– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 2nd December 2004.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 9:30 am, 2nd December 2004

The first item of business today is a debate on motion S2M-2096, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on a sustainable aquaculture industry, and three amendments to the motion.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

It is something over a year since the previous debate in this chamber on Scottish aquaculture. Since then, much has happened, and this is a good moment at which to pause, reflect and look ahead.

Everyone in the chamber recognises the importance of shellfish farming and cultivation to Scotland, which are worth about £500 million a year to the Scottish economy and employ up to 10,000 people in part-time and full-time jobs on the farms and in processing and other support services such as transport and feed supply. The industry is particularly vital to some of our more remote rural areas, especially in the Western Isles and the northern isles and on the western and northern coasts, where communities are sustained by the income generated by aquaculture. Aquaculture is, therefore, not only a fisheries matter but one that lies at the heart of our rural development aspirations.

Despite the difficult conditions under which the industry has been labouring over the past 15 months, progress is being made on a number of fronts. In three areas in particular, the Executive, the industry and other key stakeholders have been working together to make that progress: the pursuit of trade defence measures; the efforts to improve future competitiveness; and the implementation of the strategic framework for Scottish aquaculture.

Any observer of the aquaculture industry, particularly the salmon sector, will be aware of the pressure that the industry has been under in recent times. One of those pressures has come from the difficulty in attracting investment from banks. One of the reasons why banks are reluctant to invest in the industry is because of the continuing low prices, which means that there is a lack of potential to make a profit. That, in turn, is due in large part to the increasing over-supply to the European market.

The European Commission directorate-general trade is convinced of the case that we have made of there being unfair trade and is committed to aiding our industry to counter that threat. We have gone down the trade defence route to seek safeguards precisely because of that and have worked closely with our colleagues in the United Kingdom Government and with the industry in pursuing that case. Following representations last year from many of the small and medium-sized enterprises operating in Scotland, those efforts have carried us forward. As I said, we were persuaded to act because of the dire market conditions that resulted in sustained losses for many companies over a period of months.

We recognise the fact that the European market is out of balance for reasons relating to importation and significant and continuing over-supply from Norway and other salmon-producing countries. We have therefore had no option other than to raise our concerns with the UK Government and, in turn—in partnership with the UK Government—with the Commission.

It has taken time to produce results in that regard and many obstacles have had to be overcome. We were delighted in August this year when provisional safeguard measures were secured. However, as those measures near the end of their terms—they will fall in a few days time—it has become clear that they have not done enough to lift market prices and give the industry the boost that it needs. There has also been some resistance to long-term safeguard measures from a number of member states In spite of that, negotiations for a lasting safeguard solution continue. I am pleased to be able to report that there is a good prospect of our being able to achieve a workable solution, based on definitive proposals, which the Commission is drawing up, to safeguard and protect the Scottish industry from cheap imports. That will include a Commission investigation of Norwegian production costs, in which some of my department's officials will be involved. The measures will lead to a European agreement to put in place a minimum import price that will be sufficient to sustain the Scottish industry and will last for four years.

It is right that we have taken those measures and that we recognise the significance of the industry to the Scottish economy. I am delighted with the support that we have received from UK ministers, who also recognise the significance of the industry to the Scottish economy. Clearly, Norway and other producers, such as Ireland, also regard farmed salmon as being important to their economies. It is right that we do the same and take serious measures to find solutions to the problems that the industry faces.

We have taken those steps in response to the economic pressure that the industry has been under but also because of a recognition that, given a level playing field and the opportunity to compete fairly, Scottish farmed salmon can compete with salmon that is farmed anywhere else in the world. By putting in place the measures that I have discussed, we will achieve a sustainable aquaculture industry in Scotland.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Could the minister clarify what timescale he expects for the implementation of the measures that he discussed? With every week that goes by, many businesses bleed yet more cash. They can survive the current market conditions for only a finite amount of time.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

That is a reasonable question. The temporary, provisional, safeguard provisions are likely to fall on 5 December. We anticipate that proposals resulting from the investigation into costs in Norway will come back to the Commission by 20 January. Therefore, we expect measures to be in place by around February 2005. That will be early enough to make a significant difference to many producers in Scotland.

Of course, our energies have not been devoted only to trade defence and safeguard measures, important though we recognise those to be. We have also begun taking steps to improve the competitiveness of all parts of the aquaculture industry, working with large and small businesses.

On streamlining regulation, we have made a clear commitment to review the burden of regulation on aquaculture. We have done that in partnership with the industry, which regards that as a priority. We need transparent procedures and we need consents to be processed speedily and at minimal cost. We also need to be smart about how new regulatory requirements are implemented and enforced.

Let me emphasise that none of that need reduce the effectiveness of regulation. Many of the regulations are in place for good reasons, such as the protection of the environment, and we will continue to maintain that regulatory framework. In the past few days, however, we have appointed new officials to work with the industry specifically on ways in which the regulatory regime can be reduced and streamlined.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does the industry receive anything in exchange for the £1.7 million that it has paid to the Crown Estate commission in relation to that body's 2003 report? Is it not time that that money was returned to the industry, which receives little or no benefit from it at the moment?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

We need to put the matter into perspective. The industry will confirm that Crown Estate rentals account for about 1 per cent of its costs. Therefore, there is a requirement for a degree of proportionality.

The most important matter in relation to changing the regulatory framework with regard to the Crown Estate is the improvement of the planning process and the need to bring aquaculture within the local authority planning process. That work is on-going. The required documents concerning the strategic planning policy and the planning guidelines are out to consultation and we expect them to come into force around this time next year. When that happens, we believe that it will greatly improve the regulatory framework within which the aquaculture industry operates.

We are also looking at the scope for improving the siting of fish farms. There are a lot of very small farms scattered around the coast and although that is not a bad thing in itself, we can make the industry operate more efficiently by bringing sites together and by relocating them where that is appropriate, thereby improving the position with regard to treatment of sea lice, for example. A number of initiatives are seeking to achieve that efficiency. There are also a number of examples of partnership working in the industry where fish farmers have rationalised their procedures and come together to reduce the burden on them all.

Quite a lot is happening already and we intend that more should be done. We believe that the strategic framework for Scottish aquaculture is the right framework within which that work can proceed. In order to continue with that work, we have put in place a working group that brings together many of the key stakeholders in the industry and which is working to put in place some of the things that we have identified as important for achieving our objectives.

Among the achievements of the working group in carrying forward the strategic framework are the creation of the new Scottish aquaculture research forum; the advancement of local authority planning controls; the development of exports action plans; and the preparation of work in the fields of training and skills. The development of the first ever farmed fish welfare code will be welcomed by many and will shortly be put out to consultation.

It is clear that some of those action points are moving forward faster than others. We make no apology for that because we are working to bring the industry with us and are seeking to achieve a consensus in the sector so that people agree on where they want to go. We can work together to achieve that. I believe that the story so far is very positive.

We have always to be alert to threats and challenges to the industry. Members will be aware that a fortnight ago, there was a suspicion that there might be infectious salmon anaemia on a farm in the Western Isles. I hope that members are also aware of the measures that we have taken to ensure that that situation was dealt with quickly and efficiently in a way that prevented the spread of the problem. Controls have been placed on the farm in question to restrict the movement of stock. The company has acted very quickly to address the problem and we are well prepared for any further developments. I hope that the measures taken and the controls applied will succeed in containing any infection should an outbreak of the disease be confirmed. We will maintain the utmost vigilance through the next few weeks. That is a good example of how the industry has responded to the challenge and recognised the need to be seen to act—and to act effectively—in partnership with the Executive.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

On the subject of the health of the product, is the minister aware of the international proposals that are being circulated by the Codex committee on food additives and contaminants that would raise the current acceptable levels of radionuclides to such a degree that most shellfish from the Solway firth would be unsaleable? Given that there is a fledgling aquaculture industry in the Solway firth, will the minister defend the Food Standards Agency's position that those proposals are based on false science? Will he assure the chamber that he will defend robustly the FSA's position on those tolerance levels?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I agree with the principle that any decision on such matters should be based on sound science. Of course, we look to the Food Standards Agency as our authority and adviser on that matter. We have a clear commitment to preserving the health of Scottish aquaculture products and to getting the message across to the marketplace that this is a safe, healthy and high-quality form of food. We are working with the industry and succeeding in projecting that message into markets both in continental Europe and in these islands. We will continue to work on that in the period ahead.

It is critical to the future success and sustainability of the industry that there is an end to the kind of scare stories that we heard some time ago. Frankly, those scare stories appeared to be designed to undermine the sustainability of the Scottish aquaculture sector; we want no more of that. We want to work with the industry to project the message that it produces healthy and nutritious food and we want to work with the communities that depend on the jobs within that industry.

We continue to view the sustainable development of Scottish aquaculture as an achievable and desirable end.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

A lot of positive things are being said today but, as George Lyon mentioned earlier, there are people out there who are under real pressure. Will the minister just go that extra half mile and approach the Scottish banks to make sure that they clearly understand the changed proposition that is aquaculture in Scotland?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I deliberately began my remarks on trade defence with a reference to the banks and investment. Jim Mather's point is pertinent; it is critical that the banks understand the position of the industry and the measures that Government is taking to improve that position. I hope that the message goes out from the chamber today that Parliament fully supports the measures that we are taking to secure a sustainable future for Scottish aquaculture.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the Scottish Executive commitment, as set out in A Partnership for a Better Scotland, to support a sustainable aquaculture industry, through the implementation of the Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture and other measures, including trade defence and a review of the regulatory procedures and associated costs and of the scope for improved access to veterinary medicines, all of which are designed to protect and improve employment and investment opportunities in many parts of the Highlands and Islands, including many of our most remote rural and island communities.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 9:46 am, 2nd December 2004

The minister's first update on the strategic framework for aquaculture and other measures is welcomed by the Scottish National Party. However, we consider that setting out a timetable for the adoption and application of a framework for spatial planning of marine and coastal resources, including fish farming, is now a top priority. That would allow the aquaculture framework to fit into the planned strategic environmental assessment of Scotland's coastlines that was announced by the Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace on 23 November 2004. If we are to avoid the unwanted accusations of bad neighbourly behaviour being levelled by some of those who oppose fish farming, and if we are to square the interests of conservation, fishers, the military and all other users of our inshore waters, it makes sense to speed up the delivery of spatial planning processes as the key to sustainability.

Let us take the aquaculture framework plans as our example. In 2002, Shetland Islands Council won an award for its new regime for the aquaculture industry. It has created a new, planning-led marine development control regime using new technology to aid policy and implementation and successfully combines land and sea-based map data. This country requires such building blocks within a spatial plan.

Two years previously, the judges of the Scottish awards for quality planning commended the Loch Eriboll plan that was prepared by a team from Highland Council. What use are such plans unless the inhibitors to sustainable development are removed? Loch Eriboll has a number of oyster and mussel operations, and although a number of leases have been granted they have not been taken up. National planning guidelines insist that a potential superquarry could exploit the shores of the loch. Every would-be shellfish lessee is warned of the possibility of such a superquarry and its impact. In effect, development of those ultra-clean waters is blighted by national decree, no matter how unlikely the development of the superquarry. A coastal strategy must remove such threats.

Existing shellfish producers in the area complain of other inhibitors to development. The Scottish Executive could take urgent action to ease the costs of transporting shellfish to markets from remote Highland mainland and island producers because next-day delivery is a must. In his autumn statement today, the chancellor is going to be talking about the cost of fuel, which is central to the success of much of the industry. What input does the minister have on that subject? Ministers could intervene with the Royal Mail to ensure that parcel force collects in small communities such as Tongue and Durness. Ministers could ensure that ScotRail reinstates the red star parcel service on the far north, Kyle and Oban railway lines so that small packets of shellfish could be carried that way. Small producers are the backbone of a sustainable industry and they are the most disadvantaged when it comes to finding economic alternatives. If the Scottish Executive's support for our sustainable, diverse and competitive aquaculture industry is to be believed, those and many other inhibitors have to be eliminated.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

Will the member concede that the ministerial focus on dedicating efforts to dealing with the Norwegian blight that is the dumping of cheap imports on European Union markets is and should remain the priority?

