HC Deb 21 January 1983 vol 35 cc579-604

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am
Mr. John Corrie (Bute and North Ayrshire)

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

This is a unique moment as it is the first time that an hon. Member has twice drawn first place in the ballot for private Members' Bills. I have on this occasion chosen a much less contentious subject than on the last, but it is equally important. It is vital to the fish farming industry in Britain.

It is also interesting to note that, in a small way, history is repeating itself. I checked on the Diseases of Fish Act 1937, which my Bill proposes to amend and found that the Committee on it was chaired by Sir Charles MacAndrew, who was Member of Parliament for Bute and North Ayrshire. However, I see that times have not changed for Scottish Members of Parliament as that Bill was introduced at 11.26 pm and proceedings on it finished only seven minutes later, only three speeches having been made. Today's Second Reading will take a little longer. Another curious feature of that legislation is that it was introduced by a Minister with responsibility for pensions, not a Minister of Agriculture.

I shall give some background to my interest in fish farming. It stems from the days of the European Assembly when I was fortunate enough to be the rapporteur for fish farming. I was ably assisted by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), who I hope will catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker. We drew up legislation in the agricultural committee for fish farming in Europe. The Assembly adopted it unanimously as Community guidelines for fish farming. I followed up the legislation by writing a booklet and advancing another proposal to the Council which is still lying on the table in Brussels. I hope that that will be taken up at some stage and will become European legislation.

I felt then, as I do now, that, given proper incentives, fish farming could be one of the biggest growth areas of food production in Britain. One of the major constraints on such development is the viciousness of the diseases that can affect fish of all ages and ruin a fish farmer overnight. Fish farming is not the panacea for the get-rich-quick that many people thought it might be when it started. It is a highly skilled and sensitive industry. It requires the highest standards of hygiene and health. In many cases, it requires a substantial capital investment, which is often high-risk capital. Those who are involved in the industry must be dedicated to it.

There are three types of fish farming. First, there is intensive farming in which most disease problems arise. That is the case in other animal-intensive units. High productivity requires a high level of skilled management. Intensive fish farming can be done on the land in tanks that are made of either concrete or plastic or are mud-bottomed. Most of the problems with disease arise in the latter type. Moreover, cages in the sea can be used for salmon and cages in fresh water lochs can be used for trout.

Secondly, there is extensive fish farming. Ponds, lakes, rivers and estuaries are seeded with fish or shellfish which are harvested in reasonably controlled conditions. That practice is more common on the Continent where warm water produces faster growth rates.

Thirdly, there is ranching of fish, especially of migratory species such as salmon. The rivers are seeded, the fish go out to sea, spend part of their lives there, and return to breed in the same rivers. The theory is all very good, but the problem is that once the fish have migrated they go to areas such as Greenland where they are caught by local fishermen and therefore do not return. It is fair to say that one of the largest growth sports in Britain is rod fishing, which is within the reach of all pockets. Fish farmers are providing new stocks for rivers, ponds and lakes. It has become a large industry for both game and coarse fish.

Commercial rearing is now flourishing. It is so improved that the Highlands and Islands Development Board in Scotland is considering the possibility of establishing an agriculture technical training centre to train and retrain youngsters in the Highlands area in fish farming. It is interesting to note that those doing best in that work are from the farms—they have been used to husbandry—rather than those who left the sea and the fishing boats and who tended to be hunters of fish rather than keepers.

The industry is growing in Scotland. There are 63 companies with between 80 and 90 farm sites for trout. In 1981, 21 new sites were developed, and even more were developed in 1982. They produced nearly 2,000 tonnes of fish with a value of £4.5 million. Thirty-two companies are involved in salmon fanning, with 27 freshwater and 35 seawater sites. There is growth in that area also. During the past year they have produced 1,300 tonnes of fish at a value of £5.5 million.

As this large industry develops, more and more people are being employed. Because a great deal of salmon is being produced, its price is being held down or even reduced and is within the reach of most people's pockets. It is interesting to note that in the late 1800s or early 1900s any lease or agreement between farm staff and employers contained a provision that salmon should not be fed to the staff more than three times a week. It was one of the cheapest and easiest-to-obtain foods available in Scotland.

There are still vast areas of the countryside with good, clean, fresh water for farms, but careful planning is important to make the best use of them. It is more difficult to find sea lochs with access and shelter for salmon and where the landowner actually wants to develop a fish farm.

A large new area for expansion in the coming years will be shellfish farming. I investigated that in Malta, where they lower their seeded oysters in baskets, and also in Italy, where they attach their small seeds to strings and hang them between poles. An enormous tonnage of shellfish can be harvested in a small area. There is a natural harvest of fish such as cockles, mussels, scallops, oysters, clams, queen scallops and Pacific oysters. There is an enormous potential for development of those around our coasts.

Also being fanned fairly extensively are eels, halibut, turbot, Dover sole, carp, shrimp, lobster and crayfish—to name only a few of the species. In my constituency, at Hunterston, the hot water that is a by-product of the nuclear power station is being used for the farming of eels, Dover sole and turbot. The warmer water gives a better growth rate.

In England, the picture on expansion is much the same. Twenty years ago there were about 20 or 30 trout farms. By 1982, there were almost 450 units producing 5,000 tonnes. There are many marine fish farms around the coast. But we must not get fish farming out of proportion. The world annual production of fish, both naturally caught and fanned, is about 72 million tonnes, of which only 4 million tonnes is farmed. So fish farming is not in competition with natural fishing methods but is complementary to them in every sense of the word, and a winner in a world where the population is increasing each year.

A number of hon. Members have written to me since the Bill was published saying that they hoped that there would be a slaughter and compensation clause. I am sorry to say that it is not possible for a Back-Bench Member to insert such a clause because it would commit the Government to expenditure. I well know the strain and worry that have been caused when diseases move close to or strike a farm. But if fish and animals are to be protected, we need legislation. As a farmer, I have survived outbreaks of both foot and mouth disease and brucellosis among stock, but, fortunately, I was insured against both and therefore survived. Expensive though it is, everyone in the fish farming industry must insure to protect his stock.

My original intention was to insert a clause on import controls. However, I have been assured by those who know about these matters that the Animal Health Act 1981 gives the Minister all the power that he needs—although the Scottish National Farmers Union is not absolutely convinced about that. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position when he replies.

Various other suggestions were made by the National Farmers Union, the water authority, the trout and salmon associations, the Irish fish farmers and country landowners associations on such matters as extraction rights, planning, protection from theft and Irish imports into Scotland. With the time scale allotted to a private Member, it is not possible to build those matters into the Bill. I must keep the Bill tight on the subject of disease control.

Another area about which I am not absolutely happy in my drafting is that, as yet, I have not managed to find a way to register shellfish farms. If the Bill receives a Second Reading, I hope that in Committee we can find a way to do that. Various families may own different rights within the same area to pick shellfish, and it is extremely difficult to designate boundaries on the seabed. But I want legislation for shellfish as well as for ordinary fish.

During the past few weeks I have had extensive talks with everybody involved—the National Farmers Union in both Scotland and England, water authorities, trout and salmon farmers, Department officials and vets. In addition, much consultation has taken place during the past year. The Government made it clear that no legislation would be possible during the coming year. It is only because I have chosen the subject that we have an opportunity to pass legislation for fish farming.

The Bill has been widely welcomed by responsible fish farmers because they realise that we must control disease. I am sorry for the farmers who already have disease on their farms. The only people who have criticised what I am trying to do are one or two farmers who do not believe that disease should be controlled. It would be disastrous to allow the diseases to run rife in Britain.

