HL Deb 29 November 1966 vol 278 cc614-6

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to state the scope of research into the columnar is disease in fish, including the annual expenditure for the current year and past three years and a forecast of expenditure next year, and similar particulars of the number of scientists engaged in this research whole- or part-time.]


My Lords, research into the disease in Great Britain and Northern Ireland started this year, when the seriousness of the outbreaks in the Irish Republic first became evident. The work so far, which has been done in close collaboration with scientists in the Irish Republic, has been directed mainly to elucidating the nature and causes of the disease and means of transmission. The three Fisheries Departments in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Torry Research Laboratory of the Ministry of Technology, the Central Public Health Laboratories and the Freshwater Biological Association are all co-operating in this work.

I am afraid that it is not possible to estimate the proportion of the total time and resources of the organisations concerned which is devoted to this work. In all, eleven scientists, with their supporting staffs, are now concentrating on the investigation of the disease, though this is not in all cases their exclusive responsibility. It is planned to intensify the effort, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is recruiting an additional full-time bacteriologist to work full-time on fish disease.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the country will be glad to hear that there is to be at least one bacteriologist engaged on this work? Am I not right in thinking that he is the first one? Did the noble Lord observe that the annual conference of the Salmon and Trout Association was held last week, and did he note the observations they had to make about the urgent need for more research and more information on this disease, which was then followed up by a leading article in The Times? Is he aware that the mortality rate is heavy not only in salmon and trout—particularly in salmon—but also in coarse fish as well? There was a very serious outbreak in the summer on the Trent. So this is a disease which affects all the fish in this country. Will the noble Lord put a little more "pep" behind the Government's efforts to inquire into and find proper methods for dealing with it?


Yes, my Lords, the Government are always prepared to be "gingered up" if they think that the "gingering up" will serve any useful purpose. I may say, in answer to the point about bacteriologists and biologists, that two Ministry of Agriculture scientists and one of the Northern Ireland scientists are biologists, and the others are bacteriologists. We have read very carefully the statement in The Times of Saturday last, and we have also given some consideration to what was said at the Salmon and Trout Association's conference. We realise the desire, and we accept the necessity, for doing as much as possible in this field, but I am bound to say that there is a shortage of scientists who could be turned immediately to deal with this problem.


My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether these scientists are investigating one disease or more than one; and, if more than one, how many?


My Lords, we have not yet finally decided whether this is columnar is, whether it is caused by bacteria or a virus, or is due to some other cause. It is this question that is being very carefully and closely investigated at this time. We hope that eventually, when replies are received to the questions that have been asked of the scientists, we shall be able to take preventive measures.


My Lords, could the noble Lord give us an assurance that there is a sufficiency of qualified scientists to deal with these several diseases which are afflicting fish?


My Lords, I have said that there is a shortage of these scientists. We should like to have more, but unfortunately they are not available. We are even having some difficulty in filling the post I have mentioned, which is being advertised at the moment by the Ministry of Agriculture.


My Lords, would the noble Lord very kindly ask his noble friend Lord Kennet to read that answer and to study it in connection with our discussion about valuers yesterday?


That, my Lords, is also slightly "off beam".


My Lords, can the noble Lord give us an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will collaborate with the Government of Eire on these fish diseases? Because there, of course, they have had quite a lot of experience.


Yes, my Lords. That was the starting point of the investigations that are going on; and, of course, we shall continue the very close collaboration which has taken place up to now. If there is a necessity for further international co-ordination, this can be done through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, as is being done at the moment in connection with the investigation into Greenland salmon.