Page:The Land Question.djvu/9

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life, and the conditions under which people live in a thickly populated country like our own, I cannot bring myself to believe that the soil of England is one of those purely commercial objects whose transfer ought to be wholly governed by individual agreement between the buyer and the seller, or between the hirer and the letter. Land has two characteristics which, taken together, distinguish it from any other commodity. The use of a portion of it is absolutely indispensable, and it is not capable of being increased. It is absolutely indispensable, because a man must live somewhere, and even if you live in a garret you cannot suspend your garret from the clouds. And although you may say that the world is a large place, and that a man need not live in England, yet I think we may assume that there is to be such a thing as an English people living in England, and that we are not to be turned out in a mass as the poor Jews were in B.C. 700, to please King Sennacherib, or as the poor Highlanders were in A.D. 1814, to please the Duchess of Sutherland. We may assume that there will be an English people, an English people constantly increasing in number; and while the number goes on increasing the area of the land remains fixed, and all the industry of the nation cannot add one acre to its surface. This consideration, to my mind, removes land from the domain in which the law of laissez Faire, or leaving things entirely to individual contract, is supreme. We know perfectly well that the accumulation of landed property in single hands might easily reach such a degree that the nation would not put up with it; and I therefore make no apology for assuming that the public interest ought even now to be the first principle in regulating our land laws, and that private property in land must be subject to such limitation as the public interest dictates.

Building Leases.

People have of late begun to understand that the land-question is a town-question as well as a country-question. It is so, in the first place, through the system of Building Leases, which prevents the inhabitants of towns from acquiring more than a temporary interest in their residences or places of business, and puts them at the mercy of the ground-landlords when these leases run out. And in the second place it is a town-question, because the action