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Retired priest and tax campaigner Paul Nicolson speaks up for a land tax

27 October 2017


Chair: Debbie Abrahams speaks at the Labour Party conference, in Liverpool, in 2016

Chair: Debbie Abrahams speaks at the Labour Party conference, in Liverpool, in 2016

A RETIRED priest who has refused to pay his council tax in an act of civil disobedience (News, 21 July) has lent his voice to calls for the Government to implement a land tax.

The Revd Paul Nicolson is the founder of Taxpayers Against Poverty, which held a “land seminar” in Westminster last week. This was co-hosted by two All-Party Parliamentary Groups (Health in All Policies, and Poverty), and chaired by the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Debbie Abrahams.

A series of essays was presented, Debt Death and Deadweight: The acts of Parliament, produced by the Land Research Trust, and edited by Ian Kirkwood, of the Scottish Land Revenue Group.

In his essay in the collection, Mr Nicolson writes: “Rent controls on all tenancies and a land value tax on all unused land and empty housing are needed immediately.” Unaffordable housing is rooted in “the failure of the state to administer the nation’s land bank on behalf of the welfare of everyone”, he argued, describing how increases in property prices brought about by government investment in infrastructure accrue to property owners, who can then place the profits in tax havens.

PARefuser: the Revd Paul Nicolson“There has been little or no moral leadership from Church or state about the possession and use of land,” he continues. “To the Christian faith, land is a gift of a generous and loving God. To both, it exists to provide shelter, food, fuel, and clothes for all. The Church Commissioners, I am sad to note, administer their land portfolio as a commercial enterprise with little regard to the impact on the poorest British tenants or for the Christian preferential option for the poor.”

Advocates of land tax — a levy on the value of land, which disregards the value of buildings or other improvements — argue that it is progressive, efficient (it encourages landowners to use the land productively), and fair (given that the value rises as a result of improvements to local infrastructure paid for by the taxpayer). They include Adam Smith and Henry George, whose book Progress and Poverty (1879) was second only to the Bible in sales during the 1890s.

In the early 20th century, land tax was championed by David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. In a comment on a 2010 review of the tax system by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Dr Martin Weale, until recently a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, described land tax as “the dog they have not allowed to bark”.

In Debt Death and Deadweight, the author Fred Harrison describes the existing tax system as “the ultimate source of most of the socially significant crises that afflict Britain today”. He estimates that the “deadweight loss” to the UK — wealth lost as a result of taxes that have a negative impact on investment and productivity — stood at £550 billion a year.

Last month, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced the appointment of a Land Commission that would consider “the potential for some form of land-value-based tax”. The Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto included a pledge to “initiate a review into reforming council tax and business rates and consider new options such as a land value tax, to ensure local government has sustainable funding for the long term.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is in favour of piloting a land value tax.

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