Leader: A case for taxing land

With the exception of Spain, Britain has the most unequal concentration of land ownership anywhere in Europe. It's time we addressed this.

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Land reform was once a great cause of the British left. David Lloyd George and his fellow Liberals, as well as the young Labour Party, championed a fairer distribution of estates in the interests of both social equality and economic productivity. But after receding in the middle of the 20th century, the land question has been almost entirely absent from political debate in recent decades.

Now, in Scotland, the issue has been resurrected. The SNP government has introduced a land reform bill that will end tax relief for shooting estates (an exemption introduced by the Major government in 1994) and force sale when owners block sustainable development. “Scotland’s land must be an asset that benefits the many, not the few,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said. At present, half of the privately owned land in Scotland is controlled by just 432 landlords.

This maldistribution is mirrored across Britain. Sixty-nine per cent of the 60 million acres in the UK is owned by 0.6 per cent of the population. With the exception of Spain, Britain has the most unequal concentration of land ownership anywhere in Europe. It is time for other political parties to address this inequity with the same vigour as the SNP. In 2010, when he first stood for the Labour leadership, Andy Burnham advocated a land value tax and the Liberal Democrats proposed the same policy in their general election manifesto. As both parties seek to resolve their crises, they should make land reform a defining cause once again.

This article first appeared in the 26 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Bush v Clinton 2