28 APRIL 1917, Page 6


TET us go a little further into the details of the ease we are suggesting. Suppose the estate upon which the mortgage is held to be one with a nominal rent-roll of 18,000 a year, but with an actual rent-roll, after repairs, family charges, and taxes and rates on the house and the. home farm have been paid, of about E4,000 a year net. But out of this net rent—the rent which if there had been no mortgage would have gone into the landlord's pocket—must be deducted £1,400, interest on the £40,000 mortgage. That brings the landlord's income down to £2,600. Now it is by no means impossible that on an estate of the kind we are dealing with the normal tithe is £800 a year ; but if it has gone up 25 per cent. the landlord will be paying £200 a year more. That will bring the net income down to £2,400. Now if to the landlord and owner of this depleted income comes the demand from the trustees who hold the mortgage for another 21 per cent, for interest, the so-called beneficiary will have 11,400 a year to live upon in a house and grounds designed for an expenditure of £8,000 a year. It is a tragic situation, and of course means extinction for the squire, unless he or his son has the good luck to be making money in some other region than agriculture, and he can look upon his estate as a plaything and not a business proposition. But as we know, these fortunate persons are only to be found among what we may call the millionaire landowners. The vast majority of the squirearchy, and even of the larger landlords, know nothing of outside sources of income. They have been accustomed to live upon a margin of the income when all the fixed charges have been paid ; and if nothing is done to help them, the increased tithe and the increased mortgage, and also the increased taxation, which of course falls far more heavily upon them than upon any other class (landlords pay, not, as the rest of us do, upon what goes into their pockets, but upon what gaily optimistic Income Tax Commissioners consider ought to go in or what appears to go in), will in many cases bring them face to face with ruin.

"At a time of great national crisis you are asking for a dole out of the taxes for the landlords. We thought it would end like that, and that the war and the so-called patriotism of the squires would be made an excuse for a policy of public plunder." That will be the comment of a good many cynical Radicals. We are doing nothing of the kind. We acquiesce entirely in the clause against raising rents, and we do not want to take from the clergy what is their due. We do think, however, that the Government ought, at any rate for the next five years—while minimum prices are in operation and while the Government are for- bidding any increase of rents—also to forbid any increase in the rate of mortgages. We are aware, of course, of the objections to such a proposal, but we cannot see why the landowner should be the only person to suffer in the nation's cause, and why some burden should not be borne by the man, whether a relation or a stranger, who has actually or nominally lent money on the land. The chief objection that will be raised will be : "If you do this, you will make it impossible for anybody else ever to borrow money on land." Without endorsing it absolutely, we agree that this represents a tendency which the moratorium we propose is likely to have. We would meet it by saying that any mortgagee who likes may compel the landlord to turn his mortgage into a perpetual statutory first-charge rent on the land, a rent charge which will be like a ground-rent and rise from the land while there is anything to be got out of it. If it is not paid, the holder of the ground-rent can come in and take possession. The advantage of such a plan is this. With the present prospects of agriculture, the ground-rent would almost always be met, and very goon country ground- rents -would become saleable like town ground-rents, and so develop into a liquid and not an unrealizable security. The difficulty, of course, is in knowing how to attach ground-rents to particular holdings or fields, but we should think -this ought to be suet by the ingenuity of surveyors and solicitors.

As for the tithe difficulty, we suggest that half the enhance- ment should be borne by the landlord and half by the tenant. And now for one further suggestion to Mr. Prothero—a very old "fad " of the Spectator's. Why should not he take advantage of the changed circumstances to do a little piece of justice to the soil and its owners, or rather in this case its cultivators? Let him refuse to pass the annual Act by which personal property is most unfairly exempted from the rates, and those rates placed solely upon real estate- i.e., land and houses. Then let him pass a new Act turning rates into what, but for agricultural land, they really are, a local Inhabited House Duty. In other words, let agricul- tural land, which is now singled out from all rural industries for a special impost, be relieved of that unfair strain. This would help the landlords rather than the tenants, but would not help them overmuch, because what they would gain on the ploughland,s they would lose on their houses. .But, in spite of that, the thing is well worth doing. The present arrangement is wholly unscientific, and acts as a great deterrent to small-holders, especially when they want to increase their holdings. We must never forget, when we talk of small owners dying out, that they have been very largely rated off the land by the folly which turned Sir Robert Peel's annual Act for the exemption of personal property from local taxation from a hurried expedient into what an Irishman might call a permanent annual measure.