Law of the Land in England

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 England

For the farmers of England – both owners and tenants — the proud old boast that an English­man’s home is his castle is as dead as Old Parr. It was killed by the drastic Agriculture Act of 1947.

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 It should have been repealed long ago.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 Britain. A former Min­ister resigned after the disclo­sures of the scandalous Crichel Down land case.

Provisions of the Law

 Stripped of much official verbi­age, here are some of the appall­ing provisions which now are the law of the land in England:

 1. The Act gives the Minister of Agriculture broad authority over all agricultural land, includ­ing any land "which in the opinion of the Minister ought to be brought into use for agriculture."

 2. The Minister of Agriculture is given "the power of direction and dispossession" of farm owners and tenants. Farmers who fail to obey his orders are "liable on summary conviction" to imprison­ment, a fine, or both.

 3. The Minister of Agriculture is empowered to order "schemes for adjusting farm boundaries or amalgamating farms." In the name of "efficiency" he can add a small farm to a large one; or he can create a large farm by order­ing the "amalgamation" of two or three smaller ones. He has the power to do this by "compulsory purchase orders"; and "the Min­ister may disregard any objection to the compulsory purchase order if he is satisfied that the objection is made on the ground that the purchase is unnecessary or inex­pedient."

 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."

 5. If the Minister of Agricul­ture believes that the farmer is not farming "in accordance with the rules of good husbandry" (whatever that means), he can "place the owner under the Min­ister’s supervision so far as re­lates to the management of the land." In addition, the Act requires the humiliating "supervi­sion order" to be made known locally by recording it.

 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."

 7. Under a "supervision order," agents of the Minister have the power to "enter upon the land to which the order relates for the purpose of inspecting the way in which it is being farmed."

 8. If a farmer fails to comply with a "direction," the Minister can have the work done "and the reasonable cost of carrying out work … shall be recoverable by the Minister from the person to whom the direction is given."

Farmer Has No Defense

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 England and Wales. Since the war, over 4,000 farmers have been placed under "supervision," and 376 have been evicted!

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 Horeham , Sussex — where they had lived since buying the place in 1949. Here the promi­nence of the victim — she had re­turned to spend the rest of her life in her beloved England after long years abroad, where her hus­band served his country as Finan­cial Commissioner in the Punjab — brought forth a storm of protest that will not die down.

"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 January 30, 1957, a Queen’s Bench Divisional Court upheld the evic­tion of "this lady [who] has been given more rope than a good many other farmers."

An Entrenched Bureaucracy

An objective investigation of the farm situation seems to be virtually impossible in England where the status quo is so strongly guarded by existing law and cus­tom. The set-up of such investiga­tions as have been made from time to time always made certain that nothing more than superficial sug­gestions for patching up existing government procedures might be offered. Furthermore, acceptance of any recommendations is left to the discretion of the Minister of Agriculture: proposals for re­forms which do not suit the Min­istry simply are ignored. Any chance that "the power of direction and dispossession" of farmers by the Minister of Agriculture might be called into question is ruled out in advance by directives given to the investigating committees.

One might imagine some wild-eyed Marxian to be the Big Brother who wields the whip of dispossession over the farmers of England. On the contrary, the present Minister of Agriculture is Mr. D. Heathcote Amory, a prod­uct of Eton and Oxford, and form­erly a Conservative M. P. Evi­dently he shares the common be­lief that it is somehow better for the "right" people to take respon­sible positions and administer the socialists’ program for them, than to let the socialists do it them­selves. Thus English Conserva­tives frequently lend their pres­tige to bureaucratic controls of which they really disapprove, thereby helping establish them almost beyond hope of revocation.

England has an enormous job to do in agriculture. It needs to scrap its tyrannous Agriculture Act; it needs to clean out a miser­able swarm of socialist-minded people who run government bu­reaus with Conservative fronts for their collectivist schemes; it needs to get rid of costly committees and ubiquitous "experts" now pla­guing the independent farmers ; it needs to revive faith in the power of persuasion, not compulsion; it needs to restore the rights and property of those who have suf­fered dispossession under the Agriculture Act; it needs to real­ize that free farmers and the free operation of the law of demand and supply can regulate its agri­cultural production better and cheaper than "the man from Whitehall"; and it needs to understand that there can be no refuge of freedom for any of its people if the property rights of individ­uals are not respected.

Above all, England needs to re­vive the ability to see clear and present danger in small encroach­ments upon individual freedom. “Liberty is never safe except where the average man feels re­sentment toward every oppressive act of government, whether it af­fects him or not."

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