Newsletter 22

Newsletter 22 – Spring 2002


Editorial: An Historic opportunity  ..or Not?:    “Sustainable Farming, Local economy, Progressive Planning (& Land Reform?)”

This issue brings together analysis on 3 very significant events which have remarkably coincided at the same time. Firstly, the Curry Report on the Future of Farming and Food – marking a potential watershed in how we produce food and manage the countryside.  Secondly, the DTLR’s Planning Green Paper – a huge new chapter in planning law which will mean a radical overhaul of existing legislation (but which is worryingly earmarked to be geared in the interests of big business).  Lastly, what we consider at any rate to be very significant, has been the release on sale of Kevin Cahill’s new book “Who Owns Britain” – (see left).

The Curry Report’s proposed phasing-out of production subsidies is long overdue. However, binding ‘one-size-fits-all’ world trade rules remain (though developing countries’ access to our markets are overdue, their massive pressure to export is driven by debt and neo-colonial corporations like grain company Cargill; meanwhile, the UK is subject to EU/WTO authority on implementing local food targets on supermarkets). Supermarkets speak of fair-pricing, but how long will that last?  Meanwhile, with subsidies directed to environmental targets, how can it be ensured that large amounts of taxpayer’s money will not be siphoned off by large landowners? Land Reform must be the key!  Related to the redistribution of our rightful inheritance, a genuinely progressive new planning regime could embrace proper criteria-based policies such as on sustainability. Then, more land could be freed-up to be lived and worked on (eg. land reserved for more self-build).

This time should be an extraordinary opportunity to harness all of these potentially positive new measures together. A truly successful outcome in each necessarily depends on them inter-relating. However, the reality is that New Labour’s plans do not amount to anything like this kind of ‘joined-up government’, being as they are both half-hearted on the one hand, and recklessly destructive on the other.  Mark Simon Brown – 03/02


Who owns Britain?

The Land Registration Act 2002, was meant to be so dull and boring that it was classed as ‘non contentious’ and almost passed through both Houses of Parliament on the nod. Instead, a Lib Dem backbencher has used the act to persuade the Government to begin the most profound reconsideration of both land ownership and land registration in hundreds of years.

“The brutalitŽ of realitŽ” might have been a phrase coined by the late Alan Clark. It wasn’t. But it goes a way to describe the situation within the UK tax system, whereby 41,000 millionaires, who pay no tax on their assets, receive between £1 billion and £2 billion from the public purse each year, to support those currently unproductive assets. That’s between £24,000 and £48,000 per family, free and gratis, from the taxpayer. The 41,000 are that 27% of the 147,000 families who own, as opposed to rent, about 70% of the UK land mass, who have assets in excess of 340 acres each. The situation of this group of millionaires, and of a significant number of the remaining 147,000 land-owning families, is doubly anomalous. Most of them receive money from public funds by way of the Common Agricultural Programme, DEFRA subsidies and other tax derived sources totalling about £4 billion each year.

The first anomaly is a formal breach of the constitutional convention which says that if you receive public funds, then your identity is a public fact. Under the extraordinary arrangements for agricultural subsidy, this gravy train is secret. Those who receive sums of £1 mill ion and more, and there are a significant number of them, have their names kept secret by the Government, as well as the names of all other recipients, on the grounds that the gravy train is “commercially confidential”. Of course it is. Over the last ten years alone, about £40 billion has gone to this group, in secret. But the secrecy does not end there. The second anomaly is even more extraordinary than the first.

According to Michael Wills, the Lord Chancellor’s Minister in the House of Commons, writing recently to Adrian Sanders, the Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay in connection with the Land Registration Act currently before Parliament: “The Land Registry tell me that in their estimation, about 65% of the acreage in England & Wales is the subject of a register of title”.

The Minister goes on to say that; “This is purely an estimate because:

  • The Land Registry do not possess information about the total acreage of England & Wales;
  • They create titles without recording the acreage of each parcel of land that they register;
  • Their registers relate to interests in land, and there can be several different interests affecting some or all of the same parcel of land”.

