HL Deb 23 November 1993 vol 550 cc127-30

2.37 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether Norwegian farmed salmon are being offered for sale in the United Kingdom at prices less than the cost of production and transport; and if so, what action they are taking.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)

My Lords, allegations of dumping of farmed salmon on the European market by Norwegian importers are a matter for the European salmon farming industry to take up with the European Commission. The Scottish industry made such allegations in 1991 and the Commission has recently asked the industry to update the information provided on that occasion. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has encouraged the industry to provide this information to the Commission as soon as possible so that the Commission is in a position to proceed with an investigation.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for that reply. While the Commission's very recent action on the minimum price should hold the position temporarily, will the British Government strive to obtain a long-term solution without which many salmon farms in this country face closure? Will the reminder be added that it behoves Norway, as an applicant for membership, to adopt a responsible attitude?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, certainly, on the latter point. The Government welcome the decision taken on 20th November by the European Commission to introduce minimum import prices. That is to put a temporary floor on the market and does not get in the way of the longer-term investigation of dumping. The Scottish Office has recently been encouraging the industry to set about the voluntary development of producer organisations. I trust that that will assist in reducing the market imbalances that undoubtedly exist.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Norway produced 180,000 tonnes of salmon this past year, which was 40,000 tonnes more than predicted? Is the Minister further aware that that figure will rise to 220,000 tonnes next year? Is he also aware that the Norwegians have been dumping 5,000 tonnes of salmon per week on the European market and that that is having a shattering effect on the Scottish fish farming industry? Is it not a fact that Ireland, which is suffering just as much as Scotland, applied to the Commission for emergency action? I gather that Her Majesty's Government did not support that application. Can the Minister say why not?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, prima facie there certainly appears to be an indication that the Norwegians are dumping salmon on the market. But it is for that reason that the Government are urging the Scottish industry to provide evidence to support that allegation. In answer to the second part of the noble Lord's question, he is of course correct that Ireland made an Article 24 application to the Commission seeking an investigation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland wrote to the Commission supporting the investigation which is now under way.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that last May Scottish civil servants went to Norway and spent three days discussing salmon fishing and farming with the Norwegians, particularly with the Norwegian fishing interests. Can the Minister tell the House whether, following up that long three-day discussion, we are any closer to a European salmon market with Norway and an understanding which will get rid of the suspicion that there is a certain amount of dumping by the Norwegians?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, as I indicated, the temporary solution is the introduction of minimum import prices. That is a position which will obtain until the end of January next year. What is important is to secure clear, unequivocal evidence of dumping. I trust that that evidence will now be provided to the European Commission. Some action was taken in 1991. The noble Lord is correct in that we want to pursue the matter to ensure that there is a fair and proper market within Europe which does not suffer the taint of dumping.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, can my noble and learned friend say why the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice has not been invoked to seek to obtain a temporary restraining order pending full and further investigation?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I am indicating that we are at the stage when it is necessary for the European Commission to secure evidence of the dumping which has been alleged not only by Scottish salmon fish farmers but also by the Irish. Once that evidence is available and in place a clear and complete picture will be available. After that it will be for the Commission to decide what further action is appropriate.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister say what other evidence is needed?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, the situation at the moment is that there is a clear indication of a considerable volume of fish coming to the market from Norway. There is also a clear indication that there has been a significant increase in production in Scotland and Ireland as well. It is more difficult to determine precisely, on the basis of the evidence available at present, just what is the extent of the dumping. However, as I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Mason, prima facie there appears to be such evidence.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am one of those people who go round the markets and see salmon for sale "off the block", as it is called, and that I have not seen any signs of salmon being labelled "Norwegian"? Are we being sold Norwegian salmon as Scottish salmon? I have never yet seen a label on a fish stall depicting the salmon to be Norwegian. It is all depicted as Scottish.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I hope that the source is clearly identified. That is one of the proper concerns of the Scottish industry because its reputation for quality is that much greater. That is evidenced by the fact that in both Germany and France, where Scottish-farmed salmon is on the market, it tends to attract a premium.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord said—did he not?—that it is up to the Commission to take action. Are we to take it from that that it is not possible for the Member of the Council of Ministers representing the United Kingdom to take any action at all in the meantime?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, if the noble Lord had listened to me he would have appreciated that action has been taken by a member state—namely, Ireland—in making its application under Article 24 of the appropriate regulations. What I indicated in answer to an earlier question was that by the time my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland wrote to the Commission that investigation by the Commission was already underway. That would seem to be appropriate.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that where national or international anti-dumping legislation is concerned it is always difficult and takes time for non-governmental organisations, such as trade associations, and for individuals (whether they be fish farmers or traders in any other business) to obtain the necessary facts to allege absolutely clearly what they know to be happening?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I appreciate that there are difficulties. That is one of the reasons why the Government have been encouraging fish farmers in Scotland to band together in producer organisations. One of the desirable consequences of that is that they should then be in a much better position to provide the necessary information and evidence to the Commission so that it can take appropriate action where there is such evidence of dumping.

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