now in Parliament who have accepted our views. At the time when we began our work I do not think that the House of Commons contained a single Land Nationaliser.
We are, however, very far indeed from having completed our work, and we must look forward to many long years of arduous labour before we can expect to be able to obtain for the people the entire possession of their native soil. The present Government is pledged to pass a measure for the Taxation of Land Values, but it will be obvious to all who have considered the enormous profits to be derived from Land-monopoly, that unless most carefully guarded such a measure can only touch the fringe of the problem, and will hardly lead to any of those beneficial results which a really free access to land over the whole country is calculated to secure.
As, however, this measure will certainly be brought forward before long, I wish to make one or two suggestions which I hope some of our Parliamentary supporters will endeavour to get adopted. One is, of course, the "tax or buy" principle of valuation, as stated in our own Bill. Another would be to earmark the proceeds of this tax, so that it may be expended by Local Authorities (under the supervision of the Board of Agriculture) in acquiring land for the establishment of small holdings, co-operative farms, or other means of giving the people access to land. As has been often pointed out, unless this is done, and if the proceeds of the tax are applied in relief of local or general taxation, then the old or the new owners of the land will inevitably get back the amount of the tax from their tenants in the shape of increased rents.
Another point which I have at heart is, to so arrange that the new tax may to some extent relieve the injustice and hardship of the existing "land tax," and be a substitute for it. It is, I think, not generally known that, not only is the present land-tax grossly unjust by being fixed at the amount paid on a valuation made some centuries back, but that a portion of this fixed sum (for each parish) is now assessed on buildings and other improvements as soon as made, so as to relieve the great landowners. Thus, where I live, all the houses built during the last thirty or forty years pay land-tax on their full rateable value, thereby constantly diminishing the amount paid by the chief land-owner who possesses many thousand acres of land all rated at very low agricultural values. By this system a continually larger share of the old fixed land-tax is shifted from the owners of land, who originally paid it all to those who are continually adding to the market value of the land by their industry or their expenditure of capital. I suggest, therefore, that this unfairly assessed "land-tax" shall be merged into the new tax on "land-values," thus somewhat relieving the burden of those who have purchased such land at high prices to live on, and have then been made to still further benefit the former landlord by having land-tax assessed, not only on the increased value of the land, but also on the houses and buildings erected upon it. I suggest further that the existing "house-tax" shall also be merged in the new tax on land-values, so as to avoid the cumbersome and unfair process of taxing houses, &c., three times over.
There are one or two other questions which have now come within the range of practical politics, and which I hope some of our friends will take up, and systematically bring to the notice of Parliament and of the country by means of resolutions or discussions.
(1) The House of Commons should now be asked to pass a resolution, that land once acquired by the State or by any Local Authority shall never be sold to any private person. Such a resolution would, I presume, bind the Government, and put a stop to a proceeding which is not only opposed to our fundamental principle but equally so to public policy, while it undoubtedly gives rise to favouritism and other improper influences.
(2) Legislation should be called for to remedy a gross abuse of powers given by Parliament for a special purpose. The [[p. 62]] General Enclosure Act declares in its preamble:--"Whereas it is expedient to facilitate the inclosure and improvement of commons and other lands now subject to the rights of property which obstruct cultivation and the productive employment of labour, be it enacted, &c., &c." Under this general act hundreds of acts were passed authorising special enclosures, which went on rapidly through the first half of the last century. Under these acts millions of acres of land were made the private property of large landowners which were before of inestimable value to all the surrounding poor who were thereby enabled to keep domestic animals of various kinds, besides cutting turf and obtaining a certain amount of firewood; and these enclosures have undoubtedly been a cause of much poverty and pauperism. They were, however, very largely made on false pretences. With few exceptions no "improvement" was made, no "cultivation" attempted, no "labour" employed on these newly enclosed lands. They were either thrown into adjacent farms as poor pasture, at a very low rent, or left wholly unoccupied as coverts for game, till portions of them were required for railroads, or for manufacturing purposes, or for building land in picturesque districts. Then, those who had obtained them on these false pretences (or their successors) reaped enormous profits. To my own knowledge, in Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorsetshire, and other Southern counties, as well as in Wales, and no doubt also in the North of England, thousand of acres of these long-ago enclosed lands have remained absolutely unaltered and are now being sold as building land at from 50 to 500 times their value at the time of the enclosure.
I submit that, without delay, all such lands as are yet unbuilt upon or uncultivated, should be reclaimed by Parliament for the public benefit. These lands are almost always capable of improvement or fit for cultivation, and would serve admirably for those small holdings which are now so loudly called for.
(3) It is pretty certain that in the near future Progressive Death-duties will be enacted so as to absorb considerable portions of very large estates--this being in every way the fairest and least oppressive mode of raising a large revenue. The Government should, therefore, be urged, in future budgets, to enact, that in the case of all large landed estates, these duties shall be paid in land, portions of the estates to be taken in as many parishes as possible and in such portions as to be most suitable for small holdings or allotments.
Now, if some of our supporters in Parliament would adopt one of these subjects, or others of like nature, as his special study, making himself acquainted with all the facts, official reports, &c., and considering it in all its bearings, he might not only do our cause a great service by calling public attention to some of the less considered aspects of the all-embracing land-question, but--what is of even more importance--might help to convert some of the more influential members of the Government to our views. Many of them are, I fear, still in outer darkness as regards this great question, of such vital importance to our national well-being, and we can set ourselves no more useful task than that of enlightening them. Our friends and fellow-workers in the House of Commons have exceptional opportunities for doing this. Men who cannot find time, or have not the inclination to read our books or our tracts, will listen to a well-reasoned speech and be influenced, as nothing else can influence them, by the persuasive voice and earnest feeling of the well-informed and thoroughly convinced advocates of our cause.
Yours very truly,