Joseph Hyder: The Case for Land Nationalisation
Mineral Royalties, Rents, And Way-Leaves
I have always thought our forefathers made a great mistake when they did not reserve the minerals to the nation.
Lord Morley (interviewed at Newcastle, 1889)
Although we speak of a mineral lease, or a lease of mines, the contract is not in reality a lease at all in the sense in which we speak of an agricultural lease. There is no fruit – that is to say, there is no increase; there is no sowing or reaping in the ordinary sense of the term, and there are no periodical harvests. What we call a mineral lease is really, when properly considered, a sale out-and-out of a portion of the land. It is liberty given to a particular individual, for a specific length of time, to go into and under the land, and to get certain things there if he can find them, and to take them away just as if he had bought so much of the soil.
The late Lord Chanchellor Cairns.
The owners of minerals in the less favoured mines are forced in a losing trade to make concessions to their lessees, though they are able, if they hold out for their full legal rights, to see all the capital of the tenant made valueless before the loss begins to fall on themselves in respect of the royalty.
Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.
We are working out as fast as we can the foundations of our prosperity as a manufacturing nation.
J. S. Jeans, Secretary to the Iron and Steel Institute.
IT would be difficult to over-estimate the influence, which the mineral resources of the British Isles have had upon their history. It is nearly six hundred years since coal began to be used, and was brought by sea to London. But a still greater discovery was not made for centuries after, when man found out the immense power of steam. Then began the industrial era. The hewers of coal and iron ore rapidly increased. The workers in iron and other metals multiplied with each decade. Machines were invented, factories were established, and smoky hives of manufacturing industry sprang up on every hand. The town population increased, and England became the workshop of the world. And all this would not have been possible but for two circumstances. First, we had an abundance of coal and iron; and, second, they were conveniently placed in close proximity to each other. Thus the high position which England occupies today as a manufacturing country and as a naval Power is directly traceable to the vast stores of minerals in which she is peculiarly and pre-eminently rich.
With two important exceptions all these minerals are now vested in the lords of the soil, although at one time all minerals whatever belonged to the Crown. In the year 1568, in the case of the Queen v. Northumberland, the decision of the judges was in effect that only mines of gold and silver belonged to the Crown, and that the baser metals belonged to the so-called proprietor of the land. This decision carried with it the right of the Crown to search for gold or silver, and to enter upon private land and carry on the operations necessary for obtaining those metals. It also held that a mine of baser metals, if it contained any gold or silver, belonged to the Crown. But the landlord power was too strong for this condition of things to be maintained. So by the Acts of 3 William and Mary, cap. xxx., 5 William and Mary, cap. vi., and 55 George III., cap. cxxxiv., it was declared that mines of copper, tin, iron, or lead were private property, subject to a right of pre-emption by the Crown, even although they might contain gold or silver. This, then, is the position today. According to a maxim of English law, “to whomsoever the soil belongs, to him belongs all that is above it and all that is beneath it.” The two metals in which England is poorest belong to the nation. Practically all the rest belong to private individuals. It is true the Crown has certain proprietary rights under the foreshores and under territorial waters; but these are of small account.
The owner of mineral lands as a rule does not himself risk any capital or put forth any labour in actual mining operations. He is quite content to leave that work to others. But no shaft can be sunk without his permission being first bargained for. If no minerals are found, or if those, which are found are not remunerative, he will not lose a single farthing by the failure of the enterprise. The whole risk is taken by the lessee. There is a pit in Durham which cost £250,000 before the first truck of coal was landed at the pit top. But the landlord paid not a penny of this immense sum. He is a partner in the mining business. But the agreement is a strictly one-sided one. He is rarely more than a sleeping partner, he sleeps, but thrives. For him there is no uncertainty. For the lessee it is, as it were, a toss-up whether or not minerals in paying quantities will reward his venture. For the landlord it is a toss-up of another kind altogether. “Heads, he wins; tails, he doesn’t lose.” The fixed rent starts as soon as the first sod is turned. This rent is variously styled “dead-rent,” “certain-rent,” “minimum-rent.” Its amount ranges from £1 to £5 an acre of the supposed coal area. If 500 acres are leased, the average “fixed rent” will be £1,000, or, say, the wages of twelve hard-working miners. And this is the smallest of the landlord’s charges.
