HC Deb 12 April 1934 vol 288 cc577-604

Order for Second Reading read.

8.20 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Not for the first time in the same week the house has to regret the absence of the Minister of Agriculture, to whom it should have fallen to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The topic is one of importance. From the point of view of both salmon and trout fishing, not only is it to be regarded as a sport enjoyed by individuals, but as a source of national wealth and of rateable value. There has been for the last generation a very virulent and rapidly spreading disease which affects particularly trout and salmon. So far as the scientist knows, it spread to this country from Europe through the importation of live trout. It made its first appearance in any serious form a year or two before the War. In the last few years it has spread with great rapidity through many of the salmon and trout rivers both of England and Scotland, and there is a general concensus of opinion among scientific students of questions connected with fish, practical anglers, fishery boards and angling associations that the time has come when legislation should step in to do what can be done to arrest the further progress of the disease and, if possible, to eradicate it. The topic has been closely examined and this view clearly expressed by a scientific committee which was appointed by Lord Noel-Buxton and Mr. Adamson, when they wore respectively responsible for the agriculture and fisheries of England and Scotland, and which has now published two extremely valuable reports on the subject.

I need not emphasise the importance of both salmon and trout fishing. The value of the commercial salmon fisheries in Scotland, for instance, amounts to something like £400,000 a year, and those of England to rather more than half that. The value that attaches to a first-rate trout stream may be gathered from the fact that a single mile of one of the famous chalk streams of the South may be worth in annual value anything from £1,000 to £2,000. Therefore, the House will see that it is of very great import- ance that rateable subjects of such value should not be allowed to be destroyed or put in jeopardy by the extension of this disease. As to the seriousness to which it can attain, this kind of fact—an example which can well be multiplied—will give some impression to the House. In one Scottish salmon river in one year there were picked up dead, killed by this disease which is called furunculosis, as many fish as were caught by the rod in the whole season.

Hon. Members who are interested in salmon fishing know that one of the well-established facts in the mysterious history of salmon is that they always return to the river in which they are spawned. Therefore, if you get a sudden attack of this disease a very great decrease of the breeding fish is almost inevitable, and in the course of years the fish population will correspondingly decline. It so happens that these very severe attacks in the salmon rivers have been for the most part of recent date, and it is not yet possible to trace with accuracy how great the decline in the future population may be. The House may take it, and those who are interested in the Bill will agree, that the disease of furunculosis is a most serious menace both to the sport of angling and to the commercial side of salmon fishing. The most important consideration which ought to weigh most with the House is the question of the rateable value of the rural districts both in Scotland and in England where sporting and fishing rights are one of the main sources of revenue. The Bill comes forward in response to a general consensus of opinion as to the need of something being done, and the only possibility of a diversity of opinion is on the question how it should be done, and whether or not the Bill does enough, or whether, on the other hand, it does too much.

The first provision in Clause 1 is, I think, accepted as necessary by all. It provides for the complete and unqualified prohibition of the importation into this country of live fish of the salmon species. The second Sub-section deals with the importation of live freshwater fish other than the salmon species, and the live eggs of any kind of freshwater fish, which can be imported into this country only by a licensed consignee, so that there shall be control of their importation. The reason why the importation of other freshwater fish is to be looked after and watched and controlled is that, although it is the salmon species that is primarily subject to the disease, it also appears in coarse freshwater fish. I need not say any more in that respect, because as far as I know there is complete unanimity as to the necessity and value of the provision.

The second main provision of the Bill is to the effect that when an area, either a river, a stream or a fish farm or anything of that sort, has been ascertained to be infected with furunculosis, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in England and the Secretary of State for Scotland in Scotland can issue an Order dealing with the situation. The situation is dealt with in two different ways. The Order may either control or prohibit the transportation and movement of live fish out of the infected area, which is an essential step to prevent any further spread of the disease. The second step which may be taken by Order is that any fish farm, or private fish hatchery which is found to be infected by the disease, may be ordered to be cleansed and the fish disposed of. That is probably the provision about which there may be some discussion, and perhaps it will shorten the proceedings if I do not enter into an argument as to the necessity of the provision, but rather wait and reply to any criticisms which may be made upon it.

The third important provision is that where an area is suspected of being infected by furunculosis the local inspector may make a standstill Order. That is to say, until the suspicion is either verified or allayed, no live fish shall be moved out of the area. The period of the standstill Order is 21 days, or until the Minister or the Secretary of State decides one way or another either that it is an uninfected or an infected area. I do not think that upon that provision there will be any disagreement, except possibly upon the Committee point as to the proper length of time during which the standstill Order shall be in operation. The only other provision of general importance to which I need refer is one which, I think, will prove of great value. Even in a district which is not a suspected area, the local fishery board, or any occupier of a fish farm or hatchery or any water, may apply to the Minister here, or to the Department of Fisheries in Scotland, for an inspection of the fish in order to ascertain whether or not the disease is present among them, and the applicant gets the advantage of the scientific knowledge of the experts from the respective Ministries free of charge, and receives a report on the subject.

I attach importance to this point. It should be of great value, particularly to the commercial undertakings connected with the breeding of fish, to be able to get in this way without charge a clean bill of health. The only other matter which I need mention is that where a district is declared by the Minister to be infected, if there is a fishery board in the district, they are to be the executive board for the carrying out of the provisions of the Bill, but the main decision as to whether an area is or is not infected is with the Minister both in England and in Scotland.

