Ashburton Guardian Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 1914. THE LAND CAMPAIGN.
If the Cliaiicellor of tlie Britisii Exchequer deliberately set out to deyise some means to. further irritate 'his Hereditary enemies— the, belted-earl, and other titled or untitled landowners—he could not have selected a more potent method than to attempt to tamper with their Agrarian rights. This irrepressible Mpiister.is more insatiable than history represents Alexander to have been, for when other men declare that there are in the realms of finance, or politics, or- social economy .no more worlds'.'to • conqufer, he straightway discovers some new wrong that needs resistance or a cause that lacks .assistance, and, like Don Quixote, dashes at it, full-tilt, with all the vehemence of his volcanic personality. The administration of the Insurance Act, freighted as it still is with many difficulties, and doubts, and fears; would have proved a sufficient political monument for an ordinarily ambitious . Minister; but Mr Lloyd George finds relaxation and recreation in the strenuous life,. and. so we find him ranged in opposition to the most powerful hereditary and monied influences t° , be, found in the civilised w,orld. He is a modern Ajax,; and it. is. doing the noble lords no injustice to suggest that they will not grieve overmuch if the' struggle ends as that of Ajax did. He has started his campaign, appropriately enough, in a great city (Glasgow), in which he declares the housing conditions to be " appalling," and the deathrate double what they are in other working-class cities; for he recognises : that it is the steady drift,to the towns that is responsible for the vast i unpeopled areas in the country districts. The tendency of the human stock to degenerate in the unwholesome conditions of congested city life can be checked only by a constant supply pf virile humanity reared in healthful surroundings. The depopulation pf rural Britain which has resulted from the partial decay of agriculture strikes a. double blow at national safety, for it multiplies the number of town-bred .people dependent upon^ imported food, and it diminishes; the reserve of vigorous manhood which a country must always be able to draw upon for the maintenance of its naval and military strength. In Great Britain to-day there are millions of acres of land kept f olely for sport or other nonproductive purposes, side-by-side with a , rural population—ever growing smaller—utterly xxnable to gain a footing upon the land and often failing to secure decent housing. One consequence, of : this;is,.that the country^produces i only orie-fifth'of the, wheat supply 'necessary for its maintenance; and a startling fact, in addition, is that there were, in March last; 1 3,(^00,000 acres less, under cultivation than there were ,30 years ago. Much of the land that was then under, ...crops has : , been purchased in order to cqnsolidate. they social ; position of the owners, andCisUrer served for; sport and for personal aggrandisement. This , 'has.had the effect of creating 'fictitious values and of shutting out bona fide agriculturists ;; f :.and this ;obnoxious element will have to be eliminated if the small holdings system is to be made a success. In a speech about six months ago, Mr Lloyd George stated that the Government was prepared to reduce by two-thirds all game lands, but he did not explain the' proposed procedure—by taxation,' by State acquisition, or by limitation. He lias professed a disinclination to try the experiment of a Land i'or Settlement Act, and probably, without the inclusion of a betterment clause, such a measure would defeat its own object by unduly inflating the value of land. The- securing for the labourer of a living wage, a piece of land; and a decent Louse,' the/ services of expert instructors in up-to-date farming methods, the cheapening of transport facilities, and the assuring of a remunerative market, are items in the ■programme, that the Chancellor has already outlined. That there is serious danger that the : Government will become too solicitous in its spoon-feeding^
methods is obvious; but Mr Lloyd George is not one to let sucli probabilities trouble him once he has decided upon his course ot action. 'These are problems for posterity to solve, just as it will have to unravel some of the other legislative tangles that this amazing opportunist has foisted upon a protesting public.