For, besides the fixed rent, there is the royalty, which has to be paid on every ton of the precious minerals which are extracted from the substance of the earth. There is no escaping from this part of the bargain. Whether it is coal or ore, it must be scrupulously weighed. The weighman is at the pit mouth, and every truck must pass his machine. The landlord must have what is written in the bond. It may be a royalty of 6d. per ton on coal, and the pit may produce a thousand tons a day; so the landlord’s share of the day’s sales will be £25. And there may be 300 working days in a year; so his income will be £7,500 a year. From one coal-pit! The wages of a hundred toiling miners wrung, with the full sanction of the law, by one rich idle man at the surface. Let us consider the matter more closely.
Over twenty years ago there was a Royal Commission appointed. Its duty was “to inquire into the amounts paid as royalties, dead-rents, and way-leaves on coal, ironstone, shale, and the metals of mines subject to the Metalliferous Mines Act, 1872, worked in the United Kingdom, and the terms and conditions under which those payments are made, and into the economic operation thereof upon the mining industries of the country; and, further, to inquire into the terms and conditions under which mining enterprise is conducted in India, the Colonies, and foreign countries by the system of concession or otherwise.” Now, although the Commissioners unearthed a very valuable mass of information upon the question, yet they did not inquire into the justice of the landlord’s claim to charge royalties and rents and way-leaves. Such an inquiry was outside the scope of the terms of the above reference. They took it for granted, and not a single Commissioner questioned it for a moment. And yet, this is the question of all questions, which lies on the very threshold of any adequate investigation into the conditions of the mining industry and of the vast mining population.
When a ton of (say) coal is sold, its price may be conveniently divided into three parts of unequal sizes.
The miner takes one, and calls it wages.
The capitalist takes one, and calls it interest or profit.
The landlord takes one, and calls it rent and royalty.
It is not enough to say that each participant has a legal title to the share, which he receives. We need further to inquire in what manner he has helped, with labour or machinery, in any of the processes of the mining industry. Now, the wages of the miner are, without the shadow of a doubt, his rightful property. “The labourer is worthy of his hire.” At the risk of his life, his whole capital, he goes down into the darkness of the bowels of the earth. Hour after hour he toils at the face of the cut rock till the perspiration runs in streams down his stripped body. Out of sight of God’s beautiful sun, and subject to danger at every turn, he plays his part manfully. And, if he survives the risks that surround a miner’s life, he draws a wage that is never proportionate to the arduousness, the unpleasantness, and the danger of his work. The capitalist, too, does something for the share of the produce, which he appropriates. He has ventured his money where all might have been lost. He has bought the expensive machinery without which the coal could not have been won. He has organised and superintended the work. And, therefore, he is entitled to a return upon the capital, which he has sunk, to a premium for the risk he has incurred, and to the wages of his organisation and superintendence. Whether or not the industry would be better organised by the community itself is another question altogether. It does not affect the argument, and it is not entered into here. For it is not necessary to complicate the comparatively simple contention that the State should own the minerals by introducing the much more controversial argument that they should be directly worked by a State department. But obviously the national ownership of minerals involves the discretionary power to either lease them or work them. The manner in which that discretion will be exercised will depend upon public opinion. In either case the first thing to be done is to expropriate the existing mineral owners.