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

It is a priority that I will address in a minute. I am talking about some of the priorities of small producers now. I wonder whether Mr Morrison deals with all the fish farms in his constituency in the Western Isles, including the ones that are owned by Norwegians as well as those owned by Scots. We will be interested to hear about that if he speaks in the debate later.

Producers such as those in Loch Eriboll and the Kyle of Tongue have some of the cleanest waters in the country, but the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers sees the key areas through which it can make progress as being quality and standards III and the Water Services etc (Scotland) Bill.

The producers do not hear the Executive talking about putting in place schemes that will deal with the underpowered forms of sewage treatment that exist at Tarbert on Loch Fyne or about the problems in Loch Harport in Skye. The minister could use elements of the Scottish Executive's powers to intervene and ensure that shellfish waters are the cleanest that we can possibly have. During the consultation on Q and S III and the Water Services etc (Scotland) Bill, only Argyll and Bute Council suggested that shellfish production was one of the key reasons for cleaning up the water supply. What is the Executive going to do about that?

The complexity of making a regulatory framework effective is self-evident. However, removing other obstacles to progress would help. A one-stop shop must be put in place and my colleagues will speak about how we think that should happen.

I mention the Crown Estate commission, which Fergus Ewing also mentioned in his earlier intervention on the minister. Only constitutional medicine will remove the parasitical growth of that organisation, and we have to have the guts to take action. Winnie Ewing, councillors in the Highlands and I have been talking about that for the past 10 to 20 years and we are still waiting for something to happen. Of course we welcome the shifting of the commission's planning powers, but its tax powers have to be removed as well.

The role of the Scottish aquaculture research forum could be far greater if it were better funded. I notice that the body that will improve Scottish confidence and well-being is to get £750,000 from the Executive, whereas the £100,000 that is being given to the research forum will cover the costs of two salaries. We need to make a genuine commitment to that—

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am sorry, I must make progress.

Fish farming has come a long way in the past 20 years, but it has a long way to go if it is to access sustainable fish oil and sources for feed. We all agree that it needs to be backed by momentum in Scotland to create a stable market and that it must produce healthy food for home and export markets alike. A jingoistic debate about the relative quality of Norwegian, Chilean and Scottish farmed salmon will not help that process.

The Government's proposals must be shown to be delivering a framework that sets the highest standards that we can achieve. Scottish Quality Salmon has gained credibility through the Label Rouge designation in France, but that is a niche market. In any case, consumers in France see smoked salmon from Ireland, Norway and Scotland on the shelves, and they buy a lot of Norwegian salmon as well as other products.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The member is more than seven minutes into his speech and he has not yet addressed the fundamental point that we here to discuss today, which is the economic sustainability of the industry. Does the member have anything to say on behalf of the Scottish National Party on that important matter?

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am trying to point out that many aspects of the industry need to be sustainable. The smallest producers of all, which I mentioned earlier, are a part of that, but George Lyon seems to ignore them.

The dumping of Norwegian salmon in the EU has to be tackled. We heard the minister say that the current provisions will run out. The Norwegian product is not generally inferior, but because the competition legislation that affects Scottish and Irish producers is tighter, we have to take a much more detailed approach when putting new regulations in place. People buy salmon around Christmas so having new regulations in place by February is far too late in the game for this year.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Will Mr Gibson confirm that he understands the point that, in order for an effective and definitive safeguard to be put in place, there needs to be a process that identifies the real costs to the Norwegian industry of producing fish that the Norwegians are selling at what appear to be loss-making prices? That is why the Commission has to take a number of weeks to establish the evidence base before taking further action.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Let us face it—the problem is that the Commission should have started a bit sooner.

Praise is due to individual fish farm businesses such as Loch Duart Ltd and Salar Smokehouse Ltd, which has won a UK food manufacturers excellence award and is one of Rick Stein's food heroes. We welcome the successful partnership to drive up the standards that make for sustainable businesses between Waitrose and Aquascot Ltd from Alness and the processors and small independent fish farms that use traceability, which is demanded by customers.

The SNP is particularly concerned that a sustainable, diverse and competitive aquaculture industry will succeed only when all aspects of marine activity are synchronised. We are well aware of the time that it has taken and the complexity that is involved in making progress. However, the Scottish Government has to heed the sustainability imperative and adopt the holistic approach that will be required sooner rather than later and which the SNP amendment spells out.

I move amendment S2M-2096.2, to insert at end:

"and agrees to set out a timetable for the adoption and application of a framework for spatial planning of marine and coastal resources, including fish farming, taking advantage where appropriate of the planned strategic environmental assessment of Scotland's coastline announced by the Deputy First Minister and Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning on 24 November 2004, and calls for a regulatory one-stop shop."

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 9:56 am, 2nd December 2004

Although Scotland's aquaculture industry is diverse and extremely valuable, I will concentrate my remarks on farmed salmon because, as we have heard, it makes a massive contribution to the Scottish economy.

Few involved in the industry will forget 9 January last year, when scientists from six research centres in the United States claimed to have found carcinogenic toxins in farmed British and European salmon and warned consumers to reduce their intake of Scottish farmed salmon to three portions a year on health grounds. There could be few more damaging allegations about a foodstuff, especially one so vital to the economic health of Scotland and of the Highlands in particular, where the industry provides some 5,000 or 6,000 jobs and around £2 million a week in wages alone.

Within a month it was reported that Scottish farmed salmon sales had slumped by 80 per cent as European shoppers switched to salmon from North America and New Zealand and catastrophe appeared to loom. However, the industry's most prestigious brand, Scottish Quality Salmon, hit back, arguing that the study misused the risk assessment guidelines provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency and citing the health benefits of farmed salmon as reported in more than 5,000 scientific studies worldwide.

The Food Standards Agency added its support and pointed out that the dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls found in the study were within the safety levels set by the World Health Organisation. Eventually, the American report was exposed as biased and unfounded. It was biased because it was funded by the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts, a green pressure group with a somewhat questionable history, and the scientists in the laboratories involved did not specifically test farmed salmon.

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green

Does the member agree that, although the industry did not dispute the findings on the levels of pollutants, it disputed the conclusion of the study, which found that, although each pollutant was within acceptable levels, there was a potential cocktail effect? Does he agree that the jury is still out on that one?

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

The member is trying to squirm her way round the results that came out. However, the industry suggests that the scientific basis on which the study was carried out was seriously flawed.

The good news, however, is that United Kingdom consumers have ignored the scare stories, and the number of salmon meals eaten is up by 20 per cent year on year. The final seal of approval, I guess, is the current television advertising campaign for Sainsbury's led by chef Jamie Oliver, who sings the praises of Scottish salmon.

Although much of what Lewis Macdonald said earlier was welcome—and I agree with large parts of his speech—I wish that I could report that the Scottish Executive played a major part in the fightback for Scottish salmon. The truth is that its response was cumbersome and tentative. It took five months to set up a healthy eating campaign with the industry and the proposed new communications strategy, supposedly meant to educate the consumer and combat adverse publicity, will not be in place until the end of 2005. As ever with this Executive, that will be too little, too late.

Likewise, the industry has continually complained about the massive over-regulation that it labours under. As we have heard, Scottish Quality Salmon has won the coveted Label Rouge award for culinary excellence and quality control, yet it toils under no fewer than 10 statutory bodies, 63 pieces of legislation and 43 European Community directives. We have heard that the Scottish industry faces the fiercest competition from countries such as Norway and Chile, whose industries work under far fewer regulations. Despite Lewis Macdonald's stated concerns and efforts to stabilise prices in his negotiations with the European Union, it appears that very little has been achieved.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Does Mr Brocklebank accept that the correct way to address regulation, the promotion of the product and the other issues that he has mentioned is to do so in collaboration with the industry? That is precisely what the Executive has been doing.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I, too, talk to the industry and I get a feeling of tremendous unease from it that things are taking so long while it is bleeding away.

We are talking about an industry that has the potential to be massively lucrative, but which is starting to die as a result of the delays that we have heard about.

No one is more conscious than Scottish salmon producers are of the need to ensure adequate environmental protection, and of course we are aware of the serious news from 19 November of a possible case of disease on the west coast. However, the industry's pleas for a one-stop-shop-type regulatory body to slash through the red tape and ensure that all the various environmental protection agencies and statutes are handled by one body appear to have been put on the back burner. The new aquaculture bill will not even begin its passage through the Parliament until autumn next year. To be honest, many salmon farmers in the Highlands and Shetland in particular will not be in business by then.

Meanwhile, the Executive has failed to meet 14 of the 55 centralised objectives that it set for the industry, and a further 12 objectives are on-going. That is another example of the Executive failing to meet its own targets. When will the Executive recognise that the industry needs urgent reductions in the number of rules and the amount of red tape and fewer centralised objectives?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I return to the point that I made earlier. Does Mr Brocklebank accept that those targets have been set in collaboration with the industry and that many of the on-going targets are ones for which the lead body is not the Executive, but the industry, the trade association or other partners? Together, we will get the industry to change in effective and sustainable ways precisely by taking such an approach rather than by being driven by a target timetable.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

How does the minister respond to the fact that we are considering an industry in crisis? We cannot go on talking for ever. That strong point is being made by the industry even as we speak.

I have said previously in the chamber that having no fewer than eight bodies that oversee the industry is a nonsense. So far, only 0.02 per cent of the Scottish coastline has been developed for fish farming. Instead of applications going to eight separate bodies, they should be dealt with speedily and effectively, as they are in Norway.

As a result, surely the time is long overdue for UK powers over aquacultural policy to be transferred to the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department in Edinburgh. Given that 90 per cent of UK aquaculture is Scottish, that aquaculture has a vital role to play in producing employment in the remoter parts of Scotland and that farmed salmon accounts for 50 per cent of all Scottish food exports, surely the logic of devolution suggests that such an important Scottish business should be governed from Scotland. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the lead body when the EC considers matters that have a critical impact on Scottish aquaculture, and the UK fisheries minister will lead the forthcoming Brussels negotiations with a Scottish minister—Ross Finnie—bringing up the rear, so to speak. However, 70 per cent of the fishing industry is based in Scotland.

The current revision of the fish health directive is a classic example. DEFRA is simply not as well briefed as Scottish ministers are on that issue—or on many other issues that affect aquaculture. In the UK, the critical impact of that revision will largely affect a Scottish business. The time is surely ripe for SEERAD to take the lead.

We have a great opportunity to take advantage of the demand for a healthy, nutritious and sustainable seafood industry with the continuation of thousands of jobs in the places in which they are needed. What is sadly lacking so far is imaginative and resourceful leadership from the Scottish Executive, backed by the speedy implementation of an aquaculture act that frees rather than stifles initiative and unshackles the bureaucratic straitjacket that is putting the future of so many Scottish seafood companies at risk.

I move amendment S2M-2096.3, to insert at end:

"but questions the timetable and scope of the proposed Aquaculture bill; further notes that the Executive has still failed to meet 14 targets it set out in the Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture, and laments that it has taken it six years to set up a review into the current regulatory framework with a view to lightening the burden of regulation that threatens to choke the industry."

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 10:04 am, 2nd December 2004

I welcome the tacit admission in the title of the Executive's motion that we have a long way to go before sustainability in aquaculture is achieved in Scotland. Mass escapes, sea lice, pollution from cages, inappropriately sited farms, the ever-present possibility of pollution from veterinary medicines when mistakes are made and the spread of diseases through overstocking are still with us. Scotland's rivers are losing the salmon and sea trout for which they have been renowned for centuries. The Fisheries Research Services report on wild salmon and sea trout catches for 2003 shows the lowest-ever recorded total, although conditions are not nearly so bad on the east coast, where there are no salmon farms, as they are on the west coast

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Is Robin Harper aware of the evidence that was presented to the Rural Affairs Committee in the first session of Parliament during that committee's scrutiny of the Salmon Conservation (Scotland) Bill? That evidence showed that decline in wild salmon and trout stocks began long before the inception of fish farming.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I am well aware of that. However, it is—if one compares what has happened on the west coast with what has happened on the east coast, and if one considers the prevalence of and damage caused by sea lice—abundantly clear that one cannot believe for a minute that fish farms off the west coast have no effect on the environment or on salmon and sea trout. That is not a tenable proposition.

