HL Deb 02 July 1991 vol 530 cc893-6

Lord Mackie of Benshie asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware of the difficulties of the Scottish salmon farming industry and what plans they have to assist this industry.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, the Government are fully aware of the industry's current difficulties and we are working closely with it to secure the future of salmon farming in the United Kingdom. This is not an area where the Government can act unilaterally; we have to work through the European Community. We have already raised the matter with the Commission and we hope to have a further meeting with it shortly.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply although it does not appear to be totally satisfactory in view of the assurances that have been given in various parts of the country. What attitude will the Minister adopt at the meeting on 8th July, which I understand is a council meeting? Will he vigorously press for a tariff to be levied under the anti-dumping arrangements, which the EC committee has already confirmed, to help this hard pressed industry? We must bear in mind the fact that because of Norwegian dumping the United States has already imposed a tariff of 26 per cent. whereas the EC has proposed a tariff of 11 per cent.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct to say that there is a meeting of the fisheries council on 8th July; though this matter comes under the heading not of fisheries but of competition. However, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will talk to the responsible commissioner on that day in Strasbourg and will make known to the Commission the strong views held by the Government and the industry. The future of any dumping procedure is for the industry to tackle. We are urging the industry to build up evidence that can be produced for the Commission.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is not the Minister aware that the problem that is confronting the Scottish salmon farming industry at the moment is the massive dumping of Norwegian salmon? Last year the Norwegians produced 160,000 tonnes of salmon of which 60 per cent. was exported to the European Community. It is that factor that is causing the closure of some of the fish farms in Scotland. Is the Minister also aware that an anti-dumping levy was proposed in order to safeguard the Scottish salmon farming industry, but that the Commission turned it down? What was the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards that levy and what have they done further to safeguard this industry?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I understand that the Commission proposed that levy but was not supported in the Council of Ministers by other member states. Our position has always been plain. Where dumping is proven, we would like the Commission to make proposals for change. However, we must seek the agreement of other member states on this issue. We shall continue to help the industry and ask the industry to produce evidence. At the end of the previous dumping negotiations, the Norwegians promised to bring forward a freezing down programme. That was successful during the course of 1990 but half-way through 1991 that arrangement seems to be breaking down.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, do the Government need to obtain any more information from the industry? Last August the Commission decided that there was undoubted dumping by Norwegian salmon fisheries. It then produced the idea of an 11.4 per cent. levy. Rather weakly, it did not seem to push that proposal hard enough with the other countries and therefore about 6,000 very valuable jobs in deeply rural Scotland are at risk. Does the noble Lord agree that the Government should do rather more and push the Commission in order to have a proper levy established?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, we are helping the industry. We are pushing the Commission and I have met the Norwegian ambassador to impress on him the dire state of the Scottish salmon farming industry. Beyond that, at this stage there is not very much more that we can do.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the dumping of Norwegian salmon affects not only the salmon farming industry but also the livelihood of coastal netsmen and some people around the rivers and along our coasts? Can the Minister assure us that the salmon that is so dumped upon us is produced to the same standards of healthfulness and quality as is the salmon produced around our coasts by our own farms, and our wild fish?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I have not received any representations from coastal netsmen so I presume that they are not suffering in the same way. The quality of the fish coming from a salmon farm compared with wild fish is a matter of taste, which is for the individual to decide.

Lord Jeffreys

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the great anxiety among game fishers and salmon farmers about the over-fishing of sand eels in the North Sea? If so, what representations are being made about it to the EC?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am aware of the position on sand eels. My noble friend will know that we have banned fishing for sand eels in Shetland. A lot of research is being carried out on the problems of salmon, which includes a study of sand eels.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, many distinguished veterinarians regard the practice of salmon farming as inherently cruel. Do the Government have a view on that particular difficulty?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, salmon farming is a young industry. It has to develop and work out what is best for the long-term viability of the industry. Over the course of the past few years new vaccines have been and continue to be introduced so as to increase the welfare of the salmon, and there is now lower stocking density in the nets.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, do I gather from the tone of my noble friend's reply that when the Government have the additional information they will consider working actively in the interests of Scottish salmon and point out that many other Community countries, whose views may well weigh against us, do not have a salmon problem and therefore are not in the picture?

Lord Strathclyde

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the North Atlantic salmon is one of God's wildest creatures? Does he consider that to keep it in a cage is an inhumane practice at a time when most of the emphasis seems to be on getting animals out of cages?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am no great expert on the welfare of farmed salmon. I understand that in the early years the wild salmon will also shoal as they do in the nets in a farm.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in 1989 it was apparent that the Norwegian Government had accepted the fact that there was dumping? Do the Government consider it appropriate that this time they should abide by the agreements that they make with the Commission so that this situation will not arise again?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. I understand that the Norwegian industry has reached agreement for a short-term loan facility of about £145 million to freeze up to 40,000 tonnes of fish this year. That will be an extension of the 1989 scheme that worked so successfully during the course of 1990. We must see whether or not it will have entirely the same effect.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that subsidisation of the Norwegian industry is massive compared with the help that was received on the start-up of ours? Can he tell the House what additional information he requires, since the Commission accepted that there was dumping as late as August 1990?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the industry will have to bring forward firm evidence that there has been dumping, particularly in France and Germany. It is well aware of that and is working towards finding it.