 

England and Wales together comprise about 37.3 million acres, which means that about 13  million acres are not registered in the Land Registry. Most of those 13 million acres are agricultural or rural landholdings and their owners are the recipients of about £2 billion out of the total £4 billion in subsidies. So a Government, which maintains the policy of its Tory predecessors by keeping secret from the public the names of those getting this huge largess from the public purse, does not itself know who the recipients of half the money are. And it gets worse. Later on in his letter, Wills tells the MP that;

“The Land Registry records are not kept in a manner which would enable the Registry to establish with any certainty what land was owned by a particular organisation or individual. There is a separate Index of Proprietors Names available for inspection to the person himself, or the police and other investigative agencies, the Inland Revenue and that person’s receiver or executor. This searching mechanism is not available to Land Registry staff”.

The current Land Registry for England & Wales came into formal existence via the 1925 Land Act, following a series of extraordinary failures to create a Land Registry beginning in 1875. But 77 years later, we have a Land R egistry which serves to reveal the names of every domestic freeholder and leaseholder in the country, each of whom pays a tax called the community charge, while at the same time deliberately concealing the names of the owners of more than half the country, who pay no tax on their acreage, and who instead get a vast, tax free subsidy, mostly from the domestic home owners.

Adrian Sanders, and in fairness the Minister, have not let matters lie however. Sanders answered Will’s letter by suggesting that all further public subsidy of any kind should be halted for land which is not properly registered in the Land Registry. Michael Wills responded by saying that:

“I have asked my officials to make contact with colleagues in some of the other Government Departments and agencies most likely to be most directly concerned to carry out an initial assessment of whether a condition of the kind you have suggested could be introduced into the terms and conditions of public funding schemes. I have also asked them to consider whether it is possible to estimate how much additional land might be brought onto the register in each case”. As Adrian Sanders says “Its just a step, but a very positive step”.

“Who Owns Britain” by Kevin Cahill, published by Canongate in Dec 2001 and available at a discount (£15) via the Canongat e web site, was used by Adrian Sanders to prepare his intervention on the Land Registration Act. The book is the first systematic account, in 123 years, of land ownership in the UK. It includes details of the lost Domesday of 1872 – The Return of Owners of Land – and of the creation of the Land Registry and a county by county list of landowners then (1872) and now.

* The total number of agricultural landholdings in the UK and N. Ireland is 237,000. In England & Wales it is 172,714, of which 57,000 are rented. There are no rental statistics for the 32,000 agricultural holdings in N. Ireland and there are here assumed to be owned, an assumption made by DEFRA, which originated these figures (as MAFF,) in 1999. The DEFRA figures are estimates and extrapolations, not an actual count. (NB: DEFRA is the new Government Dept. for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; and CLBA stands for the Country Landowners & Business Association..)


The Future of Farming ?Nice Work if You Can Get It”

With the recent release of both Don Curry’s Policy Commission on Farming and Food and the Planning Green Paper, this flurry of paperwork is all rather reminiscent of the Barlow, Uthwatt and Scott reports of  the 1940s, which paved the way for the Agriculture Act and the Town & Country Planning Act of 1947, and sealed the fate of the countryside for the next half century.

What do the next 50 years have in store for us then? At first glance, the Curry Report makes all the right noises.  It wants progressively to do away with subsidies, which it says cause ?distortions?, and it enthusiastically backs local foods, organic farming, farmers? cooperatives, healthy eating, adding value on the farm, and so on.

But the members of the commission are labouring under one enormous handicap.  The Cabinet Office did not allow them to question the government?s commitment to trade liberalisation, which means that they cannot scrutinize the role of the World Trade Organisation, nor question the right of supermarkets to scour the world for cheap produce to undercut UK farms.

The commission recognizes that no amount of value adding and niche-marketing will enable UK farmers to stand up to the pressures of the global market; so it advocates more subsidies, but environmental subsidies now, instead of production subsidies.  Again, this is all very politically correct, but there is no attempt by the commission to examine what the ?distortions? arising from these new environmental subsidies might be.

For exampl e, they make no distinction between grants for carrying out environmental work (eg building dry-stone walls, or planting unprofitable woodland) and compensation for not carrying out harmful activities (eg not overstocking or over-fertilizing, or ploughing up meadows and downland). Yet the difference is huge. The first are payments for public works, likely to increase rural employment and help local economies; the second are little more than a protection racket.