Monitoring and regulation of sea lice still leave much to be desired. It is impossible for us to develop a properly regulated and sustainable sea-lice management strategy when the industry and the area management groups operate in almost complete secrecy, under the guise of commercial confidentiality. Companies here tell us nothing, but the same companies operating in Norway and Ireland give monthly reports on sea-lice infestation in order to assist and facilitate control and the timing of chemical treatments.

As I have said, thousands of salmon have escaped this year. In Norway, the tidal and sea conditions that are likely to affect cages are codified into a five-tier site-classification system that is based on wave heights, current, wind speeds and so on. Cages must meet stringent construction standards in order to guarantee that they can withstand the conditions in which they will be moored. We have no such stringency in Scottish regulation; in fact, there is a proposal from the fish farmers that they be allowed even larger cages. I am talking about cages of 20,000 tonnes. Without higher construction standards, there will simply be an increase in the likelihood of mass escapes from sea cages. I will give an example of how raising construction standards can work. In the Trondelag area of Norway, there were five years in which there were no escapes after all sea cages were strengthened. I am sorry, but I have to say that more stringent regulation is needed in many areas.

Three years ago, when the Executive produced its first aquaculture strategy, I observed that there seemed to be no commitment to strengthening or—more important—to implementing locational guidelines within a fixed timescale. My concern can be imagined when I learned this week that the Crown Estate has identified 139 marine sites on the west coast of Scotland that may be inappropriately sited. After consultation of Scottish Natural Heritage, the list was reduced to about 60 sites that should probably be moved to reduce sea-bed pollution and enhance the marine environment. Five years of responsibility for the safety of the marine environment has resulted in precisely nothing happening in relation to locational guidelines. That surely makes a mockery of the system.

The Executive's response is scarcely believable. There seems to be a proposition that when all the sites are transferred from the Crown Estate to local authorities—it is not yet clear whether sufficient preparation has been made for that—they will receive deemed consent, unless a new environmental impact assessment has been completed, which indicates that a farm must be moved. It appears that if the Executive accepts the proposals that I have mentioned, the 60 inappropriately sited farms could continue to operate for another 30 years. I invite the minister to comment on that in summing up.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Last week we heard the Greens championing the interests of farmers in their fight against supermarkets and in respect of their need for a sustainable future. So far in this morning's debate, I have heard nothing of that tenor from Robin Harper. Does the Scottish Green Party agree with the leading Green activist Don Staniford, who has called for closure of cages in Scotland and for 10,000 people in our communities to be thrown out of their jobs, or does it reject that view?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I reject that view. Don Staniford does not speak for the Scottish Green Party. Eleanor Scott speaks for the party in the north of Scotland and I speak for it in the chamber.

I have not mentioned the Executive's commitment to defending the industry, which includes shellfish farming. Of course I commend the Executive on doing what it can to defend the industry. I am, however, concerned about what it is defending, which is the quality of the industry; that is why I am speaking about that in this morning's debate. I am sure that George Lyon will understand that position.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does Robin Harper agree that Scottish farmed salmon should be available for purchase by consumers in Scottish retail outlets? Yes or no?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

As far as I know, we have never suggested that Scottish farmed salmon should not be available for purchase. As the member knows, our concern is that the Food Standards Agency has issued guidance on eating salmon, but we have yet to see the science on which the guidance was based explained in a way that everyone can understand. Until the FSA produces the science from its own research, we will refrain from commenting on the situation. That is the position that we believe we should hold. Fergus Ewing knows perfectly well that we always uphold the precautionary principle when making statements on such—[Interruption.] The member is interrupting me from a sedentary position. He has asked his question and I am answering it.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I want to be clear about what Robin Harper is saying. In response to Fergus Ewing, he seemed to say that he did not know what the position was. The member has lodged an amendment that says that we need to do more towards having a sustainable aquaculture industry. Clearly, we will have no sustainable industry if no one buys the fish.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member should take no more interventions as he is now over time.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I will answer the question briefly. We are refraining from offering advice on the quantity of salmon that people should eat, for the simple reason that we do not believe that the FSA has given us the full scientific evidence for its assertions on that. We are dealing with a variable and we are not prepared to back what the FSA says until we receive further information from it. We will maintain that position until the FSA responds.

It is a matter of great concern that the Executive has worked for between two and three years on criteria for relocation, but seems to have come up with no answers, despite the fact that those answers are staring it in the face. The Executive's record so far seems to be about hand wringing, sitting on thumbs and ineffectiveness—it has been all talk and no action. There has been no action on locational guidelines or environmental impact assessments, which are still being carried out by the industry. Surely EIAs should be performed by properly funded independent assessors.

There has been no action on diversifying medical treatments. We are in the ridiculous situation that licences can be granted for new fish farms before any pronouncement has been made on whether a wide variety of medicines can be used on the sites. There has also been no action on fish escapes. Throughout this inaction, our precious wild salmon and sea trout stocks are being damaged and diminished year on year. The dispassionate observer could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the Executive has no concern for wild fish stocks.

I move amendment S2M-2096.1, to leave out from "commitment" to end and insert:

"stated commitment to a sustainable aquaculture industry; welcomes and endorses the aim of the Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture to establish "a sustainable, diverse, competitive and economically viable aquaculture industry"; further welcomes the Executive's commitment to a review of regulatory procedures and associated costs; notes that the wording of the title of the motion, through the use of the word "towards", acknowledges that the industry is currently not sustainable, and calls on the Executive, following its review, to develop a regulatory framework and overarching statutory code of practice that will include statutory duties and greater transparency for area management groups, codification of sea cage containment standards, statutory sea lice monitoring and reporting, provisions in respect of wild salmon and sea trout lochs, no relaxation of present constraints on the use of veterinary medicines, properly-financed transfer of powers from the Crown Estate to local authorities, proper support for all aquaculture activities and implementation of locational guidelines and optimum stocking levels in addition to working within the carrying capacity of the environment both locally and nationally and throughout the supply chain."

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 10:16 am, 2nd December 2004

There is no doubt about the importance of aquaculture to Scotland and the Scottish economy. As others have said, the industry contributes half by value of our total food exports, is worth £500 million to the Scottish economy and supports not only thousands of jobs all told, but vital jobs on the west coast and in the islands that sustain fragile local economies and keep communities alive. It is therefore not surprising that both Parliament and the Executive have devoted considerable attention to the industry, both in the first four years and in this session. The 2003 partnership agreement reiterates our commitment to

"support the growth of an aquaculture industry in salmon, other fin-fish and shellfish that is sustainable, diverse and competitive."

When I prepared for this debate, it was an interesting exercise for me to reread the Transport and the Environment Committee's two reports on its aquaculture inquiry and to realise how much progress has been made since they were published in 2002. The ministerial working group for aquaculture began its work at about the same time and produced the strategic framework for Scottish aquaculture at the end of March 2003. Many of the committee's recommendations were picked up in the priority actions that were identified in appendix 3 to the strategy. The revised appendix 3 that was published in November this year outlines progress and resets the priorities for action.

A number of the original actions have been completed, but the main message that I take from the comments on progress in the November 2004 appendix 3 is that it takes time properly to get disparate stakeholders together to tackle complex issues. It is not possible or sensible to wade in, slashing à la Brocklebank. Everyone agreed that it is important to establish how much impact regulatory costs have on the industry, but it has taken two attempts to get right the tender to do the work. A fundamental requirement in developing an integrated regulatory framework that takes assimilative and environmental capacities into account is to establish how to work those out, which has proved to be even more complicated than was anticipated. However, it is great that difficult and complex tasks are being taken on and dealt with. We now have a Scottish aquaculture research forum that can identify where work needs to be done to ensure that policy decisions are based soundly on good information.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Will the member share with us her view on whether the forum is properly funded to carry out the task that she has outlined for it?

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat

There is a distinction between funding to identify gaps and funding to fill the gaps by commissioning the required research. The amount that has been allocated is not the final story. It is funding that opens the door to what will follow, on a good base.

A draft Scottish planning policy for marine aquaculture is out for consultation. As the minister said, the farmed fish welfare code is imminent. A study of the regulatory costs of the industry is under way and the transfer of planning authority from the Crown Estate to local authorities is being implemented. Relocation of fish farms that are badly sited is a long-standing issue. A list of possible candidates is under consideration and proposals will be made by the summer.

The industry has been working internally on a code of practice for the past 18 months, but I was told yesterday that a draft will be published for comment in mid-December. After a reasonable period of consultation of two to three months, the code will be finalised and will come into force. The code has had a long gestation, but that has ensured its support throughout the industry. The code has, I am told, been strengthened in successive drafts. We will soon see both how stringent it is and, as time goes on, whether a voluntary code will work or whether it needs statutory force.

A great deal is being done in Scotland to deliver a healthy and sustainable aquaculture industry, but it is an industry that operates in a fiercely competitive global arena in which the playing field is far from level. In recent years, our producers have had to withstand a flood of Norwegian salmon coming on to the market at prices that represent a significant loss to Norway's producers. The EU salmon producers group sent us all a press release that highlights its analysis of the data on production costs and selling prices that were published by the Norwegian directorate of fisheries. It demonstrates that Norwegian producers have just had their third year of losses of the order of £100 million per annum. The EUSPG postulates that Norway is embarking on a deliberate policy of destroying the competition to gain near-monopoly of the market. The Executive and the United Kingdom Government have made strenuous efforts in Brussels to win trade-defence measures against Norwegian dumping. It is vital for the industry to get prices to sustainable levels and to get some stability back in the market. I say, "Roll on, February." Price stability at a realistic level is the most urgent requirement for the industry, but it faces a longer-term challenge on the issue of how few veterinary medicines are available to it. Pharmaceutical companies must apply separately in each member state of the EU for marketing authorisations, and face annual costs to keep medicines licensed. Reform of the system to allow pan-European consents would remove the disincentive for companies to license their products in all the different countries or to bring new products on to the market. Our fish farmers' having access to only two different medicines to control sea lice could be a recipe for disaster if resistance among salmon to either or both develops, and does not allow for prudential rotation. With an enlarged EU, the argument for pan-European procedures has become even stronger and must be pushed until it is won.

Aquaculture has come a long way from its experimental beginnings in the 1960s to the major industry it is today. However, if it is to continue to grow and prosper we must achieve equitable trading practices, get planning and regulation right, ensure the environmental impact of fish farming is not causing damage and persuade lots of people to adopt a far healthier diet that includes eating oily fish and choosing quality Scottish produce. The Executive is actively pursuing all of the above, and people are increasingly coming together to work to their mutual benefit. Different sectors of the farmed fish industry, wild-fish interests, tourism providers, training colleges, environmental bodies, research scientists, retailers, consumers, local authorities, regulatory bodies and politicians all have parts to play in maintaining and developing this vital industry. We can and will do that. I support the motion.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 10:23 am, 2nd December 2004

This is an appropriate time to have a debate on our important aquaculture industry. As the minister said, it is almost a year since Parliament last debated the subject. I am encouraged by much of what Lewis Macdonald said in his opening remarks and I thank Allan Wilson for his significant efforts on behalf of my constituents in the Western Isles, and people outwith the Western Isles, prior to the Bosman-type transfer that he and Lewis Macdonald went through. I note that Allan Wilson has recently been described in some quarters as "reprehensible", but I happily put on record that my experience of Allan Wilson—certainly in the context of aquaculture—is that he is far from reprehensible. I also put on record my thanks to Douglas Alexander at the Department of Trade and Industry. I know that he and Lewis Macdonald have energetically tackled the great issues and challenges that face the industry. I was delighted to learn that the EU DG trade is now convinced of the Executive's and the Government's case for trade defence measures. That will be welcomed throughout the industry.

We can never overstate the importance of aquaculture to the socioeconomic well-being of many parts of Scotland. Farmed salmon represents about 40 per cent of all Scottish food exports, and aquaculture makes ideal use of our natural resources and offers the prospect of stable, long-term and highly skilled jobs, not only in primary production but in processing and in a multitude of upstream and downstream businesses. It was for that reason that, 25 years ago, the then Highlands and Islands Development Board and the local authority—Comhairle nan Eilean Siar—took the positive approach to encouraging the development of aquaculture, and salmon farming in particular. They recognised the benefits that it could bring to areas such as the Western Isles; that recognition has been well-rewarded.

