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Land Reform proposals in Norway and Scotland- BBC debate

by on 2016/02/12

The Norwegian Government is proposing to liberalise the land market, effectively reforming the concession law regulating who may buy farms and at what price, the ancient Alloidal Act giving priority to family members, and the Agriculture Act that assures best use for society and farmers – amounting in effect to a Land Reform. This legal framework has meant much lower prices for farms, the retention of many more rural dwellers, and healthier rural communities, as well as much greater political consensus, in Norway than in Scotland or other comparable countries.

 

Norway’s Land Laws are much admired in Scotland, which is also going through intensive debates on a Land Reform Bill, currently going through its stages in the Scottish Parliament. The distribution of land ownership in Scotland is highly unequal – half of Scottish land is owned by about 600 landowners. The Scottish reforms aim to deepen the earlier 2003 reforms, and introduce new laws and regulations that will spread the ownership of land much more widely than it is at present.

 

To assist with these debates, the BBC Scotland Radio ‘Out of Doors’ team spent a week in Norway at the end of 2015, trying to understand how Norway’s land and concession laws affected farming and rural life in Norway through interviews with farmers, researchers, and Farmers Union leaders in different parts of Norway, including Nord-Trøndelag, Rogaland, Oslo and Ås. The 1.5 hours programme can be heard at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06yn0kp

 

Political Economist and Research Professor at NIBIO, John Bryden, who has researched land reform and related issues in Scotland and Norway as well as acting as a policy advisor on the topic, was one of the interviewees on the programme.

 

Although aimed at Scottish audiences, the programme also informs Norwegians about the possible impacts of the proposed Norwegian land reforms. What is very interesting is that these two contemporary land reform proposals are going in completely opposite directions, and that both have massive implications for the future of land ownership, farm structures, farming, forestry and land use, as well as rural population and districts settlement patterns. These are surely matters of great interest to NIBIO researchers, as they are to the politicians and people in both countries.

 

Scotland has seen a number of attempts to tackle the problems arising from mal-distribution of land, and a very open and poorly regulated land market, in recent times. The Highlands and Islands Development Board made some limited proposals in the 1970s that were accepted by the then labour government, but thrown out by Mrs Thatcher before they could be implemented. Later, when a labour government was elected in 1997 and proposed a process of Devolution in Scotland, a Land Reform Policy Group headed by a UK Minister was established, and reported in 1999. The proposals of this group led to the first Scottish land reform laws, implemented by the new Scottish government, in 2003. The current Bill also follow the work of a review group, and considerable public consultation.

 

The Scottish reforms contrast markedly with the present Government proposals in Norway, which involve deregulation of land ownership that would, if agreed in the Storting, lead to increased land prices, larger land holdings, and greater absentee and speculative ownership, as noted by the Norwegians interviewed in the BBC programme.

 

In the last 4 years John has worked with colleagues at NIBIO (Karen Refsgaard and Agnar Hegernes) and elsewhere in Norway and Scotland on a comparative study of economic, social and political development of Scotland and Norway since 1800 (for details see http://www.euppublishing.com/book/9780748696208) . A central point in this comparison is that the much more even distribution of land ownership in Norway by 1814 helps us to explain why Norway is the decentralised social democracy it is today. Therefore, while the BBC programme was aimed at a Scottish audience, it is also highly relevant to Norwegians.

 

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