HC Deb 22 April 1983 vol 41 cc540-55

Amendment made: No. 44, in page 15, line 2, at end insert— '1A. In section 1(3) of the 1937 Act (Minister may grant licences as to certain imported fish) for the words from "Minister" (in the first place) to "Minister')" (in the second place) there shall be substituted "Minister".'.—[Mr. Mark Hughes.]

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move amendment No. 45, in page 15, line 33, leave out 'for paragraph (a) there shall be substituted—' and insert 'after "power" there shall be inserted "(to the extent that he does not have it apart from this subsection). (3A) For paragraph (a) of subsection (2) there shall be substituted—'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 46.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The amendments are consequential upon changes made to the Bill in Committee. The changes were necessary because the concept of occupier could not be extended satisfactorily, particularly to cover coastal waters. As a consequence, definitions of inland and marine waters were introduced. In general, the powers given by the Diseases of Fish Act 1937, as well as new powers contained within the Bill, would apply to all inland waters and to fish farmed in cages in marine waters.

Since the Committee stage we have had an opportunity to re-examine the effect of those definitions. In general, they work well, but we have discovered some unforeseen effects. It is in order to deal with that that we have tabled the amendments, which I commend to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 46, in page 15, line 41, at end insert— '(ab) to inspect any marine waters in which fish of the salmon family or freshwater fish or the eggs of such fish or foodstuff for fish are likely to be found, and to take therefrom samples of any such fish, eggs or foodstuff or of water, mud, vegetation or other matter;'. No 47, in page 16, line 3, at end insert— '(4A) In subsection (2) for "obstructs" there shall be substituted "intentionally obstructs".'. No. 48, in page 16, line 13, at end insert— '(7) In subsection (4) for "obstructs" there shall be substituted "intentionally obstructs".'.—[Mr. Buchanan-Smith.]

Mr. Mark Hughes

I beg to move amendment No. 49, in page 16, line 29, at end insert— '(1A) In subsection (1)(amount of fine) for the words from the beginning to "; and" there shall be substituted "Any person guilty of an offence under this Act shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale (as defined in section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982); and".'. This is a minor tidying-up amendment. When the Criminal Justice Act 1982 was passed, the penalties under section 8 of the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 were converted from a maximum fine of £50 to a level 3 fine of £200 on the standard scale as defined in the 1982 Act. The Bill uses level 4 of the Criminal Justice Act as the basis for fines and the amendment simply brings previous offences under the 1937 Act on to the same scale rate as those in the Bill.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Once again, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes). He has a much greater legal knowledge than I. I have had the amendment checked by those who advise me, and it appears that the Bill will provide for penalties higher than those currently applicable under the Diseases of Fish Act 1937. Therefore, it is appropriate to apply the same penalties to both, given that they are intended to deal with a similar problem. I gladly accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment. I am grateful to him for tabling it, and I hope that the House will accept it.

Mr. Corrie

I welcome the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 50, in page 17, line 3, at end insert— '6A. In section 10(1) of the 1937 Act (interpretation) after the definition of "marine waters" there shall be inserted— 'the Minister' means—

  1. (a) in relation to England, and any marine waters adjacent to England, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food;
  2. (b) in relation to Wales, and any marine waters adjacent to Wales, the Secretary of State;
  3. (c) in relation to Scotland (including the marine waters thereof), the Secretary of State.".'. —[Mr. Mark Hughes.]

11.45 am
Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move amendment No.

51, in page 17, line 4, leave out paragraph 7 and insert— `7. For section 11 of the 1937 Act (application to Scotland) there shall be substituted— 11. In the application of this Act to Scotland, for references to a water authority there shall be substituted references to a district board.".'. This amendment replaces section 11 of the 1937 Act with a new and simpler form which reflects the amendments already made by the insertion of a new definition of the word "Minister" in amendment No. 50. The only provision needed now is that which translates the references to water authorities in the 1937 Act to references to district boards.

Amendment agreed to.

11.46 am
Mr. Corrie

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the third time.

It is a great honour for a Back-Bench Member to take a Bill through the House. It can succeed only with the Government's support and, even more important, the support of all hon. Members. I take this opportunity to thank all those who have taken part in debates in the House and in Committee and for the helpful and cordial manner in which it has been discussed. I also thank the Minister because I know that he has had a heavy week, having been in Europe at the start and getting back just in time to take the Bill through its remaining stages. I also thank the many people behind the scenes who have worked so hard in drafting the legislation.

This is a popular Bill. It has the industry's full backing, the Government's full backing, and I think the backing of all hon. Members. I sincerely hope that it has. It also has the backing of rod fishermen throughout Britain. Fish farming is a rapidly growing industry and rod fishing is a rapidly growing sport — perhaps the fastest growing sport in Britain today — but rampant disease could decimate both if we are not careful.

