HC Deb 14 July 1966 vol 731 cc1863-84

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I beg to move, That the Diseases of Fish Order 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th June, be not presented to Her Majesty. I am conscious of the green bag behind your Chair, Mr. Speaker. At the beginning of the debate, it might have been appropriate if it had been used for one of its mythical purposes on this occasion. I hope that you will never have to inspect it for columnaris disease.

I think that we are all anxious to have a debate on the spread of this salmon disease, to that we can try to clear up some of the misunderstandings and rumours which are now current. There is at present a very serious outbreak of the disease in Southern Ireland and it is spreading rapidly round the east coast. It started in the Blackwater, went on to the Liffey, and it is said the disease has now been reported from the Boyne, in Ulster.

The disease was described by the Chairman of the British Field Sports Society's Fishery Committee in a B.B.C. broadcast from the Nation Wildlife Exhibition in May as the"myxamatosis of salmon ". Now, as a result of evidence given by Dr. Margaret Brown, the biologist of the Fishmonger's Company at a representative meeting of the British Field Sports Society, the Salmon and Trout Association and the Fishmongers' Company, the disease has proved to be columnaris. Two types of columnaris bacteria have been isolated and I think that I am correct in saying that the Ministry's research workers have infected two rainbow trout with this bacteria and have produced some of the symptoms of the disease.

There are authoritative reports in existence showing that the disease has already been found in Southern Irish waters, not only in salmon but in bass, mullet, roach, pike, eels and brown trout. On this evidence, which is also accepted in this week's Field, I do not think that the House can accept the discussion and the report of the Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards of 11th July, which said that the disease had not been proved. This is one of the most dangerous attitudes possible.

We also suffer from the fact that the Government of Southern Ireland themselves are doing everything they possibly can to play down the disease. They are playing it down because they are having a big tourist industry drive. One only has to look at the advertisements in the newspapers relating to fishing in Ireland.

Another reason why they are playing it down is that the very best authorities believe that the disease originated in rainbow trout in the Irish Government's own fish hatchery, in Waterford, and, no doubt, many hon. Members have seen a brief which has been provided by some of the fishermen in the Waterford area. I think that everyone will agree that the Irish Government have not got a very good record for the preservation of their sporting rights and that their action leaves a lot to be desired.

I believe that the growing concern of people in this country is shown by the fact that already, during the past week, two letters have appeared in The Times on the subject. The second letter, on 13th July, indicates the amount of rumour that is going about in this country. The letter referred to an outbreak of a similar disease in 1881 in Northern England and Southern Scotland, and suggested that because the 1881 disease jumped from Cumberland to Northumberland there was a very grave danger of the present fish disease in Southern Ireland being spread to the United Kingdom by cormorants and herons.

The one piece of concrete evidence that we have got from the scientists, and on which everyone agrees, is that the disease cannot be spread on the legs of birds or through their insides. It also follows that if the disease cannot be spread on the legs of birds it cannot be spread by the fishing tackle of fishermen when they arrive back in this country after having fished in Ireland.

I am grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the historical note that he has placed in the Library on the question of the 1881 outbreak. I think that he will agree that there is great difficulty in comparing this outbreak of fish disease with the outbreak in 1881 because the methods of identifying and analysing the disease in 1881 are different from those which are used today.

I would not want to be too scientific about this subject, but I should like to refer hon. Members to Mr. Speedy's book called the"Sport in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland," in which there is a ghastly description of a similar salmon disease on the Tweed in 1881. It is clear that salmon disease spread all round the country from Northern England to Central Scotland in 1881, getting to the North of Scotland in about 1890. What is important is that during the existence of that disease all net fishing on those rivers ceased, and many people were put out of employment.

What is encouraging, and it is important that we realise it—is that in 10 years the good fishing conditions in those rivers returned. In fact, there was no evidence in the case of the 1881 outbreak of smolts and par getting the disease. The young stock seemed to be immune. The position today, in fact, is that the smolts and par seem to be immune from the disease.