I have been very brief on the subject of the spread of the disease. Having regard to the evidence given in the most interesting report of the commission, I cannot but feel that there is here a real danger. It may be said that at this stage provisions less broad than those I have sketched might have been taken, but I think the House will agree that, with the pressure of legislation upon us, it is better on a question of this sort to take all the necessary powers at one time rather than have two bites at the legislative cherry. These, pending any criticism or any observations upon the Bill, are the only remarks that I will make now. I think I have sufficiently sketched the broad lines on which the Bill is based, and the necessity for its introduction.

8.36 p.m.


The Bill has gone through its respective stages in another place, and is brought down to us. Apart from the smallness of the expenditure which will be entailed, which may be sufficient but later may be found to be insufficient, we think that nothing can be said. With regard to the purpose of the Bill we think it is perfectly laudable, and in the main we agree with it. We reserve to ourselves as an Opposition the right when the Bill comes to the Committee stage to examine it in greater detail, and if we find it necessary to strengthen the Bill or to take from it some things which we think are inadequate, we shall consider the Bill from that standpoint.

There are two points to which I would make reference, without going into them in detail; one is the fact that I have to enter my protest against the method the Government are adopting, namely, taking to themselves powers not merely to carry out the purpose of the Bill but to extend the application of it by Regulations and Orders in Council. If there are other classes of fish known to have, or to be subject to, this particular disease, it might have been as well to have taken all the powers in this Bill instead of waiting until disease breaks out in other classes of fish and then, by Regulation, which is a very inadequate way of legislating, to deal with those classes of fish also. I think that general powers, apart from those taken in the Bill, might have been taken by the Government, and then there would not have been two bites at the cherry, which the Under-Secretary says he is avoiding. We think that he is actually taking two bites. He might have taken wider powers now and have included every class of fish, instead of leaving it to Regulations or Orders in Council. When the Bill comes before us in Committee we may have to examine it in greater detail, and if we consider it necessary to strengthen the powers asked for or to deal with it in a wider aspect, we shall do our best to assist the Government in getting the Measure through.

8.39 p.m.


I am in very much the same position as the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean). Although I support the Bill, I do not like some parts of it, and I welcome the Minister's suggestion that he is prepared to consider Amendments. I welcome also the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is in charge of the Bill, for he is a skilled practitioner in the ancient and reputable art of angling, and I am sure that he will do nothing that will damage the art, or interfere with the very great commercial interests which are attached to the supply of fish. I think that Clause 1 is admirable. It is quite right to stop the import of all fish of the salmon family into Great Britain. My objections are limited to Clauses 2, 4 and 6. Clause 2 gives the Minister power to declare an area an infected area. I should like to ask the Minister to define as far as he can what an area is, and what is proof of infection. Take some of the south country rivers. It is quite clear from the report of the committee appointed by Lord Noel-Buxton and Mr. Adamson that in a great many of the south country rivers this unpleasant disease is endemic. Would an area mean the whole of a river? (Suppose an infected fish were found in the Test or the Avon, would the whole of the river be made an infected area? What is proof of infection? I will try to show that the disease can be dormant or latent in a river for years and only break out in certain special cases. Therefore, the first question I ask is the extent of the area that can be declared infected because of a certain number of fish being found dead or infected; and my second question is, what would be considered proof of infection?

The Bill gives power to destroy the fish in a fish farm which is found to be infected with furunculosis. There are two sorts of fish farms—the fish farms which breed fish and sell them commercially, and the hatcheries of many private owners and fishing clubs, which are set up for the purpose of stocking their own waters, chiefly owned by fishing clubs. Nowadays fishing is no longer confined to private individuals of some wealth but, fortunately, is widespread, and through the fishing clubs it is now open to people of smaller means. Under the terms of Clause 10 (1) a hatchery is a fish farm even if it is not run for commercial profit. The Minister can order the destruction of the fish in that farm, and can prohibit the transport of live fish and eggs of fish and foodstuffs for fish to and from the infected area. In addition to the power to destroy the fish in fish farms, one very drastic power is given in Clause 2 (4) whereby the Minister can authorise the occupier of any waters in an infected area to remove any fish from the waters in that area and to do it by methods otherwise illegal. For that purpose he can, I take it, break the lease under which he holds the waters, and he can net the water and take out all the fish. It is rather remarkable that the Minister himself should have no such powers, and indeed it is impossible to exercise these powers, because you cannot get all the infected fish out of a river. Unless these powers are completely exercised they are useless, for infection spreads quickly and all the sound fish left in the river would soon become infected.

Take first the commercial fish farm, the man who supplies fish for the market or to stock rivers. It is quite right, when furunculosis is found in a fish farm, that the transport of fish from the farm should be stopped. Anyone looking at the report of the committee will see that infection is far stronger in rivers where artificial re-stocking has taken place, and will also realise that a good deal of the infection of furunculosis comes from these fish farms. They are not, however, entirely to blame, for the report says that probably the disease came from the Continent of Europe and from fish imported from there. But the case is different, I submit, where a private hatchery of fish is not run for profit, and where fish are put into a river already infected with furunculosis. It seems strange to put fish into an infected river, but I shall show what a strange disease this is. The Minister has the power, in the case of an infected river, to prohibit the import of eggs of fish. That is not an important question, as the committee says that the eggs can be disinfected. What is important is that he can prohibit the import of foodstuffs for fish into that area. In these private fisheries, where fish are hatched artificially, the eggs are obtained from the fish in the river, hatched artifically, and the fish kept in side streams of the river. If the river is infected, I suppose that the side streams are also infected, the whole area is infected, and if you cannot import food for the fish they must die of hunger. I see no evidence in the report that food is a carrier of infection. If it were a carrier of infection I should not have the least objection, but the food of fish is things like mussels, and it has been disproved that this disease exists in the sea. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me on that point.

