All posts by Mark

Fast-track fracking plan by the government denounced

Fracking opponents have reacted with anger after ministers unveiled measures to help projects through the planning system in England, which campaigners said would make drilling a shale well as easy as building a conservatory. [Related also: Nuclear waste dumps]

Date: 17 May 2018 (Last modified on Fri 18 May 2018 11.53)
by Adam Vaughan, The Guardian

Shale gas explorers will be able to drill test sites in England without applying for planning permission and fracking sites could be classed as nationally significant infrastructure, meaning approval would come at a national rather than local level.

Planning authorities will also be given £1.6m to speed up fracking applications over the next two years and a new shale environmental regulator will be created this summer, under government proposals published on Thursday.

Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green party, said the plans were shocking. “Britain’s fracking experiment was on life support and now the government is trying its best to shock it back into life.

Rebecca Long Bailey MP, shadow business secretary, said: “Fracking should be banned, not promoted.

Greenpeace said the government had turned a deaf ear to communities and councils, and would make “exploratory drilling as easy as building a garden wall or conservatory”.

The progress of fracking in the UK has been glacial, with not a single well fracked since a ban was lifted in 2013.

Companies including Ineos, Cuadrilla and Third Energy have been bogged down in planning battles with local authorities. In the first three months of the year, seven of eight shale drilling plans were rejected by councils.

However, under plans outlined by the business secretary, Greg Clark, the drilling of shale wells in England will be considered permitted development, meaning no planning application is required.
For full article, click here.

38 Degrees Petition (written by CPRE)
The government’s trying to sneak this through quietly. But if it happens, it could set a dangerous precedent for our democracy. Not to mention the devastation it could cause to our countryside, from the Yorkshire Moors to Sherwood Forest.

This is the biggest threat to our countryside and democracy we’ve seen in a while.
Please drop measures to:
● Treat exploratory drilling as permitted development.
● Include fracking in the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Regime.
Sign the Petition:

Background: The 2015 Infrastructure Bill, which provided new strategic powers in terms of development and planning law for government to make provision for infrastructure development with specific regard to increasing provision for greater housing development across the UK, also included specific safeguards around hydraulic fracturing. It provided automatic right of access given to “deep level” land (300m or lower) for the purposes of exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy, i.e. for general petrol extraction and specifically unconventional extraction or hydraulic fracturing / fracking. This put into legislative statute the right of developers involved in fracking to override the interests of surface landowners who are now no longer able to unduly object to or frustrate initiatives on the basis of works amounting to trespass. In addition, “there is the right to leave the deep level land in a different condition than before the right was exercised. This includes by leaving any substance or infrastructure in the land. Liability for any loss or damage attributable to the exercise of these rights by another person is expressly removed from resting with the landowner.” (Source: ).

[1] The Guardian: Fast-track fracking plan by the government prompts criticism:
The Times: Backlash as Ineos puts fracking on fast track with plans to bypass local councils:
The Independent: Government announces plan to accelerate fracking developments by fast-tracking private companies’ planning applications:
UK Parliament: Written statement on Energy Policy made by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which lays out the Government’s plans:
[2] This has made it into a few news articles, like the ones above, but such a massive change to our local councils’ powers should have gone much further than that.
[3] Greenpeace: 4 reasons why we could all be fracked by fracking:
The Independent: Fracking could cause earthquakes across huge swathes of UK, warns former Downing Street adviser and seismologist:
[4] Guardian: How fracking can contribute to climate change:
[5] 38 Degrees: “Fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland”:
[6] The Guardian: UK fracking backlash: seven of eight plans rejected in 2018:
The Telegraph: Villages across the UK take up the fight against fracking:
Friends of the Earth: Fracking in Sherwood Forest – we’re winning but it’s not over yet:
38 Degrees: Protect Sherwood Forest:

How the extent of County Farms has halved in 40 years (from Who Owns England blog)

First posted on 8th June 2018

The extent of County Farms in England has halved in the last 40 years, an investigation by Who Owns England can reveal.

County Farms are farms owned by Local Authorities and let out to young and first-time farmers, sometimes at below-market rents. They’re a vital ‘first rung on the farming ladder’ for newcomers to a sector that has high up-front capital costs: by providing the land and buildings, the public sector is helping get fresh blood into an industry where the average age of farmers is 60.

Yet the acreage of County Farms across England has plummeted from 426,695 acres in 1977 to just 215,155 acres in 2017, as data outlined below shows.

The revelation of the shocking decline in County Farms nationwide comes after Dorset County Council recently earmarked 6 of its County Farms for disposal and sale – 14% of its entire estate. This is despite the council officer’s report warning the sales would result in the loss of £95,000 in annual rents, and despite firm objections from the local branches of the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) and Country Land & Business Association (CLA).

In his widely-praised Oxford Farming Conference speech this January, Environment Secretary Michael Gove spoke about equipping the “next generation of farmers” to grow better-quality food and do more to protect the environment post-Brexit. But the ongoing sale of County Farms runs precisely counter to that: undermining prospects for the next generation of farmers, just like the housing crisis is damaging prospects for young adults more broadly.
Charting the decline of County Farms

The origins of County Farms lie in the late-Victorian agricultural depression, during which widespread cries for land reform led radical Liberal MP Joseph Chamberlain (Theresa May’s political hero) to stand for election on the promise of “three acres and a cow” for landless tenant farmers. He went on to propose a solution whereby councils would buy up land and lease it out to small tenant farmers on cheap rents. A succession of government Acts in 1892, 1908 and 1925 created County Farms, sometimes called County Smallholdings.

The area of land bought up by Local Authorities for County Farms skyrocketed between the turn of the century and the Second World War. “The smallholding movement is unique in modern agricultural history”, writes one historian. “It is the only occasion on which we see the promotion of small, rather than ever-larger farming units.” But since the end of the 1970s, thousands of acres of council-owned smallholdings have been sold off.

Click here for the original post on the Who Owns England Blog and scroll down to the end of this last paragraph to see 2 different graphs showing the rise and decline of County Farms over the past 110 years and also “Mapping the decline of County Farms – 3 case studies

Enough is enough – halt the sale of County Farms

The decline of the County Farms Estate mirrors wider trends in English agriculture over the past half-century, with small private farms declining and being swallowed up by ever-larger industrial farm units. Indeed, England has recently seen the rise of the megafarm. Is this the future of farming post-Brexit? If it is, it doesn’t match Michael Gove’s welcome rhetoric about creating sustainable, healthy farms fit for the 21st century. Millennials need affordable housing; young farmers need County Farms.

Fundamentally, the problem is central government cuts to local authority budgets. That much becomes clear from the long-term national statistics reviewed above: the period of decline has coincided with the era of privatisation, cuts and centralisation ushered in by Margaret Thatcher’s governments in the 1980s, and accelerated under the austerity budgets of the Coalition and current government. It’s vital the Environment Secretary intervenes to reverse this trend. A word in the ear of Phillip Hammond and James Brokenshire, to protect council budgets for County Farms and issue a Ministerial direction halting sales, could go a long way.

