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IS OCCUPYING OWNERSHIP DESIRABLE?
It may, however, be worth while to consider whether, supposing that some financial genius is successful in preparing a sound scheme of State-aided purchase, it would be to the advantage of the State as a whole, to the industry of agriculture, or to the individual farmer or small holder that it should be adopted. On this question there is much to be learnt from the experience of the past. At one time the number of occupying owners in this country was very considerable, but the great majority have disappeared owing to one of two causes, both of which are still operative. In a country like ours, where so much of the land has a value in excess of what it is worth as the raw material of agriculture, and where there is a demand for land on the part of men who are prepared to pay for the social and political amenities which its possession confers, the small freeholder was in the past, and will in the future be, tempted to sell by prices which will give him an income in excess of what he could obtain from the cultivation of the land. A large number of the old yeomen have been bought out in this way. A still larger number went under in the bad times of agricultural depression. The Royal Commission on Agriculture of 1893 reported that occupying owners, whether yeomen or small freeholders, are weighted with a burden of debt which places them, in such times as have been recently experienced, in a worse position than the tenant farmer,' and the evidence in support of this opinion is overwhelming.
To give only a few instances, the late Mr. S. B. L. Druce, the well-known Secretary of the Farmers' Club, expressed the opinion that the tenant farmer is in a better position as a farmer than the occupying owner. Mr. John Treadwell said the occupying owner is worse off than any other class of farmer.' Clare Sewell Read said 'yeomen have been hit hardest of all: they have had to bear both the losses of the landlord and the losses of the tenant'; and Mr. Wilson Fox reported that the general conditions of the small freeholders in the East of Lincolnshire is that they are working like slaves to earn interest for moneylenders.'
THE OBJECT OF THE STATE
From the point of view of the State, it is no exaggeration to say that occupying ownership is the worst possible system. It is one that contains within itself the seeds of decay, and nothing is more certain than that as soon as it is established, the occupying owner will tend to disappear and the old process of consolidation of estates will begin again. It cannot be sound policy for the State to risk its credit for the promotion of a system which will be only temporary, and will require to be done all over again in
the course of a generation or so. So far as small holdings are concerned, the important thing for the State is to proceed on lines which will ensure not only their creation, but their preservation, and for this purpose a system of tenancy under a public authority is far more effectual than any system of ownership. As Mrs. Wilkins has pointed out, if small holdings are offered to the agricultural community on the basis of ownership, machinery must continually be available to replace those which rapidly disappear at the other end of the process. It will not have been done once for all. As fast as one estate is cut up, large farm-houses divided, fences erected, we must expect to see, as we are seeing now, hedgerows levelled and two houses thrown into one.' On the other hand, a system of tenancy under a public authority guarantees that the land, so long as it is wanted for small holdings, will always be occupied by genuine small holders. The picture that is drawn by the advocates of ownership of the peasant proprietor handing on his property to his descendants to the third and fourth generation is a very idyllic one, but, unfortunately, it does not correspond with the facts. I am quite certain that there are far more cases of long-continued occupation of a holding by the same family among tenants than among occupying owners. I am told that in one large parish of 12,000 acres in the Eastern counties there are only two cases in which a small freehold has remained in the possession of the same family during the last forty years, and it is a complete delusion to suppose that, if you set up a system of small ownership with the help of the State, the descendants of the original purchaser will necessarily continue to carry on the cultivation of the land after his death.
DISASTROUS TO AGRICULTURE
Further, is there any reason to believe that it would be to the advantage of the agricultural industry as a whole to promote a system of occupying ownership? It is notorious that on most small freeholds little or nothing is spent on repairs, and the houses and buildings are inferior and dilapidated; while there. is no reason to think that the land will produce more under a system of occupying ownership than under a system of landlord and tenant. The Richmond Commission of 1879-1882 reported as follows:
Changes have indeed been suggested with a view to encourage the establishment of a peasant proprietary. While we deem it highly expedient to facilitate and cheapen the transfer of land, we are of opinion that no special facilities should be given to stimulate the artificial growth of a system which appears to be ill adapted to the habits of the people or to the condition of agriculture in this country.
VOL. LXXI-No. 424
The Welsh Land Commission, of which I was Chairman, were of opinion that the agricultural industry is likely to be carried on more profitably upon a well-regulated system of tenancy than by yeomen proprietors,' and they added that the multiplication of small agricultural owners is not an advantage in the general interests, and in the long run it tends to lower the standard of comfort and to oppose obstacles to progress in every direction.' Mr. James Macdonald, the Secretary of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, in his excellent pamphlet on Systems of Land Tenure, says it is indeed the firm conviction of the writer that the extensive conversion of the tenant farmer system into occupying ownership would end in disaster to British agriculture.' Mr. Anker Simmons, a land agent of large experience, in a paper read before the Farmers' Club, said that in his opinion it will be a bad day for English agriculture and those who are engaged in it if the old system of landlord and tenant is abolished in favour of a return to that of occupying ownership.' Such quotations might be multiplied indefinitely, and in view of the fact that under our traditional system of landlord and tenant we have succeeded in obtaining a larger return of agricultural produce per acre than is the case in any other country, and that our live stock is acknowledged to be the best in the world, he is a bold man who can maintain that better results would be obtained under a system of occupying ownership.