The present position with whirling disease is a typical example of what can happen. Although we have that disease in Britain, some of the more virile diseases have been kept at bay on the continent, and we hope that they stay there as a result of such legislation as I am proposing. In a way, the Bill is designed to protect the industry from itself. I am delighted that the farmers unions have given it such a warm welcome. During the past week or two I have been involved with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and I thank them for all their help and the concern that they have shown.

The Bill does three things. It amends the basic fish disease legislation, which is the Diseases of Fish Act 1937. Everything in the Bill other than registration clauses must be read in conjunction with that Act to make sense. There is a new provision on the registration of fish farms and the keeping of stock and movement records. It amends the basic shellfish diseases legislation, the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967. Only clause 5 refers to shellfish. The Bill extends the scope of the 1937 Act, which apparently covers only salmon and freshwater fish. It will be extended to bring in all farmed sea fish and eels. The 1937 Act was specifically introduced to deal with a disease called furunculosis which affected salmon and trout.

The Bill gives power to serve a standstill notice—two 30-day notices—while diagnosis of notifiable diseases takes place. It takes a considerable time to diagnose the disease, so that length of time is required to play safe. Movement controls could be applied to fish, eggs or foodstuffs. The order would say which of those was to be controlled. After 60 days all controls would be lifted or a designated area order made. That changes the present situation, because the Act does not specify the number of 60-day standstill orders that can be served. The Scottish National Farmers Union is worried about the 30-day orders. That is something that can be considered in Committee.

The vital stage in the life of salmon is when they have to be moved from fresh water to salt water. Officials in Scotland have been extremely flexible in the way that they have worked with fishermen and I hope that this continues.

The other power that the Minister would have in a designated area order would be control over movements in, out of, and within the designated area. This may seem a strong power to give a Minister. With the diseases that we have in this country, perhaps we do not require it, but if the disease viral haemorrhagic septicaemia comes from the continent it is so deadly that it would wipe out our fish farming industry very quickly. It is pointless constantly to be chasing disease. We must have authority to close down an area in order to keep it safe so that we are not trying to catch up with farms that have been declared diseased.

The 1937 Act lists several notifiable diseases and provides only for additions. That is unfair as scientists are learning more and more about fish farm diseases. Methods of diagnosis by scientists of fish diseases have improved. The Bill provides that additions and deletions can be made. This will remove the time-consuming requirement for an Order in Council. There are almost a dozen primary and secondary diseases that affect fish throughout the world. Fortunately, a number of them are not present in Great Britain.

The purpose of amending the 1937 Act is to give the fish farming industry the benefit of more effective control, along the lines of the animal health controls that have been so successful in eradicating animal diseases. Responsible fish farmers welcome the proposed protection. I am not suggesting that the industry is rife with disease and needs this sort of control, but if the industry is to grow in future some controls must be implemented.

Water authorities are covered by the 1937 Act and I do not wish to alter what they do. They have responsibilities for water other than fish farms in their area. If dead or dying fish are found in their waters, they have the power to remove them. That is tremendously important for rod fishermen who wish to carry on their sport in waters that are clean and free from disease. All the water board members to whom I have spoken have been extremely helpful. There have been numerous discussions during the past few weeks.

The industry is growing rapidly, perhaps too rapidly in many areas. It is for that reason that we must have registration within the industry. It is impossible to control disease if it is not known where the farms are which could be affected by disease. When a farm has disease and a disease order is placed upon it, it is necessary to know where the farm sold its eggs or its fish so that it is possible rapidly to follow up and take action. I stress that, although there is no test of acceptability for registration, every fish farm would be entitled to be registered. Fish diseases are highly transmittable and we must do everything in our power to stop them spreading.

Clause 5 affects shellfish. If the Bill gets a Second Reading, it will be possible to discuss what further controls can be built in to the 1937 Act. I am considering further ways of improving the Bill in that area.

The Bill will be the first step towards bringing some discipline to the industry in the way in which fish and disease problems are tackled. It is a foundation upon which the Government can build at a later date and do the other things that the industry requires. If the Bill gets a Second Reading, there is no doubt that the Government will wish to make some changes in Committee. That I accept. The Bill has had an unqualified welcome outside the House.

I remind the industry that a Back-Bench Member can do only so much. The art of politics is the possible. If in Committee too many amendments are pushed forward, we may lose the whole Bill because of lack of time. If the Bill passes into Committee today, I hope that not too many changes will be made there.

9.57 am
Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I congratulate most warmly the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) on introducing this Bill. I congratulate him on his choice of subject and on his luck. If I were to have his luck, on balance, I would become a professional gambler rather than a Member of Parliament.

I have no doubt that this Bill will pass into law. The hon. Member should not carry with him, when considering this Bill, his experiences on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. That was a very different Bill. The hon. Gentleman, who has produced such an excellent Bill, should welcome amendments. I do not think they will be considered in the way that amendments were considered on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. There will be an overwhelming desire on the part of Members of Parliament to make certain that this Bill gets on the statute book. He must not fear constructive comments, criticism or amendments.

I welcome the Bill from the point of view of anglers. The National Anglers Council welcomes this Bill. It would like a few improvements made. It would wish to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing it. This gives me the chance to reiterate that the Labour party, far from wanting to ban or prohibit angling, supports angling as a sport. We regard it as a legitimate pastime. This Bill will be a positive help to anglers.

The National Anglers Council has told me that angling is being taken up at the rate of six people an hour. Angling is a favourite form of occupation among small boys and adults. It is an admirable and consuming occupation for youngsters. It does, except from the point of view of bailiffs or gamekeepers, keep young boys out of trouble. We must encourage angling strongly. The additional numbers of people fishing puts great pressure on the fish. One startling statistic in England is that there are between 600,000 and 800,000 trout fishermen.

Trout fishing has ceased to be the sport of the aristocracy. It has increasingly become classless. When I was a youngster fishing the river Dee at Chester the salmon and trout fishermen were in a different social class. Those of us who were coarse fishermen would never have dreamt that we would ever had access to trout waters and fish for trout. Trout fishing was in a different category but that is not true today. The Birmingham anglers association has about 70,000 members. They are mostly skilled workmen and their families. It owns stretches of some of the finest trout rivers in the Midlands. Some are reserved for fly-fishing only. There are waters on which permits can be obtained to fish for salmon. The image of trout fishing that some of my hon. Friends used to have disappeared a long time ago. Trout fishing is growing in popularity among working people.

I have noticed that many good, skilled coarse fishermen in the Midlands, who are deprived of fishing by the close season between March and June, have taken to fishing for trout in the coarse fishing close season.

The popularity of trout fishing increases and this brings great pressure on the trout. Recently I visited Japan on parliamentary business. On a public holiday I went fishing from Tokyo. I was surprised to see the Japanese style of fishing. I was taken by union officials and one small boy into the mountains to fish for trout. I found the Japanese fishermen shoulder to shoulder with their poles. I had to walk half a mile to find an empty space on the river. It was a beautiful, small mountain stream. I started to fish with a pole at 8 o'clock in the morning. My Japanese trade union colleagues kept coming to me and saying "Don't worry. Do not be impatient that you have not caught a fish. At 9 o'clock you will catch a fish."