We are debating this Order at a time when many people say that the disease is on the wane, and that it is not quite so virulent and effective as it was earlier in the year. One correspondent to The Times claimed that he and his party had 90 clean fish with sea lice. But he was wrong. The disease, we now know, takes four days to incubate, and one is unlikely to get fish with sea lice which show obvious signs of the disease. The disease does not appear to thrive in warm water, but today's Field makes it clear that this must not be used as an excuse for people doing nothing about the spread of the disease. Scientific evidence shows that we can expect a more virulent outbreak of the disease in the autumn. That is why it is so important that we should have this Order now, although it does not go far enough.

If the disease is going to spread, it will appear in the rivers which empty into the Bristol Channel and around the southwest coast of this country. The disease will get there by contaminated fish journeying round the south coast of Ireland. The diseased fish begin to run the rivers, feel wretched and find that they cannot go up river. They fall back into the estuaries, die there, and thus cause a high contamination of the disease in the estuaries.

One of the tragedies of this disease is that it is not killed by salt water. So the fish die in the estuaries and the danger is that the fish, spurred on in the autumn —because the desires of nature are much stronger at that time of the year—may swim much more swiftly through the St. George's Channel, and arrive in our estuaries with the disease.

There is no scientific evidence which would allow us, from this side, to demand a ban on the import of all sea trout, salmon and grilse from Southern Ireland. I know that the French Government have done it, but at present the scientific evidence available to us does not justify such a ban. However, there is still a danger because of the possibility of a fisherman bringing in a diseased fish.

I trust, therefore, that the Minister will ensure that full publicity is given at all airports and ports of entry into the United Kingdom to people returning from Ireland so that they are informed about this disease, similar to when there is an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

There is a very remote chance of the disease entering the salmon rivers of this country because of some diseased fish being thrown away in our sewers, hut if the Minister agrees with the need for a terrific publicity drive and if he considers that he has sufficient powers to see that no ova and fry get into this country, we should prevent the disease from coming here. The Secretary of State for Scotland has acted, and has banned the import of ova and fry into Scotland. Is the Minister satisfied that the powers available to him are adequate?

We must accept that the Order does not go far enough. That is the view of the Association of River Authorities. That Association, and all fishermen, are grateful to the Minister for the action he has taken so far, but that action, dealing with inspection and the banning of the import of ova and fry, is not enough. We already have in this country a large and healthy stock of fish up our rivers on the spawning grounds. All the spring and summer run are safely through and there is no sign of any disease.

The river authorities and all concerned want the Minister to have power to make certain that if the disease appears in this country they will be able to protect the fish by the use of electrical barriers, although it would cost between £200 and £300 to put them into commercial production. These barriers would ensure that diseased fish did not reach the spawning grounds.

Sir Edward Chadwych-Healey, in a letter to The Times on 8th July, pointed out, as Chairman of the Salmon and Trout Association, how fortunate it was that at rivers where barrages already existed, healthy fish could run those rivers. I appreciate that the idea of artificial barriers is against the advice which the Minister is receiving and that his advisers feel that one would get a concentration of fish below the barrier, so increasing the spread of the disease. But I urge the Minister, in the circumstances of this year, when two-thirds of the fish are safely through to the spawning grounds, to consider giving these powers to the river authorities. He should trust them.

However, even if the Minister does not extend the Order, I assure him that some people will take this action themselves. I do not think that it is illegal to put up barriers across a river for scientific purposes, provided that nobody above the barrier complains. I know of many instances where the spawning grounds are owned by one person, and I know that owners will wish to protect their grounds in this way. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will think again on this point.

I thank the Under-Secretary for what he has done so far. My only object in moving this Motion is to make it quite clear that we do not feel that he has gone far enough. I hope, also, that we may have an assurance in relation to publicity about the disease at our ports of entry, and that he will ensure an enlarged programme of bacteriological sampling at markets. I conclude by hoping, as all fishermen hope, that we shall never see columnaris disease in England, Wales, or Scotland.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

It would come as no surprise to many of my hon. Friends that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) thought fit to castigate the Government of Ireland for not having a very good record in the preservation of sporting rights. May I assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that if this Government of ours are less than careful in the preservation of sporting rights they will meet with approval in those parts of the country where salmon fishing could provide a useful source of additional income, and where the preservation of sporting rights has inhibited the full use of this natural resource.