Let me say a word or two on this obscure and very strange disease. It increases in summer at a temperature of about 60 degrees, and after that dies down in the winter; it comes up in the spring and summer, and then falls to almost nothing in the winter. It is worst in a dry season. It was demonstrated at the end of the last century that it was a bacillus, with whose name I will not trouble the House. There is no doubt that the bacilli exist and bacteriologists all over this country and in America confirm it. I want to put to the Minister the experience of old fishermen who have lived on the Test for many years before 1894. It is believed by many people that the disease has always been in the Test, the Itchen, and other of the chalk streams. It is believed that it is endemic and that it does not affect the fish unless the fish are damaged. They may damage themselves by fighting on the spawning beds, or may be wounded by an otter. An established rule in most clubs is that all small fish, if they are landed, are returned to the water, and in unhooking the fish some of the scales may be rubbed off and the fish damaged. In these cases it is likely that the disease will break out, but, except for that, these fish are perfectly healthy, fat and lusty, and good to eat. That may go on year after year, yet this area may be an infected area. It is quite possible for the fish to be quite immune unless they are wounded. If this be so, and there is ample proof of it, then to carry off the fish in private hatcheries, except in the case of a bad outbreak of the disease, is useless. The report expressly says: It is not practicable to eradicate or check the disease in an infected natural water course. You cannot extract all the fish from the river; that is quite impossible, but I agree that you should not allow fish from these infected rivers to be exported to uncontaminated waters; they would spread the disease. At the same time, you must not allow these drastic powers to an occupier to strip the river bare of fish, to be exercised where only four or five fish are affected in a big river. That is going too far, and it is an unreasonable power.

The Minister has dealt with the immense value of these fisheries. They are of value to the home market, to local authorities and to the public, in what, I submit, is the most attractice of pursuits. We are all desirous of keeping down the disease. Some salmon rivers in Scotland are let at big rents; £1,000 and £2,000 is nothing out of the way, and it has been reckoned that the Test is worth about £10,000 per mile. I think that is too high. I should put it at about £5,000 a mile, but the House will realise the immense rateable value of these properties, and I know of more than one case in which a landowner has been rescued from the bankruptcy court by the rent of his salmon or trout river. I know of a case in which a North country farmer bought outright for £50 the fishing rights of a mile of river. It used to be let to travelling anglers for £2 or £3 a year, but so popular has fishing become that from that bit of river, for which he paid £50, he now gets a steady income of £200 a year. That shows the way in which values have increased in recent years. As I say, we should not allow the transport of fish from an infected river to an uninfected river. Fish which are immune from the disease can be carriers of this disease just as there are carriers in the case of certain diseases to which human beings are subject.

I ask the Minister is it not better to proceed gradually? I am rather inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Govan that the cherry will be more easily digested if taken in two morsels. Let him try the experiment of allowing the owners of fish farms and rivers to cure the trouble themselves. First, make the disease of furunculosis notifiable, and compel owners to notify the Fishery Board or where there is no Fishery Board, the Minister, when it is found to exist. Secondly, impose strict penalties for non-notification. Thirdly, I would place the onus of proof as to the existence or otherwise of the disease upon a man who did not notify, because I most earnestly wish to prevent the spread of the disease to untouched rivers. Fourthly, I would stop all transport until the Minister had granted a certificate of freedom from disease, and fifthly, I would insist on all waters being open to the inspectors of the Ministry and persons frequenting those rivers, although not themselves responsible, should be warned to notify the proper authority, if dead fish are found. But I should allow fish to be moved from a hatchery alongside an infected river if the infection was of the endemic character I have mentioned. Lastly, I should allow no transport of fish from a fish farm without a certificate from the Minister that the farm was free from disease.

In those ways I think the Minister would achieve his object, perhaps more easily than by the Bill as it is. He has very strong powers, and these enable him to destroy fish. These fish are a commercial asset. They are important businesses, these fish farms, and as I say the Minister has power to destroy them in the event of disease being found. If he would grant the reforms which I have mentioned I, personally, would accept that, without any compensation to fish farmers who have been warned that they have to notify and who have failed to notify disease and it is found to exist. They ought to know that the disease is there and they ought to notify. If they fail to do so and their fish are found to be infected, then I do not think they ought to be compensated. I am glad of what the Minister said in his opening speech, and I hope that when he replies he will deal with some of the points which I have raised.

9 p.m.


I desire to supplement what has been said by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills). We all agree that the object of the Bill is admirable and I do not think that anybody could quarrel with the first Clause. But the methods of procedure proposed in subsequent Clauses seem to be drastic and oppressive, and almost dictatorial. If the Bill consisted only of Clause 1, I believe it would pass without opposition or criticism. The Minister said that the Bill dealt with both salmon and trout but the committee on whose report the Bill is founded was mainly a Scottish committee and were mainly concerned with Scottish rivers, and the infection of salmon. My right hon. and gallant Friend and I are concerned also with the case of trout in the rivers of Southern England though neither of us however desire to throw any reflection at all on the work of the committee. Clause 2 of the Bill begins by providing that: if at any time the Minister is satisfied as respects any area that any waters therein are or have within the previous 12 months been infected waters, he may declare the area to be an infected area. Twelve months seems a long time to go back. After the lapse of 12 months the evidence would be vague, unreliable, and unsatisfactory and I would point out that it is 12 months as from any time and not prior to the passing of the Measure. I shall want proof of the reasonableness of that provision before I am satisfied with it. I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend top in calling attention to the unreasonableness of prohibiting the importation of fish food into an infected area. Why starve the fish? If they are healthy and it is desired to preserve and protect them, we should not starve them. They are more likely to give way to the disease if they are starved than if they are kept in good condition. I would emphasise the difficulty of the position on the Test and other southern rivers. In the main river there is the fishery and in the side streams there are nurseries supplying fry, yearlings, two-year-olds, and so on. These nurseries are carefully screened and it is impossible for any infected fish from outside to get into them. They should be looked after and protected in every way, and the fish in them should be fed.