Enough is enough. It’s time to halt the sale of County Farms and chart a new course for agriculture in England.

Campaign groups calling for a halt to County Farm sales:

Landworkers’ Alliance
Tenant Farmers’ Association
Three Acres And A Cow
The Land is Ours

Sat 14th April 2018: Tour of London’s land & housing crisis by the Land Justice Network

THE LANDLORD’S GAME: A tour of London’s land & housing crisis
Saturday 14th April 2018

Join the Land Justice Network for a walking tour of London’s land and housing crisis on Saturday 14th April 2018, 1pm-4pm. Meet 1pm in Brown Hart Gardens on Duke St, near Bond St Tube. Facebook event here.

London faces a housing crisis of epic proportions, with homelessness rife, house prices sky-high and many people unable to afford a home.

At root, the housing crisis is a land crisis. London is home to millions of people – but the land on which it’s built is effectively monopolised by a handful of wealthy estates.

Join us for a tour of some of the most expensive locations on the Monopoly board: places that Dukes and Earls inherited as fields hundreds of years ago, but now – thanks to a lucky roll of the dice – is some of the hottest super-prime real estate on the planet. Along our route, you’ll see Mayfair mansions left empty for nearly 15 years, discover properties owned in offshore tax havens, and find out the truth about who owns London.

It’s time for change. The Land Justice Network has organised this tour to showcase some of the root causes of London’s land and housing crisis – and call for change.


The Landlord’s Game is part of a wider Week of Action…..

LORD vs COMMONERS: A Week of Action for Land Rights, 14th-22nd April

The Land Justice Network (LJN) has called a Week of Action around the theme of ‘Lords vs Commoners’ for the 14th-22nd April.

According to the Country Land and Business Association, 0.06% of the population own 50% of the rural land of England and Wales.

The Week of Action is intended to draw attention to the current unequal distribution of land in England and Wales, by inviting you to organise an event in your area and share photos and stories of what you do. This could be a public meeting or protest or maybe a banner drop, occupation or mass trespass.

You can find out more on the LJN website here and on the event Facebook page. Leaflet here

Palestine: The Great Return March, marking 70 years since the Nakba.

Gaza ‘Return March’ has begun – the refugees won’t stop until their voices are heard

Despite at least 15 deaths and hundreds injured by live fire, many in Gaza believe the only way to resolve the conflict is to return to the root cause

by Sarah Helm, The Independent
Date: 30 March 2018
By first light yesterday Palestinian preparations for the Gaza “Return March” seemed well underway: tents were being pitched all along the Gaza buffer zone and old men were arriving with banners proclaiming the names of their villages, from which they were expelled as children 70 years ago, never to return.

Palestinian factions in Gaza, including the ruling Hamas, had ordered that the demonstration be peaceful, insisting marchers to keep well back from Israel’s barrier wall.

With 100 snipers positioned on the barrier, however, Israel’s preparations were a show of brute force and soon after dawn an Israeli tank shell had killed Omar Samour, a Palestinian farmer with land near the buffer zone – the first Return March martyr but certainly not the last.

Israel’s ruthless response to the Gaza’s peaceful Return March should come as no surprise. The Israeli military justified the show of force on the grounds that Hamas might exploit the event in some way with acts of violence. But Israel’s real fear of the “return marchers” runs far deeper. Nothing has ever frightened Israel more than the demands of Palestinian refugees for a right to return to their pre-1948 homes. And no group of refugees has a stronger case than those of Gaza who live within a few miles of their former villages.

The Arab-Israeli 1948 war, which brought the Jewish state into being, also brought about the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from lands they had lived on for hundreds of years. The Palestinians call this loss of land their “Nakba” or catastrophe. Of those expelled more than 200,000 fled to Gaza.

These refugees came from villages in the Gaza area, close to what is now the Gaza barrier wall.

In 1948 the United Nations passed Resolution 194 agreeing that the refugees should have a right to return to their villages, but Israel always refused. From the first days any who tried to get back – to harvest their lands or to bring belongings – were shot as infiltrators or locked up as terrorists. As the years passed the refugees’ claims were set aside as unresolvable and David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, expressed the hope that “the old would die and the young would forget”.

The refugees, however, have never forgotten, as the Return March protest demonstrates.

In view of Gaza’s daily struggles, living under siege, it might seem surprising that they have time to think of the past. Since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007, the two million people here have lived under economic blockade, imprisoned by a barrier wall. The Palestinians here have also lived through three wars. The last in 2014 killed more than 2,500, destroyed many thousands of homes and crippled infrastructure. But it is precisely because of the recent wars that memories of 1948 have been revived. Such was the destruction of 2014 that Gazans spoke of “’a second Nakba”. And the deprivations of living under siege have only reminded the people here of what they had as self-sufficient farmers in the villages they inhabited before 1948.

Whether the Return March explodes in more bloodshed, or plays out peacefully as the participants hope, is hard to predict.

As Hamas arranged for buses to take people from the mosques after Friday prayers, the numbers swelled. The intention is to maintain the protest until 15 May – Nakba Day, when the 70th anniversary commemoration will reach a pitch. If Hamas can keep the peace on its side of the buffer zone, the case for the right of return will be heard, perhaps louder and clearer than it has for many years.

The refugees’ despair is also fuelled by Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. This has driven many in Gaza to the belief they now have nothing to lose but rise up and join the march. With no realistic peace deal now on the table, many in Gaza believe the only way to resolve the conflict is to return to the root cause – and that means to address their right of return.

See also:

Israel army opens fire as tens of thousands march in Gaza

Israel deploys hundreds of snipers to Gaza border ahead of expected protests on Palestinian Land Day

Solving the housing crisis? The Case for Land Value Taxation

Home truths about the housing crisis
The only way to solve the issue that cripples the ordinary home-owner or rent-payer is to levy a fair tax on land ownership
by CAROL WILCOX, Labour Land Campaign

Published in The Morning Star
Date: 22/02/2018

THE HOUSING crisis is a consequence of land ownership. Land has always been the prime source of power and wealth in Britain and today 158,000 families own two-thirds of all the land. That concentration is increasing. This can be deduced from the fact that home ownership is declining.

While this country has the poorest housing stock of any developed nation, it is the land beneath which holds the value, especially in London and the south east, where the land-to-building ratio is huge.

While building costs rise generally in line with price inflation, land values have risen by much more since the 1990s.

There is a way to solve the housing crisis and reduce the concentration of wealth — simply tax land values.

It is both fair and necessary that people pay on a continuous basis for exclusive access to the land which is our common inheritance — no-one manufactured land — and the traditional way of a one-off payment for or outright theft of land must end. In other words, pay the rent.

Land value taxation (LVT) effectively nationalises land by nationalising the rent.

Just as wages are the return to labour and profit or interest is the return to capital, rent is the return to land, but, unlike labour, capital and land are inanimate and passive and cannot “earn” any return.