I was somewhat surprised by the hon. Member in that I waited in vain for some declaration of his own pecuniary interest in the matter—[HoN. MEMBERS:"Oh."] I should have thought that even if it is not out of order, it is at least a discourtesy to the House not to disclose this interest.

It is true that there is great concern for the future of the salmon industry, in particular arising from the continuance of the prohibition of drift netting and the Government's lengthy study of the Hunter Report.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

I would ask the hon. Member not to waste the time for this debate between now and 11.30. Everyone knows the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball), as he is probably the greatest expert on this subject of any of us. If we are all to get up and say what our interest is, we shall waste time.

Mr. Maclennan

I am not challenging the hon. Member's considerable knowledge, but merely drawing attention to the fact that he did not disclose his pecuniary interest.

There is considerable concern in Scotland over the future of the salmon fishing industry. It stems partly from the matter we are now considering, but also from the failure of the Government to make some pronouncement on the Hunter Report, and more particularly for its extension—:

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does the Hunter Report come within the rules of order in this debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

I think that a passing reference to it is permissible, but I hope that the hon. Member will not develop the matter.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

Is it in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the hon. Member to cast aspersions on my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) by suggesting that he should have declared his pecuniary interest, and that in not doing so he has acted in a way inappropriate to the proceedingi of the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have heard it done before.

Mr. Buck

Was it in order then?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There are plenty of precedents for it.

Mr. Maclennan

I hope to develop later the relevance of the Hunter Report to this very important question.

The main difficulty about the disease and its proper treatment stems from our lack of certain scientific knowledge. This difficulty lies in the wrong history. The disease that is now known as columnaris was, we are led to believe by the 1881 Report, wrongly diagnosed as being caused by a fungus, but the better scientific opinion now is that it is caused by bacteria. There is no question that similar diseases has affected the salmon fishing in this country, as in Ireland, on a number of occasions. What is, perhaps, of significance is that however vigilant they may have been—and the records are far from complete—they have died out.

In the present state of our scientific knowledge, therefore, I submit that the powers given to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the control of this disease under the 1937 Act are quite adequate and go far enough. Indeed, there is a great division of opinion about the effectiveness of the method of control of the disease which was recommended by the hon. Member for Gainsborough.

I refer, of course, to the electric gate technique. There are those, I am reliably informed, who consider that this technique wauld simply have the effect of spreading the disease among the fish which are trapped below the electric gate. In the absence of more conclusive evidence, it would be extremely unfortunate to institute any such technique.

There are many scientific questions that remain to be answered. Among these are such questions as where the disease is contracted, how and in what conditions bacteria thrive and whether—it is not as clearly agreed as the hon. Member for Gainsborough suggested—cold water conditions are more hostile to this bacteria and its growth than warm water. All in all, we are in a state of lack of knowledge about this salmon disease.

The difficulty of obtaining information about salmon diseases was made quite clear by the Hunter Report. In a pointed passage which, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will read, the Hunter Committee, which has in many ways pointed out the causes of many of the difficulties in salmon fishing without prescribing the cure, has laid the charge fairly and squarely against the proprietors for our lack of knowledge.

The Hunter Committee pointed out that Many salmon fishing proprietors show interest and good will when research projects are suggested, and are prepared to allow research to start, but they like to make informal arrangements and to reserve the right to withdraw the facilities. The result has been that after a project planned as a long-term investigation has been in operation for a few years, the scientists have been obliged to abandon it on account of the sale of the land or fishing rights, a disagreement with the proprietor, or an objection from some other proprietor on the river who thinks that the research is interfering with the runs of fish. In these circumstances, I can only urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider as a matter of urgency the possibility of acquiring publicly the rights over the salmon fishing rivers as a cure for this long-term problem.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must confine his remarks to the question whether it is desirable to extend the Act of 1937 in the way proposed. He must not go beyond that.