The commission is keen on flat rate payments per hectare of land, and advocates, as an interim measure, paying a ?grassland area payment? to farmers, similar to the arable area payments that already exist.  If this happens, then virtually every landowner in the country – including 41,000 ?land millionaires? – will be receiving money from the rest of us, purely for the privilege of owning acres.  This will put the price of land up making it harder for the rest of us to buy it. The grants won?t be tied to production, but dearer land will make our agricultural land even less competitive.  Does this make economic sense? Is it just? Is it what the public wants to see? Or is it a way of rewarding influential landowners who have grown rich in the race to farm as unsustainably as possible?  These are questions that the Curry Report declines to answer.

Farming & Food: A Sustai nable Future, Cabinet Office, 2002; also available at: www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/farming

(adapted from article by Simon Fairlie)


Taking ?Action on the Corporate Control of Agriculture?

Emerging from joint work undertaken by The Land is Ours and Corporate Watch on food and farming issues is a new campaign Action on the Corporate Control of Agriculture (ACCA).

The global crisis facing agriculture and farmers is escalating. Farmers are under ever increasing pressure to intensify production, squeezed by global grain and seed traders on the one hand and by supermarkets on the other. With just 155,000 farms left in the UK and predictions that over the next 5 – 10 years there will only be around 8 – 15,000 people left farming the land, the need to ensure a future for people living and working on the land has never been more critical. This crisis in agriculture has opened a political space in which to build alliances between farmers and the public, to oppose the further corporate ownership of the food chain in the UK.

ACCA through joint work with farmers and farmers groups, aims to raise awareness about the negative impact of large scale, corporate food produc tion, whilst also gaining public support for small scale, localised food production.

Central to our work is research into the UK food industry – how it works, who gets what, where, when and how? As well as mapping the industry looking at key sectors, such as the dairy industry, fruit and vegetable industry, organics industry and food processing industry, we are producing profiles on individual corporations (see below). Our first briefing – ?What?s Wrong with Supermarkets?? has just been published and this will be followed shortly by a briefing examining ?The Real Causes of the Farming Crisis?. These briefings are aimed especially at getting people active on these issues.

Building alliances and networks can be a slow process and yet experience from our three pilot regional forums shows that when farmers, environmentalists and the wider public are given the space to listen to one another and explore the issues in more depth, an amazing amount of consensus is reached. Issues such as global trade, farm gate price v retail price, educating children and citizens about food production, regulation of supermarkets, better representation for farmers are all recurring issues. But it?s not just about building alliances in this country. We are working with radical farming movements around the world, such as Via Campesina (the international small farmers movement) and its European section, the Coordination Paysanne EuropŽenne (CPE).

We?ve found that by breaking down stereotypes and creating spaces for deliberative dialogue between disparate groups, a strong network of resistance to corporate agribusiness amongst environmental and anti-globalisation campaigners, grassroots activists and farmers can be built in the UK, mirroring similar movements around the world. Only by working together and building alliances, locally, nationally and internationally can we hope to really tackle the root causes of the current crisis in food and farming and ensure sustainable food production, globally.

?What?s Wrong with supermarkets?

Available from Corporate Watch for £1, ring 01865 791 391 for details.

  • Profiles on Tesco Plc, J. Sainsbury Plc, Asda Plc, Unilever, Nestle, Northern Foods Plc, Lord Haskins and Asda are available at: www.corporatewatch.org
  • Interested in organising a forum on food and farming in your area? We can provide financial support, resources and speakers. Please telephone 01865 791 391.
  • ACCA maintains a national  email discus sion list called ?Pruning hooks?, where subscribers can post articles and points for discussion about the future of farming. Discussion has ranged widely over issues such as the FMD crisis, sharing visions for the future of agriculture and specific campaigning ideas.

To subscribe please contact Lucy Michaels: lucy@corporatewatch.org

NEW ?Checkout Chuckout!? Directory

Checkout Chuckout!  is a directory for campaigners against supermarket developments. Produced by The Land is Ours and Corporate Watch, this directory was first compiled in 1998 to offer help, contacts and details of useful publications to people fighting supermarket developments. With the continuing expansion of supermarkets and the arrival of Wal-Mart in the UK, the directory has been updated and includes a selection of past, present, successful and not so successful local campaigns. Alongside the directory of local campaigns are national contacts and resources and a brief overview of supermarket expansion policies and of the planning regulations which apply to them.