LVT is impossible to evade — you cannot hide land in a tax haven — and simple to administer. All land is valued and the owners sent an annual bill.

The Valuation Office (VOA) provides valuations of properties for business rates and that was the case for houses too before the domestic rating system was abolished in 1990. Land is easier to value than land plus building and the VOA already does this for the purpose of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), whose methods could be improved by digital technology.

The Land Registry is more than 85 per cent complete and the ownership of the rest is known by other authorities, such as the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. LVT billing could then be administered by local authorities as they do for council tax and business rates, or another centralised system might be created.

The housing crisis can only be solved by building more homes and that first requires land. LVT could bring unused and underused land, suitable for residential development, onto the market. There’s a lot and that would force down the price.

But new builds can only represent a small fraction of housing stock in the short term. It is ownership by those able to exploit the crisis that is the real problem. Private landlords receive over £10 billion per annum in the form of housing benefit, but those homes should be well maintained, affordable council flats and houses.

LVT is intended as a replacement for inferior taxes, not an additional one. Some advocates claim that it could replace all taxes as its revenue potential is at least £200bn per year and the dynamic effects it will unleash would augment that over time.

More realistically, it could replace standard-rate income tax on earned income and reduce the VAT rate or whatever might replace it after Brexit. Except for business rates and the annual tax on company-owned properties (ATED) all these taxes exacerbate the housing crisis, while council tax is the most regressive one we have — the owner of a Westminster mansion pays the same as the tenant of a Weymouth bedsit.

LVT would be levied on the owners of all land which has a market value, exempting most publicly owned land and, for some, this would mean paying a property tax for the first time, particularly the owners of farmland.

Others who would be affected are the owners of unused land, such as development and brownfield sites, some of which are eyesores that actually lower the value of neighbouring locations.

The people most liable to be badly affected by an immediate comprehensive implementation of LVT would be the ordinary homeowner living in an expensive location, which may not have been so when they started on the property ladder, or those struggling with a big mortgage.

This is not just a political difficulty, it is one of fairness.

When the 2017 Labour Party manifesto contained a small reference to LVT, the Tory Party and its obedient media servants went to town the week before the election on Labour’s “garden tax,” claiming it would treble council tax and decimate house prices.

The irony is that the paper they quoted from, gleaned from the Labour Land Campaign website, clearly stated that the implementation proposed was designed to avoid both those outcomes.

The manifesto distinguishes between land under a primary dwelling and land which generates, or has potential to generate, an income or provides a privileged benefit such as a second home or a large estate. All businesses generate income — that’s what they are there for — and that includes farming but also the private rented housing sector.

For ordinary homeowners, the initial implementation would have the LVT rate set to replace council tax receipts on a revenue-neutral basis for each local authority. During the transition to full LVT, which could take decades, rates would be converged and uplifted to collect the maximum of land value for public benefit.

Some would see this as a concession too far for homeowners, who have benefited so much from the current system, and believe that the reduction in other taxes would balance out disposable incomes. This is debatable. Politicians are surely aware that turkeys do not tend to vote for Christmas.

There is little doubt that prices would come down substantially as soon as it is perceived that LVT is here to stay and the gravy train was about to hit the buffers. This would cause problems for lenders and would have to be managed intelligently. Otherwise, would lower house prices be such a bad thing?

One reason why LVT would cause land and thus house prices to fall is that prices and taxes are inversely related — the higher the tax the lower the price. An explosion in house prices in London and the south east has occurred since the domestic rating system was replaced, first by the poll tax and then the council tax. More than 50 per cent of homes in London are rented and LVT will have a big effect there.

Another consequence of LVT is that the supply of land for building would increase and increased supply means lower prices. It would “persuade” land hoarders to offload their non-performing assets.

The big house builders with land banks would have to build or else sell to those ready and willing to do so because they will be liable for LVT as soon as planning permission is granted or at least within a reasonable period.

Development will also be hastened because builders will no longer need to negotiate dodgy deals with local authorities to minimise their statutory obligations. Infrastructure and social housing will be funded from future LVT revenues, as all such investment feeds directly into local land values which can then be reclaimed from increased LVT bills.

It is essential that land values should be frequently reassessed so that all public investment is clawed back via LVT. From the start, much more LVT will be collected from residential properties than from council tax.

But the really exciting thing about LVT is the power it will give to local authorities to take control of social housing. The game will be up for the amateur and parasitic landlords. For the first time, they will be responsible for the property tax throughout their ownership.

And there will be no transitional concessions for them. Where the tenant has paid the council tax, the landlord will only be able to raise the rent by that amount. Otherwise they will not be allowed by law to pass on the higher tax in the rents they charge.

LVT campaigners say that it is impossible for landlords to do this, as the market will eventually adjust rents to their previous level, but tenants need to have their fears allayed that their landlords will not throw them out at the first opportunity.

Landlords with properties in the “hottest” locations will see the biggest LVT bills and hence the largest drop in their income and they will be eager to sell up.

This is where the major price crash will come and where the local authority will be able to step in and acquire the housing stock they need at bargain-basement prices, to re-let as council houses to the sitting tenants.

And the government, taking a more proactive stance, could choose a site for a new town or garden city such as a big country estate. It could designate zones for business, residential and wildlife and plan the major infrastructure work.

The estate owner would then receive an LVT bill based on the various permitted uses. Bingo! Estate owners are lazy people, they will not relish the work or expense involved in developing a whole town or city and will be begging someone to take the land off their hands.

Carol Wilcox is secretary of the Labour Land Campaign.

Housing as a speculative financial asset: introducing REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts)

Real Estate Investment Trusts – a tool of asset accumulation as an escalation of the division of wealth and class separation in Britain and across the world:

REITs are trusts that buy commercial properties, such as apartments, office buildings, and shopping centres which produce income. When a person buys shares in a REIT, they become a part owner in all of the property holdings of the REIT. REITs are traded like stocks on the major stock exchanges, so they provide the liquidity of stocks with the diversification and income of commercial real estate. REITs first appeared in the US, after being approved by Congress in 1960 to offer small investors a chance to participate in the commercial real estate market. As of 2016, are were 224 REITs on the FTSE (London Stock-Exchange). The Internal Revenue Service shows that there are about 1,100 U.S. REITs that have filed tax returns in the USA, including more than 225 REITs in the U.S. registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission that trade on one of the major stock exchanges — the majority on the NYSE.

Throughout the world, Real Estate Investment Trust (REITs) are playing a rapidly increasing role in organising private financial investments in housing and cities. Real Estate Investments Trusts (REITs) are joint stock companies that primarily derive their income from real estate. They are free from corporate tax and they are legally forced to pay out high parts of their profits.

After a longer period of development in Northern America disastrous consequences on social housing are evident:

– Buying out of social, public and low-cost housing

– Rent increase and increase of heating costs, service charges etc.