The 1937 Act has served us well until now, but it was really introduced to cover salmon and trout, and matters have developed since then. It was my predecessor in Bute and North Ayrshire, Sir Charles MacAndrew, who helped to put the 1937 Act on the statute book. Perhaps history has turned a full circle. It is just in time, because Bute and North Ayrshire will disappear as a constituency at the coming election.

Modern times and intensive farming have changed the position of disease. Just as in any livestock industry, the more intensive it is, the better management has to be. Britain has a proud record on animal health and most of the legislation that protects it has been updated. Therefore, it was time that we brought fish legislation up to date as well. We have fought to keep disease out of Britain and when it has come in we have stamped on it hard. We were right to do so and Britain has a record second to none in livestock health.

The Bill will go some way to update the control of fish diseases. There are a few who would prefer no legislation at all and I have heard from such people. They say, "Let it get into the rivers and lochs and the strong will survive.". I utterly reject that. It is no argument for an industry such as we have. For any industry to operate satisfactorily it must have rules to work by. The fish farming industry needs the discipline of this enabling legislation so that action can be taken to keep out the more virulent diseases such as VHS and others which could come in from the continent. If steps are not taken, there may not be an industry to protect.

Legislation is only the start. The way in which the legislation is enacted is the important feature and throughout the Bill I have tried to ensure some discretion for officers who have to operate it. I am delighted with the Minister's response because he has tried to be flexible. The legislation will work as it ought only if the industry, Government Departments, veterinary officers and scientists work together in a flexible manner.

When I began to draft the Bill, I wanted, first, the proper and complete control of imports; secondly, a tight but flexible control of disease in Britain; and, thirdly, the registration of fish and shellfish farms. Those three factors have been included in the Bill, and more besides. Clause 1 gives the Minister total control over live salmon imports. The Animal Health Act 1981 provides him with satisfactory powers to control imports. The industry is worried about this matter, and, although I can give any number of assurances, at the end of the day the Minister has the power to decide issues. I am sure that the controls that are required now exist.

Britain now has a satisfactory control on movement. It was suggested before today that the controls were too tight. The Government amendments have eased the position, and I am sure that the industry will be delighted. The industry must remember, as the Minister said, that this is an enabling Bill and that orders can be varied according to circumstances. As a result of the Minister's assurance, talks can take place between the industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food so that difficulties can be cleared up after the Bill becomes law, as I hope it will.

The industry was worried by the Bill, but I am sure that much of that worry has been relieved today. I trust that the industry will control some of the problems with which the Bill does not deal. It was suggested that the Government might control the movement of equipment, but it was found impossible to draft legislation that would do that or invoke some form of compensation in a Bill of this nature as it is a Private Member's Bill. Those subjects will be discussed in future between the Minister and the industry. Perhaps at some future date legislation will deal with that problem.

As to registration, a list will be produced of every fish farm in Britain, thereby ensuring that the new controls will be effectively operated. The Government must know where fish farms exist because fish farms are being established about which the Government have no knowledge.

It is satisfying that the Government have come forward with an amendment on shellfish registration. Towards the end of last week, I was beginning to feel that that would not be dealt with. It is extremely satisfactory that Britain is subject to shellfish farm registration. For the first time, there will be a complete register of all fish farms. This is a first-class move of which the industry strongly approves.

I am greatly relieved that the list of notifiable diseases is to be constantly reviewed and that the Minister can add to or delete from it. That shows the flexibility of the Bill.

The extraction of water from rivers and pollution are topics that myself and the industry wished to be dealt with in the Bill, but they are vast subjects and require separate legislation. They could not be tackled in a Bill of this type.

The Bill is a good basis for future legislation. As promoter of the Bill, I am more than satisfied with what has been achieved. Fish farming and especially shellfish farming are rapidly expanding industries. They will create jobs in rural areas such as my own as well as high protein food for the table. Fish will be produced for rivers, lakes and for anglers to test their skills. Much scientific knowledge will be gained which Britain can impart to underdeveloped countries desperately in need of protein food. The Bill goes a long way to protect the industry which needs the chance to grow in the future as it has done in the past. For that reason, I commend the Bill to the House.

11.56 am
Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

The Bill is specifically concerned with tightening the existing controls over the movement of fish where disease or even a risk of disease exists. Its main aim is to update the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 and to bring some control and order to the massive growth of fish farms in Britain.

Fish farming has grown considerably in recent years, especially trout farms, producing fish for the table and for the many still water lakes and, in turn, satisfying the demands of increasing numbers of anglers involved in the sport of fly fishing. As an angler, I participate in all forms of fishing—game, salmon, trout, coarse and deep-sea—and I am deeply worried about the spread of fish diseases.