I thought that Confucius would appear at 9 o'clock. At 9 o'clock precisely a van drew up alongside me on the river bank. A Japanese gentleman jumped out of the van and poured two buckets of fish around my feet. From 9 o'clock until 15 minutes to 12 I steadily caught trout. However, at 15 minutes to 12 one of the Japanese union officials said, "Now we must go to eat." I asked whether the conditions had become too bright, whether the wind had changed direction or whether the temperature had dropped too much. He replied "No. We have now caught all the fish."

I hope that in Britain we do not reach that stage of give and take. However, many of our fisheries have to rely on fish that have been reared artificially and then put into our rivers, lakes and pools. Angling is entirely dependent on the rearing of fish. It is important, especially for trout fishermen on still waters, that there be an unrestricted supply.

None of us wants to fish for diseased fish and it is important that trout be available to the fisheries at a reasonable cost. I know that last year whirling disease put great pressure on those providing still-water angling. In my own locality there happens to be a generous farmer who stocks his two pools and charges only £4 for the day and £2 for an evening. He found conditions difficult—all credit to him because he stuck to his prices—when the price of fish to him shot up because of whirling disease. We must take into account the cost to the fisheries of restocking. Disease makes life extremely difficult for them.

Many hazards face migratory fish and I shall not misuse this opportunity to harangue the Minister on acid rain, pollution and netting. I am sure that he will be grateful for that. He knows that there are many hazards facing our natural fish and that we should not add to them.

On 5 April 1976 I spoke in the House on the threat from diseases following an article by Mr. Brian Clarke in the Sunday Times. I drew attention to his warning that we would have increasing problems unless action was taken. I acknowledge that that warning was to a Labour Government. It is vital that we take action now to ensure the constant and, I hope, cheap supply of trout and other fish to fisheries. It is essential, too, that we get powers to ensure that we do not import the fish diseases that are queuing up, as Mr. Clarke said, in other parts of Europe to come into Britain.

It is also essential to ensure that, when there are outbreaks of diseases on fish farms and elsewhere, we have adequate powers to stop those diseases being transmitted through our rivers. We must localise the outbreaks of disease. Some of the diseases are transmittable. They have an effect not only on trout but on roach and other fish, for which coarse fishermen in the Midlands, Yorkshire and other areas are so anxious to fish.

Anglers are delighted that the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire has chosen to bring this subject before the House. The Bill can perform a very great service. The National Anglers Council tells me that it has only two quibbles. First, it says that it would like registration irrespective of whether there are outbreaks of disease.

Sir Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Golding

It says that it does not make sense to be talking about registers only when there are outbreaks of disease. It suggests that the straightforward step be taken of initiating a register of fish farms. It does not believe that legitimate fish farmers will object if their names are put on a list and they become registered. After all, registration could help them. A register of fish farmers could almost be a trade directory. I do not think that the request is unreasonable.

The council's second request is perhaps more difficult and more debatable. It proposes that water authorities be given authority to inspect at all times, irrespective of whether there be the threat of disease or an indication that disease exists.

It is said that that would be a preventative measure. Water authority inspectors on routine visits could identify the beginnings of an outbreak of disease. It is argued that that would be helpful for the fish farmer as well. I put that idea to the Minister, who will be influential during proceedings on the Bill, and to the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire, although I realise that the introduction of additional inspection rights raises many important questions that need detailed discussion with those who will be inspected.

Mr. Corrie

All fish farmers will be obliged to be on the register, not just those where there is disease. That will cover the hon. Gentleman's first point.

Mr. Golding

It is my lucky morning as well. It is not often that one gets an assurance as quickly as that. It is probably better to deal with Back Benchers than Ministers on such matters. The National Anglers Council will be delighted. Perhaps we can discuss access in Committee.

I wish the Bill well. As I have said, I am confident that it will reach the statute book. The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire is to be commended for it and anglers everywhere will thank him.

10.11 am
Sir Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

The House will have appreciated the description given by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) of a Japanese put-and-take fishery. I agree that the one hope for the expansion of British fishing sports is the further development of the put-and-take fisheries, which the Bill will help enormously. However, as he said, I hope that Britain will not reach the stage reached in Japan. I shall resist the temptation to follow the hon. Gentleman into a discussion as to the best types of fish for such fishing. The rainbow trout can be put out one day and caught the next. The brown trout will sulk for 10 days before it can be caught. A good spread can be achieved by using a variety of species in that way.

I must declare an interest because I am chairman of a district fishery board and a managing partner of a commercial salmon fishery off the north coast of Scotland. Therefore, I have had some experience with the problems. It is the impact of disease alone that prevented me from using the green bag behind your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for its proper purpose. Looking at today's Order Paper, and seeing the Diseases of Fish Bill first and the Salmon Fisheries Protection (Scotland) Bill sixth, I thought that this was an appropriate day for slipping a salmon into the green bag behind your Chair. Whether Mr. Speaker would have demanded it as his right or whether you as the Deputy Speaker whose eye I caught would have had it would have been a matter for you and Mr. Speaker to resolve through the usual channels behind the Chair. It is the impact of the ulcerative dermal necrosis fish disease that has made that impossible.

We are now in the second five-year cycle of the impact of UDN which, as the House knows, broke out in Britain at the turn of the century, when it had a disastrous impact on Scottish fishing. However, it cleared up within two years because there was not the high nitrogen content caused by the run-off of fertilisers into our rivers. It is significant that UDN has cleared up in the highland rivers but not in lowland rivers such as the river Tweed where there is a high run-off of nitrogenous fertilisers.

Not only fish diseases but their contributory factors must be identified. One of the major contributory factors is the effect of the change in the water supply in many of our rivers caused first by water extraction, and secondly by the damaging work of the Forestry Commission which has indirectly contributed to the spread of fish disease in Britain.

Hon. Members will know that the rainfall run-off on bracken, heather and moorland is about 90 per cent. of all the rain that falls on an acre of land. Plant it with trees and the run-off is reduced to 20 per cent. In the planting of those trees, the acidity of the run-off is increased because the Forestry Commission insists on ploughing up the peat and exposing vast areas. That increases the acidity of our rivers and the amount of filth and peat suspended in them. That in turn makes our fish more liable to disease. The time is coming when it will be no good spending taxpayers' money on planting upland acres with trees, thus destroying some of the assets which the rest of the community wishes to enjoy.

It is also important that we should realise the disease risk that is now associated with illegal netting. If one visited Billingsgate market after an all-night sitting in July, as I did a year ago, one would find that two thirds of the salmon there has been illegally caught. Illegal catching exposes fish to further disease risks. The damage that hang nets do to fish creates a major risk of disease and a risk of furunculosis in our rivers.

Catching fish in hang nets means that the wretched fish gets its head caught in the net by the gills. Many fall out of the net dead and a large percentage escape. They can be found in the rivers, recognisable by the marks around their heads and shoulders, with the beginnings of furunculosis, which is extremely contagious. The fish that are taken out of the hang nets by the fishermen end up in our markets. It is illegal to set the leader to the bag net as a hang net. The continuance of this practice is extremely damaging to the fish population. Salmon can stand being culled by anglers and the normal catch of net fishermen provided that those nets are used in the traditional way and with traditional materials. Such fishing has been going on for more than 100 years. In such cases there is no risk of disease and no harm to the salmon stocks.