But, when we come to the landlord’s claim, the conditions are altogether different. He has not given a single hand’s turn to the work of the mine. He has not handled a pick, and has not cut a single lump of that which he calls his property. He may never have been down the shaft. He may never have seen the mine. He may even have lived all his life at the Antipodes. He has not invested one farthing in the purchase of machinery. He has paid no part of the wages of managers, engineers, clerks, commercial travellers, or foremen, whose work is as necessary as that of the actual hewers. He is, therefore, not entitled to receive either wages or profit. He renders no service whatever, and yet his permission must be accorded before the work can be started, and his claim for the rent comes before that of every other creditor.
“But,” it may be said, “he supplies the coal.” One might as well talk of a man supplying the sea, and therefore levying tribute upon all the ships, which plough across it, or of supplying the sun, moon, and stars, and therefore levying a tax upon all those who enjoy their light. The one claim is as absurd as the others would be. All alike, they are simply the unwarrantable claims of private individuals to own Nature herself. They differ, not in their absurdity or invalidity, but in their possibility. It is not possible to fence the sea round. That is the only reason why we are not blessed with sea-lords as well as landlords. It is not possible to shut off the light of the heavenly luminaries and to reveal them only to those who will pay for the privilege. If it had been possible it would have been done; and we should have had sunlords, moon-lords, and star-lords, with, possibly, a special Upper House of Legislature to look after their special interests. Not the injustice, not the absurdity, but the physical impossibility is the sole obstacle to the establishment of private property in the whole of Nature as we now find it in part. But simply because it happens to be possible to fence the land round and to claim all above it and all below it, it has been done. And yet the land is as necessary to life as the water of the sea or the light of the sun.
“How oft the means to do ill deeds
Make ill deeds done!”
The nature of the landlord’s claim to own the bowels of the earth, with all their mineral treasures, has already been dealt with. Impolitic as it is to allow private property in the surface of the earth, it is tenfold more absurd to permit private property in the mineral deposits, which lie under it. Indeed, there is no other part of the British landlord system which so emphatically manifests the supineness and indifference of the nation upon great and important questions. This indifference is not confirmed to the manual workers of the country. In fact, the great body of capitalist employers are apt to look with deep suspicion upon those who dare to question the landlords’ claims to the mineral royalties. Said Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, himself a very eminent representative of the mining masters, “I have not, in my experience, met a single lessee who disputes the right of the landlord to the minerals, any more than he would question his title to the surface.”
Mining lessees, and the masters in the iron and steel industry, have for a long time agitated for an improvement in the present arrangements for settling the rents and royalties on minerals, and in the course of their agitation they have disclosed some grave abuses and some serious grievances. But they have gone no further, as a general rule, than to suggest the establishment of a sliding scale by means of which the payments to the landlord should be determined by the market price of the minerals. Now, although this would be a much fairer and more satisfactory plan than the present, it would in no wise settle the difficulty. For the real heart of the evil lies in the fact that individuals are empowered to levy a tax upon the mining and kindred industries for their own private purposes, and in return render absolutely no service. Obviously that tax should be reduced as much as possible. But its payment into the right place, the National Exchequer, is of infinitely greater moment than its mere diminution.
Whether, then, the royalties are regulated by the profits gained, or by the prices realised, or fixed by the terms of the lease no matter what is the state of trade, is a much less important question than whether they shall continue to be regarded as the private property of a class of non-workers.
In Ireland, and partially in Scotland also, rents are regulated by State authorities. The landlord, in thousands of cases, is simply a rent-receiver. But will any one be bold enough to aver that the land question has been settled in those countries by those means? For, to compare the institution of private property in land (which, of course, includes minerals) with that of private property in man, it is not enough to demand that the slave trade shall be regulated so that no man may have more than a fixed number of slaves, or that no man may enforce more than so much labour per day from his human property. The mere regulation of rents, whether of mineral or other lands, is no final solution of the problem, so long as those rents are appropriated by private individuals and applied to the satisfaction of their individual desires instead of to the advantage of the whole people.