Available at: www.corporatewatch.org.uk or www.thelandisours.org  or by telephoning 01865 791 391.

NFU Reject Curry

The NFU, the organisation that represents big far mers and no one else, has actually rejected the Curry Report, though it protects the vested interest they predominantly represent very well. A fifth of farms, mostly the wealthy ones in this country, receive 80% of the annual production subsidies. But even these big farms are being screwed by the supermarkets they serve. For example a litre of milk in March last year cost 21p to produce, yet farmers were being paid 17.6p for each litre, while the supermarket was selling it for 35p. That?s 17.4p profit for supermarkets and a bill of 4.4p to the tax payer for subsidies, which means that we are actually subsidising the supermarkets!

(Source: Small and Family Farm Alliance).

GM seed born-to-breed GM Weeds ?The Horrible Truth Reveals Itself?

The dark forebodings of anti-GM campaigners came true recently when English Nature revealed new findings which showed that ?gene-stacking? (the accidental creation of new GM plants through cross-pollination) within Canadian oilseed rape was becoming a serious problem. The ?volunteers? were resistant to widely used herbicides and were found on every site examined, forcing farmers to use even more environmentally damaging herbicides.

Dr Brian Johnson, English Nature?s biotechnology adviser, said this could mean GM science becoming ?self-defeating? and failing to deliver one of its main promises – the use of fewer and less dangerous chemicals. ?The Scimac code is probably inadequate to prevent gene stacking happening in Britain, if these crops were commercialised?, Dr Johnson added.

The Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett also admitted that the current 160ft separation distances may not protect neighbouring crops from significant levels of pollution, but refused to change them, despite studies showing that pollen can travel for at least 3 miles. The European Commission recently proposed that a threshold of up to 0.7% GM seed should be allowed in batches of conventional crop seed. English Nature is concerned that if this proposal were adopted, gene stacking might occur.

(Article courtesy of Genetic Engineering Network, taken from the Spring 2002 issue of ?Genetix Update?. For more info:  www.togg.org.uk)


Review of the Planning Green Paper

The DTLR published a Green Paper on proposals for changing the planning system (published 12/12/01).  Despite some genuine improvements included, the overall weight of the Green Paper is towards the restriction of genuine community/environmental safeg uards and fast-tracking procedures to favour the commercial development lobby. The proposed departure from ?Third Party Right of Appeal? is a very worrying development.

Summary of Main Proposals in the Green Paper:

  1. Changes in Development Plans          The new ?Local Development Framework?, intended to replace site-specific local plans as well as structure and unitary development plans, will be based around a core of criteria-based policies and detailed community-based action plans. What will this mean in practice? It will mean that site-specific policies will only be formulated where necessary. Business planning zones (also proposed in this Green Paper) will  be set up where no planning permission would be needed. National Planning Guidance will become less detailed, and PPG7 (the government guidance which lays down rules for allowing agricultural dwellings) will be reviewed within 2 years.  But will this mean that rural development will be permitted over a wider area whilst strictly controlled by environmental impact assessment, meaning an end to speculation (?land banking?) by volume builders whose actions inflate land prices? The fear is that the Government won?t introduce strong enough sustainability criteria.
  2. Making things Easier for Big Business          The Government intends to take major infra structure projects out of the public inquiry system and instead get them passed in Parliament (i.e. by a government majority kept in line by whips), the argument being that it wants to speed up planning decisions of strategic national importance.  This proposal moves away from the system of Public Enquiry where the views of local people were ridden over rough-shed, (the classic example being Heathrow Terminal 5 which took a staggering 10 years, a delay caused more by the millions thrown into the process by corporate lawyers than by the legitimate concerns of people living in the flight path). Instead, the move towards this new system of approval through Parliament where democratic accountability is based upon the tenuous case that parliamentarians represent local people will mean that this ?ride? over the views of local opinion will be much smoother. In short, this proposal views local people as a hindrance to democratic decision-making. A more streamlined and democratic alternative change would be to simply limit the amount of money that could be spent by lawyers within the current system of Public Enquiry (why, after-all, Parliament is now considering a limit on private donation to political parties!)
    However, the most worrying departure from the current system within this Green Paper is the proposal to remove the ?Third Party Right of Appeal?, a m easure which has traditionally put objectors with special interests to a proposal (such as environmental groups) on an equal footing with developers. Third Party Right of Appeal is supported by an unprecedented variety of interest groups, ranging from FOE, CPRE, the Town & Country Planning Association, human rights lawyers, and the Civic Trust.
  3. Increasing Public Participation          For example, a statement of Community  Involvement, written into the local plan – sorry, Local Development Framework – which large-scale developments would have to comply with. Sounds good, but 90% of applications will be delegated to officer level and determined within a shorter time period.
  4. Heavier Enforcement Sanctions          The Government wants to review the law which states that development without planning consent is not an offence; and to apply punitive charges for retrospective applications.  These proposals are probably not aimed at poor people living in shacks, caravans and benders, but may turn many such people into offenders. The Land is Ours is strongly opposed to them.