I would probably be ruled out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I said too much about the damage caused by the seal population. When salmon fishing was good in Britain the grey seal population around our coasts was 28,000 and was maintained at that figure. Today, it has exploded to 60,000. One can only hope that they will get some fell disease which will reduce their fertility, and hence their numbers, before they eradicate our fish stocks. How does one know when fish start running? When people say that one should go down to fish the river because the fish have started to run, they have not seen the fish but the seals following the fish around the coast and in the estuary. That is where the harm is being done. My fishery board still manages to kill a large number of seals in order to protect the salmon stocks, and other fishery boards should follow that example and cull seals around our coasts. The sea mammal research unit at Cambridge would say that 3,000 grey seals should be culled every year for the next 10 years between the north and the Aberdeen coasts of Scotland. That always used to be done by the fishermen. River boards must do it in the near future.

Disease, water extraction, the actions of the Forestry Commission, illegal netting and the predation of the exploding seal population are harming our fish. We have seen the harm that UDN has done to our salmon fisheries. It is essential to give powers to district fishery boards to object to the establishment of a new fish farm in their areas. On Report, I shall attempt, with the help of skilled parliamentary draftsmen, to move an amendment to that effect. I think that it would be possible—although I should like the Minister's guidance—to use clause 5. We could then allow district fishery boards in Scotland to apply for the whole of an estuary to be designated as an area free of fish farms.

Many of us dread the idea that some keen young chap, without any knowledge, will try to start a fish farm in a remote part of the country and that he will straight away import diseases into that fishery board area that are not there at present. Indeed, UDN came to Great Britain because diseased rainbow trout were irresponsibly released into the Blackwater estuary in southern Ireland. That started the problem in this country. It could easily happen again. However, the district fishery boards in Scotland know their areas. My right hon. Friend the Minister will argue that not all district fishery boards are active. However, the more responsibilities they are given, the greater the incentive for areas—particularly those on the west coast of Scotland, where district fishery boards are inactive—to use their existing powers.

After a general election, the Government might be tempted to deal with salmon by grouping the rivers together, increasing the size of the district fishery boards and placing the administration of local fisheries in the hands of a civil servant, who will merely draw a nice salary and increase bureaucracy. That would not be the right way to proceed. It would not be any good for our salmon fisheries. Subject to trying to give some say to district fishery boards, I hope that the Bill will make speedy progress on to the statute book.

There is quite a problem about moving fish and fish in hatcheries. Two years ago, people were prepared to say that they would not buy stock from a hatchery because it was infected. Those hatcheries that could not sell to district fishery boards so that fish could be added to the wild are quite happy to sell their stock to be fanned in cages in the estuaries of those very rivers to which they were unable to sell stock. There has been a general relaxation because of the pressure resulting from increased numbers of hatcheries.

I sincerely hope that this Bill and the Salmon Fisheries Protection (Scotland) Bill will at least go some way towards improving, in particular, salmon fishing around the coasts of Great Britain.

10.23 am
Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I wish to make a brief speech, as a sponsor of the Bill, and congratulate the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) on introducing it. I apologise to him for having missed a good part of his speech. However, I am not so sure about congratulating him on his luck in coming so high up in the ballot a second time. That has happened to me and I am beginning to wonder whether I was wise to have another go after my earlier experience. The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire will probably agree that one discovers that the world is amazingly full of free advice. It is exceedingly difficult to know what to do on such occasions.

Therefore, it is appropriate that the hon. Member should have used his good fortune to introduce a Bill that is both timely and essential. Much time has passed since the enactment of the 1937 Bill and there has been a tremendous expansion in fish farming. Indeed, legislation may now be overdue. For a long time, we have known about the outbreaks of disease that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball) has just mentioned. Given the expansion of the fish farming industry and the fact that there are fewer wild fish, that trend will continue. Therefore, sooner or later, regulations must be laid to look after the industry.

I do not intend to go into the Bill in detail. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire confirmed to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) that the Bill intended to register all fish farms. That is not a very onerous imposition on the industry. Indeed, it is due. Keeping records about fish, eggs and food stuffs is essential. It is a good idea to make them available to inspectors on the outbreak of disease and it is wise to include that provision from the word "Go".

No one should have any apprehension about the Bill reaching the statute book. I imagine that the Government will give such a Bill an enthusiastic welcome and I wish it the best of good fortune on its way into law.

10.26 am
Mr. David Myles (Banff)

I welcome this opportunity to make a brief contribution. I shall not try to match the obvious angling enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) or the wealth of experience and knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball). However, I join them and the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) on being first in the ballot for a second time. It is amazing that two Members of Parliament from the west of Scotland should manage to achieve that. It is often said that there is something fey about people from such areas, and perhaps there is some truth in that.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire on his wisdom in choosing this subject, as the Bill is both timeous and necessary. It would appear this time that it is almost universally popular. Matters have moved forward since 1937. Fish farming is developing apace and we need legislation to control diseases and to register those who practise fish farming or the intensive farming of fish. Fish farming is the first move towards domesticating fish. It can be said that fishermen are the last real hunters. Fish farming represents the beginning of the domestication of the production and supply of fish for the housewife's table.

Therefore, legislation to control disease is all the more necessary when there are intensive production methods. Any suggestions or amendments that are made will no doubt prove to be useful and will be welcome. I congratulate Stirling university and Professor Roberts on setting up an institute of aquaculture. It is almost unique and people all over the world look to it for advice and information on fish diseases, the management of fish stocks and all the other subjects associated with fishing and fish. Stirling university is making a tremendously valuable contribution and deserves our congratulations.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough talking about fish farming producing stocks for rivers and lakes—or lochs as I would call them—because that is a valuable way in which to regenerate stocks and to encourage the wonderfully relaxing sport of angling. Although I have lived all my life in an area famed for its angling, I have not done much. Perhaps that is a sign that those who have the opportunity to fish do not indulge in the sport very much, but that others who live in urban areas cannot get enough angling. I often have to climb up and down river banks to rescue sheep, so I am not too keen on doing it to catch fish.

This Bill provides the first real control of fish farming. I congratulate the Scottish NFU on setting up a fish farming sub-committee, which has done much work to stimulate the new venture. I, too, support the Bill.

10.32 am
Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), not only on his good fortune in coming high enough in the ballot to be able to present his Bill, but on the skill and clarity with which he presented it. Although I have the honour and the pleasure to be president of the Matlock angling club, I am no angler and I have learnt much this morning. My hon. Friend has persuaded me both of the purposes of his Bill and that it is an effective vehicle for those purposes.

I wish to raise one problem with my hon. Friend and with my right hon. Friend the Minister, which my hon. Friend was honest enough to mention in his explanation of the Bill. That is the problem of compensation. One of my constituents, Mr. Leney, is a trout farmer. He is not a Johnny-come-lately to the business. He has been in business in Mercaston for 25 years and both he and his business have a high reputation in the area. Recently, whirling disease was identified on his farm and he has been told that he must drain all 40 of his ponds, disinfect them and destroy all his stock. That probably means the end of his business because he does not have the capital to restock. The disease appeared on his farm through no fault of his, and it seems a little hard that no compensation is available to him. The Bill extends the Government's powers over movements in and out of fish farms. To that extent, it could make the need for compensation more acute. The Bill says nothing about compensation, but that does not prevent the Government from offering to help later. If we go as far as the Bill suggests that we should, the need for compensation might be greater.

I can view the matter from the other side, as president of the Matlock angling club, because I go through the accounts of the club every year. The members have a responsible attitude towards their job and they do as much restocking as they can afford. The cost of restocking fluctuates wildly with the cost of stock, and it is difficult for such a club to know in advance what its costs will be. The fluctuation in the price of fish is in many cases a consequence of the identification of diseases, of which whirling disease is one example. If compensation were available to fish farmers, we would not have the same fluctuation in the price of stock.