In his opening speech, Lewis Macdonald rightly focused on an area of concern—the commercial performance of the industry—and on an element that has fast resulted in a serious decline, which is the dumping of Norwegian salmon on the EU market. The Norwegian industry, which is three to four times the size of our industry, has continued to expand while, by its own reckoning, losing some £300 million in the process. The recently published figures about the debt that the industry is carrying explodes and dismisses the myth that the Norwegian industry is far more competitive than the Scottish one. That is a myth, and has now been exposed as being just that.

The Scottish industry has suffered horribly as a result of the disastrously low and entirely unsustainable prices of salmon from Norway. There have been closures, receiverships and bankruptcies—if Tavish Scott were here, he would be able to share with us some of the very sad stories emanating from his constituency in Shetland. Sadly, most of Scotland's salmon industry is unbankable, so I welcome the minister's reference to the role that the banks will play in aquaculture once we rid ourselves of the Norwegian dumping blight.

I acknowledge what the Executive ministerial team, in conjunction with the DTI and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the full backing of the Prime Minister, have been doing in that regard. Efforts are focused on the Norwegian blight and on the blatant subsidisation of Norway's industry at the expense of our world-class product. The indigenous industry is extremely appreciative of that unstinting support and commitment. We all look forward to a positive outcome, either in the shape of a secure and sustainable safeguard measure, or through the implementation of an effective anti-dumping duty.

Members have mentioned scare stories, and we know that since its first days 25 or 30 years ago aquaculture has had to endure a barrage of abuse and a constant stream of scare stories. Ted Brocklebank dealt comprehensively with the latest scare story that emanated from Philadelphia, when the Pew Charitable Trusts produced a so-called scientific study. That report has been denigrated by the Food Standards Agency, the European Commission and the World Health Organisation, yet—incredibly—a ramshackle organisation that masquerades as a political party continues to uphold and adhere to the nonsense that was contained in that report. We have had to endure the rantings of those who specialise in such underhand and low-level politics. They have been joined by Duncan McLaren of Friends of the Earth Scotland. People who specialise in this type of low-level politics have no understanding of the consequences of what they say. It is worth putting on record that the main scientist involved in the paper that was sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts has visited Scotland and apologised for that paper. He has recanted, but we have heard no such apology from the Green party or from Friends of the Earth.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

When that research was released, I was very careful not to endorse—to the press, in public, or anywhere else for that matter—the conclusions that the Pew Charitable Trusts drew from the research and put in the public domain. At no point did I endorse those conclusions.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

That was an interesting intervention, but we have yet to hear the Green party say that it supports fish farming. Fergus Ewing intervened on Robin Harper on that very issue. The Green party consistently undermines and denigrates that important industry, but we have yet to hear what it actually believes in.

We know that this intrinsically highly successful and locally based industry needs working capital to regain its position as a major positive contributor to the economy of Scotland and of the Highlands and Islands, in particular. I support the motion, and I wish the minister well in his efforts to liaise closely with the industry. I know that he and the ministerial team will do their utmost to support the industry.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 10:30 am, 2nd December 2004

West Lochaber, in the constituency that I represent, depends to a great extent on fish farming; it has since the inception of the industry. There is consensus on the objectives for the industry among all parties, except the Greens—I am genuinely sad that we cannot unite behind a considerable Scottish success story.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I will take both members, if they want.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

If Fergus Ewing's attention span had lasted for the length of my speech, he would have heard me say that we want improvements in fish farming. That is hardly a condemnation of fish farming, nor is it to say that we do not want it. Surely the member accepts that we remain critical of present practice and that that is the issue on which we are concentrating.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You should stick to one intervention just now, Mr Ewing.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

What Mr Harper says is not the same as Mr Ruskell's comments in last week's debate on supermarkets, when he said that he did not know whether we should allow salmon to be sold in shops and that he reserved his judgment on the issue. I agree with the Green party and Mr Harper in one respect; the industry is not sustainable. However, it will certainly not be sustainable if it cannot sell its products in the shops, which is what Mr Ruskell could not bring himself to state last week.

Robin Harper takes a slightly different view this week; indeed, he seemed to take two different views in his speech. He argued that salmon could perhaps be sold in the shops, but he was not prepared to say whether anyone should eat it. No—eating it is too risky because that secretive organisation, the FSA, which I presume operates like the mafia in Sicily, is unwilling to share all its dark secrets with the Green party.

Like the FSA, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States of America immediately rubbished the Pew-funded research. It would behove the Green party to admit the principle that activist-funded research is commonly carried out to a far lower standard than other research, and that its claims are invariably promoted in the press and not subject to independent peer review or published in scientific journals. I was going to deal with the issue later because I want to discuss really important issues—rather than the Green party—but it is not good enough for Robin Harper to say simply that he did not endorse the Pew research; he must join the rest of us and state that it has been discredited. I hope that Dr Scott will clarify the issue later, if possible.

I turn to issues that are more pressing than the various policies of the Green party are on what is an important Scottish industry. I was concerned when the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development mentioned that some EU member states are opposed to the necessary measure of the introduction of a minimum price for imported salmon. The SNP hopes that the efforts to which Alasdair Morrison and the minister referred are successful. Those efforts are rather overdue and have been called for for a long time, but we must look forwards rather than backwards. I hope that the efforts are successful, although we must always remember Rob Gibson's point that a substantial proportion of the industry in Scotland is Norwegian owned.

The introduction of a minimum import price is necessary. We read that Norway has been subsidising its industry by perhaps as much as £100 million a year. If the factual investigations to which the minister referred corroborate that, I hope that our approach will allow the introduction of the necessary measures because we may otherwise lose even more businesses and jobs in areas that can ill afford to lose them.

The Crown Estate commission receives about £1.7 million a year in rent from the seabed, a large proportion of which comes from fish farming, which receives little in return. I have had lengthy correspondence and meetings with the CEC on the issue and, to be fair, it has reduced the rent from previous levels, largely because of pressure from Parliament. Rather than make the issue a party-political one, if the minister and members of other parties simply acknowledge that the industry can ill afford that burden, that might result in a further reduction of rent by the Crown Estate commission.

Last week, after I had given Mr Ruskell the opportunity to explain Green party policy, I had an excellent lunch in the fine restaurant in this establishment, which comprised a smoked salmon starter and salmon fillet for the main course. The Food Standards Agency recently published advice that most people would benefit from a ninefold increase in their intake of oily fish, which surely presents a huge potential market in our country for the industry. Let us hope that every party in Parliament will get behind that aim and support a great Scottish industry.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 10:36 am, 2nd December 2004

Fergus Ewing might enlighten us later as to whether he had salmon mousse for pudding during the meal that he mentioned—I am sure that he would consider that.

My first thought on the debate is about the nature of opposition. As an Opposition party in the Parliament, we are diametrically opposed to much of what the Executive does. However, that has never been our purpose when we discuss aquaculture. I impress upon the Executive that we fully support the views that it has expressed on the issue. I commend the work of former minister John Home Robertson, who has vigorously defended the aquaculture industry in the Parliament over the years, and of Allan Wilson, in his time as the minister who defended aquaculture in the Parliament. I also commend Alasdair Morrison, who always takes the opportunity to defend vigorously the interests of the salmon farming industry, which has a base in his constituency. So that my list is not completely dominated by Labour Party members, I commend Fergus Ewing for his work in defending the salmon farming industry's interests.

Not everything in the garden is rosy. As we heard from the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development at the outset of the debate, the aquaculture industry in Scotland, particularly salmon farming, continues to have major economic problems. I welcome the minister's announcement that the European Union will conduct an inquiry into the cost of production in Norway, with the aim of ensuring that we have some kind of level playing field on which to develop the market for salmon. The issue of Norwegian dumping of salmon on to our market has been the centrepiece of just about every debate that we have had on the subject. I believe in fair and free markets, but when such activity takes place, a healthy and wholesome industry that has much to deliver in improved eating and economic benefits must be protected from unfair competition.

There is much that we can do. The Executive motion and the minister acknowledge that there is a problem with regulation. We do not suggest that regulation should be cut away completely; we know that the environmental impact of salmon farming is causing increasing problems that must be dealt with. However, the minister's promise to streamline regulation, if it is achieved properly and quickly, could deliver major benefits for the industry. We support that move in principle. The regulatory burden is an identified problem for the aquaculture industry and we must accept it and deal with it.

The crossover impact of fish farming has been mentioned in previous debates on the subject, but it has not yet been mentioned in this one. We have not addressed the issue of how farmed fish are fed or the fact that our successful industry is based on a requirement to maintain a largely industrial fishery that operates in the North sea and the north Atlantic. We have an insoluble problem in that respect, which we must try to address and to which we must find solutions in the longer term. As long as there is demand for the use of fish-based feed on fish farms, we will have to find ways in which to mitigate the problems that are associated with the industrial fishery.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Is the member aware of the fish-feed regime that is now used in Loch Duart? The fish farm there is using a mix of vegetable feed and fish-oil feed, thus reducing the contamination that comes from the marine-based fish feed and producing healthier salmon.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Although I am aware that progress is being made in that area, I am not aware of the example.

At the root of the problem is the fact that immature cod, amongst other fish, is being taken as bycatch and processed into the feed that is used on many salmon farms, not only in Scotland but beyond. We have to cut down that cross-contamination within the industry to defend other fisheries' interests. As the Conservatives have suggested before, the minister needs to address the problem of the industrial fishery as well as to tackle the other issues with which we have a problem.

I am disappointed that the Green party is still in a cleft stick on the issue of the Pew report. It is unfortunate that Robin Harper, even after having been pressed repeatedly on the subject, will go only so far as to say that he does not endorse the report's conclusions. When he was given the opportunity to dissociate himself from the report, he failed to do so. Although he appears to want to keep an open mind on the subject, he could go further than that. Before the debate comes to an end, I ask Robin Harper or his colleagues to take that further step.

Finally, the opinion that has been expressed in certain quarters is not entirely based on the facts in relation to the demands that the Crown Estate makes on the industry. Perhaps that opinion is based on an anti-union or even an anti-monarchy concept. If so, the basis is wrong, as such concepts are foreign to the nature of the Crown Estate as it is presently formed. We must remember that the Crown Estate does positive work in this area. As Robin Harper mentioned, it has done considerable work on the effective siting of fish farms. The Crown Estate might place a cost on the industry, but there is a positive return—the situation is not all negative.

The Conservatives will support the Executive motion today, but we ask the Executive to support our amendment, too. We believe that the Executive is doing the right thing but not quickly enough.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 10:43 am, 2nd December 2004

I am sorry not to have appeared on Alex Johnstone's roll of honour as one of the supporters of aquaculture. I have spoken in its favour in the chamber more times than I have had hot dinners.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Indeed—and salmon mousse to follow as well.

In the region that I represent, especially in the remote areas of the west Highlands and the Western Isles and Northern Isles, the aquaculture industry puts £100 million into local pay packets. I am totally committed to its survival—indeed, I hope to see it grow.

As I said, I have spent the past five years in the Parliament engaging with the industry, first as the reporter to the European Committee on the economic impact of infectious salmon anaemia and then as joint reporter, with Robin Harper, for the former Transport and the Environment Committee's inquiry into the environmental impact of the industry. I was also a member of the ministerial working group on aquaculture that developed the strategic framework for the industry; that framework could be used by any industry as a model for the promotion of sustainable development.

The situation that Green party members and others seek cannot be delivered instantly. Research needs to be commissioned and everyone needs to be kept on board. At times, stakeholders can become impatient about the fact that other stakeholders seem to be taking time to develop their ideas. It is not just the industry that can become impatient; other stakeholders can become impatient with the industry.

No industry has undergone as much scrutiny as aquaculture has. Of any aquaculture industry in the world, our industry in Scotland is more alert to the need to marry social and economic development with environmental concerns and constraints. We know that we cannot have a first-class product without having a first-class environment. The industry knows that and is committed to achieving it. I believe that we are world leaders, and I condemn anyone who asserts otherwise. Scottish farmed salmon is a health-giving fish, which the FSA extols as an essential ingredient of a good diet. I firmly believe that those who say otherwise are either misguided, mischievous or have ulterior commercial motives.