The supreme interest in a mine is never the interest of those who have invested their capital in sinking the shaft and providing the necessary machinery, nor of the workmen who risk their lives. It is always that of the owner of the minerals, who provides no capital, does no work, and runs no risk of any kind whatever. He drives the hardest bargain he can, and he is the master of the situation. It is often urged in favour of landlordism that the tenant has the advantage of dealing with a man of sympathy who can help him with abatements in hard times, not with a soulless State whose officials must exact the last farthing provided in the bond. There is a certain amount of truth in this contention in the case of some agricultural estates, but the very man who is often ready to deal mercifully with his farming tenants generally acts on very much stricter business principles in his relations with the tenants of his mineral lands.
Many a pit has been closed, and many thousands of men have been thrown out of employment, because landlords have refused to abate the royalties, and many mining companies have lost their whole capital for the same reason. Chief Justice Lord Coleridge had a case of this kind in his mind when he gave an address (May 25, 1887) to the Glasgow Juridical Society on “The Value of Clear Views upon the Laws Regulating the Enjoyment of Property”; an address that was a remarkable tribute to the breadth and humanitarianism of the views held by that eminent judge. He said:
“A very large coal-owner some years ago interfered with a high hand in one of the coal centres. He sent for the workmen; he declined to argue, but he said, stamping with his foot upon the ground, ‘All the coal within so many square miles is mine, and if you do not instantly come to terms not a hundredweight of it shall be brought to the surface, and it shall all remain unworked.’ This utterance of his was much criticised at the time. By some it was held up as a subject for panegyric, and a model for imitation; the manly utterance of one who would stand no nonsense, determined to assert his rights of property and to tolerate no interference with them. By others it was denounced as insolent and brutal, and it was suggested that if a few more men said such things, and a few men acted on them, it would very probably result in the coal-owners having not much right of property left to interfere with. To me it seemed then, and seems now, an instance of that density of perception and inability to see distinctions between things inherently distinct of which I have said so much. I should myself deny that the mineral treasures under the soil of a country belong to a handful of surface proprietors in the sense in which this gentleman appeared to think they did. That fifty or a hundred gentlemen, or a thousand, would have a right, by agreeing to shut the coal-mines, to stop the manufactures of Great Britain and to paralyse her commerce, seems to me, I must frankly say, unspeakably absurd.”
Writing in 1885, a time of depression, Mr. Forsyth, an eloquent land reformer, said: “Out of the eighty blast furnaces in Cumberland forty are at this moment standing idle, and the others are but partially employed. There are many causes, which might have the effect of keeping these forty blast furnaces idle. They might be idle for want of capital; they might be idle for want of men willing to work. Well, the Cumberland furnaces are put out, not because of any lack of capital, for only within the last week or two a company of employers there were willing to sink £20,000 in raising iron ore, and were only prevented from doing so by the landlord’s ultimatum that he would not reduce his royalty of 2s. 6d. a ton on the ore which might be raised. The company found that, with this charge, they could not raise ore as cheaply as it could be imported from Spain, and they therefore abandoned their project. At the same time there were thousands of willing men unemployed and in want.”
Land unused, capital waiting for investment, labour waiting for employment. Such are the natural fruits of the all-powerful veto of the lords of the soil.
Giving evidence before the Royal Commission, Mr. Fenwick, M.P., mentioned the Choppington Colliery, in Northumberland, which was stopped for months. The masters wanted to reduce the men’s wages by 2½ d. per ton. The men offered to accept a reduction of 1½ d. per ton. As this was not enough, hundreds of men were thrown out of employment. There is no record that the landlord reduced the royalty. Mr. John Wilson, MP, mentioned similar cases at Wheatley Hill, Blaydon, and Sacriston. Mr. W. H. Patterson, then secretary of the Durham miners, also gave three cases of mines, which had to stop through inability to pay the royalties. He said that, between 1875 and 1878, 56 collieries were stopped and 85 partially stopped in the County of Durham. He would not go so far as to say that the high rents were the sole reason for these stoppages, but it was the opinion of the men that had the royalty rents been reduced during the depression in the coal trade many of the collieries would have been saved.