If all farmers suffered equally from diseases, every farmer could compensate for the cost of destroying infected fish by raising prices. However, whirling disease strikes unfairly and it can destroy an entire business. For that reason, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister can say something about the Government's hopes for compensation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire has certainly persuaded me of the need for his Bill and I shall not obstruct it. I wish it a safe passage through Committee and on to the statute book.

10.36 am
Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

As a Member who represents one of the largest fishing constituencies in Britain, I am delighted to take part in this debate on the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), supported ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles), by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and by the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), who is the Opposition spokesman on fishing, here this morning and I hope that he will take part in the debate, because so far the Bill has received all-party support.

I welcome the Bill as a move to update the Diseases of Fish Act 1937. I welcome the presence on the Government Front Bench of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who deals with fisheries matters at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and who has a wide knowledge of such issues. I am sure that he will give the Bill a warm welcome because of the necessity to update the 1937 Act.

When the 1937 Act was drawn up, it was not envisaged that fish farming would reach the stage that it has today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire said, there are now more than 450 fish farms in Great Britain, a goodly number of which are in Scotland. The farms cover a wide range of species including trout, carp, crayfish, salmon, eels turbot, sea bass, sea bream and coarse fish. The fish are farmed in rivers, lakes, ponds, tanks and large suspended cages using both fresh water and sea water at ambient temperatures or warmed. That shows that those who have entered the fish farming industry have taken careful precautions to ensure that there are no diseases during spawning. It means that in Britain we can expect never to have the diseases that were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball).

The Bill seeks mainly to tighten controls over the movement of fish and shellfish where there is an occurrence or risk of the disease. The problem at present is that the scope of the 1937 Act is limited to salmon and freshwater fish. The Bill, if enacted, will extend the scope to cover farmed sea fish and eels in addition to introducing new powers with regard to the registration of fish farms and the keeping of records.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough mentioned at some length the serious effects of fish diseases which, although they cause concern but are quite common in some European countries, are virtually unknown in Britain. I shall not endeavour to cover that ground again, except to say, as my hon. Friends have said, that if they became established in Britain the consequences for fish farming and for anglers, to whom reference was made by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, would be catastrophic.

The Bill, through the powers it will place in the Minister's hands, will ensure that every opportunity is taken to guarantee, so far as possible, that none of the diseases will become active in Britain. It is vital that the powers are granted to the Minister as the economic growth of fish farming in terms of food production will go a long way to make up for the shortages that are caused at present by the decline in landings of the traditional species of cod, haddock, Dover sole and other like species. The issue is well known to hon. Members because of the number of debates we have been forced to have on fish conservation and the lack of quotas for fishermen.

It seems unusual to think of farming being able to make up for shortfalls in normal fish catches, but when one considers fish farming for the first time that misconception must be recognised and the commercial possibilities for the farmers, and also for the fishermen who wish to take up fish farming, must be seen in perspective. It is possible that, with the concentration on the more highly priced species, the value of the marine fish farm harvest may reach 20 per cent. of the value of the fleet's catch. That would be a substantial contribution to lessening the effects of the loss of fish in British waters over the past few years. That is at least a target at which to aim and is another reason why the diseases which can be found in fish farming must be identified, to the extent that the Minister has power to place a control on any area where they may have become apparent.

Another major area of control not covered by the Bill, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) is importation. Although there are certain powers under section 10 of the Animal Health Act 1981, there is some confusion that my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire might consider in Committee. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will wish to comment on that.

There are a number of other factors that are not clearly laid down in the Bill and that will need to be considered in Committee. Clause 6 requires the Minister to have fish farms registered only if it appears to the Minister necessary to do so for the purpose of obtaining information about fish farms and fish farming with a view to preventing the spread of disease among fish. It is felt that a nationwide registration is necessary and that that could be carried out by the water authorities, or the environmental health authorities or, in Scotland, the district salmon or fishery boards. It is not adequate merely to have records maintained so that the Minister can inspect them. We must ensure that registration of the fish farms is properly done. In the case of sea fishing all the boats are registered and identifiable. The same should be done for fish farms to prevent cowboys from entering the industry and bringing in disease, with catastrophic effects.

There is no requirement in clause 6 to keep records, although records are required to be kept as part of the registration process. It would seem that if we are properly to keep fish diseases under control, full and accurate records should be kept of the movement of fish, eggs and foodstuffs in and out of fish farms, and that the records should be available for official examination. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme pointed out, the official examination could be carried out by the inspectorate.

Another matter that should be considered in Committee is the transportation of dead fish. Neither the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 nor the Bill deals with the risks involved. I am sure that my hon. Friend will wish to cover that matter before the Bill returns for its Third Reading.

Periodic checks by the inspectors should also be included in the Bill. It is not sufficient that an inspector should come only once a year or possibly not at all to particular waters. All waters where fish farming is carried out should be inspected regularly. There should also be compensation for slaughter and, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, a consolidating measure is required in the Bill that would take account of any improvements to the system of disease control that cannot be dealt with by the Bill.

An additional advantage of the Bill is that it will update the 1937 Act, which has failed to control the introduction and spread of diseases. The Bill also covers all the requirements that are necessary now in freshwater and marine aquaculture and updates the Diseases of Fish Act 1937. I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff about the efforts made by Stirling university, the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association to ensure that fish diseases are placed under control. The study has enabled us to identify the various diseases likely to be encountered by anyone operating a fish farm and has provided advice.

Clause 5 is the only part of the Bill that relates to shellfish. It is an amendment to the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967. Under present legislation the Minister has powers only to prevent the deposit of shellfish into an area designated as infected. Clause 5 will extend the powers to the prohibition or licensing of the removal of the shellfish.

I fully support the comments of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme about anglers. Angling today is not the sport of the rich but the hobby and sport of all classes. Over the past few years I have received many recommendations from anglers about the need for control and the need to ensure that the waters are pure and disease-free. The cost of angling—even when the waters are controlled by local authorities, in which case the annual licence is perhaps not so expensive—for the ordinary person who wants to enjoy his rod fishing is prohibitive. If there are no fish in the river the angler's objective is negatived. We want to ensure that the waters are pure and that there will be sufficient fish for the anglers.

In the past few years anglers have been asking for some form of control of the waters. The Minister will be aware of the representations to him by anglers. We do not do enough for them. The Bill deals with river diseases and another Bill on today's Order Paper deals with salmon fishing. I hope that that, too, has a safe passage because we want to encourage people to take up sports such as angling, particularly since there is talk of reducing the retirement age.

I never have time to do any angling, but people say that there is no greater sport. Apparently there is nothing better than standing with a rod in one's hand and nothing else on one's mind except the possible jerk on the end of the line signalling a catch.

Sir Marcus Kimball

I hope that the Minister will note my hon. Friend's valuable argument against the introduction of rod licences in Scotland. It is no good charging people for a licence if they do not have the right to fish. It is no good charging for a licence unless the money is used to improve the waters, but there is no machinery for that. I am glad to hear my hon. Friend's strong argument against the introduction of rod licensing in Scotland.

Mr. McQuarrie

That is one of the most important arguments that I wish to put across. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has reinforced my argument. I hope that the Minister will take it on board. Many representations about rod licensing have been made. Anglers fear that the Government, not in their wisdom, intend to increase the cost of the rod licence. I hope that that fear can be removed by the Minister, if not today in the not too distant future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said, there is no point in having the right to fish if there are no fish.