In saying that, I do not mean to say that all the problems have been resolved with regard to the impact of salmon farming on the environment. As Robin Harper pointed out in a depressing speech, concerns remain regarding the level of escapes. Sea trout and wild salmon interests feel that sea lice treatment is not focused enough on the period of time between the late winter and early spring, when the treatment has the maximum effect on sea lice numbers. Those stakeholders are also concerned to see progress being made on the relocation of fish farms that are inappropriately located at present. The industry will need economic help to do that, perhaps by the securing of larger farms in new sites in compensation for the sites that businesses have to give up.

Is the Executive pursuing at European Community level the perceived double standards that the EC has over the sea lice treatment and other fish medicines that are used in Scotland and Norway? I am told that, because Norway maintains that it is merely testing medicines—whereas, in fact, it is using them universally—it can comply with EC regulations. That means that Norway can sell its fish to EC countries. We need a level playing field in that respect as well as on price. As Nora Radcliffe said, we should move swiftly to pan-European authorisation. Our continued reliance on only two treatments for sea lice could lead to the sea lice becoming immune to those medicines.

It is becoming apparent that a growing edginess is felt by some stakeholders because the industry code of practice that is required under the strategic framework has not as yet appeared. Those who are not part of the industry feel that the code of practice has not appeared because it is in the process of being watered down. I hope that the opposite is the case and that the code is being tightened so that our salmon is farmed at the highest of standards. I believe that the industry is committed to rigorous quality control. The industry has assured me that the delay is caused by a tightening up of the code of practice.

The major problem that the industry faces is the low price of salmon and the strain that that places on it. We have seen the demise of well-respected Scottish-owned businesses because of cash-flow problems. I wish that the Scottish banks would do much more to support our industry, and I hope that they will do so in the light of the minister's announcement today.

If the industry can get over its present difficulties, it has a good future. As other members have said, the difficulties are caused by gross overproduction in Norway and the consequential dumping of Norwegian fish on the European market. As Norway is being abetted by EC member states such as Denmark because of its fish-processing interest, it will not be plain sailing to get together the alliances that we need to win our case in Europe. I commend the Executive and the DTI for their hard work in building the alliances in Europe that will help us to have restrictions imposed on Norwegian salmon.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

In common with Alasdair Morrison, I want to make particular mention of Douglas Alexander. Highlands and Islands Enterprise was extremely impressed with Douglas Alexander's knowledge of the industry and commitment to it, following a meeting that he held with HIE. In a sense, we should not be surprised to hear that, given that Calum MacDonald and Brian Wilson have been bending Douglas Alexander's ear on the subject for some time.

As has been mentioned in the debate, the fact that Norwegian and Dutch firms own a high proportion of the Scottish industry puts an enormous strain on us. That means not only that the industry cannot speak with one voice on the import restrictions, but that market collapse in Norway would impact on the viability of Scottish-based Norwegian-owned businesses. Although that would be a painful process, it is one that we may just have to thole, as Scottish aquaculture businesses are grasping at the chance to capture the quality market.

In Shetland, the Johnson family business, Johnson Seafarms Ltd—which I visited with Ben Bradshaw, the UK fisheries minister this summer—has ingeniously interested city of London investors in its cod farming project. The city gents made the trip to Vidlen in Shetland to inspect their new stock. As Rob Gibson mentioned, Aquascot in Alness is adding value to its products by using the best raw materials and has captured market outlets such as Waitrose. We have excellent smoked salmon and, as far as I am concerned, the hot smoked product from Uist is the top of the charts. Scottish farmed salmon has protected geographical indication status and, for the past 12 years, it has held the French Government's label rouge award.

Despite that, we still have to fight every inch of the way to have the supermarkets pay a premium for Scottish salmon. We also have to educate the public here and abroad that Scottish salmon is worth the extra shilling. That can be done only if we work together to promote Scottish salmon, if the environmental regulations are sound and fair—

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The member must finish now.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

And, crucially, if they are quickly decided and implemented.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 10:50 am, 2nd December 2004

Although we have lingering concerns about the momentum of the strategic framework, we totally share the objectives of helping the aquaculture industry to become more sustainable, diverse and competitive. We welcome much of what the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development said this morning. We can see that, in spite of the continuing difficultly with accessing finance in the independent sector, the Scottish salmon industry has invested significant time and capital in addressing the framework's priorities. I have been hearing persuasive claims from some quarters that many of the action targets that have been set out in the framework are now well advanced. We welcome the additional review of the regulatory framework, which must result in simplification of the system and a reduction in the current bureaucratic burden.

We all know that the aquaculture industry is not without its problems. To an extent, the industry remains divided, with multinational businesses, all of whose headquarters are outside Scotland, controlling 80 per cent of the Scottish fin-fish industry. Such businesses are growing more and more of their fish where the political, economic and regulatory climates suit them best. Apparently, that does not include Scotland, where salmon production is falling while the multinationals compensate by maintaining and increasing their tonnage elsewhere, particularly off Norway and Chile.

Fish farming, which is one of Scotland's crucial primary resources, is characterised by a latent potential for growth that is matched by few other sectors of industry. That fact must drive the debate. We face a forecast reduction of some 550,000 in the number of economically active people in Scotland by 2043. In the period until then, we can expect the city regions to grow further, placing more downward pressure on rural and remote areas. We must, therefore, do everything that we can now to protect and grow key industries such as aquaculture, which is well suited to our environment and has the propensity to flourish and diversify, confounding the statisticians and their future economic and population trends. Such is the urgency of the threat that I have just described that we need to make even closer common cause with this crucial industry and to join those who work in it as they face the issues that confront them. Today's announcement helps.

The industry is partly multinational and partly independent. A common interest might be lacking on all matters. However, I welcome the trade defence measures that the minister mentioned in his speech and the steps that that will entail. I would be two-faced if I were to complain about Norway using its independence and its oil-fund revenues to help remote and rural communities, but that has resulted in oversupply and the dumping of salmon at excessively aggressive prices. That has caused damage to our industry, as was eloquently covered by Alasdair Morrison. I welcome the new proposals in that light.

I urge the minister to fulfil fully his trade defence plans by meeting his Norwegian opposite number in search of a better way forward—one that is compliant, ethical, sustainable, expansionist and likely to create far higher levels of demand—for this global industry. I hope that the minister will explain to our Norwegian friends that, in the modern global economy, predatory monopolistic behaviour brings with it some very material downsides and risks. In the longer term, such behaviour is invariably destructive. Ultimately it fails, not just from an EU or world trade perspective but because consumers are only too well aware of what happens to quality and service under monopoly conditions.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

A couple of years ago, some colleagues went to Norway to discuss the issue in some depth. It was clear from the meeting with the Norwegian fisheries minister that his objective was to quadruple the output of the fish farming sector in Norway, given the fact that Norway is utterly reliant on oil—it is virtually the only industry that is currently sustainable—and the current high value of the Norwegian currency. How do we square that against ensuring that the Norwegians do not use predatory pricing to access what is, after all, one of the biggest markets in the world? It is difficult to reconcile that, given the objectives that the Norwegians have set themselves.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

Some direct action has been taken this time. There is the possibility of our minister going to the table with a big European Commission stick. That might get the Norwegians' attention. Today's announcements will help to create conditions in which open and fair competition, with a level playing field, are much more the order of the day. That will allow the industry to concentrate its efforts on building demand and augmenting the generic product by offering a wider range of products, from high-quality mass produced food to traceable premium products and other added-value variants from a vast array of quality-committed suppliers and food outlets.

There is now a positive aspect to Scottish aquaculture, which is augmenting itself and diversifying into new species farming. That is a break in the clouds, especially given the fact that it is in the hands of the few surviving independents in the sector, while the multinationals are doing their new species work in Norway, where they seem to have concluded that things are better for them. In my opinion, we need to help the independents to move forward in every way that we can. Specifically, we should make an overture to the banks, so that they understand that the propositions that are forthcoming from the aquaculture sector, particularly the independent part of it and the part that is looking into new species, are new and valid and are well worth their backing.

I support the amendment in Rob Gibson's name.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 10:56 am, 2nd December 2004

As many members have said this morning, aquaculture, in all its forms, is one of the most important economic activities in rural Scotland. It helps sustain much-needed employment in those fragile areas. The farmed salmon industry is under pressure, and has been for some time; I have no doubt that that will continue into the future. Scottish fish farmers can compete, provided that they are competing on a level playing field. However, that does not seem to be the situation at present. The Scottish Executive must ensure that imports are monitored so as to combat dumping, to which several members have referred. If dumping is discovered, quick and effective action must be taken to stamp it out.

Although I believe that fin-fish farming has a future, with appropriate support, I recognise that there are limits to its development if the environment is not to be damaged. That is why I believe that we need to develop the shellfish farming industry, which has much less impact on the environment because the shellfish take their food from the sea and there is no contaminating input into the water as is the case with fin-fish farming.

The shellfish industry faces one very large barrier to success: the regulations that are applied to ensure that shellfish with high levels of algal toxins do not reach the market. Those regulations, which have been in force for quite some time, appear to be completely over the top to the extent that they have, in effect, prevented the supply to the market of whole scallops in shell. In other words, a quality Scottish product has been blocked from the market. Of course, no shellfish farmer would want for one moment to harm their customers, but the regulations are so over the top that high levels of toxins in parts of the scallop that no one ever eats mean that the whole scallop cannot be sold. Scallop farmers lose out because they cannot get the premium price; hotels and the catering industry lose out because they cannot serve the premium product; and tourists, on whom we depend so much, lose out because they cannot enjoy the best-quality scallops.

The Manx Government has found a solution to the problem by providing a state-run laboratory, which tests batches of scallops for the industry. That might sound expensive but, given that 60 per cent of the Food Standards Agency Scotland's budget is spent on monitoring toxin levels offshore, I argue that doing the end-product testing onshore would be a better use of Government money and would help the industry to get safe products to market.

The test for scallops should be a test of the product as it is for sale and not, as is currently the case, of the whole animal. An agreement must be reached between the industry and the regulators to allow market testing of scallops as they are presented for sale; if such an agreement is not reached, the industry will be in extreme difficulty. The Executive should consider ways in which to produce an industry testing standard and supply the equipment to enable the industry to perform the testing.

We have heard quite a bit of criticism of our Norwegian cousins, who are trying to develop their fish-farming industry, and about the dumping that takes place not only in the UK but on the continent. It is always a source of amazement to me that 80 per cent of the fish farming industry in Scotland is already owned by our Norwegian cousins. I cannot understand how that has been allowed to happen. We are critical of the Norwegians at the same time as they are taking on 80 per cent of our salmon farming industry. However, that is a debate for another day.

I call on the minister to address the issue of the testing regime and rules. No one argues that corners should be cut with regard to safety, but unless the issue is addressed an industry that could bring many jobs to rural Scotland will falter and so deprive those rural communities of much-needed economic prosperity.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour 11:01 am, 2nd December 2004

We have heard from other members about the great importance of the aquaculture industry, especially to remote and rural areas of Scotland—the very areas in which we in the Executive face the greatest challenges in fulfilling our goal of achieving economic growth. An aquaculture industry that is not only safeguarded and sustainable but thriving and growing must be a key priority for the Executive if our ambitions for economic growth are to benefit Scotland as a whole and if every area is to reap the rewards of the increased prosperity that is our goal.

The industry is of course important for the north-east, as farmed fish are supplied to fish processors throughout the region. It is vital that there is confidence among the public about the impact of the aquaculture industry on the environment and about the product itself. Although that confidence has been knocked at times, it remains the case that consumers see the produce of the Scottish aquaculture industry as quality produce. I believe that the strategic framework for aquaculture is vital in ensuring that that remains the case. The fact that there is now more research, more efficient regulation, more progress and more support for the industry in general is key to creating confidence and gaining what we hope will be an expanding consumer base.

We are already making significant progress through the strategic framework. I did not recognise the description of the framework in the Conservative amendment as lacking in progress, because 23 targets have been achieved, significant progress has been made on the rest and there is a commitment to future action on other targets. Crucially, that has all been achieved through collaboration with the industry, which I believe is more important than timescale.