The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) is to be congratulated on piloting through the Committee legislation which will be of great value to all involved in the rearing of trout and other species covered by the Bill—fish farmers, anglers and consumers.

Coincidentally with the Bill's passage through the House, hon. Members have witnessed the concern expressed about the outbreak of whirling disease. That disease in fish is caused by a parasite entering the soft skull of trout fry thereby upsetting its balance and causing it to swim in circles. The disease has no real effect on trout that are more than 20 weeks old or three inches long, because, the skull having hardened, the parasite cannot penetrate it. However, the spores of whirling disease can be found in larger trout that have survived and survivors can carry the spores and pathology for life. I hasten to emphasise that those adult trout, whether they are dispatched to a table or to a trout lake and then caught by an angler and consumed, are harmless to people. I should imagine that during the outbreak of whirling disease I have caught and eaten a few that have contained the spores of that disease.

Since March 1981, the Ministry has declared 64 sites to be infected by whirling disease: 58 in England, four in Wales and two in Scotland. The Ministry has served on those sites a notifiable disease order and stopped all movements of fry and fish. The fish farmer who is served with such an order must take steps to remove dead or dying fish. He is advised how to dispose of them, and he must then carry out the policy of the Ministry, which is to slaughter the fish and disinfect the trout farm. The farmer has no option but to kill the fish, most of which go to the table, rather than to send live trout to the fish farms, and he loses by that action. The extent of the disease covers 64 farms out of more than 500.

History has shown that whirling disease is not new. An outbreak occurred in Scotland 10 years ago. Indeed, it is likely that in England and Wales the disease has been prevalent for some time, but it has been sensibly managed without any adverse effects upon fish farming, the production of trout, or the consumer. Fish farmers who have learnt to live with whirling disease on their farms and have graded the fish before taking them out of the hatcheries have no trouble. With good management, careful screening and grading, fish and fry that have been affected are cleared out and fish more than 20 weeks old have been reared and sold either for the table or for trout lakes.

We are witnessing the slaughter of thousands of fish because 64 areas are being cleaned out and disinfected. Businesses are in ruins because there is no compensation. It is not possible to secure insurance against whirling disease, mainly because the fish farmers must kill the fish themselves. It is not possible to insure aganst whirling disease although some notifiable fish diseases can be covered. If whirling disease could be insured against, that in itself might be some comfort to the fish fanner in present conditions.

The Government have a policy of disinfect and slaughter for animals. Why do they not therefore have such a policy for trout and offer compensation as long as the policy of disinfect and slaughter remains? The Minister will probably say that the Government do not force fish farmers to slaughter their fish, but when the notifiable diseases order has been introduced they have no choice. They have to kill the fish to clear them out. I must stress that the method in use is an overkill when one considers what can be done with good husbandry and the sensibly controlled release of fish.

Apart from the 64 sites that have been positively identified, I gather that the Ministry has in its possession the names of more than 100 angling waters that have received fish from affected sites. If that is true, on what basis have they been released? Is there a policy of release? Only seven sites have had movement restrictions lifted, and they cannot have fed 100 angling waters. Do I take it, therefore, that the Ministry, without a ministerial declaration, is accepting the policy that I advocate—the freedom to release trout from infected areas if they are more than 20 weeks old, thus recognising that they are disease-free?

As an indication of the overkill policy—the issuing of official notifiable diseases orders—I understand that at the sites confirmed by the Ministry 80 per cent. of the fish farmers had never seen any visual symptoms of the disease. On only 10 per cent. of the sites was there any mortality. Even then, the owners of half of them believed that death was due to other causes. Indeed, on one site fish had not been brought in for five years, which means that the whirling disease parasite had probably been there all the time. Of course, table and lake fish will have been moved from that fish farm during that period without any noticeable harm to anyone.

Is it not possible — indeed, likely — that the fish farming industry has lived with whirling disease for some years without it causing any disturbance, massive loss of trout stocks, the closure of scores of fish farms or serious financial problems for the fish farmers? What of experience elsewhere in the world? Whirling disease exists in other countries, but it has not caused any problems for the still water lakes that have received the fish. What have the scientists told the Minister about the experience of other nations that have weathered this fish disease without any apparent harm to more than some trout fry, particularly when they adopt the practice of rearing the young in fibre glass or concrete tanks? I am glad to say that that practice is growing in this country and that the disease can be controlled in that way.

No doubt the Minister is aware that a survey of more than 30 fish farms affected by whirling disease found that they had 12.5 million fish. Given that 64 fish farms are subject to notifiable diseases orders, there are obviously millions more fish involved. It is estimated that the total direct loss through the destruction of fish, the cost of cleaning out, disinfection costs, and the replacement of stock on those 30 farms is £250,000. However, the total cost, including other losses from cancelled orders, the sale of dead fish to the table—instead of live for restocking and sport—is about £1 million.

