New Communist Party of Britain
The private ownership of land and the exaction of rent for living, working or any other activity on land is an all-pervasive but often overlooked form of exploitation. It is a burden on all economic activity. The landowners levy this charge while making no contribution in return - they did not create the land. They sell access to the land - rural and urban - over and over again while still retaining full ownership as a never-ending drain on wealth created by the labour of others.
Two-thirds of all registered land in Britain, or 40 million acres, is owned by just 189,000 families, or 0.28 per cent of the population. A mere 2.5 per cent of this tiny minority, fewer than 5,000 landowners, own 27 per cent of all registered land.
However large tracts of land have never been officially registered. Somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent of land in England and Wales is not recorded in the Land Registry.
Of the total known registered land owned by the top 20 landowners, which includes the Government, utilities and transport, the church, the National Trust and pension funds, just over a quarter is owned by the royal family and 10 other families.
Britain’s largest estates are almost entirely owned by three groups: aristocrats, baronets and the residual landed gentry. For over three centuries they have dominated Parliament, the church, the armed forces, the judiciary, commerce and banking. They are the backbone of the Conservative Party.
This class ensured that the Labour Party’s 1945 manifesto pledge for “a radical solution for the crippling problems of land acquisition and use in the service of a national plan” was never implemented. They have also ensured that much of their land is only recorded in feudal deeds rather than public records.
This situation is in stark contrast to the Republic of Ireland, where, as a result of sustained mass agitation between 1800 and 1998 the large estates - almost all English-owned - were redistributed, with compensation paid by British taxpayers. This almost entirely eliminated large landowners as a class in Ireland.
While Britain’s 189,000 large landowners pay council tax on their homes, they pay no taxation for owning their land. But they receive £2.3 billion in Government subsidies a year and £3.7 billion from the EU and other sources. Most of these subsidies simply support the landowners rather than productive agriculture. In urban areas landowners are also subsidised by housing benefit, which enables them to charge inflated rents to tenants.
Proper taxation of this class, ending subsidies and closing offshore tax havens, would generate greater revenue than the total amount produced by council tax, which is in reality an extremely regressive residence tax.
We also need a new Rent Act to cap rents.
Landownership is the biggest factor in the cost of building housing or productive enterprises, accounting for 50 to 66 per cent of the total cost of any building project. In 2001 this ranged from £226,000-an-acre in north-eastern England to £1.53 million in inner London and to £33.5 million in Mayfair, the world’s most expensive land.
Hundreds of acres of land in central London are owned by just seven aristocratic families. The royal family’s 300-acre London estate, which is not the most valuable, was worth over £5 billion in 2000. But the landowning class also earns vast incomes from renting land for farming, industrial and commercial enterprises and for housing.
Private finance initiative projects, the enclosure of high streets into shopping malls, the privatisation of utilities and the sale and lease-back of Government buildings all continue to transfer thousands of acres of publicly-owned land into private ownership - the Enclosure Movement is still in operation.
In 2001 the National Union of Farmers said the livelihoods of 61 per cent of farmers were threatened by the burden of rent. The number of tenant farmers is rapidly declining, and as the land they farmed hardly ever returns to agriculture, the large estates are actually increasing in size.
The market for land in Britain is effectively rigged; most land for new development is not recorded in the Land Registry and comes from subsidised rural estates. The high value of land results from the income that can be extracted from it and its apparent scarcity, in turn arising from the incomplete registration of landownership but really there is a huge surplus of land.
The New Communist Party regards this system of landownership as a bastion of anti-democratic forces in Britain, one of the main forms of exploitation of working people, including farmers, and an obstacle to the development of production, adequate housing and leisure for all.
The NCP calls for:
An end to private landownership through the nationalisation of all land, granting of leaseholds to those who live or work on it and the dispossession of all landowners. Land is a communal asset that should be democratically administered by the working class for the benefit of all: for agriculture and industrial production, utilities, transportation, retail, housing and leisure.