We have heard that the establishment of the Scottish aquaculture research forum is another step forward in commissioning research and advancing education relating to aquaculture for the public benefit. The extension of planning controls will ensure that marine fish farms are subject to a more effective, transparent and democratic system of regulation led by local authorities—not over-regulation, as the Tories imply about everything in every debate, but the kind of regulation that will create the confidence in the industry that is necessary for it to prosper.

The Executive is not only working to create the conditions here in Scotland that will enable the aquaculture industry to thrive; yet again, we are benefiting from effective partnership working between our Executive and the UK Government, which is resulting in joint efforts being made in Europe to create fairer market conditions for our aquaculture industry.

The motion highlights the issue of trade defence. The UK Government is taking a robust line to ensure that the European Union takes action through a definitive safeguard measure, with the threat of using anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures in the event of agreement not being reached with Norway on those issues.

Those efforts for our aquaculture industry are greatly bolstered because they are being advanced through the strength of the UK's negotiating position in Europe. We benefit from the influence that that brings, which would be rubbed off by the SNP—with the Tories there would be even less chance of success, because we would not be in Europe at all.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Is the member suggesting that if Lewis Macdonald had the powers to negotiate in Europe with the Norwegians and others he would be incapable of doing so?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Our negotiating as part of the major UK bloc makes our position stronger.

It is important to dwell on the point that we should have success in the negotiations. It is vital for our aquaculture industry that our efforts are successful. The industry deserves fairness and a level playing field, and success in the negotiations is essential for the sustainability of Scotland's smaller indigenous aquaculture businesses.

Sustainability is the key word. With the strategic framework, the Executive is tackling each of the key areas that are essential to a sustainable aquaculture industry and addressing the issue of the industry's future economic prosperity, one aspect of which is having a level playing field in the market. Another aspect is ensuring that consumers continue to view the product as being of the highest quality and that it is promoted successfully as such. That will require effective management of the aquaculture industry so that it is environmentally sustainable and generates consumer confidence.

The strategy acknowledges the industry's huge social importance. If we are to talk about creating economic prosperity for all and closing the opportunity gap in every part of our country, we must acknowledge the importance of the aquaculture industry to our more vulnerable rural areas. It is even more important in such areas than it is in Scotland overall, because the economic impact of jobs that are created there is huge.

The Executive motion talks about working towards a sustainable aquaculture industry through its strategic framework. It really is tackling every aspect of that—economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and, crucially, the positive social impact on rural communities in Scotland. Through the strategy, the Executive is showing the right commitment to the industry and showing that it acknowledges the crucial role of aquaculture in bringing economic growth to every part of Scotland. I commend the motion in the minister's name.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 11:07 am, 2nd December 2004

I welcome this debate, which is on a subject that is important to many communities in Scotland. Fish farms are vital for many rural areas that have few other options. In my constituency, they provide the high-quality raw material that processors in Fraserburgh and Peterhead convert to the products that we see with so much pleasure on our supermarket shelves. My face lights up when I go home at the weekend and open the fridge to find that my wife has been to Downie's to get one of its fish pies, which are like Scotch pies, except that they are filled with fish. They are just wonderful for the palate but even better for the health of the people who eat them. I welcome the presence of salmon on our Parliament menus, as does my colleague Fergus Ewing. It is just a shame that today coley, rather than salmon, is on the menu.

I worked as a water bailiff when I was a student in 1968—one of the many industries of which I have experience. Even then, on the east coast, the catches of salmon had dropped catastrophically, long before any interaction with our salmon farms could have been of influence.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

That is the case, but do we kick a man when he is down? Do we say that stocks have dropped to the point at which it does not matter what we do, because they are going to disappear anyway, or do we do everything that we can to conserve them?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Of course we have to conserve the stocks. There is no division in the Parliament about that; the division is about the means and the influences that are affecting adversely or beneficially our ability to do so. There is no substantial proven link between the escapes from fish farms and the depletion of the natural stock. I would be interested to hear of academic studies that show different. I will say more about the academic world later, but I wish to make an important point in which to anchor much of what I am going to say: our salmon is safe. In fact, I am probably at greater risk from the contaminants that reside on the skin of the slice of lemon that sits on top of my smoked salmon than I am from the salmon.

The way in which the media deal with science illustrates the problem. To get into the press, a scientific story has to be about something new. It has to contain an element of conflict, otherwise it is just a good-news story and will get a few column inches inside. It has to have an element of public interest, with a threat or a malign influence.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Does the member agree that the bad-news story about salmon became news only when it found a supporter in the Parliament?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I agree that that certainly gave legs to a story that should have died on the first day.

I ask members to think about some of the stories that get into the press. The Raelian cult claimed to have cloned humans and the story went on for two weeks. There is a wonderful website that has been—I hesitate to use the vernacular, so I will not—criticising our salmon industry. On another page, it claims that a seafood diet is

"A Sure Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis".

It says:

"No one needs to suffer from arthritis ... In three months of the daily seafood diet, you'll be rid of your arthritis."

That is a ludicrous claim, although I would love to believe that it was true.

Of course, many environmental groups are anything but environmental. For example, the United States Postal Service has shown that Greenpeace and the Sierra Club account for nearly half of the 4 million kilograms of tossed-out junk mail that environmental groups distribute each year.

In the brief time that remains, I turn to the report that was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report starts with a clue to the poverty of its scientific method. In the abstract, it says:

"the potential human ... risks of farmed salmon consumption have not been examined rigorously."

That is its claim, but none of the 32 references that it provides goes back more than three years. As a piece of reference research, the report is condemned out of its own mouth on that point alone. Had it been properly refereed, that sort of thing would have been flushed out and dealt with. Even that paper has to concede that

"Individual contaminant concentrations in farmed and wild salmon do not exceed U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action or tolerance levels".

The key thing is that the paper does not compare farmed salmon with other foodstuffs. The reality is that it is basically much the same, although, yes, there is a problem with polychlorinated biphenyls, which has to be addressed.

I have confidence in the industry to the extent that I ate the food that a fish farm was feeding to its fish when the Environment and Rural Development Committee visited Lochaber—Jamie McGrigor will attest to that. My trust in the industry goes beyond just eating the fish.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP 11:13 am, 2nd December 2004

There are not many fish farms in the land-locked central Scotland region, so people would be forgiven for wondering what my qualifications are for speaking in this debate. First, I like salmon. There are more vegetarians in the Scottish Socialist Party group than in the Green group, but I am not one of them. Not many salmon have escaped my plate. I have to question Fergus Ewing, who talked about increasing our salmon intake ninefold. Given that he eats two per day, is he seriously suggesting that people should eat 18 fish per day? That is a pretty extreme public health message and, if he was here, I would ask him to retract it.

I much prefer wild salmon but I eat plenty of the farmed stuff. I visited British Columbia a few times and the preference for wild salmon there offers us some lessons if we want a sustainable salmon farming industry. My other qualification is that I have forwarded a few e-mails about aquaculture from friends in Vancouver to Mary Spowart in our research department and she read them for me. I also visited the aquaculture lab at the University of Stirling, which was informative.

The SSP does not oppose fish farming but we believe that we need a truly sustainable, locally owned and locally controlled industry. It is clear that there are dangers, which can be summarised as the use of intensive farming methods to maximise profits without sufficient regard for the environment. There have been incidents of the illegal use of toxic chemicals. In October 2000, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate found the banned toxic chemical ivermectin in four samples of farmed salmon. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency needs more resources to inspect and regulate the industry and enforce the bans.

There has been a decline in the number of wild salmon. I accept the points that have been made, but it would be bad to ignore the fact that wild salmon stocks went down by 39 per cent in just one year—between 1998 and 1999—and the decline was drastically sharper on the east coast than on the west coast. The number of escapes has increased fourfold in the past three years and escaped fish account for 22 per cent of the so-called wild catch. In 2000, waste discharged from fish farms was twice the annual sewage discharged by the entire Scottish population.

I get the impression from some folk that to dare to raise those questions is to want to throw people out of jobs, but that is simply not the case; it is about sustaining those jobs.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP

On you go. Do not make it too hard, though.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I am basically in sympathy with what the member is saying, but I ask her to give us the reference for her claim about sewage, because I do not think that it is sustainable.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP

It is Mary Spowart in our research department.

We should get the economic benefits into perspective. There are no more jobs in salmon farming now than there were 10 years ago, but output has increased fivefold. Many workers are paid the minimum wage and have short-term contracts. I would like that to change, with more jobs, especially more permanent jobs and more well-paid jobs. Surely those would be the truly sustainable jobs that rural communities need. We should not go down the route that has been taken in other food industries: intensive farming, solely for the purpose of intensive profits. The expansion of salmon farming has hit angling and shellfish returns in an as yet unquantifiable measure. The industry could be better, more local, more accountable and far less damaging to the environment.

In British Columbia, despite the fact that the aquaculture industry has for many years had much greater regard for the environment, the dominant culture is that farmed salmon is inferior to wild salmon. Restaurants stake their entire reputations on the integrity of the wildness of their fish. Scotland should note that example if it is to avoid farmed fish being discredited. British Columbia has a bad reputation for farmed fish despite the fact that aquaculture has not introduced any exotic diseases to the waters there. Atlantic salmon that are lost from farms in British Columbia are not capable of breeding with wild Pacific salmon. Farmed wild Pacific salmon are capable of interbreeding, but the impact on the gene pool is dwarfed by the 500 million Pacific salmon that are released from fish hatcheries every year. The number of escapes is proportionately far lower than in Scotland and releases from hatcheries outnumber farm escapes by a ratio of 15,000 to 1. Canadian farms practise fallowing, which allows the sea bed to recover. Most important, fish farms throughout Canada have unanimously adopted a policy of no genetic modification. We should most definitely follow that example.

In conclusion, a number of recommendations need to be implemented. The Executive has an aspirational strategy, but as with all strategies we must be cautious. We need to see action and evidence that that action has taken place. We seek a reduction in the stocking densities on farms; a ban on the use of toxic chemicals; year-long fallowing periods to allow the sea bed time to recover; minimum separation distances of 10km between farms; a ban on salmon farms near salmon rivers; imposed fines for fish escapes; a freeze on GM farmed fish and GM fish feed; more testing of farmed fish for contaminants; compulsory labelling of farmed fish; a review of fish farm licences; a public register of farms; an increase in the use of environmental impact assessments; and a moratorium on any expansion of sea cage fish farming. Those are our policies; they are not just an attack and I hope that they find some support.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 11:20 am, 2nd December 2004

I apologise for missing the opening speeches and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak.

I declare an interest in that, in the early 1970s, I was one of the pioneers of cage farming technology, albeit in fresh water for rainbow trout. In those days, fish farming was an exciting new industry that promised to bring employment and prosperity to remote regions of the Highlands and Islands. Indeed, salmon farming blossomed, but it became a high-tech industry that was financed by big business. It has had its ups and downs, its supporters and opponents, but it is still an important employer and it produces one of Scotland's largest and most recognised quality food exports. Therefore, the Scottish Executive must do more to help the climate in which the industry can flourish. It can do that by listening to the industry's pleas and to those that have been made in the Parliament. We want an aquaculture framework that allows the industry to be competitive. The industry needs less bureaucratic regulation and one active, useful body, rather than the eight bodies that currently oversee it. It needs a quicker processing system for applications for medicines to control diseases and parasites, such as sea lice.

I hear what Robin Harper says about wild salmon and sea trout, which are enormously important to Scotland, as is the wild-fish angling industry, but I take issue with him if he is saying that the Scottish fish farm industry is being irresponsible. Things have changed. Scottish Quality Salmon has done a great deal to develop a code of practice and better husbandry. Its policy of fallowing, coupled with the use of medicines such as Slice, has had remarkable results. Has Robin Harper spoken to the scientists of the fishery trusts, who have been working with salmon farmers under area management agreements? If not, he should do so, because he would learn that there have recently been notable improvements in the runs of salmon and sea trout in many areas on the west coast thanks to the scientists' work and co-operation from fish farmers, who, with the scientists, are finding a way of breaking the sea lice cycle that has been damaging wild fish and, of course, farmed fish.