The Secretary to the Cumberland Coal Miners gave a case from his own experience. A colliery was closed whose minimum rent was £700 a year. There was overpaid for coal never got no less than £5,500. The men were willing to take a reduction of 1d. a ton, and if the royalty-owner would have done the same the work could have gone on. But this he refused to do, and there was no power to compel him, as obviously there ought to be.
Mr. J. D. Kendal instanced a case where the landlord fixed the royalty at 7s. per ton when iron ore was selling at from 30s. to 36s. When prices fell to 14s. he did not reduce his royalty, and the leases had to be abandoned. Assuredly, then, we need greater power to deal with an abuse of the rights of property, which has such serious consequences to both capital and labour, and such power can best be exercised when the minerals are under public ownership.
Mr. William Rich, agent for several Cornish mines, told of a mine which for ten years had been worked at a loss, the royalty being about the same as the loss. The landlord refused to reduce it, and the mine had to be closed, throwing hundreds of men out of work.
The Wigan Coal and Iron Company paid £10,000 a year in royalties to the Duke of Newcastle at a time when they were making no profit for themselves.
It is a frequent complaint among lessees that they are made to pay for “shorts” – that is, they have to pay royalty on coal or ore that they have not been able to get. The Wigan Coal and Iron Company have paid as much as £60,000 on this head,
Mr. Robert Ormston Lamb, Chairman of the Northumberland Coal Owners’ Association, testified before the Royal Commission: “Cases have come under my own knowledge where a lease has run out, and the amount of shorts has been confiscated; in two instances when we renewed the lease the lessors confiscated the amount of money that we had paid in what we term dead-rent, or coal not worked.”
The Barrow Hematite Steel Company had a share capital of £2,000,000. They paid £126,000 a year in various dues to three noble lords – Devonshire, Buccleuch, and Muncaster – but for years not a penny could be paid in dividends. How true is it that rent is the first charge upon every industry! The landlord comes first; the shareholder comes after him. And this difficulty of adjusting the royalties to the variations of the market is one of the gravest obstacles, which the coal, iron, and steel trades have to encounter. As Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell said, by holding out for their full legal rights the landlords can see their tenants’ capital vanish before they themselves feel the pinch of depression. Surely this is the exact opposite of what justice demands. For, in strict equity, rent should not arise at all until the workers in the industry have been remunerated. It is bad enough for the profits of industry and the earnings of labour to be diminished by the endowment of idleness; but it is doubly bad that the non-producer should have a prior claim to the produce on pain of stopping production altogether.
The Darlaston Iron and Steel Company, during three years, only made a profit of £2,000 a year, and every penny of it went to the landlord in royalties. The Cramlington and Seaton Delavel Collieries employed 6,000 men and boys, and had an annual output of 1,250,000 tons. For eight years in one case, and fourteen years in another, no dividends were earned for the shareholders, but the landlords got their royalties on that enormous tonnage.
The first witness before the Royal Commission was the Secretary of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who are the largest mineral owners in the country. He admitted that in a number of cases where he had seen the books the royalty was as two to the profit three. But he said he did not think it unfair that the landlord should get almost as much as the man who had invested his capital in the mining industry. Then, again, there are the way-leaves.
“Way-leaves” are a very remarkable part of the charges, which the monopolists of the land impose upon mining. If such a thing be possible, they constitute an extortion that is even worse than that of mineral rents and royalties. Way-leaves are of two kinds – underground and surface. They are the price per ton paid to different landlords for the privilege of carrying the minerals under or over their land. Let us suppose the case of a coalmine where perhaps the distant workings are a mile away from the bottom of the shaft. The coal taken thence may have to pay half-a-dozen way-leaves to half-a-dozen different landlords, besides the original royalty, on its way to the shaft. Thus often a landlord may have had all the coal taken out of his property, but he may still draw a very respectable income in way-leaves, simply because the main tunnel runs through it. And then, when the coal (or ore) reaches the surface, it often happens that it has to be carried a considerable distance to the railway or the wharf. So here, again, is another chance for the ubiquitous landlord.