The Ministry does not seem to heed the business and financial losses of the farms that it has marked out with a whirling disease notifiable diseases order. The Ministry has apparently panicked. At the very least, it has been extremely cautious. It probably has inexperienced field men compared with the years of experience held by fish farmers who have successfully dealt with and controlled whirling disease. As a result the Ministry's advisers have probably dropped panic briefs on the Minister's desk. They have thought it an epidemic and reacted with an overkill policy of disinfect and slaughter, irrespective of the damage done nationally and the ruin of the fish farming industry that is left in its wake.

Before the Bill is given its Third Reading, the Minister should rethink his policy and consider compensation. He should also issue guidelines on the release of adult fish. I am sorry that I have used this occasion to make my points, but, of course, they are germane to clauses 2 and 3, particularly in relation to the movement of diseased fish. I believe that I have made out the case. I hope that it will be recognised that there is no real danger from whirling disease. I believe that with a sensible farming policy, grading from the hatchery and controlling the movement of fish, whirling disease is not a scourge or epidemic to worry about. If that is so—and I believe it to be—whirling disease can and should be deleted from the notifiable diseases list.

Finally, I should say to the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire that it has been a pleasure to serve on the Diseases of Fish Bill. I have co-operated with my Committee colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Durham (Mr. Hughes) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) in helping to enlighten many others on the dangers of nylon monofilament gill nets, the possible carcinogenic harm to anglers if they use chrysoidine dye to colour their maggots, and the mysteries of whirling disease. The Bill has my blessing, but I hope that my advice about whirling disease will be accepted.

12.5 pm

Mr. Farr

I add my congratulations to those of the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) to my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) on introducing the Bill and piloting it through the House so successfully. It has suffered major surgery. Indeed, I believe that two and a half clauses relating to shellfish have, as a result, disappeared. However, I am glad to say that the Bill has still survived.

In 1980 I introduced a Bill—now the Deer Act—that suffered similar surgery for very necessary reasons. However, it survived and went on to the statute book. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend's Bill will also find its way on to the statute book. I thoroughly welcome it. It is a narrow Bill in so far as it relates particularly to the diseases of fish. In Committee we held several interesting debates on whether we should include the cause of such fish diseases. Some diseases are caused by an unknown growth or microscopic spore. However, some of us felt that it might have been useful to include measures in the Bill to prevent diseases from beginning.

Although I welcome the Bill, which goes as far as it can in that respect, I am sorry that it does not give the Minister power to take action to limit a known, major cause of disease to fish, and particularly salmon. I refer to the use of a monofilament net. I accept that the Bill's short and long titles are worthy and correct. I am sure that the parliamentary pundits are right to say that as the Bill involves fish diseases, it is not right to refer to tackle, even though it can be proved that the monofilament net often causes disease. Because of its lurking presence and failure to break down when it is lost or comes adrift in a storm, it can cause continual trouble, destruction and disease to salmon and other travelling fish for many years. However, we could not include that in the Bill. Nevertheless, it is one of the three major enemies facing salmon in British waters. Many of the more minor diseases, such as the old UDN disease—which was very prolific 10 or 15 years ago—caused hovoc at the time, but today's salmon face three main enemies. First, the salmon must reach Britain by surviving the onslaughts made on Greenland's breeding stock by Danish fishermen and others. The onslaught is decimating the breeding stock. That hurdle is of growing importance and is making life much more difficult and hazardous for salmon. The salmon then have to survive the estuarial invisible monofilament net that is lurking just below the surface. After overcoming those two hurdles, the fish may encounter a third because parts of Scandinavian and Scottish waters have an acidity level that is unacceptable to fish life. Those three problems are not dealt with in the Bill, but they will command further attention.

The Bill refers to whirling disease on which we had an interesting discussion in Committee. A number of right hon. and hon. Members spoke about the effects of the disease in their constituencies. The Minister undertook to ensure that Ministry officials would adopt a sympathetic attitude when dealing with the disease. As the right hon. Member for Barnsley said, people can be put out of business by the regulations. The Minister assured the Committee that his officials were humane, which none of us doubted, and that they would interpret the regulations in a humane way by recognising that a person's livelihood can be at stake. After that assurance by the Minister, whose word I always take without hesitation and with blind faith, it is disappointing to learn that grave difficulties are still experienced because movement permission is not being granted.

The difficulty is caused because, although the departmental officials are approving movements, the water authorities fail to follow the Department's advice and instructions. I urge the Minister to examine that important problem. Surely, if the water authorities are advised by ministerial experts that movements can take place without danger, and in view of the nationwide research facilities connected with the Department, the decisions should not be left to small bureaucrats who take no notice of departmental advice and place an embargo on trade and movement.