Mr. Maclennan

I would urge, as I did earlier, that the Act in the present state of scientific knowledge provides the Minister with as much power as he can usefully wield and that until the Minister, or, indeed, the State, has greater knowledge and greater control over the sporting facilities and salmon fisheries in general we cannot hope to extend our knowledge in this way.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

I shall not detain the House for long. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). Perhaps that is the kindest thing I could say about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball), who is an expert on this matter, has shown his knowledge tonight in the questions he has put to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. This is a matter which affects not only Scotland, but also England and Wales, particularly the South-West of England and all the Welsh rivers. One of the reasons why the Welsh rivers are so vulnerable is that it is thought by some people that columnaris, whichever type of columnaris it may be, may very well be passed on by sewen or sea trout. These are not migratory fish as salmon are and it is thought that they go back and forwards across the Irish Sea and do a good deal of swimming round the estuaries. When the water gets colder in about October, it may well be that infection would take place.

I hope that the Minister is taking this matter very seriously and that he will be able to tell us what action he is taking. This information will be welcomed by those who are interested in salmon fishing and, indeed, in other forms of fishing, too. It must not be forgotten that fishing is the second largest sport, next to soccer, in this country. A vast number of people in town and in country are interested in it. The rateable value of fishing rights is very large.

Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tell us what is being done? Will he confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said, namely, that those who are anxious about this, either in England, Scotland or Wales, are not exaggerating and that some Irish tourist magazines have been playing this matter down? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the importation of ova and fry, which has been prohibited into Scotland, will also be stopped for England and Wales? What is happening at Billingsgate and other markets and at airports? What physical permissions will he be giving to river boards which are so anxious about the whole matter?

I have intervened only because I put my name to the Prayer and I wished to make a short intervention because this matter affects Wales, whose rivers could well be the first to be hit if the columnaris disease were to come across the Irish Channel, which I sincerely hope it will not.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South)

Without wanting to tread on any of the ground which has already been trampled on by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), it is fair to say that, when subjects of this nature arise, it is likely that most hon. Members who wish to catch the eye of the Chair are motivated by either personal or constituency interests.

Often in the future it may be that, if I speak on this kind of subject, I shall find myself separated from hon. Members opposite in that I shall be approaching the matter from a rather different viewpoint. Tonight, at least, it is pleasant, in one sense, to say that we are all very worried about a common threat to the salmon stocks in the part of Britain we represent.

It is, perhaps rather unfortunate that this untypical unanimity is caused by such a serious matter. We all accept that columnaris is a real threat. Reference has already been made to the historical note which was left in the Library by the Minister. None of us wants to go back to the days, for example, when, according to that note, the Tweed lost in a four-year period 36.000 diseased fish. It is a horrific prospect.

As I understand the matter, what we are discussing tonight is not any real opposition to the move by the Ministry, but merely a general feeling, possibly not very concrete, of dissatisfaction with the measures which have been suggested. In one sense at least, I find this unreasonable, because if there is one thing which comes out of all the briefs which most of us have read—I am sure that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) will not object if I say that his speech was based largely on the brief of the British Field Sports Society, of which he is a prominent member—it is that the Ministry is extending the 1937 Act to deal with a disease which is very unspecific. We do not at the moment know whether we are proscribing the right thing. There is some doubt about it and I gather than some people in Ireland are still quarrelling about the matter. The Ministry is acting briskly and I do not see what more it could usefully do.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough spoke of a publicity campaign. I would have no objection to that. He said that it is possible for the disease to be brought over on fishing tackle. I do not know whether the society of which he is a member would disagree with that. Whether there is more information about that I do not know, but publicity would help. It might do something to stop the private importation of salmon, because, inevitably, people will catch salmon in Ireland and post it home to be poached for tea. It seems that we are nibbling at the problem. I do not think the hon. Member has been able to suggest anything which would strike at the problem more than the Ministry can in present circumstances. I think that the Ministry has gone as far as it reasonably can go.