Mr. Lamb gave the following facts relating to the extortionate charges, which are made under this head.
Two collieries in which he was interested carried their coal over lines made entirely on way-leave arrangements.
|Landlord A (another estate)||11||3||4||286|
|Landlord B .||15||0||1||1,841|
|Landlord U .||2||1||26||315|
|Landlord E .||30||0||14||3,061|
The average rent was £90 per acre, or double the fee simple value. The railway was entirely constructed and maintained by the tenants, and originally cost £150,000.
During several years they paid £23,000 a year to the owners and made no profit.
In one case the proprietors made a condition prohibiting the company from carrying coals except to two docks or staiths on the River Tyne; they only permitted the carriage of coals to Blyth or Sunderland on payment of the same way-leave rent as would have been paid if the coal had been carried to the Tyne; and this was charged, although in going to Blyth and Sunderland they do not use the way-leave. The practical effect of this was that in ordinary times of trade they cannot send their coals either to Blyth or Sunderland.
They pay all local rates, and these on their total output amounted to about 1¼ d. per ton.
In one case the rent paid amounted to 1.s. 1d. per ton including way-leaves and every description of rent, although the royalty rent per se was only 4½d.
Sir Arthur Markham told the House of Commons, during the debates on the Budget in 1909, that he knew of a landlord who was charging £800 a year for way-leave on coal carried across a narrow strip of his land which was no larger than the floor of the House of Commons.
Some important and valuable evidence on these points was also given to the Commission by Mr. J. D. Kendal, a mining engineer and mine lessee. He knew of many cases where prohibitory way-leaves were demanded. One particularly, in which one proprietor asked such a rate that they were obliged to go another way, and spend about twice the money in making double the length of line. Yet after that, although they had three or four different properties to go over, meaning so many different way-leaves to pay, they got a much less way-leave in the aggregate than the landlord asked for himself alone. He mentioned another case in which he was directly concerned. The landlord charged the full fee simple for the land, and, in addition, charged a penny per ton way-leave. As 120,000 tons were carried over the land every year, the landlord’s toll was £500 per year beyond the ordinary market value of the land.
In another case a raised gangway was made – at the expense of the lessee, of course. The agricultural value of the land was scarcely lessened at all. But the lessee had to pay a way-leave of 4d. per ton. The width of this strip of land was only twenty yards. When asked by the Royal Commissioners if there were any exceptional circumstances to account for that extortionate charge, “No,” said Mr. Kendal, “except that the man who pays it had no chance of getting out without paying it; he was in a cleft stick.” Now, it is a common defence of this kind of thing that, if there be any hardship, the lessee has no right to complain, because he made the bargain with his eyes open, and must abide by the consequences. But those who reason thus forget one very important fact – that between landlord and tenant there is no freedom of contract. The former holds in his legal grip a necessary of life, which is fixed in quantity. He has an absolute monopoly. The latter, to use the expressive language above mentioned, “is in a cleft stick.” He has a choice of “Take it or leave it”; a choice of two evils.
When a traveller is waylaid by an armed highwayman, and he deliberately prefers to hand over his purse in order to escape with his life, every one will see that he does so because he is not a free agent. Similar in all essentials are the above contracts between landlords and tenants. They are not bargains between equals.
No greater proof of the landlords’ power to drive hard bargains need be given than the necessity for the land legislation of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, which was the result of agitation among the rack-rented tenants, to whom freedom of contract was unknown. The landlords can always screw the rent up high enough without State aid. It was the tenants, not the landlords, who had to invoke the aid of the State to protect them from ruin. This principle may have to be extended to the tenants of other parts of the United Kingdom, and be applied not only to agricultural and town lands, but also to mineral lands. But the only effective solution of the problem is to be found in the nationalisation of the whole of the mineral resources of the country.
