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From Domesday to digital cameras

As you know better than I, when William the Conqueror installed himself in England’s green and pleasant land he sent men into every shire to register everything he owned in the Domesday Book, from the merest fishpond to the greatest estate. In exchange for a man’s fealty, he gave him certain rights to specific property which could be passed on via a legal binder or will. Painful as the defeated Anglo-Saxons found all this, the registration of property and the legal covenant binding king and tenant were all advances in property rights. In contrast,

"In Egypt, the person who wants to acquire and legally register a lot on state-owned desert land must wind his way through at least 77 bureaucratic procedures at 31 public and private agencies. This can take anywhere from 5 to 14 years. To build a legal dwelling on former agricultural land would require 6 to 11 years of bureaucratic wrangling (De Soto)."

This, it seems to me, is an example of a government whose corruption denies citizens both property rights and the opportunities to make a living.

The right to property in Britain did not always mean the right to justice or equity. The enclosing of common lands that had once belonged to all the local people was an injustice. The law of primogeniture, which kept land and titles intact for the eldest son, did little for second sons and women, though it may have preserved green land for our generation.

Achieving justice is always a struggle, but the relationship between property rights and freedom had acquired a very definite meaning to an 18th century citizen in Britain. William Pitt the Elder declared to Parliament,

"The poorest man in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter, but the King of England cannot enter. All of his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined cottage."

Our right to be free in our homes from the invasive attentions of government is important for reasons that Pitt did not have to belabour. So I was dismayed to hear from Howard at Beautiful Britain that:

"The latest ‘brain wave’ is for council officers to visit people’s homes, armed with a digital camera, to record the interior of the property. If you have a nice view or you’ve improved the property (using your own savings of course) then the proposal is that you will incur higher council tax charges."

The idea that the government has the right to invade your property for the greater good of assigning you higher taxes is exactly the sort of thinking that ought to be rejected. It is a blow against freedom that was achieved at considerable personal cost over the centuries. If successful it will be followed by another blow and then another.

Howard concludes, “'An Englishman’s home is his castle’ and officers will find that out to their cost.”

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