– Demolishing of affordable complexes and replacement by more profitable buildings

– Disinvestments, neglect of/worse maintenance of the housing stock

– Pressure to leave on financially disfavoured tenants, replacements by wealthy residents

– the ending of social neighbourhoods programmes, participation process etc

– Construction on public spaces, privatization of public spaces

– Lobbying governments for weakening legal standards

– Exit to private funds

The large U.S. REIT AIMCO gave a shocking example how these investors

treat tenants.

* Video on forced evictions by AIMCO at Lincoln Place

Although negative consequences in the USA, Canada and elsewhere are obvious, the introduction of REITs in most of the countries took place without protests and even without critical debate. They just happened in the extra-democratic spaces where financial lobbyists make their deals with governments.


Lots of small investors can take part by owning shares in the Trust which owns the buildings. This means they can buy or sell their shares in the trust easily whenever they like exposing homes to the volatility of speculative markets. No tax is paid by the Trust; tax is only paid by the shareholder, with their dividend income return added to their annual taxable income. If the shareholder is a charity (such as a housing association which has a charitable arm), the shareholder may be exempt from paying any tax at all.

‘In the United States and France, REITs have lead to higher rents and to asset stripping; where the most profitable housing has been enhanced at increased rents, whilst the rest has been left to decay or emptied for redevelopment or demolition.’ From London

There are several different types of REITs available on the market:

[1] Equity REITs own and operate income producing real estate, such as apartments, warehouses, office buildings, hotels, and shopping centres.

[2] Specialized REITs focus on a particular type of property, such as shopping centres or health care facilities.

[3] Geographically-focused REITs specialize in a single region or metropolitan area, while others try to acquire properties throughout the country. Mortgage REITs lend money to real estate owners and operators, and raise income from the interest payments on the mortgages.

4] Hybrid REITs own properties and provide loans to real estate owners.



The financial markets prove to be an ideal place of refuge for anxious owners of capital. They are flexible and global. An IBM stock can be exchanged in a few moments for a Yen credit or a government bond. For big customers, the expenses are trifling. State incursions like taxes and restrictions tend to zero.

Profits were and are now gained from shares (dividend distributions based on business profits), national debts (compound interest financed by taxes), credits (interest payments from private or state debtors), organisation of firm takeovers or the purchase and sale of securities at the right moment. The latter is a very popular option since it requires the least waiting-time. Through deregulation and internationalisation, getting into and out of investments as fast as lightning is increasingly possible.

With this flexibility, pressure is exerted on everything that does not bow to the desires of investors. This structure is the central lever for the restructuring and realisation of better profit conditions for capital in general, not only the much reviled ‘speculators’.

Landworkers’ Alliance crowdfunder to lobby for small scale, traditional family farms & ecological farming for the UK’s post-brexit agricultural policy

The Landworkers’ Alliance launched a Crowdfunder, aiming to raise £25k to get their policies into a post-Brexit agricultural policy. The crowd funder has less than one more week to go in case anyone wants to make a donation to support the orientation towards a just and sustainable agricultural policy after Brexit.

Go to the crowdfunder page here: to make a donation that will help the Landworkers’ Alliance defend small-scale family farms, and try to build a future where farmers and new entrants can make a decent livelihood producing good food.

Who are the Landworkers’ Alliance? The Landworkers’ Alliance is a grassroots union of farmers, growers and land-based workers from across the whole of the U.K. They are a member led organisation campaigning for the rights of small-scale producers and a better food system for everyone.

More farmers, Better Food The Landworkers’ Alliance launch crowdfunding campaign to change the future of agricultural policy and they need your support.
In Spring 2018 the government will outline a new UK post-Brexit farming policy. This is the most significant moment in generations for those who want to see a socially just and environmentally sustainable food system. The Landworkers’ Alliance are seeking to defend the needs of small-scale and ecological farmers against agri-business interests. They launched a nationwide funding campaign ‘More Farmers, Better Food’ on 23rd December 2017 to influence post-Brexit agricultural policy, aiming to raise £25k through public donations to support their work campaigning and lobbying for a policy that will guarantee a fair future for farmers in the UK.

The future of our food and farming depends on this policy; it is the most significant moment in generations – they need your support to reach the target and make sure the voices of small-scale and ecological farmers against agri-business interests are heard.

Why do we need to be part of shaping a post-Brexit Agriculture Policy? (with reference to multi-pronged list of objectives outlined by the Landworkers’ Alliance):

    • So that the voices of small-scale and ecological farmers are heard instead of only those of agri-business interests who usually assume the voice of the UK farming lobby (usually represented by the National Farmers’ Union and Country Land & Business Association – my insert)
    • In the 10 years following the implementation of the 2003 Common Agricultural Policy reform, 35,000 farms left the land in the UK; most of these were small-scale and family farms. The Landworkers’ Alliance assert that we need to ensure that British Agricultural policy will not repeat the same mistakes of previous agricultural reforms. On the contrary, reforming the CAP within the EU should have been focused upon one of the original tenets of the Treaty of Rome to “ensure the optimum utilisation of the factors of production, in particular, labour”. For a post-brexit UK outside the CAP as well as for countries remaining in the CAP, maximising the utilisation of agricultural labour should mean properly rewarding that labour – a skill set which in certain areas of agriculture such as the uplands is fast dying out. And yet, working in the food and farming sector is characterised by insecure, precarious and unpredictable labour conditions. 64% of farmers earn less than £10,000 a year, 8 supermarkets control almost 95% of the food retail market, and farmers receive less than 10% of the value of their produce sold in supermarkets. Meanwhile, there is hardly any support for new entrant farms or funding for farmers producing on less than 5 hectares (12 acres) of land.
    • The UK has one the highest levels of concentrated land ownership in the world, and the price of land has trebled in just over 10 years. In 2015, just 100 landowners received a combined total of £87.9m in agricultural subsidies, of which £61.2m came from the single payment scheme. This is more than the combined total paid to the bottom 55, 119 recipients in the single payment scheme over the same period.
    • The UK is the 6th largest economy in the world and yet in 2014, over 8.4 million people living in a UK household reported having insufficient food.

    The Landworkers’ Alliance have developed a range of policy proposals aimed at protecting small scale, traditional and family farms, creating more environmental farming systems without losing sight of production, and giving new entrants more support to set up and scale up.

    All of their policies and representation comes from their members who are farmers, growers and land-based workers who have direct experience of the issues they campaign on. They will use the crowdfunding campaign to fund 5 key areas of work:

      1. To deliver political training sessions, that will equip members with the skills and confidence to advocate for a better food system.
      2. To send representatives to Westminster on a regular basis to make sure we have a place at the table.
      3. To write, print and get our post-Brexit Agriculture policy proposals into the hands of political decision makers.
      4. To organise stunts and actions that ensure our voices are heard.
      5. To highlight our issues by organising study tours of innovative farms, direct marketing and new entrant initiatives for MPs and civil servants.