Two cases may be here given where the landlords charged a heavy premium for the renewal of the leases of tin-mines in Devon and Cornwall. The Dolcoath-Mine at Camborne was let for the usual term that prevails in that district, namely, twenty-one years. The lease expired in the August of 1887. The company asked for a reduction in the royalty, which was chargeable as a fixed percentage of the output, irrespective of the cost of getting it. For answer they received the following remarkable letter from the agent to the landlord:
“You must bear in mind that at the end of four and a half years Mr. Basset will have this valuable property to deal with in any way he chooses, and that he is not bound to renew the lease at all, Mr. Basset will accept a surrender of the existing lease as from January 8, 1883” (that is four and a half years before the termination, making it really a sixteen-and-a-half -years lease), “reserving one-fifteenth dues together with a quarter part of the future profits to be paid every twelve weeks, until, exclusive of dues, he has received £40,000.
“You must consider these terms as final. If they are accepted Mr. Basset will require a notification to that effect not later than April 1; if they are not accepted, the negotiation must be considered as at an end, and the lease must then run out.”
In the end the landlord consented to renew the lease on the old terms upon receiving a fine of £25,000.
The Devon Great Consols mine was leased from the Duke of Bedford. The land was part of the spoils of the Church, which came to John Russell as a grant from Henry VIII. It had been a prosperous mine, and the total dues to the landlord had amounted to no less than £300,000. When the lease was renewed in 1870, the Duke exacted a fine of £20,000. In the eighties it fell again on evil times, and it was on the point of stopping, said the chairman of the company. Resolution after resolution was passed at the shareholders’ meetings calling upon the lessor to reduce the rate of the royalty, or to give it up altogether till the mine made a profit. After negotiations extending over a long time he ultimately agreed to give up the royalty, but, as the chairman said, “It was the eleventh hour, and I may almost say at the fifty-ninth minute.” For the five previous years it had paid no profit, but royalties had been paid to the amount of from £8,000 to £10,000.
By charges like these British industry is very seriously handicapped. In Germany the minerals belong to the State, and are very much lower than they are in England. The constituents that go to the making of a ton of British pig-iron [i.e. the iron ore, the coal, and the lime) are taxed by the landlord to the extent of from 3s. to 5s. or 6s. In Germany the total royalty charges will amount to 8d., and they go into the Common Fund. In addition to that the German producer has the advantage of much lower freight rates on the State railways than are levied here by private companies. If, therefore, we do so well in spite of the handicap, how much better it would be if the handicap were removed!
It is of course to the good that the State now levies a duty of 5 per cent. on the profits of mineral ownership, and the revenue produced by that duty shows that the landlords’ income from that source is nearly £7,000,000, every farthing of which is simply a legalised but unwarrantable tribute levied by them upon the enterprise and toil of other men.
Not long ago the whole nation was put to very serious inconvenience by the great strike of the coal-miners for a living wage, industries were brought to a standstill, and the poor shivered before tireless grates. In the end the prices of coal were permanently raised, but in no instance that has yet been recorded were the landlords’ charges lowered. Their so-called rights to the very substance of the globe came through the contest almost unchallenged and quite unscathed.
The following eloquent lines were written by Edwin Markham, on the American Coal War, and they were equally applicable to our own:
“Out on the roads they have gathered, a hundred thousand men,
To ask for a hold on life as sure as the wolf’s hold in his den.
Their need lies close to the quick of life as the earth lies close to the stone,
It is as meat to the slender rib, as marrow to the bone.
“They ask but the leave to labour, to toil in the endless night,
For a little salt to savour their bread, for houses water-tight.
They ask but the right to labour and to live by the strength of their hands –
They who have bodies like knotted oaks and patience like sea-sands.
“And the right of a man to labour and his right to labour in joy –
Not all your laws can blot that right, nor the gates of Hell destroy.
For it came with the making of man and was kneaded into his bones,
And it will stand at the last of things on the dust of crumbled thrones.”