As regards an infected area there might be disease in the main river but the nurseries might be clean. If, however, the nurseries are inside an infected area they constitute a fish farm and the Minister can come along and order the fish to be destroyed. I do not say that he would necessarily do so but he might take that step as a precaution in some cases. But there is not a word in the Bill about compensation for the destruction of fish which prove to be healthy. Nobody would ask compensation for the destruction of fish which are diseased. They ought to be destroyed at the earliest possible moment, and no compensation should be payable in respect of them. But there should be compensation for fish taken as specimens by an inspector and subsequently found to be healthy. I will not deal at any length with Clause 4, for the Minister very rightly said that it was a Committee point as to whether 21 days were justifiable or not for the duration of a standstill order. I should have taken the most serious exception to that period, because I think the information as to the presence of the disease could be obtained in four days, and unless the Minister had gone to the Outer Isles, there could be no necessity for 21 days in which to get an order. The third Sub-section of Clause 4 states: If any person entitled to fish from any waters, or any servant or agent employed for the purpose of having the care of any waters, has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the waters are infected waters, or observes any unusual mortality among any fish therein, it shall be his duty forthwith to report the facts by letter or telegram addressed to the Minister. Obviously, any person entitled to take fish from the water must include a guest fishing in private waters, and it is intolerable to put on a guest the duty of sending a telegram or a letter to a Minister stating that he suspects the area to be infected. Even Cabinet Ministers go fishing and entertain each other fishing, and I can well believe that a provision of this sort might easily lead to a first-class Government crisis, which I am sure we should be very unwilling to see. Then the words "any servant or agent" would include the case of a servant under notice to leave, and it is a very simple thing to send a telegram stating that you believe a certain area to be infected. It needs no proof, and such a person could make an awful lot of trouble for his employer without being able to be got at in any way.

The Minister, in his opening remarks, called attention to the fact that the powers in certain cases would be exercised by the local fisheries board, and not by the Minister. There is this slight difference that that applies to waters which are not fish farms, but in the case of fish farms the duty lies with the Minister, and it seems to me that that is an additional reason for differentiating between fish farms which are run for commercial purposes and the private waters of an individual or a club, or even a hatchery conducted by a board of conservators themselves. I am sure we shall have a conciliatory attitude on the part of the Minister, and I hope that the Bill will be much amended in Committee.

9.9 p.m.

Viscount ELMLEY

There is a feeling in the country that in some respects the zeal of the promoters of the Bill, naturally desirous to eradicate this disease of furunculosis, has outrun their discretion. Nobody wants to disparage the very valuable work which has been done in laboratories during the last few years on this subject, but even the new facts which this research has brought to light do not justify, to my mind, the very stringent powers which are to be found in Clauses 2, 4, and 6 of this Bill. There is the fear expressed by those who make their living from fish farms that it is very likely that they may have to close down altogether, if the Bill becomes law as it stands. There are three main objections about which people are feeling strongly. There is first of all the question mentioned by a previous speaker with regard to compensation, either for samples or for healthy fish which have been destroyed. I believe that under the Food and Drugs Act, and certainly under the Livestock Act, compensation is paid for any stock or goods used or destroyed in this way, and I should have thought that the fish farm was as important to the man who makes his living by it as stock, live or dead, as the case may be, to those who make their living from them.

Under Clause 4 it has been suggested that 21 days is a great deal too long to have a standstill order, and it is here that people are most apprehensive, because just about this time of year, when these fish farms do all their re-stocking, sending their fish all over the country, and in many cases all over the world, if a standstill order of 21 days was made on them with which they had to comply, the whole of their work for the year would be ruined. There are two further points. First of all, is it not possible that death may not be due to this disease? May not death be caused to fish by such things as pollution, lack of oxygen, or in some other way? Sometimes abnormally hot water gives the appearance of disease, although disease is not actually present. It is with those points in view that one feels that it is going a little too far if a standstill order can be made only on the supposition that there may be furunculosis present, and I am sure that if it was laid down in the Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, that a standstill order was only to be made when it was quite certain that there was furunculosis, the Bill would command general support throughout the country. In conclusion, might I ask the Minister if he will be good enough to give serious consideration to these points?

9.13 p.m.


I should like to support the remarks of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills). I think the Bill will meet with the approval of the whole House in its objects, but many of us are rather doubtful as to whether it is setting about attaining them in the wisest way and whether they could not be achieved by much simpler methods. Everyone is anxious to see what steps can be taken to check the ravages of this disease. The first Clause deals very thoroughly and satisfactorily with the question of checking the importation of the disease from overseas. Then home waters remain to be dealt with, and it seems to me that they mainly fall under two different categories—first of all, the main rivers and streams, and secondly what are called in this Bill fish farms. Dealing with rivers and streams, once you have got diseased fish in those streams, I do not think there is very much more that can be done than to ensure that as far as possible the diseased fish are removed from those streams as soon as possible. The proposal suggested in this Bill that occupiers of streams should have power to adopt methods hitherto illegal with a view to destroying the fish in that river because of the disease will not, I think, be effective but will do great damage to the stocks in the rivers. All that can be done in the rivers is to remove the dead fish.