The Irish Government are proscribing the export of live fish and dead fish are being most carefully inspected. I do not see the case for a double mechanism of inspection, which would mean a lot of trouble and expense. If the Minister can assure us that the work is done properly in Ireland I would be prepared to let the matter rest and accept that assurance. I hesitate to quarrel or disagree, or even to attempt to comment on what has been said by the hon. Member for Gainsborough about allowing screens to be placed in rivers, because I cannot pretend to have great experience of that. The Minister, I think, believes that it might lead to a great concentration of fish below the screen where infected fish might be more dangerous and they might be forced into neighbouring streams. If the Ministry has good technical advice which is firm, it is right to reject the suggestions which have been put forward.

Under the 1937 Act there are certain powers. I want an assurance that the Ministry will not hesitate to use those powers if necessary. If the disease turns up here it would be compulsorily notifiable. Then I hope the Ministry would not hesitate to use its powers. I do not think that there would be any hesitation, but I should like to have that emphasised by the Minister. I hope that research will go on and will be intensified. Much research goes on in my constituency. I hope that we shall get to know more about the origins of the disease and how it is carried, because without that information we cannot reach a proper conclusion. We cannot wait for that until columnaris comes across the Irish Sea, but I do not think anything has been suggested tonight which would allow us seriously to criticise the steps taken by the Ministry.

Much has been said about the Hunter Report. A great deal can be done in co-ordinating private effort to preserve fishing grounds and too much has been allowed to go by default. Let us by all means make sure that the Ministry keeps up to the mark, but let us also put our own houses in order and ensure that everything is being done in the private sector as well.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

I want to say how concerned I am about the disease and its possible effects in the fishing rivers. If the disease spread to the South-West it would be disastrous not only for fishermen, but also for a large part of the holiday industry. I make no bones about bringing up the problem and how it might affect the South-West and, in particular, my constituency. I say this not just as a constituency point, or for publicity, but because I understand that the rivers and estuaries in my constituency would probably be the first in this country to be infected by the disease if it came from Southern Ireland.

I understand that the Gulf Stream flows around the southern tip of Ireland, up the Bristol Channel and up the Tor and the Torridge, and so on. I believe that we are, as it were, in the front line and that the disease could easily land upon our shores in the West Country first. In my constituency, we have the very fine salmon rivers Tor, Torridge and, next door, the Teign. if these, particularly the Tor and the Torridge, were infected, it would have very considerable effect upon our holiday industry and, indeed, upon the netsmen at Appledore, who earn a reasonable living from catching fish.

Many hundreds of visitors come to the South-West each year to catch salmon and it is of considerable financial benefit to us. Thus, I am very concerned that we should treat this threat as very serious. I hope that the Minister is watching the situation very closely in the South-West because, as I have said, we should probably be the first area to be infected by the disease. Are Ministry officials watching the situation closely in the Tor and the Torridge? Are special precautions being taken because of the danger there?

What happens when a fisherman, either a netsman or a rodsman, catches an infected fish? What does he do? Does he dig a hole and bury it? Or does he send it to the nearest Ministry office? What are the practical details? It is important to know what the Minister wants us to do.

I do not think that the Order goes far enough. I hope that special precautions will be taken in the South-West. We are very concerned about the situation and we hope and pray that this dreadful disease will never infect the shores of the South-West or any other part of the country.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

My hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) ably described the effect of the disease in Irish waters and the House will wish to join in an expression of sympathy with Irish sportsmen in their difficulties. We are equally united in our desire to help prevent the spread of the disease to rivers in this country.

The object of this debate is to publicise the danger to our rivers, to find out from the Minister if all possible preventative action has been taken and to ascertain whether sufficient powers are available to the authorities concerned to enable them to take immediate action in the event of the detection of this disease in our rivers.

I turn at once to the action taken. The Irish Government have already instituted special inspections of dead salmon and coarse fish prior to export. Does the Minister believe that this control is adequate and is there full cooperation and information coming in from Eire and Northern Ireland?

Mr. Onslow

On that point, perhaps the Minister could confirm that the inspectors appointed by the Irish Government are experts on fish and not on poultry.