 

(NB: DTLR stands for the new Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions)

Input to campaign via campaign mailing list: http://www.onlincam.freeserve.co.uk/planpaper.html Planning G reen Paper Link: http://www.planning.dtlr.gov.uk/consult/greenpap/greenind.htm

(article adapted from Chapter 7 response to Green Paper)

Scottish Executive Embraces Sustainability:

The Development Department of the Scottish Executive have just released a draft consultation called ?Planning for Housing?, which encouragingly makes a very serious attempt at incorporating high sustainability criteria. In what appears to be the Scottish equivalent of PPG3 (only far better), the draft lists key components such as ?Ecological Housing?, where it states that low impact development can provide both economic and environmental benefits, and also ?developments using innovative energy-efficiency techniques?.  It states that ?proposals should be carefully assessed against specified sustainable development criteria? ?sounds like they?ve been reading TLIO?s ?Defining Rural Sustainability?, doesn?t it!


The Diggers Trail

According to the diggers trail group there will be a walk along the now complete Diggers trail of 2 – 3 hours on 1st April 2002: Contact Tony on 07961 460171 or 0117 944 6219 for details nearer the time.

Plans for a grand opening of the Diggers Trail around St. George?s Hill have been delayed for a few months waiting for a convenient time for Tony Benn to perform an opening ceremony. The idea is to have a vintage bus tour around the various sites marked by the trail with refreshments to mark the trail?s inauguration sometime this spring or summer.

The Diggers trail has boards up at the following five sites:

  1. St. Mary?s church Walton:  where the Diggers were imprisoned by landowner Francis Drake.
  2. Cobbett?s Hill: site of the Diggers memorial stone unveiled in December 2000 by stonemason Andrew Whittle.
  3. St George?s Hill: Byfleet Road by the bus museum.
  4. Cobham town centre: many of the diggers came from Cobham.
  5. Little Heath: This is where the Diggers moved after having their camp on St Georges Hill destroyed in August 1649. They lived here for nine months to April 1650 and had several run-ins with Parson Platt.

 

Further information and copies of the Diggers Trail leaflet can be obtained from Elmbridge Museum – Church Street, Weybridge, Surrey, KT13 8DE.

Review: Seminar on Sustainable taxation

Organised by the “progressive Forum”, at the Town & Country Planning Associati on, 18/01/02

Addressing this topic were Charles Secrett (FoE), Mike Rowbotham ( monetary reform campaigner & author of ‘Grip of Death’ & ‘Goodbye America’), Jean Lambert (Green MEP) and Tony Vickers (the Henry George Foundation). Concern was expressed at the nature of the present taxation regime which inhibits the progress of sustainability. Pollution, exploitative land use, energy inefficiencies continue, with no disincentives via taxation.

Charles Secrett made the point that environmental tax reforms were not just about the ‘polluter-pays’ principle, but also include carrot-incentives, such as credits to reward resource efficiencies, arguing that if environmental tax packages are modelled wrongly, they can be very regressive (eg: Norman Lamont’s fuel tax escalator), Land value taxation (LVT) was cited by Tony Vickers and Jean Lambert as a potential component of sustainable taxation, with huge socio-economic relevance particularly as President Blair juggles the private-public finance conundrum.