Mr. Golding

Some of us who go fishing never catch anything, so the hon. Gentleman's argument is irrelevant in that respect. However, the majority of sane people believe that it is better for fish to be in the water when they go fishing.

Mr. McQuarrie

I thought that all anglers were sane. I have not yet met any who were not.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire on introducing the Bill. I hope that it will receive its Second Reading today, move to its Committee stage and return to the floor of the House amended. As hon. Members have said, some alterations are required. The Bill is non-controversial. Perhaps not much time will be left for it, in the light of another event that might take place soon. I hope that the Bill will reach the statute book in time so that the fish farming industry can benefit from it. The measure will be of benefit to all who work in the fish farming industry and all who enjoy angling. I commend the Bill to the House.

10.54 am
Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)

I add my congratulations from the Opposition Front Bench to the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie). It seems less than six years ago—but I fear that it is at least that—since the Corrie report on fish farming was presented to the European assembly. I had the honour to be the chairman of the fisheries committee and to help the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire put the report to the assembly. I can speak of his devotion to the fish farming cause over many years. The whole country is in his debt for what he has done in the past and will be in his debt even more when this excellent Bill reaches the statute book.

If I develop criticisms I do not intend them to be directed against the hon. Member. Problems arise in connection with the Bill. Clause 5 deals with shellfish and I am disturbed at the current position of bonamia in oysters. I wonder whether the provisions are sufficient and whether, even with clause 5, they will be sufficient to give the Minister the neccessary powers in relation to shellfish. I fear the damage that could be done by the spread of the disease from French oyster beds to the east coast of Britain, even if clause 5 existed. I doubt whether its provisions are sufficient. In Committee I shall, with other hon. Members with similar views, seek ways of strengthening the Bill in relation to shellfish.

Another worry is whether we have sufficient controls over the importation of live shellfish, swimming fish and fish eggs. I understand that the power affects only those species, which are not native to England or Wales, which might harm freshwater fish, shellfish or salmon, but that it does not cover species that are native to this country. The legislation inhibits the importation of non-native species, but the importation of diseased salmon or trout that are not native to Britain may not be controlled. I might have been wrongly advised about that. I understand that a similar problem arises under the Import of Live Fish (Scotland) Act 1978. I should like the Minister and the Committee to examine the problem.

I understand why the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, but I regret that it does not. I want to be absolutely certain, as does the Scottish National Farmers Union, that no heavy risks face Scottish fish farmers arising from the importation of disease from Northern Ireland because of inadequate control over the movement of diseased fish stocks from Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland there is less stringent fish disease control and no registration of fish farms. There is not as much effective control as there will be after the Bill is put on the statute book. Is there any risk from fish that is imported from Northern Ireland? The legislation covering the import of live fish does not include any differential between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Therefore, there may be a risk.

Mr. McQuarrie

One of the problems that worries me is not so much the movement of live fish as the movement of dead fish, for example from Larne to Stranraer, which is a short sea passage. That is one of the matters that we must consider in Committee, to ensure that, if there is to be any movement of fish under the Diseases of Fish Act, dead fish as well as live fish are taken into account.

Mr. Hughes

We must take into account the Larne to Stranraer route, and the movement of dead fish. I agree that we must look at the matter carefully in Committee. There is no risk that by examining the details we shall delay the desired passage of the Bill to the statute book. We shall want to look at those matters.

I support the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and others with regard to compensation. I comprehend fully why it is not possible in a private Member's Bill to commit Government money on such an open-ended basis.

I should like to ask the Minister whether, under current legislation via a statutory instrument, he has the power to provide compensation when fish are destroyed at his insistence. Would a new Bill in Government time be required or could it be done through a statutory instrument after the Bill has gone on the statute book? What powers does the Minister have?

This is a minor point and it may be simply a matter of definition. Do I take it that throughout the Bill the word "Minister" means the Secretary of State for Scotland in Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England and Wales? Will there, therefore, be two registers, one for Scotland and one for England and Wales or will just one Minister be responsible, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? I assume that both Ministers are meant, but not the Secretary of State for Wales, and that the present division of agricultural responsibility will be maintained. I should be grateful if the Minister could make that absolutely clear.

I am grateful, and I think that the whole House is, for this opportunity to improve, bring up to date and remedy the defects in the present law on fish diseases. I wish the Bill every success in Committee. I assure the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire that the Opposition will do everything in their power to improve the Bill. I wish it godspeed to the statute book.

11.5 am

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

I join my hon. Friends and Opposition Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), not only on his success in coming top of the ballot but on his discernment in choosing this subject for his Bill. He has had much good fortune in coming top of the ballot on two relatively recent occasions. As he said, coming top of the ballot on two occasions at all is very good fortune. I hope that in the passage of this Bill he will experience slightly less turbulent waters than he did on his previous Bill. The welcome that his Bill has rightly received from both sides of the House not only confirms that my hon. Friend was right to choose this subject for the Bill, but bodes extremely well for its successful passage through the House and the other place.

I am conscious of the interest that has been evoked by my hon. Friend's proposals throughout the country among all those who have the widest interests of fishing in mind. The Government welcome the Bill. My hon. Friend has taken an opportunity that the Government might like to have taken if they had had more time in their legislative programme.

As the House knows, my Department some time ago issued a consultative paper on a review of inland and coastal fisheries in England and Wales. One of the sections in that paper related specifically to fish farming, and another was about fish diseases. We have had wide-ranging consultations on the paper. The issue of that paper is proof of the Government's interest in and commitment to dealing constructively and sensibly with these important matters. The consultations have been completed, but consideration of them is not yet complete. I am delighted that, in the period between our receiving consultations and coming to a decision, my hon. Friend has taken the opportunity to seek to introduce legislation on fish diseases.

I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which he has sought my advice on the drafting of the Bill, and that of my Department and of other Departments with responsibility for these matters. I assure my hon. Friend and the House of the active support of myself and the Government in making the improvements that may be necessary to the Bill when it is considered in Committee. I assure him that I shall give any help that I can to ensure that the Bill goes on to the statute book.

I have followed closely the consultations that my hon. Friend has had with all the interests throughout the country. I can confirm from the contacts that I have had that the Bill is broadly welcomed and there is considerable agreement among all those who have an interest in the matter. Further clarification, amendment and addition may be necessary on some points. I hope that all those who have an interest in the subject will not sit back during the next few weeks. The Bill was published only last week, but its intentions have been clear for some time. Therefore, I hope that before the Committee stage all those who have an interest in the Bill will submit their points of view to my hon. Friend so that they may be considered fully in Committee. The Committee offers us the best opportunity to deal with detailed matters. It is in Committee that we should try to deal with any points of difficulty or points about which there is anxiety outside the House.

I am glad that the Bill has been welcomed by both the National Farmers Union and the Scottish National Farmers Union. In recent years both those bodies have taken an active interest in fish farming.

When introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire mentioned the tremendous economic importance of fish farming. It is not a new development except on its present scale. The Government have shown their interest. We introduced one or two measures in the Fisheries Bill that was before the House two years ago. That Act gave some financial help to the industry, with derating and so on. We have given proof of our confidence and belief in the future of fish farming and the important part that it has to play in the economy. For that reason, I welcome the fact that the farmers unions have taken the initiative in co-ordinating representations and anything else necessary for the development of the industry. It is significant that they welcome the Bill.