Imports of fish have been mentioned today. I have learned much during the passage of the Bill and I understand that import controls for fish need to be brought up to date. If we introduce more sensible import controls we shall simultaneously take a big step towards domestic disease control. Without doubt many diseases are rife on the continent and elsewhere. We should keep them out of Britain as far as we can. I hope that the Minister will undertake to tighten fish import controls when the Bill is enacted.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire on coming top of the ballot so frequently. I hope that he will be placed high in the ballot in the new Parliament.

12.15 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)

It will seem strange to the House that a Northern Ireland Member should speak on the Third Reading of a Bill that applies only to Great Britain, but I welcome the Bill because it provides the key to a door that has been shut in Northern Ireland since 1937. Since then it has been impossible to import live salmon to Great Britain from Northern Ireland. The Bill seeks to remedy that by allowing the Minister to approve imports under licence and strict control.

Fears have been expressed by fish farmers arid others in Great Britain about the possibility of bringing in disease from Ireland by allowing fish imports from there. I should like to allay some of the fears.

The basic legislative framework for fish farming in Northern Ireland is the Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Act 1966, which incorporates all the provisions contained in this Bill, and more. Northern Ireland fish farmers operate under stringent conditions and are under the control of Government scientists and veterinary surgeons.

Standards for importing fish are strict enough to satisfy anyone, no matter how dubious he may be. The principal concern by fish farmers and others in Great Britain is about importing salmonids into Ireland, north and south, from elsewhere. There is an unjustified fear that the imports are subjected to little or no control. The general policy of the Republic is not to permit any imports of that kind. Only one batch has been allowed. That was a one-off case in 1982, approved to fulfil the requirements of a new salmon farm in Donegal. The Dail's approval had to be obtained and the importation was permitted only under stringent conditions, details of which were supplied to the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland and the Department of Fisheries and Forestry in Dublin which co-operate closely for the protection of animal health.

The Dublin Department first satisfied itself about the standards of veterinary health control in Norway — it regards them as second to none in Europe. The Department's senior fish pathologist visited Norway and, following extensive investigations and discussions, was satisfied by the Norwegian CVO that all notifiable diseases were absent from the stock. Certification was subsequently provided and 30,000 salmon fingerlings were free of all notifiable diseases.

The Republic's pathologist was present when the fingerlings were packed and was therefore in a position to ensure that only stock to which certification applied were dispatched. He accompanied the consignment by air to Dublin and on to Fanad where the fingerlings were isolated under quarantine conditions until smoltification, which took three months.

Isolation was in a small lake from which a single stream flows over 100m of glacial boulder deposit directly to the open sea. There were no indigenous salmonids in the lake, no migratory fish could enter the lake and during the quarantine period, samples were taken every two weeks and subjected to tests for all notifiable diseases, with negative results throughout. The stock was again examined before being released into sea cages for on-growing.

It will be clear from that that the most stringent conditions apply. I hope that the expert review which the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland and the Ministry officials in Great Britain are conducting will soon be completed and that when it is, the statutory licensing requirements will be put into operation.

It is unjustifiable that salmon fish farmers in Northern Ireland should be deprived of the opportunity to send their stock to other parts of the United Kingdom when, so far as anyone can judge, there is no danger of disease entering Great Britain from Northern Ireland or, indeed, from Ireland generally. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what progress his Department has made with the investigation into the dangers so that the matter can be cleared up once and for all and licences issued to Northern Ireland fish farmers.

12.21 pm
Mr. McQuarrie

Section 1 of the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 has done much in the past to safeguard the stocks of wild and farmed salmonids in Great Britain. It has effectively banned the import of live fish, which can act as carriers of disease with no easily detectable symptons. It has allowed the import of salmonid ova under licence with the subsequent control of the ova's development to hatching. The period of the ova development, hatching and subsequent early feeding stage is the portion of the life cycle in which fish diseases carried in the ova are most likely to manifest themselves and kill the batch. The importing of ova under licence gives an opportunity for any diseased imports to be identified and destroyed.

Clause 1 of the Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), for which I was pleased to act as a sponsor, can be quoted in this context. During the first sitting of Standing Committee C my hon. Friend said: I am looking to the future when very unpleasant fish disease could come to this country … That would be an essential weapon in the fight against the most virulent diseases, VHS and IHN. Those are notifiable diseases that fortunately have not yet reached these shores."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 2 February 1983; c. 22–23.] Under clause 1, the Minister will have power to permit the importation of live salmonids. Those fish may well be the carriers of the very diseases to which I have referred. The virile pathogen being undetectable, the risk of disease is unacceptable. If the Minister does not take the power immediately after the enactment of the Bill it will be too late, because, once the disease has arrived here, he will not be able to act in time.