Mr. Wall

To deal with our own coun try and our responsibilities. I understand that the Minister has given advice to river authorities to seek the co-operation of riparian owners, so that they can immediately remove and destroy any diseased fish discovered. Is he satisfied —would the Parliamentary Secretary pay attention?

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)

If my hon. Friend wants to have a word with me it would only be polite for him to do so.

Mr. Wall

Would the Parliamentary Secretary confirm that the power exists for a river authority to remove and destroy dead fish and is that power adequate?

In dealing with future action, I will not follow the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) who, quite rightly, called for long-term research We believe that this problem is an immediate one and must be dealt with immediately. It will not be solved now or in the future by the nationalisation of fishing.

The spread of this disease can only be detected by dead fish in the river; in other words, one gets no warning. It is dormant in the summer months. Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether the river authorities have the power to erect these barriers in the lower reaches of the river to prevent the diseased fish which tend to congregate in the estuaries moving upriver? Can he say whether his Ministry is prepared to register and inspect hatcheries? This point has already been raised. It is suggested, on good authority, that this disease actually started in a Government hatchery. Are we quite certain that this cannot happen in our country?

Mr. Hoy

I think that the hon. Gentleman had better make it clear that when he said a Government hatchery it was not a British Government hatchery.

Mr. Wall

That is quite right. It was an Irish Government hatchery. I am asking whether we have the power to register and inspect and whether there will be registration and inspection of hatcheries in this country so that what unfortunately happened in Ireland cannot happen here. Is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that the inspection of dead fish exported from Ireland is satisfactory or should it be repeated here, in markets such as Billingsgate? Is he considering a control on the imports of dead fish if we have a spread of this disease?

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that this debate, and the action taken by the Ministry, has given sufficient publicity to these dangers? Is it comparable with the publicity always given to foot-and-mouth disease? Are airports and ports of entry covered? Are sportsmen from Ireland warned to make sure that their fishing tackle is properly disinfected? In short, have we taken all the precautionary and preventive measures that we can, and is he satisfied that all those concerned with rivers have sufficient authority to take immediate action if the disease is discovered?

11.9 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)

I greatly welcome this debate because it has allowed us fully to ventilate all the feelings that we have on this issue. All hon. Members who have spoken have expressed concern at the seriousness of this disease, and we have been urged to take measures against it. I want to make it perfectly clear that their concern is shared by my right hon. Friend and by the Secretary of State for Scotland. We appreciate that this disease is serious and we accept that we must take all safeguarding action possible.

I hope to be able to assure the House that we are losing no time in doing this. First of all, may I say a word about co-operation with the Irish authorities. It is a great help to be working in close co-operation with them. This particularly applies to the scientific investigation into the cause and nature of the disease, where the Irish fish scientists and our own are working on a concerted programme. This co-operation has been at the invitation of the Irish Department, and I think it right to acknowledge that this evening.

I am sure, too, that all connected with fishing in Great Britain—and not only the anglers who fish in Ireland—will be fully sympathetic with the Irish authorities in their efforts to contend with the disease. They have recently told us that 13 rivers in the South-West, South and East of Ireland, from the Shannon to the Liffey, are at present affected, and five of these have been affected for the first time this year.

However, in reply to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), our information is that up to Monday, which might be a prophetic date, the Boyne had not been affected.

No salmon smolts have been found affected, and careful checks have been made into this. Contrary to what the hon. Member said, only one species of coarse fish has so far been affected there. I thought that he would be grateful for that information, which is a little to the good.

Mr. Onslow

Could the Minister say whether sea bass have been found to be affected?

Mr. Hoy

All I am saying is that our knowledge is that only one species of coarse fish has been affected.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

Can the Minister say which species of coarse fish?

Mr. Hoy

It was roach, one of those mentioned by the hon. Member for Gainsborough.

I think that I should now outline the action which we have already taken. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gainsborough for his thanks to the Ministry for what it has already done. In the spring of this year, it became clear that the disease was spreading and that it was necessary to take seriously the risk that the disease might get over here. British fishing bodies let us know this spring of their serious concern about the disease, and made a number of suggestions. I am glad to acknowledge the help we have received from them.