Fish farming is important, although fishing in the high seas will still remain the major source of fish for food in this country and elsewhere. In Japan fish farming has been developed on a large scale. I had the good fortune during the autumn last year to visit Norway where there have been important developments in salmon farming. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) mentioned Stirling university, and I agree with what he said. We in this country have a good record in research and innovation in fish farming. I reflected upon that when I visited Norway, because I discovered there that a great deal of the basic development work had been done in this country, although major commercial development had been done by others. I was interested in how freely tribute was paid to the basic research work done by this country, and I basked in the glory of those tributes. I wished that we had developed commercially on the same scale as they had. A great deal of good work has been done on fish farming by the research and back-up teams in Stirling university and by Government scientists in laboratories and fisheries departments. We have given the industry a sound base on which to build for the future.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire mentioned, Scotland and the Highlands and Islands are important. Fish farming is an industry which can be of great importance regionally. I should like to pay tribute to the great initiative shown by the Highlands and Islands Development Board in the development of fish farming. By developing in such areas, one is using natural resources. I believe that such natural developments have greater staying power for the future. Fish farming will be economically important for consumers and for regional policy and development. It is an industry that the Government want to support.

I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) for confirming the support of the National Anglers Council. The wide support that this Bill has received from many different bodies is important. Anglers have a direct interest in the Bill. I welcome the positive and constructive remarks made about the Bill by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. I hope that in Committee he will put forward the angling point of view on any points that he feels are important which would improve the Bill, which is an important one for anglers.

The Bill deals with fish diseases more than anything else. My hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire said that the development of intensive methods of husbandry which fish farming involves has made disease significant. The appearance of serious diseases brought in from outside the country is important. The Bill seeks to amend the Diseases of Fish Act 1937. There has been increasing anxiety about fish diseases for a long time. The consultative paper shows clearly that legislation relating to fish diseases was becoming outdated in the face of the various developments that have taken place. We shall be dealing with another aspect of animal disease legislation in the House next week. It has tended to keep more or less in step with the various developments that have taken place in agriculture. I do not believe that I put it too highly when I say that the Bill is a milestone in dealing with fish diseases and keeping legislation in step with development.

One has only to consider diseases such as whirling, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) referred, to realise how desperately serious it is, not just for the industry, but, as shown by correspondence that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West and others have had, to individuals who have the misfortune to be struck by that disease. The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) referred to bonamia, the oyster disease, and I shall refer to it again later. All these developments illustrate the importance of the action that my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire is taking by introducing the Bill.

I shall deal with the Bill under two general headings. First, I shall deal with some of the points raised about what is in the Bill, and then I shall deal with some of the points raised about matters which are not in the Bill and which can be discussed in more detail in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire raised the question of standstill notices. I treat this matter as one of considerable importance. I know that in the short time since publication of the Bill my hon. Friend has received representations on the matter. The Scottish National Farmers Union in particular is concerned about it. I agree with my hon. Friend that the present notice is inadequate to collect material and to carry out the laboratory examinations and tests. It is unsatisfactory to have a period for notices not related to the time necessary to carry out the tests. I believe that the 60-day period, broadly speaking, is right. It should be adequate, but if evidence to the contrary emerges during the Committee stage I shall be happy, as I am sure my hon. Friend will be, to consider it. But, knowing of the representations, I have considered the matter and I think that my hon. Friend is right about the period.

I am equally aware—my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball) referred to this—in relation to the standstill period that at certain times of the year the release of salmon smolts can be affected. Fisheries departments have endeavoured to be flexibile. They realise that we are dealing with a practical situation. I hope that further difficulties will not arise though extension of the period.

I believe that the power in the Bill to enable the list of diseases to be amended by order is one of the most welcome proposals. We are dealing with a developing situation. In the absence of such powers, with my responsibilities for these matters, a worry that I have always had is that a new disease would emerge and I would find myself unable, without going through a complicated procedure, to take the necessary steps to deal with it.

The provision will be flexible in two directions, not only in affording the ability to add new diseases to the list that may become a threat but in removing diseases from the list where other methods have been found to control them, where they are no longer a threat or where they were thought to be a threat but were not. A flexible approach to the question of disease is immensely important.

As my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Gainsborough said, UDN was covered by the 1937 Act. I very much welcome the flexibility of the Bill. Speed is of the greatest importance if we are to deal effectively with the dangers of the spread of disease. If the Bill becomes law, the Government will ensure that our scientists keep under review the list of diseases to make sure that it is appropriate at all times.

The major development in the Bill which I welcome most of all is the extension of the legislation to shellfish. I have been anxious about the limitations of my powers. The bonamia outbreak has again made me conscious of this fact. The extension to shellfish is proper and necessary.

As with fish farming generally, this is a development, particularly in our coastal waters, where there is considerable scope for development. It is taking place on a considerable scale all round the coasts of the United Kingdom. It is unfair to those who are prepared to take the risks and to invest not to have the protection that we have tried to give to other aspects of fish farming. The provisions in the Bill complement the existing controls, but the existing controls on shellfish can be related only to the deposit of shellfish. That is the limitation from which I suffer. If one takes together the new powers proposed and those that I have already, there should be much greater and effective control over the spread of shellfish disease.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire intervened on the general question of registration in the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under Lyme. I confirm that if we obtain this enabling power, as I hope we do, it will be the Government's intention to make an order establishing a scheme of registration for fish farmers as soon as possible after the Act comes into force. If stock movement records are not kept, we cannot hope to trace the movement of fish and consequently keep one step ahead of the disease, which is the objective in all disease control, although it is not always achieved.

All fish farmers should be able to register and will be on the register, so we should at least be working from a base of knowledge. I am anxious that at present, if I have to take action with the more limited powers available to me, there is a danger of doing so without knowing what movements may have taken place before the action is taken and what the consequences may be.

Sir Marcus Kimball

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the provision does not apply just to fish farms, which one thinks of in terms of somebody producing the item which is eventually slaughtered, but covers hatcheries as well?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Yes, indeed it does. That is one of the most important areas. There is less risk of disease spreading from farms producing simply for the table market. The risk can be greatest particularly in the breeding farms.

I return to shellfish. I share the regret of my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire that so far it has not proved possible legally to achieve a proper definition of shellfish farms for the purposes of registration. It is strictly a legal problem of definition. Great problems arise when dealing with shellfish in coastal waters where there are public rights and so on. It makes definition for registration much more difficult. But between now and the Committee stage—we do not have long to wait—I promise my hon. Friend every assistance that I can give him to get the legal definition right. The Government would welcome seeing the registration provisions extended to shellfish.

I should like to deal with one other point of clarification. The hon. Member for Durham asked about the use of the word "Minister". I am advised that it includes the Secretary of State. I am not a lawyer and do not understand all the niceties of these things, but I am told that the responsibilities for the administration will be, as they are at present, in England with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in Wales with the Secretary of State for Wales and in Scotland with the Secretary of State for Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman can produce evidence that that is not right, I shall be happy to look at it, but on the best legal advice available to me I am told that that is correct.

Mr. Mark Hughes

The first half of the Bill amends the Diseases of Fish Act 1937, section 1(3) of which provides: Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (in this Act referred to as 'the Minister')". The definition in the current Bill refers only to clause 6.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I assure him that I shall take the opportunity to examine it between now and the Committee stage.