The best safeguard for wild stocks is to retain section 1 of the Diseases of Fish Act or to ensure that the power in the new Bill is used by the Minister, as it rigidly prohibits the import of live salmonids.

The second major problem associated with a more flexible import policy could well put our indigenous salmonids at risk from competition from introduced non-indigenous salmonids. Their introduction into our rivers by angling clubs or netting companies could be deliberate or accidental, as fish do escape from fish farms. The latter is a regular occurrence. If these "introduced" Pacific salmon established a self-sustaining run in our rivers, they would compete with British salmonids. I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is currenly contemplating the introduction of Pacific salmon to certain British rivers. The House would like to hear what stage has been reached in those considerations.

The Atlantic salmon, which is a valuable resource to Great Britain and to Scotland, in particular, is already under severe pressure. The unwarranted risk of introducing diseases through non-indigenous competitive salmonids is therefore unacceptable. Perhaps my right hon. Friend can give the House an assurance that the powers granted to him under clause 1 of the Bill will be as adequate as those in the 1937 Act to safeguard against the possibility of the importation of diseased fish.

I wish to support some comments on the Bill that have been made by the National Farmers Union. In general, it has welcomed my hon. Friend's Bill and the assurances given by my right hon. Friend in Committee. The National Farmers Union believes that it will provide Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials with important additional measures for the control of disease. However, fish farmers see these new measures only as an overall Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food approach to fish disease, prevention and control.

At present, the industry is wide open to the introduction of diseases, which would devastate not only fish farming but established angling waters, through the import of infected dead fish. This matter was referred to on Second Reading, but my right hon. Friend gave no indication of the Government's intentions in Committee. The National Farmers Union and other interested bodies believe that administrative considerations may delay any moves in this direction. The National Farmers Union believes that the Government's disease control measures will be successful only if supplemented by sensible import measures introduced in the near future. Therefore, it is important that the House should obtain an assurance of the Government's intention.

The Bill, if it is passed by the House today, will provide the opportunity to remove certain diseases from the list of notifiable diseases. My right hon. Friend has not told the House which diseases will be downgraded, or how soon any such changes will take place. Some fish farmers and veterinary surgeons believe that current policies on notification of certain diseases are having an unacceptable effect disproportionate to any possible benefits. There is a considerable danger that the good will with which the fish farmers have greeted my hon. Friend's Bill may evaporate unless my right hon. Friend can give the House an assurance that he will seriously consider the concern that the National Farmers Union has expressed.

The Bill has been accepted as a great step forward in the control of fish diseases. I am sure that the House will give it a safe passage on Third Reading in order that the legislation should reach the statute book at the earliest possible moment. I commend the Bill to the House and congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing an important measure which can only do good for fish farming in this country. I am sure that hon. Members who have fish farming interests in their constituencies will be delighted with my hon. Friend's Bill.

12.28 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I ask the indulgence of the House for two minutes and no more.

First, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) on the introduction of this important Bill. I regard it as important because it is necessary to educate people about disease among fish of all kinds, including those bred in artificial and natural habitats. The Bill will do that. In particular, clauses 9, 10 and 11 and other parts of the Bill will contribute to a gently enforced understanding of how disease comes to fish in both natural habitats and fish farms. As a nation 99 per cent. of whose population consumes fish, we need to have an understanding of those matters.

The differences between fish and other animals living in natural and artificial surroundings must be understood if our society is to appreciate the direction in which it is going in terms of civilisation and the general way of living. The Bill does exactly that.

I am especially anxious that people should understand the matters to which I have referred, including schoolchildren. Many children keep aquaria. They do not know about artificial fish farms, but they know about the natural habitat of fish. If they were taught about disease and the natural way in which fish can live in fish farms, I believe that many of them would show enterprise and set up fish farms. That would lead to profit for themselves in the form of employment and would benefit the nation by providing more food. That would do nothing but good.

12.30 pm
Mr. Mark Hughes

I join everyone in congratulating the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Bute (Mr. Corrie) on his success in winning the ballot and on the great skill that he has shown in piloting the Bill through Second Reading, Committee and Report to Third Reading. I wish the Bill every success as it goes to another place. I hope that it will reach the statute book very soon.

I take up the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). I confess that at the beginning of the Bill's passage I was happy to see whirling disease on the list of notifiable diseases. However, the evidence that has been brought to our notice—notably by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), but I have made further inquiries myself—shows that skilful fish husbandry and skilled veterinary care can make it inappropriate merely to provide for destruction without compensation. We pressed hard in Committee for the provision of compensation if the Government were to insist upon the economic destruction of many fish farms. If the technical, veterinary and husbandry advice that is now coming forward means that the destruction policy was unnecessary, the Government must take additional blame for having caused the death of the fish and the ruination of fish farmers unnecessarily. They did so because perhaps at that stage they were ill advised.

