HC Deb 10 February 2004 vol 417 cc1255-6
5. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

When he last met Scottish Executive Ministers to discuss the Scottish salmon farming industry. [152891]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire)

My right hon. Friend and I regularly meet Scottish Executive ministers to discuss matters of common interest. He and I keep in close touch with developments affecting the Scottish salmon farming industry.

Mr. Carmichael

May I remind the Minister that salmon farming was worth £110 million to the Shetland economy last year? It was estimated by the Shetland Salmon Farmers Association yesterday that, if the anticipated 50 per cent. drop takes place next year, some 410 jobs in Shetland will be under direct threat as a result. I remind the Minister that the Secretary of State for Scotland retains an executive power under the Crown Estate Act 1961 to direct the Crown Estate Commissioners. I urge her to consider exercising that power to allow a rent holiday for salmon farmers in Shetland and other affected communities. The rents paid to the Crown Estate Commissioners are not crucial in themselves, but could help with cash-flow difficulties.

Mrs. McGuire

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a great interest in developments because of his constituency interests—Shetland has the highest concentration of salmon farms anywhere in Scotland. Last year, the Crown Estate introduced a rate cut of some 10 per cent. for salmon farming. However, I will relay the hon. Gentleman's comments to the Crown Estate through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I ask the hon. Gentleman to welcome the fact that the Government have submitted an application to the European Commission for temporary measures to safeguard the salmon farming industry against the importing of salmon from non-EU countries. I hope that that will prove to be one of the ways in which we can build up protection around a high-quality salmon farming industry.

Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles) (Lab)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that this is, I think, the first time the Government have ever asked for safeguard measures for any product or industry? Is that not a very positive sign of the importance that the Government attach to the salmon farming industry in Scotland?

Mrs. McGuire

My hon. Friend clearly identifies the fact that this is an unusual measure for any Government to take. The Department of Trade and Industry, working closely with the Scottish Executive, was keen to take it, to ensure that we protect our salmon farming industry. I know that there is concern in my hon. Friend's constituency about dumping from non-EU countries undermining the quality of the product in Scotland.