Sea lice are a major pestilence to the fish farming industry and eradication of the problem is just as important to the industry as it is to wild-fish interests. It is vital that the industry, which injects more than £100 million a year into local pay packets in rural Scotland, should be encouraged in a way that allows it to prosper in sustainable co-existence with angling and shellfish interests. There are not many job opportunities in the Highlands and Islands, so if we wish to promote integrated rural development in our remoter areas, we must recognise that fin-fish farming and shellfish farming are remarkably important industries.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Does Jamie McGrigor agree that the figure for the total number of sea trout is the worst ever? I have not spoken to the people involved in the AMAs, which are secret, but I would be interested to see the results from the rivers in which there have been improvements.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I have been to several meetings of the fishery trusts that have been set up in Argyll, Lochaber and the Western Isles. They are all working together with fish farmers to provide a product so that people in rural Scotland can continue to have the jobs that Robin Harper's party seems to want to do away with. I cannot understand his position when he talks about knocking back an industry that is vital for remote rural areas and that enables people to continue to live in rural areas and work at something that will provide a culture for the future.

We Conservatives will support aquaculture, both fin fish and shellfish. We hope that the Scottish Government will put more research and development into ways of improving the industry for all concerned.

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green 11:25 am, 2nd December 2004

I am extremely happy to close the debate for the Greens, to support the amendment in Robin Harper's name and to express our support for the quality, sustainable aquaculture industry towards which we are working and that we hope we will soon have. We have not got there yet, but we are working towards it and I will welcome it when it comes.

The Greens have good relations with the industry and have had many positive discussions with its representatives. I recognise the industry's importance to the fragile areas in my region, although it has not quite fulfilled its early promise of jobs, as Carolyn Leckie mentioned: in the early 1990s, when production was a mere 30,000 tonnes, there were 1,491 people employed directly in aquaculture but, in 2002, when production had rocketed to more than 145,000 tonnes, the industry directly employed a mere 1,306 people, which is a minor reduction.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Can Dr Scott tell us the number of jobs that have been created in artisan smokehouses and the like adjacent to the fish farms in fragile rural communities?

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green

That is an interesting point. I do not have the figures for such jobs, but I know that some of the processing work does not take place in the fragile rural communities, which are primary producers of stuff that gets value added to it elsewhere. Moreover, the fish processors near to where I stay in Easter Ross have to take on workers from overseas to fill the jobs. Therefore, I am not sure how we can quantify the fish farms' net benefit, but I acknowledge that it exists.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

Eleanor Scott is in the Parliament as a representative of the Highlands and Islands region. Will she share with us how many hundreds of people work in the industry in the Western Isles and how many millions of pounds it puts into homes in the Western Isles every year?

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green

I acknowledge the industry's importance for the Western Isles and would never deny it, in this debate or any other forum.

We have talked about sustainability. Somebody—I think that it was Fergus Ewing, who, unfortunately, is not in the chamber at the moment—suggested that the Greens were in a cleft stick over aquaculture. There is a degree of truth in that, because there is a difficulty in determining whether the industry, which we want to survive, can ever be truly sustainable. We are not the only ones who are in that cleft stick. Some fish farms have organic certification, but that certification is only provisional, because the certifying bodies are still in two minds about whether the industry can be truly sustainable.

On sustainability, we are concerned with the industry's local environmental effects, which Robin Harper mentioned, and about its impact on the wild salmon and sea trout populations, an issue that has been extensively discussed. We are also concerned about where the feed comes from, which is the crucial factor in making true sustainability difficult to achieve. Salmon is a large, fish-eating fish—farming it has been compared to farming tigers for meat—and so is difficult to farm sustainably. I acknowledge the efforts that the industry is making in seriously looking at where the food that the salmon feed on comes from—Robin Harper gave one example of that.

The Pew report has been extensively discussed and the Greens have been criticised for our handling of it. We have consistently supported the Executive's imposition of restrictions on fishing for shellfish in areas where amnesic shellfish poisoning is a risk, even though we acknowledge that the risk is small. That is an example of the precautionary approach, which is the right approach, and we ask the Executive to extend its responsible attitude to farmed fish.

I commend the efforts that the industry is making to reduce the level of environmental contaminants—they are environmental; nobody is deliberately feeding them to the fish. However, the contaminants bioaccumulate in oily fish and, as I said in my intervention on Ted Brocklebank, the jury is still out on the cumulative effect that a large amount of low levels of those pollutants, which are known to be toxic, might have on human health, even if they are individually below permissible levels.

To some extent I share the reservations that members have expressed on the Pew report. However, when it was published, we suggested that the Food Standards Agency should consider the matter seriously and, at the very least, repeat the studies over time on a larger sample of Scottish farmed fish so that we can find out whether the levels of pollutants are increasing or decreasing.

Members might be interested to know that the European Parliament sustainable development intergroup considered farmed salmon on 31 March. It observed:

"The presence of contaminants and particularly dioxins and PCBs in food and in fish including farmed fish is a cause of concern for the Commission."

It also stated:

"For the 'non dioxin like PCBs'", the European Food Safety Authority is

"currently performing a risk assessment which is expected to become available by the end of 2004. The Commission will thereafter consider the setting of maximum levels also for these PCBs in feed and food."

Our industry is probably better prepared than some politicians for the regulations that may be introduced.

I recognise the efforts that the industry has made over the years to improve its practices in relation to the environment and health and safety. I recognise that locational guidelines are in place and I echo Robin Harper's plea that those be implemented. Those guidelines are not just about the environmental issues surrounding the siting of a fish farm; they are also about the wishes of the host community. Many host communities welcome fish farms, for the reasons that members have ably outlined, and the employment that they offer. However, many other communities have different ideas about how they would like to use their marine and shoreline environment. I am talking not just about people who do not like the look of fish cages, but about people who have other uses in mind for that environment. Their wishes have to be respected.

I recognise that the industry has been consolidated into big companies, as other members have mentioned. The word "diverse" appears in "A Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture", and diversity is one of the issues that we have to address. Shellfish farming has been mentioned in that respect. I conclude by mentioning trade defence, which other members have discussed. The best trade defence is a reputation for a quality product.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 11:31 am, 2nd December 2004

All members—with one or two exceptions—are agreed that the fundamental problem facing the salmon industry is the price that it is receiving for its product in the marketplace. Yes, the Scottish product is achieving a premium of 10p per kilo, but businesses will not be saved if the price is below the cost of production. Survival for our farmers is about two key objectives: first, to maintain the quality and the premium that is being achieved in the marketplace; secondly, to make the industry more competitive. The industry must be competitive if it is to be sustainable in the longer term. Quality and the Scottish premium will not secure the industry's future; the competitiveness agenda must be addressed.

On a recent visit to Scottish Sea Farms at South Shian, I saw a company that has cut its costs while improving the quality of its product so that it is achieving a better return, year on year, from the marketplace. The way in which it goes about its business is also completely compatible with the protection of the environment and ensuring a sustainable future for production in the farms that it owns. The company has turned its business around and has moved back into profitability in the past two years, against a difficult background. It needs the Scottish Executive to speed up the process of simplifying the regulatory burden that is currently placed on the industry. That is not about reducing the regime; it is about simplifying it and making it easier to use.

The first key objective that the producers want the Executive to deliver on over the next year is the reduction of the number of bodies that are involved in the regulation of the industry. As other members have said, in Norway, one body regulates the industry and there is a quick turnaround from application to consent. We have a commitment in the programme for government for the Executive to reduce the number of bodies and I hope that we can make good progress on that.

The second key objective for the industry is for SEPA to move away from basing discharge consents solely on the impact on the environment directly below the cages towards an area-based model. The latter has several advantages, as it gives greater flexibility and, most important, it allows longer fallow periods of up to a year. That approach is more sensible and competitive.

The third key objective, which other members have mentioned, is much faster access for the industry to new generation medicines. In Ireland, a temporary licensing system allows producers early use of the next generation of medicines that enter the marketplace.

Those are three key areas in which the producers want the Executive to make speedy progress if we are to remain competitive. Some people may ask if it matters whether we are competitive and what difference that makes. Whether we like it or not, 80 per cent of the industry is now Norwegian or Dutch owned and the Norwegians and Dutch have interests in Chile, British Columbia, Norway and Scotland. Scotland is competing directly with those other areas for crucial investment in the future. If Scotland is regarded as over-regulated and uncompetitive, the money will be invested elsewhere by the major companies. That will mean that our industry will wither away and die, which could have a devastating impact on the communities that I and other members represent.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

The member says that there is over-regulation. However, the Scottish Executive, of which Liberal Democrats are a part, has done nothing to lessen that regulation in six years. Why not?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

If Mr McGrigor had been present at the beginning of the debate, he would have heard the minister outline the progress that has been made in trying to simplify the regulation and reduce the number of regulatory bodies that are involved in the industry. That commitment is in the programme for government and I am pleased to say that it was the Liberal Democrats who put it there. If Mr McGrigor had turned up for the beginning of the debate, he would have heard what is going on. I hope that the Deputy Presiding Officer will allow me some extra time in recognition of that long intervention.

I think that all members have welcomed what the minister said this morning about the hard work that has been done in conjunction with the United Kingdom Government on delivering in the crucial area of trade defence measures. The industry in Scotland needs a sustainable price, which can be achieved only by ending the predatory pricing of Norway in the European market. As I said earlier, when we met the Norwegian minister two years ago, he made it crystal clear that Norway was going to quadruple the size of its industry and go all out to achieve market share. Therefore, it is important that we ensure that there is a level playing field for market prices.

Last week, the Greens tried to portray themselves as champions of our farmers in calling for a fair price for the farmers' produce, yet today we have heard barely a word of support for Scotland's fish farmers from the socialists in sandals. Indeed, we heard quite the reverse. Not content with refusing to support the industry, the Greens refused to endorse the eating of the industry's product and wished for ever more punitive regulation. I am afraid that, given the position that has been outlined today, we can only conclude that the Greens' position is little different from Don Staniford's: close the cages in Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats support an aquaculture industry that is economically as well as environmentally sustainable and that continues to win greater market share, providing more jobs and opportunities for communities in some of the remotest areas in Scotland.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I make the observation that no fewer than six members who participated in the debate have not returned to the chamber for the closing speeches. I advise members that the Presiding Officers take note of that. We monitor the statistics and take them into consideration in determining who will be called to speak, and in what order, in subsequent debates.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 11:38 am, 2nd December 2004

The debate has produced a picture of an industry with massive potential but that is currently in crisis. There was much of value in the minister's opening statement, but there was also an element about it of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. No one doubts the importance of regulation in ensuring a safe, healthy aquaculture industry; however, the minister did not give much encouragement for an early resolution in response to the industry's pleas for a one-stop shop to cut through the red tape.

Nora Radcliffe recently described a speech of mine—accurately, I am sure—as disappointing. I return the compliment today. In her fairly disappointing speech, she too demonstrated the mañana approach that the minister seemed to take. That seems to be the approach that the Executive has adopted. We received no assurances from Nora Radcliffe or the minister that the Executive is treating as a crisis the concerns felt by many sectors of the industry about looming bankruptcy.

Rob Gibson made some solid points about measures that the Executive could take while its laborious collaborative approach grinds on, especially with regard to the input that it could make into resolving certain transport problems to help small, remote producers get their product to market. Despite the minister's statement about support that the banks might give to new sectors of the industry, I agree with Alasdair Morrison's overview that the salmon industry is almost unbankable. Mr Morrison was also right to draw attention to what might be called the Norwegian blight. As many members have pointed out, the Norwegians are providing sustained subsidies to their own massive industry and dumping their product on the market.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The member is not correct to say that there is no investment in the market. Indeed, when I visited the fish farmers at South Shian, they said that about £250,000 had been invested in onshore handling capacity. The point is that the industry is very competitive.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I am not quite sure whether George Lyon was referring to the unbankability of the industry that Alasdair Morrison mentioned. However, I accept that some investment has to be made in the industry and I was encouraged by Lewis Macdonald's comment that there would be further attempts to help in that respect.

Although I do not totally agree with Alasdair Morrison's description of Robin Harper's party as ramshackle and involved in low-level politics, I sometimes find it difficult to know exactly where the Greens stand on the subject of farmed salmon. They appear to sit on the fence quite a bit and, as Fergus Ewing rightly pointed out, Mark Ruskell said last week that he was not sure whether farmed salmon should be sold in supermarkets at all.