The great danger with regard to the incidence of the disease is in fish farms. Endless trout streams are restocked from hatcheries, and once the disease exists in a hatchery it is liable to spread throughout the country. That is the great danger in the country and one which could most easily and properly be tackled. My view is not the same as that expressed by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon. The right way to deal with the disease in that case would be to make furunculosis a notifiable disease so that anybody suspecting the disease in any fish farm or stream should be compelled to notify his suspicions to an inspector, who would go down and confirm whether it was the true disease or not. Once the disease was proved on a fish farm, the owner should be prohibited from disposing of any more live fish until his farm had a clean bill of health. If the problem were dealt with in that way the responsibility would rest on the owner of the farm. It might be the simplest method for him to destroy his stock and to get rid of the disease in that way, but that is not by any means certain.

Experiments have shown that it may be possible in anything of the nature of a small hatchery or pool to cure the disease by the application of salt. Further discoveries with regard to that may be made in future, but if the disease were made notifiable and the removal of live fish prohibited until the owner got a clean bill of health, the onus would be on him to get rid of the disease in the way he thought quickest and most suitable. Anybody then who bought live fish for restocking would know that he was not getting fish from infected waters. If the Bill dealt with the matter on these lines it would be a shorter and simpler Bill, and would do as effectively as anything suggested in the Bill in the present state of the disease. Perhaps the changes that are made on the Committee stage will do something on the lines I have outlined.

9.18 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander BOWER

I want to say a word on the subject of the fish farms, which have been generally referred to. There appears to me a very good reason for believing that this disease has been spread to a certain extent by fish from these farms, but at the same time I feel it is important for us to remember that as far as the trout streams of this country are concerned, we cannot do without them. Like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills), I am more familiar with the Test, the Avon and the Itchen, but I am not thinking of those chalk streams. I am thinking of the streams in my own county of Yorkshire and all over the country which are fished by rich and poor alike to such an extent that, without restocking from farms, there would be no fish to-day. Therefore the farms cannot be done without. Fish from them have not only stocked this country, but practically the whole Empire during the last 70 years. Therefore, even if this disease has been spread to a certain extent, we must regard it as inevitable.

I feel that this Bill appears to have proceeded rather with an eye on the Scottish salmon streams, and with perhaps not quite so much regard for the essential stocking of the trout streams. The salmon river has a more or less illimitable reservoir from the sea, although spawning takes place in the rivers, but the trout streams are dependent upon the very slow rate of recuperation in the ordinary trout helped along by the fish farm. The powers under the Bill seem to be rather drastic. The bacillus of the disease has, of course, been identified, but beyond that we do not know very much. Even if that be so, and even if, arising out of that we have to adopt the kind of procedure which is adopted under the Contagious Disease of Animals Act in dealing with foot-and-mouth disease, it will be very hard on the fish farms—which are, after all, commercial institutions, if their stock in trout should be liable to be destroyed without compensation. Moreover a standstill order of such a long period as three weeks may occur at the time of year when all their orders are coming in and it may ruin their complete trade for practically a whole season. I do not think many of these fish farms could stand up to the provisions of this Bill, and I would ask the Minister to give some indication that Amendments will be received sympathetically, and perhaps some assurance that the interests of these important sources of supply for our streams will be borne in mind by the Minister at a later stage of the Bill.

9.23 p.m.

Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN

The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) was right when he suggested that this Bill wanted looking into. In the other place there were very few Members present when the Bill was passed, and it was rather rushed through. I hope the Minister will take account of all the speeches that have been delivered and will reconsider the Bill, for it is very difficult to understand and will need overhauling in Committee. I am taking part in the Debate because some of my constituents have asked me to support any kind of Bill that will do away with this horrible disease. I have also received many letters from fish farms and fishing clubs which are very nervous about some of the proposals in the Bill and do not want it passed unless the Minister can take the advice of the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) and others and will look well into it before passing it into law. The question of compensation is important because it is only fair that farms should receive compensation if their fish are destroyed because of the disease. I find it diffi- cult to ascertain from the Bill what is to be an infected area. I take it that it will be something like the infected area in the case of foot-and-mouth disease and that a whole river or valley will be an infected area. When a standstill order is issued over an area with foot-and-mouth disease, the owners get compensation, and the same is true in agriculture for all those cases of which I know where a standstill order is issued over an area. It is only fair that the same rule should apply over rivers where a standstill order is put on for diseases of fish.

Another point which has already been mentioned, and which I will not stress, is the prohibition of movement. Fish need not carry infection at all, but it is quite certain that if the owners do not know whether the fish are going to be destroyed or not, the fish will die of starvation, and the fishery owner will not only lose his livelihood, but unemployment will be caused. A point made by the last speaker shows the importance of the export trade in live fish to the whole of our Dominions, especially to Australia and India, where I have seen fish that have been exported from this country. I hope that the Minister will go carefully in giving every assistance to these fisheries. We cannot support or keep the trade going if the fish are unhealthy, but at the same time great hardship will arise if this Bill is passed as it is. I am quite sure, however, that the Committee will make a good Bill out of it.

9.27 p.m.