I shall now deal with some of the issues that are not dealt with in the Bill. One of the most important points that has been raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire, West and Bute and North Ayrshire and the hon. Member for Durham is that of slaughter and compensation. I repeat that I am sensitive to the problems faced by the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West. Nevertheless, if we are to have effective control of disease, it is inevitable that there will be restrictions and problems of one type or another for those in the industry. If notifiable diseases are to be controlled, it is essential that the spread of disease agents should be prevented. The Diseases of Fish Act 1937 gives powers to control the movement of live fish and eggs. It would have been irresponsible not to use those powers to protect other farms and wild fish when we first identified whirling disease in 1981. I am aware of the disruption, anxiety and financial loss that it has caused.

Last autumn, my fish disease scientists conducted a thorough survey of fish farms that have been connected with the present outbreak. I await their report. I hope to have it shortly, and I shall take it into account when I review present policy about whirling disease. Bearing in mind the anxieties, I shall conclude my consideration as soon as possible.

Mr. Parris

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and encouraged by what he says. I believe that he is sympathetic. I agree that financial loss, disruption and anxiety must be inevitable. What concerns me is that my constituent faces absolute ruin. That is what I want to avoid.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said. He has made direct personal representations to my right hon. Friend the Minister about the problem.

I hope that conclusions on the review of whirling disease can be reached before too long. It is significant that the National Farmers Union is conducting its own survey among fish farmers. I welcome that initiative. I hope that it can also conclude its survey soon. I welcome a contribution to my considerations from another source. It is good that the industry is co-operating and taking an initiative in that way.

Compensation is a controversial issue. There are real difficulties about introducing such a provision at this stage and my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire was right to acknowledge them. The issues are wide. It would be better to proceed with the Bill as it is and to examine compensation at another time in a wider context. There is some advantage in getting the more limited provisions that my hon. Friend has proposd on to the statute book and working so that we can then consider what steps we should take.

I note what my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire said about insurance. It is becoming increasingly important in relation to animal diseases. It should be considered by the industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough raised another subject which is not dealt with in the Bill and which he would like to be dealt with—control of the siting of fish farms. I understand his anxiety. Nevertheless, the subject raises wider questions, that have implications for the control of disease. It also involves much wider powers of control which are not merely related to disease. Therefore, the subject tends to go beyond the purpose of the Bill and raises other issues that must be raised in a wider context than that of disease.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme referred to the right of water authority inspectors to enter fish farms in the furtherance of disease control. My hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire is right not to try to alter the responsibility of water authorities in relation to disease. It is better to leave things as they are. I say that on the basis of present working arrangements.

It is interesting that the National Water Council has welcomed the Bill. It has many responsibilities other than the control of disease. I have been encouraged through my working experience in the past few years by the co-operation between officials and scientists in my Department and the officials of water authorities. We liaise closely. I should like to examine more closely the back-up role that I can provide with regard to fish disease through my officials and scientists. It is appropriate for the fisheries departments to provide advice. They have the necessary expertise and can provide a view that covers the whole country. I intend to foster and ensure the continuance of sensible, close and practical working co-operation between officials of the national fisheries departments and those who are working at local level in water authorities. Recent experience encourages me that it works and that it should be able to continue to work.

I am grateful for the welcome that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) gave the Bill. He has a significant interest in the sea fishing industry. Both he and the hon. Member for Durham referred to issues that are not covered by the Bill. I agree that we need proper import controls. New diseases such as bonamia which occurs in shellfish have come from the continent. There are some diseases on the continent which we hope not to see in Britain.

If I had felt that it was necessary to provide for import controls in the Bill, I should have advised my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire to do so. I have discussed with him whether we should have amended section 1 of the Diseases of Fish Act 1937. On further study and using the legal advice that is available to me, it emerges that we have wide and flexible powers in that regard under the Animal Health Act 1981.

At first sight, that might not appear to be the appropriate vehicle for the powers that we want, but my advice is that the current powers should be adequate to meet any future need either to ban or to license fish or shellfish imports. Because of the interest shown in that point this morning, I shall examine the matter further between now and Committee stage and satisfy myself that the powers are adequate.

Mr. McQuarrie

My right hon. Friend referred to the powers in earlier legislation. They relate purely to shellfish. Will he determine whether there are similar powers for other fish species that may be imported?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I shall consider that point between now and Committee stage. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the trouble that he has taken this morning to raise detailed points. However, I was referring to the 1937 Act. Perhaps my hon. Friend would study the Animal Health Act 1981, which I believe gives adequate powers when taken with the powers contained in the 1937 Act. I mention the 1981 Act so that those with an interest in the matter will have time to refer to it before Committee stage.

The hon. Member for Durham referred to imports from Northern Ireland. That matter has caused some anxiety, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire paid some attention to it. He has rightly confined the Bill to Great Britain because Northern Ireland already has separate legislation to deal with fish diseases. To some extent, Northern Ireland is ahead of us. However, all possibilities should be covered. If any further difficulties or points arise, the Government will be happy to consider them.

I hope that I have dealt adequately not only with the Bill generally, but with its specific provisions. I have also dealt in detail not only with its specific provisions, but with matters not in the Bill because it is important to ensure its swift passage. I hope that I have managed to clarify some points and to explain the Government's attitude to the Bill, which may save time in Committee. We can then concentrate on the areas of relevance that will genuinely assist fish farming and the control of fish diseases. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that both in Committee and at later stages the Government will continue to work constructively on any necessary amendments and also provide advice to ensure a proper and swift passage for the Bill.

I end as I began by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire for introducing a Bill that makes a major step forward in the development of fish farming and the control of fish disease.

11.45 am
Mr. Corrie

By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for replying for the Government. I especially appreciated the words uttered from the Opposition Front Bench. There is usually confrontation between the two sides of the House, and it is nice to have conciliation for a change. The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) and I found when we were in Strasbourg that an assembly with no Government or Opposition tended to be more co-operative, which was very welcome.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) stressed the interests of fishermen. He is well known in the House for looking after them. As he said, more and more people are taking up rod and line and it is welcome that they will continue to have well-stocked rivers and lakes to fish.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball) probably knows more about salmon and animals than anyone else in the House. I bow to his superior knowledge. He raised a large number of points such as extraction rights, feeding problems and planning. If he brings up those points in Committee, we can consider them. There is also the problem of Crown rights. The main problem faced by any private Member is time, so we must tidy the Bill as much as possible in Committee.

I thank the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). I am sure that he will agree that the Highlands and Islands Development Board has done a tremendous amount of work in his constituency, as it has done elsewhere, in developing and helping fish farming. He probably has more fish farms in his constituency than any other hon. Member, except perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay). My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles), who has left the Chamber, has always given enormous support to sea fishermen, and I found it helpful to receive his support today I have enormous sympathy for my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) because I realise the problems for a fish farm when it has disease, especially whirling disease. The problem is that healthy fish can carry the spores of the disease. The last thing that we want is a farm sending out fish to other fish farmers—some perhaps only just beginning—and spreading the disease. That is why we must take a strong view about whirling disease.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) raised a number of points, most of which were answered by the Minister. Clause 6 gives the Minister power to register all farms, and clause 7 sets out penalties for those who do not register or keep their bookwork up to standard.

The hon. Member for Durham also raised a number of points. The importation of fish will be considered again in Committee, but I understand that the 1981 Act covers that point thoroughly. As the Minister said, Northern Ireland has stringent disease controls. However, I know that the Scottish National Farmers Union is worried about live or dead fish entering Scotland from anywhere, although live fish are, of course, not allowed in at present.

I shall consider all the points raised in the debate. I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in it and hope that, for the sake of the industry, the Bill will reach the statute book.

Question put and agreed to,

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).