Law of the Land in England
MARCH 01, 1957 by EDGAR BISSANTZ
Mr. Bissantz is a retired architect, bound by reason of his Midwestern farm background to investigate and report the shocking consequences of the controlled agriculture he found during a recent visit in
For the farmers of
In return for the beguiling promise of "guaranteed prices and assured markets" for farm products through price fixing, grants, and subsidies, the Act saddled English and Welsh farmers with government authority to pry into and direct every detail of their activities — all in the name of "good estate management and good husbandry." Its enactment was, of course, a long step toward the socialist dream of nationalized land and regimented farming; and, ultimately, the extension of the dangerous precedent to the control of every kind of business. It should have been repealed long ago.
By putting the English farmer in humiliating subjection to arbitrary controls from which there is no appeal to courts of British justice or to judge and jury, the Act created opportunities for corruption, favoritism, and tyranny. It has produced an unhealthy climate of fear and suspicion that is making docile peasants of the farmers and bullying cads of men in government. Year by year the farmers become more dependent upon the paternalistic State and less disposed to stand up for their inherent rights as free men. The spirit of healthy independence, high ambitions, faith in oneself declines. Discouraged farmers leave the land and the number of small holdings and farm workers decreases.
Buried within the Act’s 118 pages of complex provisions are inordinate powers to control, direct, disgrace, and evict the English farmer, putting him effectively under the thumb of the Minister of Agriculture and his executive agents. The Ministry of Agriculture, with 10,000 employees spending ten million pounds annually, is considered to be one of the most inefficient bureaus in
Provisions of the Law
4. "The Minister may manage, farm, sell, let, or otherwise deal with or dispose of land acquired by him in such manner as appears to him expedient for the purpose for which the land was acquired; or if he is satisfied that the land ought to be devoted to some other purpose, in such manner as appears to him expedient therefor."
6. Having issued a "supervision order," the Minister of Agriculture is empowered to give the farmer "such directions as the Minister is satisfied are required." He can "impose requirements, restrictions, or prohibitions as to the carrying out of work, and as to the purpose for which and the manner in which land is to be used for agricultural production"; and, if his agents disapprove of a tenant farmer, the Minister can "require that the management … shall be entrusted to a person appointed by the owner … and approved by the Minister." If he certifies that the management of the land while under "supervision" has not improved to his satisfaction, "the effect of such a certificate is to enable the Minister to purchase the land compulsorily." A farmer "put off his land" under this Act may sell or lease his property only to the Minister, or to a buyer or tenant "approved by the Minister."
Regardless of the intent of those who conceived such controls, the effect is to break the English farmers’ will to manage their own affairs, and gradually to tighten a noose around them until one "planned" collective farming operation under a government Werkbund is achieved.
Against these absolute powers — which should never be given to any man — the small farmer has no defense. Under the dictatorial provisions of the Act, the farmer’s only "rights" are the right "to make representations to the Minister," and the right to have his case "referred to the Agricultural Land Tribunal" comprised of three government appointees closely tied to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Few small farmers have the knowledge or enough capital to defend their farms properly against a bureaucratic runaround. Others are unwilling to endure the indignity of going before any smug "tribunal" humbly to beg for the right to occupy their own property. So, in its dealings with them, the Ministry of Agriculture is virtually invulnerable.
In practice, the Minister of Agriculture delegates many of these extraordinary powers to 61 County Agricultural Executive Committees set up under the Act. But this only gives the arrangement a false semblance of "self-discipline of the farmers by their peers," for the members of these committees are not elected by the farmers concerned. All committeemen are appointed, and may be removed at will, by the Minister —and their chairmen are designated by him. In the words of Lord Justice Parker, the committees are "the alter ego of the Minister."
The arbitrary procedures followed by the committees are revealed by these official statements : "hearings are held in private"; "there is no swearing in of witnesses"; "there is no cross-examination"; "there is no power to award costs"; "the decisions or recommendations which the Executive Committees or their Sub-Committees reach are sometimes given without reasons and are not always in writing …"
How Power Is Used
The autocratic powers in the Act are real, and they are used. During wartime the Ministry, through its county committees, evicted more than 10,000 farmers; it took over 6,684 farms ; it held not less than 354,609 acres of land.
Today the Ministry still holds about 230,000 acres in
There is no way of knowing how many others have been threatened, intimidated, or otherwise pushed around by arrogant agents, nor how much the Act has been used to accomplish ends other than the pretext of "good husbandry." Of this Lord Linlithgow observed: "One of the most informative criticisms I have heard is this. Before a man is dispossessed, he must be guilty of two things. First, he must be guilty of bad farming, and secondly, he must be guilty of a lack of friends in the district." It takes little imagination to see the countless ways in which the absolute power of the County Agricultural Committees may be used for favoritism, spite, or personal gain.
Having no hope of aid, the victims simply fade away in a shroud of official silence. Sympathetic neighbors who would like to help them are afraid to express their indignation, for fear of attracting the ill will of a powerful Committee, which could retaliate with ruinous "supervision" of their own farms. A number of the unfortunate farmers, broken by "supervision" and ejection from their homes, have committed suicide; others were thrown into prison for daring to refuse "direction"; farmer George Walden of Hichen Stoke, Hampshire, was gassed and shot to death by the police when he resisted eviction.
Lady Garbett’s Case
Quite different from the usual quiet eviction was the much-publicized ejection, in June 1956, of Lady Marjorie Garbett and her daughter from their 157-acre farm at
"The whole right of the ownership of private property is involved in the principle raised by Lady Garbett’s case," stormed the Daily Telegraph. "Conservatives and those who are liberal-minded should be prepared to defend the principle."
"This Intolerable Injustice!" was the heading of a blast by the Southern Farmer, which criticized the Ministry of Agriculture for "their sadistic unwisdom … to make use of the disgustingweapon which should never have been placed at their disposal."
"Representatives of Southern Farmer," wrote the editor, "visited the farm on the day before it was taken over and found, all things considered, a standard of husbandry which would be regarded as fair to moderate in most parts of the country. All the livestock were in excellent condition … We found that the cultivations had been carried out in a satisfactory manner."
When questioned about the Garbett eviction before the House of Commons, the Minister of Agriculture pleaded in his defense that "the land was foul; and the farm was understocked." Are independent farmers, who are the best judges of when their herds should be built up or sold off, to live under the constant threat of ejection from their property whenever some government "expert" decrees that their farms are under-stocked? Apparently so, for on
An Entrenched Bureaucracy
An objective investigation of the farm situation seems to be virtually impossible in
One might imagine some wild-eyed Marxian to be the Big Brother who wields the whip of dispossession over the farmers of