Salmon Farmers Grilled
On Wednesday, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee took evidence from Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, and his officials on the Scottish Government’s proposed approach to reform in the complex area of crofting legislation, on which it held an extensive consultation last year. Members heard that, in the short term, the Government proposes to introduce a bill to make practical changes for which there is widespread support while, in the longer term, it will take a more fundamental look at some of the more challenging issues that crofting faces.
The committee also continued its inquiry into salmon farming and heard from representatives of such industry stalwarts as Marine Harvest, Grieg Seafood and the Scottish Salmon Company. Richard Lyle wanted to know why, despite Scottish salmon production being a success story and the ambitious plans that exist for expansion, output has flatlined recently. Members were told that that was because of efforts to deal with raised fish mortality rates—which companies have “thrown the kitchen sink at”—and high numbers of sea lice on some farms, and that the industry is now in a “much better place”.
One issue that farms are trying to address with a view to future expansion—in exports to the US, in particular—is how to stop seals getting at their salmon without having to shoot them. The committee heard about the use of different kinds of netting and acoustic deterrent devices, but was also told: “Context is important. In 2017, the capture fisheries sector recorded that 610 seals were killed, compared with the 48 that were killed by the aquaculture industry. Although the industry battles and works hard to reduce its levels to zero, it is important not to beat up the farmed industry too much when it is also an issue for other sectors.”
A Matter of Consent
What’s in a word? Quite a lot, it seems, when it comes to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. In its two meetings last week, the Finance and Constitution Committee explored in depth the meaning of “consent” and in particular the idea of a “consent decision”. In response to Willie Coffey, Scottish Government minister Michael Russell said that it “means that language does not mean what it should mean.”
The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, however, argued: “A consent decision is not the same as consent. A consent decision is a decision in relation to consent, which can be yes, no or a specific refusal.”
Patrick Harvie gave an everyday example to illustrate his point that “Asking for consent is a pretty clear signal that you need consent” and later expanded that to make a point about the meaning of the word “normally”. Chloe Smith, the UK Government’s Minister for the Constitution, responded by extending the analogy further.
Read the Official Reports of both meetings to decide for yourself whether clarity was achieved.
Making a Connection
Thursday in the chamber saw a debate on the Scottish Government’s R100 programme, in which Fergus Ewing, committed the Government to 100 per cent coverage of superfast broadband by the end of 2021, with an initial investment of £600 million – the largest investment in any single project in the UK. For those who understand such things, the target is 30 Mbps, as opposed to the UK Government’s target of 10 Mbps.
Colin Smyth emphasised the problems that a lack of access to superfast broadband was causing to hoteliers, business people, farmers and families in South Scotland, pointing out that deprived communities in urban areas were also missing out. Meanwhile, Gillian Martin focused on the potential transformation in Aberdeenshire, where the proportion of homes with exchange-only lines is twice the national average.
Whatever the outcome, the broadband connectivity of the future will be an improvement on the Roman “wig-wag” system that, as Stewart Stevenson reminded the chamber, carried a signal from Londinium to Roma and back in the course of a single day, replacing “the three months that it would have taken, by sea and by cleft stick”.