Earlier this week I spoke to the chief executive of the Northumbria water authority. It had a large stock of young trout that contracted whirling disease in its own nurseries. The trout were all destroyed, but it is possible that had they been kept with care they would have survived to adulthood in large numbers without becoming an infection risk if they had been sent out to the rivers.

At the beginning of the Bill's passage there was widespread fear that Ireland could be a source of infected fish material. I took that advice and I believed it. However, the evidence from the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and from other sources, both in Dublin and in the Northern Ireland Office, assured me that the standards of hygiene and the quality of the marine environment and the land-water environment required and maintained in Ireland do not present a risk of importing disease to Britain. I hope that the Minister will give us further informaton on the possibility of granting licences for the importation of Irish salmonids.

Finally, it is the will of the House of Commons that the use of monofilament gill nets should be brought under effective control. I hope that the Minister of State will give a clear undertaking that he recognises that that should be done, and done speedily. It is the overwhelming view on both sides of the House that such nets are unacceptable and should be removed at the earliest possible moment. I wish the Bill well, but I regret that part of the good will to get it through the House meant that we could not insert provisions in it to bring monofilament gill nets under effective control. We shall continue to press on every possible occasion for effective control of these dastardly instruments.

12.35 pm
Mr. Buchanan-Smith

To answer the queries that have been raised about monofilament nets, I urge the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), who follows matters of a scientific and technical nature with knowledge and care, not to exaggerate the situation. It would not he appropriate to deal with the matter now at length, but there is no evidence of a causal connection between certain types of tackle and disease. While it is accepted that all nets cause injury, there is no evidence that this type of net causes proportionately more damage than other kinds of net.

As the House knows, this is a matter about which I am concerned. However, I am not prepared to take action unless it is based on proper scientific and technical advice. I am sure that the hon. Member for Durham would agree that, simply because one has a certain feeling in an important area like this, to take action which was not soundly based scientifically and technically would be wrong.

I have already initiated an inquiry into the matter. I have received a preliminary report, a copy of which is in the Library of the House, and that bears out what I have said about the evidence. However, I accept that the report is of a preliminary nature, and I am therefore awaiting the final conclusions of the inquiry, which is being carried out by experts. I repeat that, while we do not have evidence of the kind of allegations that have been made in the House today, I assure hon. Members that I am concerned arid will keep an open mind on any final conclusions that may be reached.

As for imports from Northern Ireland, as I informed the Committee, my right hon. Friend and I have instructed our fishery scientists and veterinary experts to consider the ban under the 1977 Act. I cannot give precise information about progress on the issue, but work is in hand. it will take some time and, as the House knows, we have in the meantime taken the necessary legislative steps to deal with it once the inquiry has been completed. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) for the welcome he gave to the steps we have taken.

My hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) referred to the danger from imports of disease and asked whether our powers were adequate to deal with it. I appreciate that there has been uncertainty about the operation of the Animal Health Act 1981 in relation to fish imports. I have rested my case on the powers that are available under that Act. It is a complicated measure and I will briefly describe how the relevant provisions work because I feel it is important to reassure the House on the subject. After all, if the powers were not adequate, extra powers should have been taken. Section 10(1) of the 1981 Act enables Ministers to make orders for preventing the introduction or spreading of disease into or within Great Britain through the importation of … animals and carcases … and … other things, whether animate or inanimate, by or by means of which it appears to them that any disease might be carried or transmitted. The word "animals" is defined for the purposes of that provision in subsection (4), and it includes fish, reptiles, crustaceans and other cold-blooded creatures", which obviously covers live fish and shellfish. Dead fish and shellfish, whether whole, gutted or parts — that covers the whole area of description—are covered by the reference to "carcase" in section 10(1)(a), a term which is defined in section 89(1) of the Act.

The eggs of fish, another source of infection to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East referred, are covered by the reference to "other things" in section 10(1). By section 10(4) "disease" is not restricted by the definition in section 88 of the Act. Section 10(2) provides: Without prejudice to the generality of the powers conferred by the section, the order may, among other things, prohibit or regulate … importation … make different provision in relation to different cases; and … make provision with respect to any of the matters specified in Schedule 2", which includes exemption by means of licences.

It has been suggested that an enabling order must be made before the 1981 Act can be used to control fish imports. I am advised that that is not the case. An order to control fish imports under that Act can be made at any time. It is not necessary to introduce prior procedure. The House and those who have spoken today as well as people outside take this matter seriously. I, too, take it seriously and I am fully prepared to use the powers of the 1981 Act if that proves necessary.