After discussing for most of the afternoon a Measure which might have the effect of taking away the fish population of the country from their natural element, I hope that hon. Members will give back to them the result of that superior intelligence as regards diseases which some members of the human race appear to possess. Considerion of the reports of the Furunculosis Committee shows first of all that they have made some very valuable discoveries, and secondly that there is a good deal still to be learned. I hope that this research will be enabled to continue and that all possible facilities will be given. As many hon. Members have said, no one can object to the steps which have been taken in this Bill to prohibit and restrict the import of live fish from abroad. If that one step had been taken as soon as the first interim report was made four years ago, probably the spread of this disease since that time would have been largely prevented.

As regards control over the movement of live fish at home, naturally one is bound to meet with many objections. Everyone dislikes control. The main justification for control over the movements of live fish lies, however, in the discovery made by the committee and reported in their first interim report, that this disease is contracted in fresh water. Obviously, if salmon and sea trout were to bring in furunculosis from the sea, it would be very little use restricting the movements of live fish from fish farms or from one river to another. Since, however, it is definitely established, as far as I understand the first interim report, that the disease is contracted in fresh water and that it is carried forward from one season to another by the permanent inhabitants of that water, by the brown trout, grayling or coarse fish, and conveyed from one stream to another by stocking with trout from an infected source, control of some sort is necessary.

The whole question is whether the control should be on a voluntary basis—this, I understand, of course with compulsory notification, was more or less the scheme outlined by my right hon. Friend below me—or whether it should be on a compulsory basis. Since this report was issued four years ago there has in fact been in existence some form of voluntary control. People have known these recommendations of the Committee; they have known the dangers which they run from buying and breeding trout from an infected source, and they have therefore been careful. Generally speaking, a voluntary system of control has been tried and has certainly failed, because this disease has continued to spread. That seems to be the main justification for the taking of drastic steps by the Minister to eradicate this disease. Since there is no known method of eradicating the disease once it gets into a stream, and compulsory notification is obviously a slow task and reliance upon a voluntary system will take time, the taking of drastic powers by the Minister is justified.

I should like to make two criticisms to which reference has already been made. The first is in regard to the inspectors to whom the Minister proposes to give such wide powers under Clause 4. These inspectors will presumably not have very great training in this matter, but will have power to make a standstill Order for 21 days. Furunculosis is not like foot-and-mouth disease; it cannot be determined except by bacteriological examination. You cannot tell definitely from looking at a fish whether it has furunculosis or not. These inspectors are not like veterinary surgeons examining for foot-and-mouth disease, and a fish may have died of furunculosis and not show any external damage whatever. The giving of these very great powers to inspectors, which must inflict some damage upon fish farmers, requires some justification. I do not say that it may not be necessary; I think perhaps it is, because it has definitely been proved that perfectly healthy trout can be carriers of the disease. That being so, it may well be that such a step as this is necessary.

The other criticism that I should like to make is in respect of compensation, to which the hon. and gallant Member opposite has referred. The Minister is asking for very wide powers to compel, among other things, the owners of fish farms to destroy all their fish, whether diseased or not, and if necessary to bury the fish or to destroy them in some other way. They may not even send the fish to market. Surely in a case like that, as a matter of principle, compensation must be paid. The owner of a fish farm is not necessarily in a position to know whether the mortality among his fish is due to furunculosis or, as it usually is, to pollution. Obviously in a case like that some compensation should be paid. The principle that where, in the public interest, private property is destroyed, full compensation should be paid, is one which is accepted by everybody. It seems to me that it should apply in a case of that kind.

In conclusion I would like to point out, as the Committee observed in their first report, that the seriousness of this disease as regards the salmon fisheries lies in the fact that it affects the potential breeders in a stream, because all the fish who die from this disease are the fish which have escaped the nets—for without casting any aspersions on the Chancellor of the Exchequer or any other anglers, the proportion taken by rod and line is nothing compared to the numbers taken in the nets. The whole of the fish which die from this disease are the breeding stock of the river, and the future commercial value of the salmon fisheries of the country, which, as the Minister pointed out, is not inconsiderable, is affected. Therefore, it seems to me that in this instance these exceptional and very drastic powers may very well be justified.

9.36 p.m.


I quite realise that a Bill of this kind may be necessary, but I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has given some signs of hope that in Committee he will be able to meet some points of criticisms which have been raised. Along with many other colleagues I read the interim report of the Furunculosis Committee. From the information which I received from my constituency, I was compelled to read it with some alarm. No member of that committee had any practical experience either in the management of a salmon river or of a fishery. I happen to have in my constituency a well-known hatchery, and the owner of that hatchery has probably the greatest knowledge of fishing in the whole of the North of Scotland. I understand from him that there is not a scintilla of evidence to show that fish which are bred in hatcheries are ever the bearers of this disease. On the west coast of Sutherland fully 3,000,000 hatchery-bred fish, including salmon, sea trout and other trout of different ages, have been turned into the rivers, with excellent results and not a sign of disease. On the other hand this hatchery owner has ample evidence to show that fish coming in direct from the sea are bearers of this disease. The Committee appear to have assumed that hatchery-bred trout have been responsible for spreading, disease among the salmon trout and sea trout, but he is of the opinion, and he is not without a great deal of support, that the Committee have allowed themselves to be carried away by theories. In the North of Scotland, where this disease has been prevalent on the east coast, the view is held, and it is well worth consideration, that there has been pollution of the waters ever since the Navy has been up there, and that this has been the cause of this disease. I am prepared to substantiate that view with incidents which I have gathered myself.