    Their crowdfunding campaign More Farmers, Better Food intends to fund their work lobbying and campaigning to influence the policy making process. It will support them to ensure the future of the UK food system guarantees farmers and food workers are able to work with dignity and earn a decent living, and everybody is able to access nutritious and affordable food.

    Now more then ever the future of our farms, our land, our food is in our hands. Let’s put control over the food system back into the hands of our communities!

    With just less than one week left to go on our crowdfunder – please support the campaign today!

    Post-Brexit farming funding set out by Michael Gove

    Contrary to BBC Radio-4 and BBC TV News bulletins, the following BBC News Online report doesn’t mention that Michael Gove announced that a future post-brexit UK Agricultural subsidy system will support provision by landowners for public access as well as environmental measures which it does cite below such as farmers rewarded for planting woodland, boosting wildlife, improving water quality and recreating wildflower meadows.

    Post-Brexit farming funding set out by Michael Gove
    by Roger Harrabin, environment analyst
    4/1/2018, BBC News

    Plans for the way farming subsidies will be dealt with after Brexit have been set out by Michael Gove.

    Farmers will receive payments for “public goods”, such as access to the countryside and planting meadows.

    The environment secretary told farmers the government would guarantee subsidies at the current EU level until the 2022 election. There would then be a “transitional period” in England.

    The National Farmers Union said it was time for “a new deal” for the UK.

    Fergus Ewing, the Scottish rural economy secretary, said Mr Gove had left “too many questions unanswered”.

    Meanwhile, a report warns Brexit trade deals could threaten UK food security.

    MPs and peers in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology (APPGA) say ministers must ensure farmers are not undermined by future trade deals which permit imports of food produced with lower welfare or environmental standards.

    • Farm subsidies ‘must be earned’ – Gove
    • Countryside faces ‘damaging uncertainty’
    • Five times food fights have had an impact on trade talks

    Mr Gove, who has promised that standards will not be compromised after Brexit, addressed two farmers’ conferences in Oxford on Thursday.

    His speeches came ahead of the government’s agriculture plans being published this spring.

    The current payment system – £3bn a year to UK farmers – is based on the amount of land farmers own.

    Detailing how the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be replaced after Brexit, Mr Gove said the CAP was “unjust” and “doesn’t really reward efficiency”.

    The government has agreed to maintain current subsidies for three years after Brexit, until 2022, and Mr Gove said the payments could continue until 2024 but the length of time would be down to “consultation”.

    Mr Gove said during that time he aimed to reduce the largest subsidies, with a maximum cap or a sliding scale of reductions.

    He said there should be a “smooth path” towards a new way of paying farmers when EU subsidies ended and that a new method would “use public money for public goods”.

    The plans would see farmers rewarded for planting woodland, boosting wildlife, improving water quality and recreating wildflower meadows.

    Speech ‘no comfort’

    The environment secretary said he was “confident” about the future of British farming and that Brexit would allow the UK to “leverage” the advantages of Britain producing “the best food in the world” and “some of the most innovative farmers in the world”.

    New trade deals with other countries outside the EU would provide new markets for the “superb food” Britain’s farmers produce, Mr Gove said.

    Minette Batters, deputy president of the National Farmers Union, welcomed incentives to protect the environment but said her key concern was over future trade deals.

    She said: “We’re very proud of our high standards of environmental protection, of welfare, in the UK and we want those to be respected in any trade negotiation and we do not want to see cheaper food produced to lower standards.”

    Mr Gove’s counterpart in Scotland, Mr Ewing, said Mr Gove’s speech “leaves far too many questions unanswered for any comfort to be taken“.

    He said it did “not cover a whole variety of vital support schemes“, such as environmental programmes, “which are crucial to ensure the continued economic well-being of all of Scotland’s rural communities“.

    For many years the government has argued that EU farm policy is wasteful and bad for the environment.

    It has driven birds out of the countryside, led to soil erosion, and caused the loss of woodlands and wildflower meadows.

    Over many years, attempts to reform the policy have been resisted by farm unions, especially in France.

    But Brexit has given Mr Gove the opportunity to produce a farm policy made in Britain.

    His changes will alarm those farmers who will need to change their whole business model to get subsidies after Brexit.

    It will be welcomed by some efficient modern farmers who have already accepted that being paid by the public for owning land can’t be justified.

    The changes will impact on the countryside and food production.

    It’s too soon to tell exactly how.

    ‘Best possible deal’

    Mr Gove’s speech comes as the APPGA report says post-Brexit trade deals could pose the biggest peacetime threat to the UK’s food security.

    According to the group, the import of cheaper foods that are produced to lower safety and welfare standards could place UK farmers at a disadvantage.

    To compete with these lower prices, domestic farmers could seek to tighten their margins and therefore cut corners with regards to environmental regulations,” the AAPG said.

    If the UK is unable to protect its farmers from being undermined by lower welfare imports, farmers are likely to resist improvements and may even press for UK standards to be lowered

    introducing “Ourfield” – a cooperative co-farming/crop share investment collective grains movement

    OurField is a co-op grains movement that will change the way we grow grains forever, which has started in one field #OurFieldWeston collectively farmed by 40 people, on Cherry farm, in Hertfordshire.


    Do you dare to crop share? #OurField grows
    by Tessa Tricks on 7 December, 2017

    This past spring, I joined 41 others in the project #OurField, co-invest in a crop. Together with a farmer, we decided what to grow, how to grow it and what we would do with the crop. #OurField is a co-operative grains movement seeking to shift our relationship with food and its production, and working to make the food system a fairer place for farmers.

    The financial and emotional support of investment allows farmers to experiment with different growing methods, learn about new opportunities and better understand public perspectives. At the same time the investors share the farmer’s risks and challenges. It’s as much about empathy and sharing the experience, as it is learning about food production.

    Much has happened since I last wrote about the collective. We’ve chosen a crop, disputed how organically to grow it and grappled with taking it to market. Anyone can peer into the window of the collective decision-making process by visiting Loomio, the online platform that helped the geographically and ideologically disparate investors in #OurField, reach consensus.

    In the grand scheme of our decision making, crop choice was relatively straight forward.

    On the first vote we agreed that we would grow spelt with a companion crop which would not be harvested but instead act as a weed suppressant and help to build soil fertility.

    Things got tricky when we had to decide on whether to add nitrogen fertiliser to the crop. In the words of one co-investor ”The first decision helped give the project a bit of an identity, a face (or crop) to a name. [But] the second decision could have a big impact on the end-result of our experiment.” The vote was close with many on the fence wrestling with the sheer number of factors at play – you can find them outlined in detail on the Loomio site and in this blog from the our field team.

    At the last minute the vote swung towards the decision not to use nitrogen fertiliser on the crop.