Alex Johnstone struck a consensual note, because we support the thrust of the Executive's strategy, if not the timescale in which it has been framed. The Conservatives are certainly not afraid of competition; however, we want fair competition and that is not happening with Norway at the moment. Alex also made strong points about cross-contamination as a result of disease arising from fishmeal, of which Denmark is a major producer.

Maureen Macmillan was right to point out that, although Scotland has a world-class industry, we face the same potential problems of disease and sea lice that Norway and other countries face. Indeed, another potential problem is that Norway controls not only much of our industry, but much of the Chilean salmon industry as well. We cannot ignore the fact that these large companies provide the bulk of the jobs, however much Carolyn Leckie—who has left the chamber—might prefer the industry to be locally owned.

Jim Mather was right to say that we must protect those precious jobs, and there is scope for farming other species such as cod, halibut and turbot. I, too, have visited the Johnson brothers' Vidlin salmon farm that Mr Mather mentioned and have seen the valuable work that is being carried out on halibut and turbot farming at Dunstaffnage. As a result, I very much welcome the minister's announcement that the banks will help to fund new species farming.

John Farquhar Munro made interesting comments about the prospects for shellfish farming. In particular, I support his view that the Executive has seriously disadvantaged the wild and farmed scallop industry. I hope that the Conservatives' long-standing argument on this matter has now been won and that end-product testing will soon be introduced.

Jamie McGrigor, who I understand had problems with the overnight train from London, was right to draw attention to the important wild salmon industry. We note this year's encouraging runs of salmon and sea trout, as the scientific community has got its act together to allow angling and farming interests to co-exist. I also welcome the support for the industry that we received, albeit grudgingly, from Eleanor Scott.

Given all that, it might be said that the consensus that Fergus Ewing sought has been reached to a certain extent. That said, it would have been helpful if Dr Scott had totally disassociated the Greens from the wholly discredited Pew Oceans Commission report. However, she singularly failed to do so. George Lyon was also right to highlight the great difficulties that the industry faces and the need to cut through the regulations that I mentioned earlier.

We have absolutely no doubt that the aquaculture industry can have a healthy and sustainable future. As Alex Johnstone pointed out, we will support the Executive motion if our amendment somehow happens to fail. That said, although I welcome the minister's statement and agree with the need for extensive collaboration, many sectors of the industry are now saying that there must come a time for the talking to stop. I commend our amendment to the chamber.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 11:45 am, 2nd December 2004

The fact that, since 1999, we have discussed this important and perhaps uniquely Scottish industry several times in the chamber says a lot about the value of a Scottish Parliament. A couple of weeks ago, I read in the newspapers that eating oily fish gives people bigger brains. After listening to some of the speeches this morning, I certainly think that there is a case for putting more oily fish on the menu in the Parliament's restaurants. It must work; after all, Fergus Ewing said that he had salmon for his starter and main course last week, and everyone in the chamber will agree that Fergus has a pretty big brain.

We have reached consensus on other issues, particularly on the value of the aquaculture industry to Scotland. As the minister pointed out in his opening speech, it is worth half a billion pounds a year and accounts for 10,000 jobs in western and northern coastal communities. Moreover, we must not forget that it also secures jobs in processing factories in Annan, Fraserburgh, Shetland and other parts of the country.

Jim Mather raised a very good point about concerns over the ownership of the industry. Although Scotland is a major aquaculture producer, Norway tends to own much of our industry. Similarly, although we are the biggest oil and gas producer in Europe, Norway owns more of our industry than we own of its industry. Government needs to learn some hard lessons on these matters.

Members have also expressed a unanimous view about other industry pressures such as the lack of investment in recent years, current low prices and oversupply in the European Union. In that respect, the SNP welcomes the minister's announcement that he is pursuing further safeguards to ensure that there is a level playing field for Scottish producers in Europe.

Other members have referred to the health benefits of eating oily fish and other aquaculture sector products. That said, we must ensure that we act as responsible politicians and I appeal to all MSPs to think twice before they make comments to the press that might fuel any media scaremongering. Such conduct does no one any favours. After all, the whole purpose of the FSA is to ensure that we receive independent advice on these matters. As a result, if we have any concerns about the health effects of Scottish food products, including farmed salmon, our first call should be to the FSA for its advice, not to the press.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

If that is the case, why does the SNP repeatedly abstain from the vote on amnesic shellfish poisoning orders, despite the fact that the FSA has given advice on the matter?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The SNP's position on this matter is well documented. In any case, the system is being changed, so the parties that have questioned the regime have been vindicated.

Given that Scotland has one of Europe's worst health records, we must promote healthy eating and farmed salmon has a key role to play in that respect. We must ensure that the Minister for Health and Community Care works with the rural development ministers to promote the many healthy Scottish food products. Indeed, fish products are top of the list. However, although we are one of the world's most famous fish-producing nations, we eat almost the lowest amount of fish per head of population. That ironic and unhealthy situation must change, and the Executive must do more to promote the eating of fish.

Debates on aquaculture are always characterised by arguments about the environmental situation, and quite rightly so, because certain genuine concerns have to be addressed. The SNP welcomes all the steps that the aquaculture industry has taken to do so, because it is important that all producers are sustainable and adhere to the strictest environmental standards. We also welcome the comments about the code of practice, which the industry is considering and which we hope will be introduced as soon as possible. Every producer should sign up to that code and it should be made clear if anyone does not do so. Products must be clearly labelled to ensure that people know about the environmental and welfare standards that producers must adhere to.

The matter of sustainable fishmeal is crucial not only for the global situation, but for the Scottish commercial fishery and it must be addressed. Fish offal that can be used for feeding in the Scottish aquaculture industry will always be produced in Scotland, but we must ensure that wider industrial fishing is addressed because it damages Scotland's commercial fishery.

I will consider two further issues. The first is regulation. Since 1999, the SNP has called for regulation to be streamlined so that the industry can be more competitive. We have waited six years for that and we are still waiting. It is a pity that the Government has dragged its heels and it is ridiculous that the industry must deal with 10 statutory bodies, 63 pieces of legislation and 43 EU directives. We need a one-stop shop. Let us not forget that time is money. If we get a one-stop shop, we can save time and make the industry more efficient. Secondly, the Crown Estate issue must be addressed. It is a throwback to a past age, which causes real costs and problems for the aquaculture industry. It is ridiculous that more has not been done about that before now.

Shellfish cultivation is also important because it offers huge potential for the aquaculture industry. It is environmentally benign and it is sustainable and profitable—it should be encouraged. I have visited and spoken to shellfish farmers in Shetland and Skye. They, too, can sustain employment in our rural and coastal communities. Therefore, I support members' comments about promoting and protecting the interests of shellfish cultivation.

Aquaculture has huge potential for Scotland, but it must be environmentally and economically sustainable, and it must have the Government's continuing support.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr Lyon's extra time, minister, means that I must ask you to restrict your closing remarks to nine minutes.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 11:51 am, 2nd December 2004

I will attempt to be brief.

I welcome the great majority of what has been said by the great majority of contributors. The debate has reflected the widespread recognition in the Parliament of the importance of aquaculture for many communities around our coast and for the Scottish economy as a whole. Sadly, there is an exception to every rule. The only positive thing that I can say about the speeches of Robin Harper and Eleanor Scott is that they succeeded admirably in uniting all the other parties in the chamber in opposition to the Green's approach to this important industry.

I talked at the outset of the debate about the importance of investor confidence for the future sustainability of the aquaculture industry. Investor confidence is affected by what is said in the Scottish Parliament and members should be aware of that when making their speeches. We should all seek to send out a positive message endorsing the aquaculture industry and its produce, and send that signal around Scotland and beyond.

The point was also made that we should not only act to support the industry, but seek to ensure that investors are aware of the actions that we are taking and of the difference that they will make. I assure members that we are doing that. My predecessor, Allan Wilson, met with the banks not so long ago and we continue to talk with investors. Moreover, the banking community is represented on the ministerial working group for the strategic framework for Scottish aquaculture, which I chair. We will talk to the banking community and to others about what we need to do to secure the industry's future.

We believe that the case for definitive safeguards has been well made. We also recognise that we must continue to make that case with all EU member states to ensure that the measures are put in place. Members will be aware that the industry has lodged an anti-dumping complaint, which could provide an alternative route if the safeguards route proves unfruitful. However, the signals are positive, as I said at the outset, and we believe that we should go ahead on that basis. What we want is an agreed process that produces a minimum price that can underpin a sustainable industry for the future. Beyond the safeguards that we seek, we are aiming to achieve a level playing field on which the Scottish industry can compete successfully. Several members commented on the support that we have had from Douglas Alexander and UK ministers. Having spoken to Douglas in recent days, I can confirm that we have not only that support, but valuable support from within the European Commission and from other member states.

It is important to recognise that, even after we have done the things that we want to do and have resolved the issues of production costs in Norway and loss-making prices being set for Norwegian produce, it will remain the case that Norway will be an important producer in the sector and that Norwegian companies will be important players within the Scottish industry. Therefore, we will continue to pursue dialogue with the Norwegian Government and seek to improve our competitiveness in order to attract investment for what is an international market.

We will also continue to tackle future impediments to competitiveness and will press ahead with the streamlining of regulation, providing a basis for best management practices and supporting the production and marketing of quality food products. The point has been made from a number of directions that that process is important and that it ought to go faster. I assure members that we are working closely with the industry, stakeholders and regulatory bodies to ensure that the process goes ahead as quickly as it can. I emphasise that we have identified a one-stop shop as a priority for action under the strategic framework.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I accept what the minister has said, but does he agree that, if the Executive is progressing the issue as rapidly as it claims, the timescale for its aquaculture bill, which will not even start to be read until the end of next year, hardly represents an Executive that regards the industry as being in crisis?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

If the action that we are taking in Europe does not indicate to members the urgency with which we are tackling the issue, I can say only that their measure of what constitutes urgency must be somewhat different from mine.

We are, indeed, addressing the issues with urgency and we are doing so with the industry, which is the critical point. It is not good enough just to say here in the Parliament that Government ought to do more; nor is it good enough to overlook the fact that the industry's buy-in to what we want to do is critical. We must persuade and bring with us all those within the industry, whether they are big producers, small Norwegian-owned companies or Scottish-owned companies. We must work with them and find ways in which they can support the changes that we seek to make. We are exploring a more efficient approach to the question of relocation and there are a number of good examples of what we are doing in that regard.

The Crown Estate issue was raised, which was perhaps predictable. It is worth saying that part of the process of examining regulation that we are undertaking is the examining of comparative costs within the industry. The kind of figures that have been bandied around in the debate will be replaced by firm, clear figures that will allow us to make sensible judgments. It is worth recalling that the Crown Estate does indeed provide funding for community projects and, among other things, provides funding for the Scottish aquaculture research forum to the tune of £100,000. Therefore, the Crown Estate recognises its relationship with the industry.

The Scottish aquaculture research forum is moving forward. The question was raised whether it attracts sufficient funding. Its projected budget is some £900,000 over three years, which is a more significant figure than has been recognised by one or two members. The forum includes within it the industry, environmental non-governmental organisations, wild-fish interests, public bodies and the Executive. The forum is clearly and decisively setting an agenda and calling for research tenders to address those issues that must be considered.

It is worth emphasising that we are consulting on the extension of planning controls. Those who feel that they can contribute to the consultation should do so. The closing date is 14 January next year, so there is still time for those who want to, to respond. The principle of transferring the responsibility for planning consents from the Crown Estate to local authorities is clear and established, and is on course for next year.

Overall, the actions that we are taking are designed to ensure that the industry has a sustainable and competitive future. We believe that Scottish salmon and Scottish aquaculture products can compete with the best in the world, but they need the support of all stakeholders in the industry to do that. The industry particularly needs an end to the kind of scare stories that we have had in the past and an end to the kind of ambiguity that we heard again in the debate from the Green party about the bogus science that has been brought forward to discredit the industry. There must be consensus around promoting a quality, profitable industry for the future.

The industry's profitability depends on the trade defence measures that the UK Government is promoting in Europe. The efforts of the UK Government and the Scottish Executive deserve the whole-hearted support of all in the Parliament. We will continue to work with the industry for the benefit of Scottish-owned companies and the whole industry within Scotland in order to achieve a sustainable future and support jobs in many of our most remote communities.