Зображення сторінки

of the estate in the family; and would, at the same time, qualify the owner to enjoy his property, and to fulfil the duties of his station. But it is said, that the power of settlement is a right inherent in property, of which it should not be deprived; that a man may do what he likes with his own. Is this so 2 Has an owner of land a right to destroy it 2 to keep it waste or untenanted ? to break down the banks of his river, and convert the neighbouring fields into a morass 2 to cover them with stones or gravel, and destroy their fertility ? It will be said that none but a madman would act thus. Granted: but still we may ask the question, does he possess the abstract right to do so * Certainly not. The soil of the country is the property of the state, granted to its possessors to use, not to destroy. It is a trust for the benefit of all, which should be guarded with peculiar care; because, whilst limited in extent, all must ultimately derive their support from it. There are limits to the power of an owner over his land ; he may not destroy it; he may not permanently injure it. He is fully entitled to enjoy it during life, and to bequeath it at his death. There his responsibility ends, and his natural right ceases; any extension of his power is a factitious, not a natural right. It is created by law, and is to be exercised only so far as it does not interfere with the public

good ; the power which has created may control and limit it. This has already been done in the Thelluson case, and by the various statutes of mortmain. The owner of an estate in England and Ireland has been deprived of the power of entailing it for ever. The state may interfere farther—nay, is bound to do so, if a sufficient cause be shown. When a railway or other public work is to be carried on, the owners of the ground are deprived of their land. If sufficient cause be shown, parliament will even break an entail, and allow the sale of an estate. It is wholly a question of expediency. If the present power over landed property be injurious to the community, it ought to be further limited. The inability to grant long leases has a most injurious effect upon towns. Some of the evidence before the land commissioners refers to this circumstance; in particular it is stated, that the improvement of the town of Bangor, in Down, has been much retarded from this cause. They have been obliged “to build up half the town on holdings at “will, waiting until they could get a satisfactory “lease, the tenants relying upon the landlord giv“ing them a better lease when he can.” This is a case of frequent occurrence, and highly injurious. No man could be expected to build a good or permanent house under such circumstances. Those who are bound to the locality by previous engagements in business, must have houses to live in ; but the town cannot improve. The hindrances to the free sale of land affect the country injuriously in many ways; even when there is no deficiency of capital for ordinary purposes. To prove this, it is only necessary to refer to the improvements which have been effected in some places in which land has been freely sold. No more striking instance can be mentioned than that of Birkenhead, a second Liverpool, on the opposite side of the Mersey.* This place is remarkable not merely on account of the rapidity of its progress, its large population, and its well built houses; but for the spirit and enterprise which have planned such an extent of docks, such splendid warehouses, and especially the forethought which has laid out so many miles of well paved streets, and which has provided for the health of the inhabitants, by the most perfect arrangement of sewers in the kingdom, and for their recreation by a park such as very few cities possess. Could this by any possibility have been effected on an entailed estate, where long leases cannot be granted ? Is it conceivable that such improvements could have been effected under any circumstances, except a free sale and purchase of land, where every one felt that he was working for himself, and improving his own undoubted property 2

* The improvements at Birkenhead are now at a stand. It is probably only a temporary check; but however that may be, it does not affect the present argument.

Even under the best management, the poor rates must be a heavy tax. They fall wholly on the nominal owner of the property. The mortgagee is not called on to bear any portion of the burden. Annuitants, and others having charges on the property, escape. The labour rate and poor rate will eat up the nominal owner's interest in the land. The estate, if heavily mortgaged, will not be worth the amount of the mortgage ; confiscation must ensue. How can we meet these difficulties, so as to provide employment for the able-bodied poor, and support the aged and infirm, the widow and the orphan? How can we convert our peasantry, half employed, half clothed, half fed on potatoes grown in their own gardens, into a bread-and-meat-eating people, living by the wages of labour, or cultivating their own ground on fair terms, and having that security of possession which alone can induce the industry and energy necessary for any improvement 2 To employ labourers and pay wages requires a large amount of capital; and, with some exceptions, neither our farmers, nor gentry, nor large landed proprietors, possess capital at all in proportion to the extent of the land which they hold. If these premises be correct; if employment, with regular wages, must be found for the peasantry; if for this purpose capital be necessary; and if the parties holding the land do not possess sufficient, it follows, either that government must continue to supply the capital required, not merely by a loan for an emergency, but as part of a regular system ; or else that the land must pass into the hands of those who do possess the means of employing the people, of men who will carry on agriculture as a business, and will bring to their occupation that capital, those habits of business, and that energy and intelligence, which have raised the commerce and manufactures of this kingdom to their present pre-eminence. Free the land from all restrictions; make it an article of free sale ; reduce the expenses of transfer to a reasonable amount; make it answerable for the debts of its owner; and, above all, make such arrangements as shall give security and simplicity of title; and it will soon be found that there is ample capital in the country for the necessary improvements, and for the employment of the people. In short, let a law be passed allowing the sale of landed property, notwithstanding entails or settlements; let it be accompanied

« НазадПродовжити »