    I am very pleased that a high degree of respect was maintained during all discussions online, despite differing opinions. I think everyone has found it a learning journey. So many variables come up about every decision, it constantly brings you down to earth, and we are reminded how big the task at hand is when growing 20 acres of cereals.
    Abby Rose, Our Field Co-ordinator

    As one of the investors with the least experience in the field, I found the urgency as well as the complexity of the decisions we had to make, a challenge. The crop doesn’t stop growing just because our lives are busy. You can’t ask the ripe field of spelt for an extension to read up on the pros and cons of different agricultural techniques. I don’t think I was the only one that struggled to keep up at times. The number of people involved in coming to the decision dwindling as the project progressed. Less than half have actively participated in discussions since the first vote, and half of that again have been proactive in driving the discussion. I caught up with a number of the co-op investors to see how they were finding the experience and how it faired alongside their expectations.

    Urban grower and self- identified tech geek, Darren was keen to see how the online platform could be used to make it easier for people to participate in the governance of community supported agriculture. “At times I’ve found it slightly frustrating, wanting to know more, or be more involved, but there is so much to be done, and so much to understand, in both the farming process and running a project like this, transmitting all information is impossible. Considering everything, I think the team have been doing a great job.

    When asked what advice he would give to new investors, Darren declares, “Go for it. Even if you don’t think you have much time to be involved, you will learn loads about how your food is produced and will be helping to support a new, hopefully better way of organising our food production.

    Christine, like Darren has been one of the more vocal contributors. She joined due to her interest in micro-bakeries and has found that the project helped her to learn a huge amount about the supply system. “I am horrified that the value of the crop is so low and by the risks farmers have to take. I now want to know much more about farming subsidies and how that system works and how a ‘crop to mill’ cooperative could work.

    She’s struggled with the shifts in the group’s energy and the time that she’s been able to contribute and warns future potential investors “not to underestimate the amount of work needed to keep the momentum going, it shouldn’t fall to just a few”.

    Many of the co-investors appreciate that consensus-making with a group of forty was always going to be a challenge and they have been prepared to take a back seat, investing their money, but not their time. “I knew from the beginning that this was a project I was intrigued by and keen to support, without it being one that I would necessarily dedicate myself to, beyond paying and trying to stay up to date.” Others struggled with the remote nature of the task, “I would have stayed more engaged if the key decision-making discussions took place face to face. If you hadn’t looked at Loomio for a while, it seemed too daunting to catch up.”

    Unanimous among the group is that much has been learnt and the pressures upon the farmer are many and far ranging. Albeit brief, a stint in his shoes has been eye-opening and rewarding for all.

    John Cherry, our innovative farmer has also learnt a lot, taking risks that he wouldn’t have afforded otherwise and great joy in the process, he says.

    I have particularly enjoyed growing a spelt crop without any inputs – something I like the idea of, but left to my own devices, I couldn’t have resisted spraying most of the weeds out and giving it a dollop of fertiliser. It was a disappointing year for spring crops with the long dry periods and poor growing conditions, so quite possibly the no input regime was the best thing we could have done!

    It is a fairly pain-free way of trying something new, …it’s not your decision so you don’t kick yourself for mistakes, and financially you are sharing the risk with [more than] 40 other people. More importantly it is fun and educational…having to explain what we do to such a clever bunch of people helps us see things through the eyes of others. Farmers don’t get out very often…”

    This month the group will decide where to sell the spelt, which unfortunately wasn’t of a high enough Hagberg number to be milled for bread flour, we are assessing options such as beer, gin, animal feed and biscuit grain. We will also have to decide how to proceed in the year ahead. Will John keep us on for another year, and will any of the collective cash out? Keep an eye on Loomio for final updates and watch this space for a handbook so you can start your own #OurField project anywhere in the world.

    How the Aristocracy Preserved Their Power, by Chris Bryant (source: The Guardian)

    How the aristocracy preserved their power

    After democracy finally shunted aside hereditary lords, they found new means to protect their extravagant riches. For all the modern tales of noble poverty and leaking ancestral homes, their private wealth and influence remain phenomenal
    by Chris Bryant
    7th Sept 2017
    The Guardian
    On 11 January this year, Charlie, the genial 3rd Baron Lyell, died aged 77 in Dundee after a short illness. He had inherited his title and the 10,000-acre Kinnordy estate, in Angus, when he was just four years old. After Eton, Christ Church and the Scots Guards, he spent nearly 47 years in the Lords, serving as a Conservative minister from 1979 to 1989. He never married and his title died with him, but under the byzantine rules drawn up when the majority of hereditary peers were excluded from the Lords in 1999, his seat was contested in a byelection in which 27 hereditary peers stood.

    In the short statement required of them, most of the candidates emphasized their career and credentials, but Hugh Crossley, the 45-year-old 4th Baron Somerleyton, went straight for the ideological jugular: “I think the hereditary peerage worth preserving and its principle creates a sense of innate commitment to the welfare of the nation,” he wrote.

    It is not difficult to understand why Crossley would think that way. He was born in, owns, lives in and runs Somerleyton Hall near Lowestoft, Suffolk, which was bought by his carpet-manufacturer ancestor Sir Francis Crossley in 1863. It is palatial, with elaborate Italianate features, a maze, an aviary, a pergola 300ft long, a marina, a 12-acre garden and a 5,000-acre estate. His own publicity material claims that “a trip to Somerleyton is an experience of historical opulence”. Of course he believes in the hereditary principle and his own entitlement.

    For most of the 20th century, the aristocracy showed itself remarkably indifferent to the welfare of the nation, if attendance in the upper house is any indication. Debates in the Lords were cursory and poorly attended. Peers had a short week – rarely sitting on a Monday or Friday – and short days, starting at 3.45pm or 4.15pm. During the second world war, there were rarely more than two dozen peers in attendance, and in the postwar years the trend was accentuated. The tedious business of daily attendance no longer interested their lordships, but when their personal interest was at stake or their hackles were raised, they would turn up in force. This became evident in 1956 when the Commons carried a private member’s bill to abolish the death penalty and the Lords voted it down by a resounding 238 votes to 95.

    Today, of course, we are accustomed to thinking of Britain’s aristocracy as a quaint historical curiosity. Under Tony Blair’s first government, most hereditary peers were removed from the Lords. Some might think this a fall from grace, but the very fact that 92 hereditaries were to remain (a larger number than had attended most debates over the previous eight decades) was a victory that proved their enduring strength. They had not just delayed but prevented democratic reform of the Lords, and they had entrenched their reactionary presence.
    By the 1990s, politics had become a minority interest for the aristocracy, yet for those who chose to exercise their parliamentary rights, the Lords gave them safe passage into government. John Major appointed a string of hereditary peers to his government. The leader of the House of Lords was Viscount Cranborne, heir to the 6th Marquess of Salisbury, and among the ministers were seven earls, four viscounts and five hereditary barons. Even the administration formed by Theresa May in June 2017 included one earl, one viscount and three hereditary barons.

    Behind the beauty of the British aristocracy’s stately homes and the sometimes romantic and eventful lives they led, lies a darker story: a legacy of theft, violence and unrepentant greed.

