HL Deb 22 July 1968 vol 295 cc657-9

2.36 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—

  1. (1) Whether they are organising or encouraging research into the origins of the present salmon disease in the United Kingdom, with a view to finding a remedy; and
  2. (2) Whether they are co-operating with other nations in the prevention of the over-fishing of salmon in the seas around Greenland and elsewhere.]


My Lords, a substantial programme of research into salmon disease is being carried out by Departmental laboratories with additional staff and facilities provided for the purpose. The aim is to determine the precise cause and nature of the disease, which, though not yet established, is thought to be viral in origin. Once the cause is known, attention will be turned to possible remedial measures.

As regards the second part of the Question, noble Lords will appreciate that any regulation of a fishery taking place on the high seas or in the coastal waters of other countries depends on securing the agreement of the nations involved. Wide-ranging scientific investigations, in which we have collaborated with other countries, have not yet produced sufficient evidence to persuade nations engaging in these fisheries that they constitute a poten- tial threat to stocks of Atlantic salmon; but at its last meeting the international Commission for the North-West Atlantic Fisheries called on the Governments concerned to consider urgently preventing any increase in the level of high seas fishing for salmon by their nationals.


My Lords, apart from rod-and-line fishermen, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware of the very considerable value of the salmon to British rivers and thereby to hotels, the tourist industry, netting men, to employment and wealth generally in Scotland, Lancashire, the West Country and Northern Ireland; and, in view of that whether he is satisfied that the Government are doing enough both on the research side and diplomatically to try to avoid a real calamity in this matter?


My Lords, the Government are well aware of the importance that is attached to these fisheries. I do not in any way disagree with what the noble Lord, Lord Fraser, has said, It is for that reason that we have pressed so very hard—and for what I must say is a regrettably long period—to try to get results in this matter. We are not alone in having an interest. So far as research is concerned, I might mention that this is being undertaken simultaneously not only in England, Scotland and Wales but also in Northern Ireland and in Eire. I can assure noble Lords that it is because of the importance of this to our national interests that we have pressed so hard to try to get results both in determining the nature and cause of the disease and also in the restriction of fishing in the high seas and off other coasts.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for the information that he has, given us on the first part of the Question about the investigations that the Government are making into the cause of the disease. May I ask the noble Lord whether he is satisfied that the research strength and facilities are now adequate for grappling with this difficult task and whether, if they are not adequate, he would consider further strengthening the staff in order to reach firm conclusions on this very important matter?


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that if at any point it appears there is need for additional staff, or, to put it another way, if additional staff can be usefully employed, so much importance do we attach to this problem that we shall certainly not stand in the way of recruiting them. At the moment I do not think any useful purpose will be served by adding to the staff engaged in this work.


My Lords, if my noble friend has to appoint additional staff and thereby increase expenditure, would he ask for an assurance that there will be no criticism from the other side?


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there could not possibly be any criticism? The very large sums of money spent on finding out about this disease and discovering a cure would yield abundantly over the next ten or twenty years. Salmon is a very rich harvest.


My Lords, I think all I can say is that I never like to give a guarantee as to who would say that expenditure is reasonable and who would say that it is not.

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