However, Mike Rowbotham went on the argue how monetary reform supersedes LVT, since reforming the tax base is altering the composition of redistruibuted revenues, whereas monetary reform is altering the composition of the very source of money creation (as the deby-based money system which exists within all economies in the world means that bank-loans supply virtually the entire money supply).

The explanation was given that while 97% of the money used by society is bank-created book-entry debt (loans), the basis of the system which is continuous borrowing (money created parallel to its repayment) means that as more always has to be found for repayment than has been loaned due to interest charges, so further lons have to be made by the banks for enough economic activity to take place in an economy to generate enough money to make this happen. Therefore, it is this constant scarcity of money which drives forward financial capitalism, making the point that if abundance were ever allowed to be met, then finance-capitalism would collapse in unredeemable debts! Rowbotham argued that through reducing banks ability to loan out money, governments could issue more debt-free currency which could be used to pay for public investments like the London Underground. He suggested that what he is advocating in this move away from the bank-loan system as the money-supply mechanism is nothing short of a fundamental reform of the global economy. Rowbotham advocated a “judicious approach to LVT”, rejecting its universal applicability, arguing that tax on actual wealth is better than tax on ‘potential wealth’.

Y our Royal Piousness!

 

In mid-November 2001, Prince Charles publicly stated that ?People should be buying their produce locally, and farmers should be marketing their produce locally?. We can exclusively reveal to readers that the very  same week when our Heir to the Throne made these very publicly vocalised highly commendable pronouncements, a friend of someone in the TLIO network was responsible for transporting 42 lambs from the Royal Estate at Broadfield Farm in Tetbury, Gloucs. to Braintree in Essex.  What was that about local marketing?


Diary:

 

  • 8th – 19th April, Holland: ?Resistance is Fertile?  the Sixth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in the Hague. After years of negotiations, the CBD will soon have 2 legally binding international protocols – the Biosafety Protocol and ?The Law of the Seed? (International Undertaking.) Neither currently has the power to stop the spread of GMOs, protect farmers rights or stop finite resources being plundered for profit. www.resistanceisfertile.org
  • 13th April, Brighton: Rally and March against Factory Farming. Noon at the level, Brighton. VIVA! 12 Queen Sq, Brighton BN1 3FD, tel: 01273 777688.
  • Tues 16th April, London: The Case for Council Housing, a Pre-Budget Briefing for MPs, Tenants and Trade Unionists. Organised by council tenants organisations and trade unions. Venue: House of Commons. Contributors include: Austin Mitchell MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Mick Graham GMB. For more details, e-mail: info@defendcouncilhousing.org.uk or phone: 020 7987 9989
  • 17th April, Global Day of Action for Farmer?s Struggle: (called by Via Campesina: www.viacampesina.org).  To find out more, email – rif@gn.apc.org or phone GEN on 020 7272 1586 for leaflets or info.
  • 21st – 29th April, London – Nkrumah Week: The African Liberation Support Campaign with the support of the Afrika Studies Centre of the University of East London is running a series of eight workshops at venues across London, with a main event on Saturday 27 April, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of the first president of Ghana and Pan-Africanist, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, entitled ?Against globalisation to reclaim the fountainhead of Pan-Africanism?. For details of venues and more information about the event P.O. Box 21266, London W9 3YR Tel 020 8223 4559.
  • Mon 6th May: May Day/International Workers Day.  For events happening in North and South London: Tel 07786 716 335, festivalofalternatives@yahoo.com www.ourmayday.org.uk.
  • Sat 18th May: The 28th ANNUAL LEVELLERS DAY. Warwick Hall Garden, Burford, Oxon.  Theme: ?Space, Peace or War?. Guest Speakers: Bruce Kent (CND), Lindis Percy (Peace Activist and US base invader). Special Guest – Tony Benn. Admission £8
  • 1st-2nd June: World Food Summit, Rome.
  • Sat 8th June: Strawberry Fair.  Midsummer Common, Cambridge. Admission free. Tel: 01223 560160 E-Mail: enquiries@strawberry-fair.org.uk www.strawberry-fair.org.uk 

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Newsletter Number:
                    22
Titles:
                    Who owns Britain?
                    The Future of Farming
                    The Corporate Control of Agriculture
                    NFU reject Curry
                    The Planning Green Paper
                    The Diggers Trail

a Landrights campaign for Britain

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