    Historically, the British aristocracy’s defining feature was not a noble aspiration to serve the common weal but a desperate desire for self-advancement. They stole land under the pretence of piety in the early middle ages, they seized it by conquest, they expropriated it from the monasteries and they enclosed it for their private use under the pretence of efficiency. They grasped wealth, corruptly carved out their niche at the pinnacle of society and held on to it with a vice-like grip. They endlessly reinforced their own status and enforced deference on others through ostentatiously exorbitant expenditure on palaces, clothing and jewellery. They laid down a strict set of rules for the rest of society, but lived by a different standard.

    Such was their sense of entitlement that they believed – and persuaded others to believe – that a hierarchical society with them placed firmly and unassailably at the top was the natural order of things. Even to suggest otherwise, they implied, was to shake the foundations of morality.

    They were shocked and angered when others sought to deprive or degrade them. They clung tenaciously to their position. They developed ever more specious arguments to defend their privileges. They eulogised themselves and built great temples to their greatness. They jealously guarded access to their hallowed halls. And when democracy finally and rudely shunted them aside, they found new means of preserving their extravagant riches without the tedium of pretending they sought the common interest. Far from dying away, they remain very much alive.

    For all the tales of noble poverty and leaking ancestral homes, the private wealth of Britain’s aristocracy remains phenomenal. According to a 2010 report for Country Life, a third of Britain’s land still belongs to the aristocracy.

    Notwithstanding the extinction of some titles and the sales of land early in the 20th century, the lists of major aristocratic landowners in 1872 and in 2001 remain remarkably similar. Some of the oldest families have survived in the rudest financial health. In one analysis, the aristocratic descendants of the Plantagenet kings were worth £4bn in 2001, owning 700,000 acres, and 42 of them were members of the Lords up to 1999, including the dukes of Northumberland, Bedford, Beaufort and Norfolk.

    The figures for Scotland are even more striking. Nearly half the land is in the hands of 432 private individuals and companies. More than a quarter of all Scottish estates of more than 5,000 acres are held by a list of aristocratic families. In total they hold some 2.24m acres, largely in the Lowlands.
    Many noble landholdings are among the most prestigious and valuable in the world. In addition to his 96,000-acre Reay Forest, the 23,500-acre Abbeystead estate in Lancashire and the 11,500-acre Eaton estate in Cheshire, the Duke of Westminster owns large chunks of Mayfair and Belgravia in London. Earl Cadogan owns parts of Cadogan Square, Sloane Street and the Kings Road, the Marquess of Northampton owns 260 acres in Clerkenwell and Canonbury, and the Baroness Howard de Walden holds most of Harley Street and Marylebone High Street. These holdings attract some of the highest rental values in the world. Little has changed since 1925, when the journalist WB Northrop published a postcard portraying the octopus of “landlordism” with its tentacles spread across London, charging the aristocracy with pauperising the peasantry, paralysing the building trade and sucking the lifeblood of the people.
    One legal provision unique to England and Wales has been of particular importance to these aristocratic landlords: over the centuries they built many millions of houses, mansion blocks and flats, which they sold on a leasehold rather than freehold basis. This meant that purchasers are not buying the property outright, but merely a time-limited interest in it, so even the “owners” of multimillion-pound residences have to pay ground rent to the owner of the freehold, to whom the property reverts when their leases (which in some areas of central London are for no more than 35 years) run out. This is unearned income par excellence.

    Built property aside, land ownership itself is still the source of exorbitant wealth, as agricultural land has increased in value. According to the 2016 Sunday Times Rich List, 30 peers are each worth £100m or more.

    Many aspects of those peers’ lives have barely changed over the centuries. Edward William Fitzalan-Howard, the 18th Duke of Norfolk, is still the premier duke of England, as well as being the Earl Marshal, the Hereditary Marshal of England, a member of the Lords and the holder of nine other titles. His landholdings are obscure, but, as he (under-)stated in his maiden (and only) speech in the Lords: “I farm in West Sussex and own moorland in North Yorkshire”, and he still lives at Arundel Castle. Many of those who have ceded their homes to the National Trust or to a charitable trust of their own devising (with all the concomitant tax advantages) still occupy their ancestral pads, with the added benefit of modern plumbing and wiring. The Dowager Countess of Cawdor still lives in her son’s castle thanks to a tax exemption, the Marquess of Curzon still lives and shoots at Kedleston, Derbyshire, thanks to the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), and the Duke of Marlborough still dines in the saloon at Blenheim, which charges a £24.90-a-head entry fee for visitors.

    The country-house business is in fine fettle. True, the owners of lesser homes face significant challenges and a few peers have decided to downsize. In 2005 Lord Hesketh sold Easton Neston – designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor – in Northamptonshire (but kept Towcester racecourse). The 7th marquess of Bute offered Dumfries House to the National Trust for Scotland, and when they refused it Prince Charles stepped in with a consortium that found £45m to purchase the house and its contents in 2007, and endow it for the future. (It got £7 million from the NHMF.)

    Grand homes such as Chatsworth, Woburn and Longleat attract many thousands of visitors, while the stately homes that survived in private hands up until 1960 are virtually all still in the same private hands today, and many peers continue their annual peregrination from one well-appointed palace to another. The Buccleuchs, for instance, have the rose-coloured sandstone palace of Drumlanrig, in Dumfries and Galloway, as their main home, but they spend winter months at the much-enlarged hunting lodge, Bowhill, in the Borders, and at Boughton in Northamptonshire, an 11,000-acre estate that includes five villages and a stately home that hosts artworks by Van Dyck, El Greco and Gainsborough. When the previous duke made this journey, he would be accompanied by Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder – the only Leonardo in private hands – until it was stolen in 2003.

    Habits and obsessions have barely changed. Of today’s 24 non-royal dukes, half went to Eton. Twenty-first-century aristocrats still belong to the same clubs their ancestors frequented: Brooks’s, Boodle’s, Pratt’s and White’s. Like Nancy Mitford in 1955, they entertain themselves distinguishing between U terms, as used by the upper classes (“napkins”, “false teeth”, “spectacles” and “vegetables”), and Non-U, or middle-class, ones (“serviettes”, “dentures”, “glasses” and “greens”). They play polo and love guns, horses and hounds. The 12th Duke of Devonshire has been the queen’s representative at Ascot, senior steward of the Jockey Club and a prominent buyer and seller of fine art (in 2012 he sold a Raphael for £29.7m). The 10th Duke of Beaufort was master of his eponymous hunt for 60 years and the hunt still meets regularly at Badminton, Gloucestershire. Emma, Duchess of Rutland, hostess of the Belvoir hunt and countless shooting parties, is so committed to making shooting a central attraction at Belvoir that she toured all the best shoots in the land and published her rhapsody to hunting in Shooting: A Season of Discovery.

    How have the aristocracy achieved such a remarkable recovery of their fortunes? First, in common with their ancestors, they have systematically, repeatedly and successfully sought to avoid tax. The 18th-century satirist Charles Churchill wrote words that might have been the common motto of the aristocracy:

    What is’t to us, if taxes rise or fall,
    Thanks to our fortune, we pay none at all.