This Bill tries to get Parliament to grant the most arbitrary powers. Sup- posing there is a standstill Order in any of the fishing districts in the north, what is going to happen? These inspectors, who may or may not be qualified, may be asked to schedule an area. There may be only one infected fish there, and yet the whole area is to be penalised, the man who earns his living in a hatchery is to be penalised, the fishing tenant is to be penalised—everybody is to be penalised. Supposing that by any chance fish which are highly diseased are swept in towards the seashore and are found there dying or dead. There is no proof that the disease is due to fresh water or hatchery trout. The evidence is that the disease has been acquired at sea. In such a case how can we ask a man who has got a hatchery such as the one I have referred to, which has supplied the best known rivers in the country with the best trout, and without any complaint, to sacrifice his livelihood? Yet two or three inspectors are to be appointed and equipped with arbitrary powers to create what is called a standstill Order, which would destroy the livelihood of that hatchery owner and destroy the rights of fishing tenants all over the area. There was never a more drastic proposal introduced into this House.

The evidence which I gathered in a recent tour of the North is opposed to the view on which this action is being taken. I have the evidence of two distinguished men, Dr. Leiper and Dr. Ruston, who have proved conclusively that salmon come from the sea with the disease. Those two men bear names which are known throughout the whole fishing fraternity in this country. Those distinguished men have been led to the conclusion that the disease is more likely to be caused in the sea rather than in the rivers. If that be true, how can we give these unlimited powers to three or four men who may hold a quite different view without possessing the same evidence as the two distinguished men whom I have quoted?

I was interested to hear what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Conant) on the subject of compensation. Is there to be no compensation? If we say that an area is to be scheduled, that all the fish are to be destroyed and no fish are to be taken from that district, is there to be no compensation to a man who has honourably built up a world-famous hatchery? I would impress upon the Under-Secretary that if a man has established a livelihood under fair conditions, the Government ought not to say that for some problematical advantage his livelihood is to be destroyed without compensation. This Bill is one of the most dangerous I have ever seen introduced, and the House should hesitate a long time before giving it a Second Reading. If it does get a Second Reading, it should be on the distinct understanding that the Undersecretary is prepared to meet us on these important points of the standstill order and the granting to three probably undistinguished men, who may have got preconceived views about this disease of arbitrary powers over the whole fishing industry in the North of Scotland. Unless I am satisfied that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is prepared to get further evidence before the Bill is proceeded with and to see that the Bill is amended in a spirit of fairness which will ensure that no man is asked to sacrifice his whole livelihood without compensation on the arbitrary judgment of three commissioners I cannot assent to the Bill.

9.45 p.m.


I have only a very limited knowledge of this matter, but I am bound to say, in regard to the word "drastic" that has been used in relation to the Bill, that the Bill is not drastic enough. What I am saying now is more in the nature of asking for information from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is, I understand, quite convinced that this disease is spreading not only by contagion and infection of the fish in the sea, but through infected water. The committee definitely established, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that, if you have a stream which contains infected fish, you may tinker about as much as you like with standstill orders or anything else, but as long as there are infected fish in that stream, any new un-infected fish that may be placed there will inevitably contract the disease.

People who desire to take a scientific view of this problem are of the opinion that once a stream has become infected there is no means of eradicating infection except by clearing out the fish and closing the stream for two years. Obviously that is not a practical proceeding with large rivers, or at any rate it would be a very difficult proceeding. Anything short of that will not lead to the desired result, I am advised, because the endemic condition will persist, and unless measures of a much more drastic character than are indicated in this Bill are employed, the damage to the salmon fisheries will continue. I agree that the powers taken in the Bill to deal with hatcheries and fish farms are very desirable. On the other hand, if a fish pond is fed by infected waters, as some of them are, and particularly the side streams from infected rivers, you may clear the hatchery and get it quite free from infection for a time, but if it continues to use water from the infected stream the disease will be reintroduced unless the parent stream has also been cleared. The term "drastic" is applied to this Bill, but the Bill is not nearly drastic enough. I ask the hon. Gentleman to explain what of an important character he expects to achieve by this Measure, with the exception of the provisions dealing with hatcheries and fish farms.

9.49 p.m.


First of all I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir Ian Macpherson) that he has certainly introduced a little Celtic fire into the discussion which we were conducting with that vision, skill and placidity which is characteristic of some of our Debates. I say to him at once that, so far as I can judge from the Debate, if his point of view is not going to be based upon the character of the report of the Committee and the findings which they have arrived at, he will have to fight a lone hand both in this House and in the Committee.

The first characteristic of the discussions that have taken place is the complete agreement by all who have spoken as to the soundness of the Committee's general analysis of the situation. The time has long since past for propositions such as that this extremely obscure but now identified and segregated germ: has anything to do with exhaust petrol or oil from warships. That kind of argument seems to have analogy with the arguments of the time when people thought that eels were produced from the tail hairs of horses. I was very lucky in dealing with one difficult question upon which I might have found myself in difficulty. The hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Major Mills) raised a question as to the rights of guests to catch fish—the entitlement of guests. I was in doubt about that legal question until my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General fortunately came in. He assured me of what I thought to be the case, that guests have no rights or title, and that if I am invited by my right hon Friend to dinner and I try to insist upon a second helping of lobster salad, I have no right to insist upon it.

Let me deal with the criticisms and the suggestions that have been made, primarily in the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills). There is general agreement as to the necessity of a Bill and of prohibition of imports from abroad, and as to the desirability of notification. I gather from some speeches, particularly that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Northampton (Sir M. Manningham-Buller), that this Bill does not contain provision for notification. I do not think that that can be seriously contended. The provision with regard to the necessity of notification is pretty clear, but if there is any doubt as to whether notification is provided for in the Bill let us make certain in the Committee that notification is in it, because that is our intention. There is general agreement that where you have an infected area it is essential that no fish from fish farms, private hatcheries or rivers, shall be cast forth into another area.

