I again thank the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee for calling the debate, which has provided an opportunity to discuss issues that are of great import to a sector that, in a short period, has become a cornerstone of this country’s rural economy. I have been heartened by the support from across the chamber—or most of it—for the industry, which is qualified by the need for it to meet the challenges that it currently faces. It was very fair of Mr Chapman to point out that some of those challenges, such as sea lice and the use of cleaner fish, are already being tackled successfully, but there is more to be done.
I hope that those few short sentences sum up where the Parliament is—or most of it, because, plainly, not everyone is in that place. I very much welcome the consensus that exists in support of a sustainable industry. For my part, given the responsibilities that fall to me, as Mr Rumbles said, I will do my best to ensure that the direction of travel of Government policy and its implementation reflect the overall tone of the debate.
I thought that those words would be a useful way in which to start my speech, because, in the short time that I have available, I will not be able to reply to every one of the many questions that have been asked.
It is fair to say that the sector is investing heavily to improve fish health. It has been doing so for some considerable time and, in some cases, with success. For example, Scottish Sea Farms Ltd’s sustainability report points to an £11.8 million investment in fish health in 2017. Some 85 per cent of that was spent on non-medicinal measures, while 91.3 per cent was spent on fish survival at sea in 2018. There was also a 50 per cent reduction in the use of medicinal treatments and a 25 per cent reduction in the need for sea lice treatments. Surely, all of us welcome such results.
Interactions is a vital area that we are working on—we will not be kicking that particular can down the road. Claudia Beamish sought assurances about time limits. I will resist the temptation to respond too specifically to that request, which is generally a prudent course for a minister to take, but I reiterate my determination that we will act swiftly. However, members should bear in mind that each of the groups that we have set up—some of them some time ago—requires to do its work, which involves considering the evidence, and that, as we know from the committee’s reports, considering the evidence takes time. It is a long time since the committee’s inquiries began, and we need similarly to allow the groups—the interactions group, in particular—time to do their work. John Goodlad’s leadership and the technical expertise of those on the interactions group are a big advantage for us.