    Thus, when the 2nd Duke of Westminster deliberately paid his gardeners in a way that obviated any tax liability and was challenged in court, the judge, Lord Tomlin, ruled in 1936 that: “Every man is entitled, if he can, to order his affairs so that the tax attracted under the appropriate act is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.”

    His fellow peers took this principle to heart. William and Edmund Vestey, the meat-packing businessmen who in 1922 bought themselves a peerage and a baronetcy from the prime minister, David Lloyd George, for £20,000, regularly begged to be excused income tax, went into tax exile in Argentina and settled their finances in a trust based in Paris, whose accounts were filed in Uruguay that saved the family £88m in tax. In 1980, Samuel, the 3rd Baron Vestey, and his cousin, Edmund, were found to have paid just £10 in tax on the family business’s £2.3m profit. When they were challenged, Edmund shrugged his shoulders and said: “Let’s face it. Nobody pays more tax than they have to. We’re all tax dodgers, aren’t we?”

    When the trustees of Castle Howard, a stately home in North Yorkshire, sold Joshua Reynolds’s painting Omai for £9.4m to pay for its aristocratic occupant Simon Howard’s divorce in 2001, they argued they should not have to pay capital gains tax on it as it was part of the fabric of the castle, and therefore a “wasting asset”, which was exempt. Extraordinarily, in 2014 the Court of Appeal agreed. This tax loophole was closed in the 2015 budget.

    The primary means of squirrelling away substantial assets so as to preserve them intact and deliver a healthy income for aristocratic descendants without bothering the taxman is the trust. Countless peers with major landholdings and stately homes have put all their assets into discretionary trusts, thereby evading both public scrutiny and inheritance tax. This is the case with the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor estates, whose trustees, chaired by the duke, dole out benefits and payments to members of the family while keeping the assets separate from any individual’s estate. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is entitled to a percentage of the value of the trust fund every 10th anniversary of its creation, but after exemptions for farms and businesses have been taken into consideration, the Revenue is left virtually empty-handed.
    Income is subject to tax, but the patrimonial asset remains intact. In 1995, the 9th Duke of Buccleuch complained that the Sunday Times Rich List had overestimated his worth at £200m, as he owned “no shares in Buccleuch Estates Ltd”. Legally, he was quite correct. Despite being a parent company for a string of valuable joint ventures and property holdings, the company is vested in four Edinburgh shareholder lawyers at a total value of £4. Since today’s directors are the 10th duke, the duchess, their heir, the Earl of Dalkeith, and the duke’s two brothers, John and Damian, it is difficult not to conclude that the Buccleuchs are in reality the beneficial owners.

    Dozens of the old nobility have done the same, meaning that the family trust can quietly provide a house, an income, a lifestyle (and, if required, a divorce settlement) to any number of beneficiaries without fearing inheritance tax or the prying eyes of the public.

    Aristocrats may not like paying tax, but they don’t object to taking handouts from the taxpayer. The landed aristocracy has benefited to an extraordinary degree from payments under the EU’s common agricultural policy. The figures are staggering. At least one in five of the UK’s top 100 single-payment recipients in 2015/16 was aristocratic.

    The richest have carried off the most. The Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Farms estate received £913,517, the Duke of Northumberland’s Percy Farms took £1,010,672, the Duke of Marlborough’s Blenheim Farms got £823,055 and Lord Rothschild’s Waddesdon estates received £708,919. This is all in a single year. Multiplied across the years, the payments from the EU have benefited the British aristocracy to the tune of many millions of pounds.

    Exploiting the system is second nature to the landowning class. The 11th Duke and Duchess of Beaufort, the owners of Badminton House, have benefited handsomely from their property rights. Their company, Swangrove Estates Ltd, whose directors are the duke and duchess; their son, the Marquess of Worcester; and grandson, the Earl of Glamorgan, received £456,810 from the CAP in 2014/15, and in 2009 it was discovered that the duke had exercised his ancestral rights over the riverbed in Swansea by charging the council £281,431 to build a bridge across the river from a shopping centre to Swansea FC’s Liberty Stadium. With the help of the taxpayer – and no little ingenuity of his own – the duke has secured a fortune reckoned to be about £135m.

    The EU is not their only source of financial assistance. Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, 22nd Earl of Shrewsbury, who lives at the 17th-century manor house of Wanfield Hall in Shropshire and is president of the Gun Trade Association, has auctioned off a number of feudal titles, including that of High Steward of Ireland, a practice that has helped keep several other peers in the style to which their families had become accustomed. In April 2015, the earl put the lordship of Whitchurch up for sale; in 1996 Earl Spencer sold the lordship of the manor of Wimbledon for $250,000; and at the time of writing Manorial Auctioneers Ltd claim to be auctioning lordships of the manor, a seignory in Jersey and a feudal barony in Ireland on the instructions of “members of the aristocracy”.

    Attendance in the House of Lords brings in an income, too, although peers are keen to state that it is not a salary. When life peerages were introduced in 1958, the Marquess of Salisbury was quick to point out the three guineas a day they were paid did not represent “any additional remuneration; it is merely repayment for expenditure which has already been incurred by noble lords in the performance of their duties”. So too, today peers may claim £300 a day if the Lords records show that they attended a sitting of the house, or £150 a day if they undertook qualifying work away from Westminster.
    In March 2016, when the Lords sat for 15 days, 16 earls were paid £52,650 between them in tax-free attendance allowance, plus travel costs, and 13 viscounts received £43,050. The Duke of Somerset claimed £3,600, and the Duke of Montrose was paid £2,750 plus £1,570 in travel costs: £76 for the use of his car, £258 for train tickets, £1,087 for air tickets and £149 for taxis and parking costs. The duke spoke in debate or in grand committee just twice in the whole parliamentary session, and not at all that March.

    The secret to the survival of the old aristocracy through the centuries was the mystique of grandeur they cultivated. They dressed, decorated and built to impress, so that nobody dared question their right to rule. The secret of their modern existence is their sheer invisibility. As the Daily Mail commented when Tatler magazine gathered a table of 10 dukes together in 2009: “Once, the holders of these titles would have been the A-list celebrities of their time. Today, most people would be pushed to name a single one of them.”

    That is no accident. British laws on land tenure, inheritance tax, corporate governance and discretionary trusts still make it easy to hide wealth from public view. Land is subsidised, and taxed more lightly than residential property. Unearned income bears less of a burden than earned income. All this quietly underpins the continued power of the aristocracy, wrapped in the old aura of entitlement, counting its blessings and hoping that nobody notices.

    Curiously enough, Nancy Mitford, that sceptical daughter of the preposterously rightwing 2nd Baron Redesdale, was probably right: “It may well be that he who, for a thousand years has weathered so many a storm, religious, dynastic and political, is taking cover in order to weather yet one more.”

    Entitled: “A Critical History of the British Aristocracy”, by Chris Bryant is published today by Doubleday, priced £25. To order a copy for £21.25, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99