Now I come to the point on which, I understand, there might be anxiety, that is to say the provision which allows the Minister to deal with fish farms. That point has been fully discussed, but let me explain that the very broad power is inserted in the Bill not for general use in the case of infection but as an ultimate power to be used in the case of absolute necessity. That is the only way in which such a power can reasonably be used. There is no foundation for the view that fish farms are in danger because of the provisions of the Bill. Hon. Members who are interested in this point will probably agree with the Government that it is better to have this power in the Bill, in the knowledge and upon the understanding that power of such a drastic nature would not be used except in the most exceptional cir- cumstances. That power should be regarded as a maximum penalty. Everybody knows that a maximum penalty is not normally imposed, but is kept in reserve for very serious examples of an offence. This power is the ultimate power to deal drastically with very serious cases of infection. I do not myself think, nor do my advisers, that it will be necessary to put this drastic power into operation, except, as I have said, in the most unusual circumstances. Undoubtedly the power that will be put into operation, whether in regard to rivers, hatcheries, or fish farms, is that upon which there is general agreement, namely, the prohibition of transportation into a clean area. That clearly covers the case, to which my hon. Friend has referred, of a fish hatchery, because the fish bred in the private hatchery are only used for the relevant stream, and are not transported to other areas.

Brigadier-General BROWN

I take it that these drastic powers will only be in the hands of the Minister, and not in the hands of the inspectors?


Does not my hon. Friend realise that, provided these drastic powers are in the Bill, what he is saying at this moment will not have the slightest influence.


That is quite true, but the proposition that I was attempting to put before the House was that, whatever powers you give, you have a right to expect that they will be reasonably administered, and there is a usefulness in having them there. That is the whole foundation for the analogy which I have ventured to put to the House, of the maximum penalty. Many of the penalties which are put into Acts of Parliament as maximum penalties would be quite unsuitable if they were going to be the invariable practice. In the same way, when we are dealing here with the disease with the nature of which the House is now familiar, it would in my judgment be a great mistake not to arm the Minister in advance with these necessary powers against it, not for use in every ease, but for use where it may be necessary. Suppose that in a fish farm there occurred one of these very violent outbreaks, widely spread among the fish in the fish farm. It would be clear that drastic action would have to be taken, but even in that case the question of how drastic the action would have to be would depend to a large extent upon the topography and other characteristics of the farm. It might be possible only to deal with a part of the farm, and so on. But these powers are put in the hands of the responsible Minister on the understanding, which is the basis of all such powers, that they will be reasonably used, and that, I think, is a proposition with which the House should not have any cause to quarrel. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon asked me some definite questions, to which he desires answers. In the first place, he asked what is the extent of an infected area. The answer is that it depends on the circumstances. It might be, as my right hon. Friend knows, a whole watershed, or it might be confined to a comparatively small tributary of the river. It is a matter of circumstance, and there again what is desirable, and what, therefore, will be done as far as possible, is that no district should be labelled as infected unless there is clear proof of that fact.


What sort of proof do you want?


That again must be a matter to be decided in each separate case. I think one has to realise that it would be a matter for administrative decision what extent of disease would constitute such infection as to justify the area being notified as infected. Where you have one of these very violent outbreaks, it might be that the district would be deemed to be infected even at the very beginning of the outbreak. On the other hand, if the outbreak were more endemic, I should think it might well be argued that the discovery of one or two carriers in a large river would not of itself be a justification for declaring that the river was an infected area. These are matters which must be dealt with, and can only be dealt with, in individual cases, as I think the House will agree. I was also asked a question, which did not surprise me, as to the provision in Clause 2 regarding the prohibition of foodstuffs coming into a hatchery. I think that that is a Committee point, but I am bound to say that it is a point which, so far as I am concerned, I should not at this moment feel inclined to exercise a great deal of argument in fighting.

With regard to the question of compensation, there again it seems to depend largely on the extent to which it will be necessary to use the drastic powers. I do not myself believe that the drastic powers will often be used. I do not think it will be necessary. I think their existence will make the owners of fish farms set their house in order before it is necessary to use them, and, therefore, I do not think that there is any analogy as regards the question of compensation between the stamping out of furunculosis and what happens in the case of foot-and-mouth disease, which, when it occurs, can only be safely dealt with in one way, so far as we know, and that is by the immediate slaughter of all the infected animals. The value of those animals is, of course, often great, and clearly the only way in which the farmer can be recompensed for the loss of, possibly, the whole stock of his farm, is to give compensation. That is not the kind of situation that is likely to arise with regard to the fish farms dealt with in this Bill. The whole matter of compensation is one on which I think we may well expect to hear further discussion in Committee, when the general way in which we hope the Bill will operate will become more and more familiar to those hon. Members who are on the Committee. When the whole picture has been put before them in detail, the Committee, and subsequently the House, will be better able to form a final judgment on the question of compensation than when the Bill is being dealt with at this stage for the first time.

I think I have dealt with all the questions that have been put to me, and, in conclusion, I would only say that the main question of principle which has emerged is whether or not it is wiser to confine the provisions of the Bill within narrow limits, or whether, when we are legislating, it is wiser to take wider powers, well knowing that circumstances will seldom make their use necessary, and that they will only be used in circumstances where it is proved to be essential. Even that matter of principle is one which could well be discussed in Committee, and for the present I think I need do no more than thank those hon. Members who have expressed their opinions on the Bill, and say that all that has been said will be carefully considered by the Government.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.