Before this, our own scientists had been kept informed about the effects of the disease by the Irish scientists and we were, therefore, in a position to take action. We at once approached the Irish authorities about measures to prevent the disease from spreading here. We thought it possible that the disease might be communicated by bacteria surviving in dead salmon, although we rated this risk very much lower than that of communication by natural means, in particular by live infected fish entering British rivers.

The Irish authorities had already instituted stringent measures to prevent the diseased salmon from being exported from Ireland. Commercial exports of salmon from Ireland are all from licensed premises, and systematic inspection of those premises had already been instituted. In addition, no salmon may be sent out of Ireland through the post. The Irish were thus able to give us considerable reassurance on this point. As for live fish, imports of live salmon and trout are banned by statute.

Mr. Onslow

The Minister will know that I was in the South-West of Ireland at Whitsun, and went to see him on my return and told him that I had brought a fish back by air without inspection. Does he know whether this loophole has yet been closed?

Mr. Hoy

I did meet the hon. Gentleman and discuss this with him, and perhaps he will wait and hear what I have to say in reply.

We added a ban on the import from Ireland of all other live fish and of ova. Northern Ireland has done the same. In addition, both Fisheries Departments sent out circular letters to river authorities in England and Wales and to district boards in Scotland, giving advance warning of the symptoms of the disease and recommending what action should be taken if suspect fish appeared in British waters. Any suspect salmon are examined. None has been found to be suffering from the disease.

Both Departments at once set on foot urgent work to identify and name the disease. That was essential, since the present Order could not be made until it had been done. As a result, we have been able to identify the disease as columnaris disease. Even now, our knowledge as to the cause of the disease is not complete, as my hon. Friends have said. We now believe that other bacterial organisms are involved in concert with the columnaris organism. More work is necessary before the full nature of the cause can be established. So far as our present knowledge goes, we are satisfied that we have been right in identifying the disease as columnaris, and that has enabled us to make the Order.

The Order will apply to columnaris disease in Great Britain the provisions in the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 which relate to the control of infectious fish disease. As the Act stands, these provisions in the Act only apply to one disease, furunculosis. However, the Act enables the provisions to be applied to other diseases by an Order in Council.

The powers which the Order will provide are these. River authorities and district boards in Scotland must notify the presence of the disease at once. The Minister can then declare the area to be infected, publishing the fact that he is doing so. On an area being declared infected, the authorities may, on authorisation by the Minister, then remove any infected fish from any waters and destroy them. In doing so, they may use methods which would normally be illegal.

In addition, the authorities may, in advance of an area being declared infected, remove and destroy any dead and dying fish that they suspect. There will also be powers to stop movement of live fish, fish eggs and fish food out of any infected area, and the inspectors of the two Departments may enter and inspect any hatchery or trout farm. I think that clears up a point which was raised. They will have power to inspect both hatcheries and trout farms. That is perfectly clear.

I must stress the importance of the power to remove diseased fish from the rivers and destroy them. Dead and dying fish are a dangerous source of infection. The power to remove and destroy fish has already been found useful by river authorities in dealing with furunculosis disease, and the Irish authorities have been relying on this method in Ireland.

It will be seen that what we have sought to do has been to anticipate many of the problems, and we are grateful for the tribute which has been paid to the Department, not only by hon. Members but even by The Field itself, which commended us for the promptitude with which we had acted.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) if imports of ova and fry to England and Wales had been stopped. The answer is that they have; this means that the ban applies to the country as a whole.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough said something that was not quite right. He said that people who owned spawning grounds can block up rivers. I must tell him that the answer is that they cannot. Under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1923, all barriers are illegal unless a special Order is applied for and issued by us. All I can say is that anyone who reads what the hon. Gentleman said had better not follow his advice, or he will find himself in trouble. But if they want to do anything of this kind, they may apply to us.