Section 10(6) of the Act provides that orders under that section are to be laid before Parliament after they are made, so action can be taken quickly to prevent the import of diseased fish or shellfish. Indeed, I go slightly further. I have it in mind to use those powers to control imports of ungutted trout and possibly salmon. Again, I hope that that meets the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East. I believe that this will be very important in our efforts to keep out very virulent diseases such as VHS, or IHN, which could be extremely bad for our fish stocks. I have no intention of banning all imports of ungutted trout and salmon, but I feel strongly that sensible controls should be applied and I have asked the Department to pursue the matter urgently.

The powers exist. I am prepared to use them. I hope that those assurances make it clear that what may at first sight appear to be a deficiency in the Bill can be dealt with in other ways.

The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Durham referred to whirling disease, which has also given rise to concern. I believe that developments in that area show that in regard to fish diseases we have to move with a changing situation. I assure the House that not only I as Minister but my scientists and administrators understand that practices may have to be changed as circumstances change. Indeed, as I hope to show, we have already been prepared to do so.

Clearly, when there was evidence of an outbreak of a new disease, albeit on a small scale, it would have been irresponsible in the extreme not to take action to try to deal with it. I hope that the right hon. Member for Barnsley accepts that. At that stage we did not know how serious the threat was or how widely the disease might spread and it would have been irresponsible not to try to control it. There was no question of panic, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman suggested that there was. We tried to deal with the matter sensibly and responsibly, as I believe has been generally recognised.

Since we first identified the disease, more sites have been found to be infected and claims have been made about more distant origins in this country than the evidence at first suggested. I acknowledge that. As I said in Committee, I have asked my officials to review our policy towards controlling this disease. I assure the House that if there are better methods I am anxious that they should be adopted. We are dealing with a moving situation. As part of the review my officials have already held a number of meetings with interested bodies. Only two days ago a seminar was held at which representatives of the National Farmers Union, the Scottish National Farmers Union, water authorities and angling interests were able to put their views and discuss with my scientists the dangers posed by this disease. When they submit to me their recommendations for future policy on whirling disease, my officials will take into account those discussions and the data collected by the fisheries scientists who re-tested the sites affected by whirling disease last autumn. That also demonstrates that we are flexible and, I hope, sensible and practical in our dealings with the problem

I understand the circumstances as several hon. Members have made representations to me and I have received considerable correspondence on the problem. I understand the anxiety of and costs to those who are affected. Therefore, we have announced modifications to our policy on movement from sites that are subject to control as soon as we have been able to justify them. We shall consider movements from infected sites to another infected fish farm, any fish farm that is operated by a water authority or to any other waters, provided that the relevant water authority has granted its consent under section 30 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.

Anxiety has been expressed about different water authorities adopting different stances towards such movement. I hope that the type of seminar that I mentioned earlier will help towards a better understanding of the disease and more uniform policies. I am also aware of the difficulties that fish farmers encounter when water authorities which operate section 30 of the 1975 Act stop movements from one infected farm to another. In the Consultation Paper on the Review of Inland and Coastal Fisheries in England and Wales, which I initiated and a copy of which is in the Library, I proposed that we examine section 30 powers so that they could be modified to take account of their application to fish farms. Therefore, another area of difficulty is already being considered.

Until such time as appropriate legislation can make that change, I do not have powers to review those decisions. I hope that what I have said about whirling disease shows that I am taking sensible steps, avoiding unnecessary and dangerous risks to this growth industry, and that the modifications which we have already introduced are sensitive to the real anxieties and financial worries of those who are affected by it.

I do not want to deal with slaughter and compensation in detail today as it raises much broader issues which were the subject of the consultation paper that I mentioned. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) said, I do not believe that that is an appropriate subject for this Bill. It is being considered in another context and I assure the House, especially the right hon. Member for Barnsley, that I shall consider the matter carefully in relation to other consultation processes that have already taken place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), whom we welcome to the debate at this late stage of the Bill, and other hon. Members raised several points about the operation of the Act and its orders which I shall bear in mind.

I conclude by joining right hon. and hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire on presenting an extremely useful Bill. It is an important milestone in the development of fish farming in Britain. It updates much of the legislation in the light of knowledge and gives us flexibility to deal with new knowledge about and developments in disease. What my hon. Friend has done with the support of many people outside the House will be of enormous benefit to the future of fish farming. We all pay tribute to the work that he has put into the Bill and the skilful way in which he has carried it through. I hope that the work of Government Departments justify the hopes that hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed.

I should also like to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate on the Bill in its various stages and not least the officials and scientists who have worked extremely hard in the background and on a short time scale. They have done a great deal of work on an extremely important piece of legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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