VIII. THE HOUSE OF HANOVER.
A most important change in the system of landholding was effected by the spread of RAILWAYS. It was brought about by the influence of the trading as opposed to the landlord class. In their inception they did not appear likely to effect any great alteration in the land laws. The shareholders had no compulsory power of purchase, hence enormous sums were paid for the land required; but as the system extended, Parliament asserted the ownership of the nation, over land in the possession of the individual. Acting on the idea that no man was more than a tenant, the state took the land from the occupier, as well as the tenant-in-fee, and gave it, not at their own price, but an assessed value, to the partners in a railway who traded for their mutual benefit, yet as they offered to convey travellers and goods at a quicker rate than on the ordinary roads, the state enabled them to acquire land by compulsion. A general act, the Land Clauses Act, was passed in 1846, which gives privileges with regard to the acquisition of land to the promoters of such works as railways, docks, canals, etc. Numbers of acts are passed every session which assert the right of the state over the land, and transfer it from one man, or set of men, to another. It seems to me that the principle is clear, and rests upon the assertion of the state's ownership of the land; but it has often struck me to ask, Why is this application of state rights limited to land required for these objects? why not apply to the land at each side of the railway, the principle which governs that under the railway itself? I consider the production of food the primary trust upon the land, that rapid transit over it is a secondary object; and as all experience shows that the division of land into small estates leads to a more perfect system of tillage, I think it would be of vast importance to the entire nation if all tenants who were, say, five years in possession were made "promoters" under the Land Clauses Act, and thus be enabled to purchase the fee of their holdings in the same manner as a body of railway proprietors. It would be most useful to the state to increase the number of tenants-in-fee - to re-create the ancient FREEMEN, the LIBERI HOMINES - and I think it can be done without requiring the aid either of a new principle or new machinery, by simply placing the farmer-in-possession on the same footing as the railway shareholder. I give at foot the draft of a bill I prepared in 1866 for this object.
[Footnote: A BILL TO ENCOURAGE THE OUTLAY OF MONEY UPON LAND FOB AGRICULTURAL PURPOSES.
Whereas it is expedient to encourage the occupiers of land to expend money thereon, in building, drainage, and other similar improvements; and whereas the existing laws do not give the tenants or occupiers any sufficient security for such outlay: Be it enacted by the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons in Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same:
1. That all outlay upon land for the purpose of rendering it more productive, and all outlay upon buildings for the accommodation of those engaged in tilling or working the same, or for domestic animals of any sort, be, and the same is hereby deemed to be, an outlay of a public nature.
2. That the clauses of "The Land Clauses Consolidation Act 1845," "with respect to the purchase of lands by agreement," and "with respect to the purchase and taking of lands otherwise than by agreement," and "with respect to the purchase money or compensation coming to parties having limited interests, or prevented from treating or not making title," shall be, and they are hereby incorporated with this act.
3. That every tenant or occupier who has for the past five years been in possession of any land, tenements, or hereditaments, shall be considered "a promoter of the undertaking within the meaning of the said recited act, and shall be entitled to purchase the lands which he has so occupied, 'either by agreement' 'or otherwise than by agreement,' as provided in the said recited act."
Then follow some details which it is unnecessary to recite here.]
The 55th William I. secured to freemen the inheritance of their lands, and they were not able to sell them until the act QUIA EMPTORES of Edward I. was passed. The tendency of persons to spend the representative value of their lands and sell them was checked by the Mosaic law, which did not allow any man to despoil his children of their inheritance. The possessor could only mortgage them until the year of jubilee - the fiftieth year. In Switzerland and Belgium, where the nobles did not entirely get rid of the FREEMEN, the lands continued to be held in small estates. In Switzerland there are seventy-four proprietors for every hundred families, and in Belgium the average size of the estate is three and a half hectares - about eight acres. These small ownerships are not detrimental to the state. On the contrary, they tend to its security and well-being. I have treated on this subject in my work, "The Food Supplies of Western Europe." These small estates existed in England at the Norman Conquest, and their perpetual continuance was the object of the law of William I., to which I have referred. Their disappearance was due to the greed of the nobles during the reign of the Plantagenets, and they were not replaced by the Tudors, who neglected to restore the men-at-arms to the position they occupied under the laws of Edward the Confessor and William I.