The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) asked me about river authorities, and I have to tell him that all river authorities, including the Devon River Authority, have been made aware of the symptoms and have been alerted. They are aware of the action required, namely, to take all suspect fish to the nearest public health laboratory.

The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) mentioned the training of inspectors. Inspectors are going to do the job, and they have all been trained, not only in this work, but to recognise the diseases of fish.

The next point that was raised, and it is an important one, was the question of the trout farm on the River Waterville. It is true that some scientists have been there and have reported that they regard this place as suspect. The farm has been mentioned as a possible primary source of infection, and I have been asked whether representations have been made to the Irish authorities about it.

The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) first raised this with me when he came to see me, and it has been raised tonight by the hon. Gentleman. I have communicated with the Irish Minister about this place, and I ask the House to await the result of this correspondence, because it is not complete. I shall be glad to find a means of notifying the result to the House later, when I have any further information.

The blocking of rivers was dealt with, and the hon. Gentleman said that this has fairly wide agreement, but he knows as well as I do that there are differences of opinion about this method. It is suggested that local fishing authorities should be empowered to block off tributaries in order to provide clear areas where, if a river became infected, healthy fish could spawn.

This is a proposal which will require very careful consideration, because there is clearly a division of opinion among the fishing interests on whether this is desirable. The difference is not only between Governments or between Government Departments; fishing interests differ on this. While it apparently has the support of most of the leading fishery bodies in England and Wales, the Association of Scottish Salmon District Fishery Boards has represented against it.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. George Willis)

Very strongly.

Mr. Hoy

As my hon. Friend says, it has done so very strongly, so before we can come to any conclusion we must see whether it is biologically sound and technically feasible. We must also take into account the financial implications. These are matters which are being investigated.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about cost. I am told that it is rather expensive. While certain people owning part of the river might be willing for it to be done, the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that it can have repercussions on some other owners. This is one of the things of which we have to take cognisance, and I hope that people will not too willingly accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I think that it has to be treated carefully.

The other point that was raised was about advice to anglers returning from Ireland, and this is important. We have been giving consideration to what more publicity we can give. As I told the hon. Member who led the deputation which came to see me, we have done everything in our power to make the facts known. There has been a suggestion that if we had put up a notice at every airport, warning people about the dangers, it would have been helpful. I will consider this, but, on the whole, I do not think that it would make a great contribution to solving the problem, because people returning from holiday are not likely to want to read notices concerning their bringing back fish with their holiday gear. Nevertheless, I agree that the matter is important.

I also regard it as important that anglers returning from Ireland should disinfect their clothing and tackle. This is a possible way in which the disease could be carried into this country from Ireland. We have given advice to this effect to all the angling bodies, and this advice has also appeared in the angling Press. We are considering following this up by similar advice about anglers bringing back salmon from Ireland which they may have caught there.

I now turn to the point made by the hon. Member for Woking, who confessed that he was one of the culprits—if that is the right word.

Mr. Onslow

It was a clean fish.

Mr. Hoy

It was a clean fish, and we hope that other people bringing fish back will make sure that they are clean and not diseased. We do not want to prevent people who have been fishing from bringing back clean fish, like the salmon which the hon. Member caught—at least, I think he caught it; he certainly brought it back. We hope that other people will take this precaution, and that all anglers will pay attention to the advice that we have issued.

It has been suggested that we and the Irish authorities should institute special action under both these heads, but we take the view that only individual anglers can act effectively. I prefer to act through advice. We hope that people will respond to all that has been done.

I hope that I have been able to assure hon. Members that we have taken all the necessary action. Right from the begin- ning, we have acted very speedily and have been in touch with every body that has made representations about this. We shall obviously keep a watchful eye on the question. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar), I can give the assurance that not only do we take the matter seriously, but will use all the powers available to us to see that we can cope with any threat if the disease should arise here. I hope that it will not, but we shall take every possible preventive action.

With those assurances, I hope that I have been able to show the House that we have dealt with the problem seriously and expeditiously, and that we are prepared to take further action if necessary. In the circumstances, the hon. Member for Gainsborough may want to seek your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Kimball

In view of the Minister's reply, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.