This is a remarkable and original survey of landownership in Britain and Ireland, detailed county by county.
For Britain, Cahill analyses this landownership, showing how a tiny minority exploits British society. 160,000 families, 0.3% of the population, own 37 million acres, two thirds of Britain, 230 acres each. Just 1,252 of them own 57% of Scotland. They pay no land tax. Instead every government gives them £2.3 billion a year and the EU gives them a further £2 billion. Each family gets £26,875.
By contrast, 57.5 million of us pay £10 billion a year in council tax, a land tax, £550 per household. We live in 24 million homes on about four million acres. 65% of homes are privately owned, so 16 million of us own just 2.8 million acres, an average 0.18 acres each.
The top landowners are the Forestry Commission, 2.6 million acres, the Ministry of Defence 750,000, the royal family 670,000 (including the Crown Estate 400,000 and the Duchy of Cornwall 141,000), the National Trust 550,000, insurance companies 500,000, the utility companies 500,000, the Duke of Buccleuch 270,700, the National Trust for Scotland 176,287, the Dukedom of Atholl 148,000, the Duke of Westminster 140,000 and the Church of England 135,000.
The Forestry Commission, Britain's biggest single landowner, runs its holdings conservatively and secretively. We could expand the forest estate by a million acres a year, producing rural jobs, getting profits from the sale of wood and pulp (cutting our balance of payments deficit) and reducing the output of greenhouse gases. This would cost between £588 million and £750 million.
Through the 18th century enclosures, the landowning class stole eight million acres from the people. They still hide their crimes and their takings. The 1872 Return of Owners of Land was made, but then hidden and never updated. Shares have to be registered; land doesn't. The Land Registry does not know who owns between 30 and 50% of land.
Cahill compares Britain with other countries where revolutions have ended the feudal tenure of land. Denmark redistributed its land to the peasantry in 1800. In Ireland, in 1876, 616 landowners owned 80% of the country. By 1930, 13 million acres of Ireland's 20 million acres had been sold to owner-occupiers. Now, there are no landlords - home ownership is 82%, Ireland's 149,500 farms are 97% owner-occupied and owner-farmed, there is no poll tax, water is free and pensioners get free transport, TV and glasses.
Cahill claims that Blair's reform of the House of Lords "definitively cut the permanent link between power and the landowners." But just as in 1872, the state is defending landed capital by making it less visible. Class power does not depend on sitting in the House of Lords, but on private ownership of the means of production, protected and subsidised by a capitalist state. The Greens, like the heritage lobby, shield the landowners against public ownership of the land.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says its mission is to shift EU subsidies from food production to land management, but the EU already does this, with its £2 billion annual subsidy to the landowners, not to working farmers. We need to produce our own food: food production is in our national strategic interest. It is a national security issue that must not be determined either by the EU or by the market.
Landowners' wealth is a parasite on Britain, the least productive part of the economy, with the most state support. Their wealth comes not from farming, nor even from renting, but from trickling land onto the urban housing market. They sell land to property developers, at an average price per acre of £404,000 in 1999. The clearing banks and building societies strip our industries of investment capital, then support their clients the landowners by running the rigged and overpriced land market.
Britain needs land reform. "Windfall gains on development land should be made subject to windfall taxes." We should also tax land and stop the owners avoiding tax through offshore trusts; this could raise £17 billion. The European Convention of Human Rights says there should be no confiscation without compensation. Haven't landowners had enough compensation already? We need more land for housing. This would cut land prices, free more to invest in good quality, spacious homes and gardens, and revive the building industry.