USELESS TO FARMERS
From the point of view of the individual farmer or small holder, the objections to ownership are manifold. It is important to remember that it is the use of the land that the farmer wants, not its ownership, and it is undeniable that capital employed in the cultivation of land returns a much higher rate of interest than capital employed in its ownership. Mr. James Macdonald states that the return a landlord obtains from the ownership of agricultural land rarely exceeds 3 per cent.; but no farmer would be satisfied unless he obtained a return from his capital of 8 or even 10 per cent., and it is economically unsound to devote any part of the capital which should be utilised in the working of the farm to acquiring the freehold. It may be said that Mr. Collings' Bill would not require the farmer to lock up any of his capital in this way, but I have already given reasons for thinking that no Government would be justified in dispensing altogether with any cash payment. Further, occupying ownership is an actual impediment in the way of a man who aspires to rise. Under a system of tenancy the utmost mobility is obtained, and a man can move from one holding to another with
the least possible inconvenience and expense. Under the ownership system he must find a purchaser for his holding, he has to accept the market price of the day, and he may be able to move only by sacrificing a considerable part of the capital he has sunk in his holding. Mr. Anker Simmons in the paper to which I have already referred said that he could not call to mind a single case of a man who purchased his farm ever adding to it, and I have no doubt that his experience would be confirmed by most large land agents. On the other hand, numerous instances can be given of men who began as tenants of a few acres, who have gradually increased their occupations till they are now farming hundreds and even thousands of acres. For the small holder in particular tenancy offers far greater advantages than ownership. One of the principal objects in providing small holdings is to supply an agricultural ladder, so that a man who begins by making a success of a small allotment may gradually rise, until he becomes the tenant of a large farm. What is wanted is an elastic system which will suit the needs of each man at different periods, so that he can increase his occupation, if necessary, when his family is growing up, and reduce it again when they are in a position to take separate holdings for themselves.
MORTGAGING AND SUBDIVISION
The facilities which a system of ownership offers for mortgaging and excessive subdivision are obvious, and even if restrictions are imposed to prevent this during the period while the small holders are paying the instalments on their purchase money, they cannot be retained when the loan has been paid off. In the words of Lord MacDonnell, the process is this: first there is a period of prosperity with a rise in the standard of comfort; then follows indebtedness, slight at first, but ever growing with the facilities which are readily afforded by the usurer. Next comes mortgages, and then comes subdivision and sale to meet the mortgagees' claim. Finally comes the crash, and the grandson of the peasant proprietor becomes the tenant on his former patrimony, while the usurer becomes the rackrenting landlord, a landlord of a far worse type than any which Ireland has presented in the past.' If the secrets locked up in the lawyers' offices of the provincial towns could be revealed, we should find that in numberless instances the lawyers themselves were the only people who have benefited from the system of occupying ownership.
Another serious objection to ownership arises in the case of the death of the owner, which in the great majority of cases
involves either the sale of the land, in which case it may disappear as a small holding, or its subdivision among his family, with the result that a number of uneconomic holdings are created, none of which are large enough to support the holder.
THE MAGIC OF PROPERTY
The advocates of ownership are very fond of quoting Arthur Young's famous saying that the 'magic of property will turn a desert into a garden and sand into gold,' though they forget another saying of his that it is unprofitable to farm a small property as owner instead of renting a large one from another person." But apart from the fact that the misery of mortgage may, and often does, entirely destroy the magic of property,' it must be pointed out that the choice is not between tenancy and absolute ownership, but between tenancy and a strictly limited and restricted form of ownership. None of the occupying owners created by any system of State-aided purchase can expect to be in the position or to have the privileges of ordinary landowners during their own lifetime. All they can hope is that at the end of a period extending over some sixty to eighty years, their sons, or more probably their grandsons, will enter into the full fruits of ownership. Under the Irish Land Act the tenant proprietor cannot subdivide his holding or sublet or devise it to more than one person, and he cannot raise a mortgage on it for more than ten times the purchase annuity. Under the purchase provisions of the English Small Holdings Act, subdivision and subletting are prohibited, the holding may not be used for any other than agricultural purposes, not more than one house may be erected on it, and that only with the consent of the County Council; and, in certain circumstances, the Council may order the holding to be sold to them or to another person. Can it be seriously maintained that such restricted ownership offers any greater incentive to industry and enterprise than security of tenure at a fair rent under a public body?
OCCUPYING OWNERSHIP ABROAD
Sir Gilbert Parker and his friends seek, however, to justify their policy by an appeal to the experience of foreign countries, and it may, therefore, be desirable to point out that a candid and impartial examination of the conditions abroad affords little encouragement to us to reproduce those conditions here. France we are told, on the authority of M. Leconteux, Professor of Rural Economy at the Institute, that of the 8,000,000 proprietors in that country, 3,000,000 are on the pauper roll, while of the remainder 600,000 were so poor that they were only able