HL Deb 28 October 1976 vol 376 cc719-24


After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:

Aquaculture deemed to be agriculture

".—(1) Aquaculture shall, for all purposes, be deemed to be a part of agriculture and all enactments applying to agriculture shall, as appropriate, apply to aquaculture.

(2) Aquaculture is the culture and the harvesting of animals and plants in water."

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

Because it would involve charges on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting the above Reason may be deemed sufficient


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 2: Because it would involve charges on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting the above Reason may be deemed sufficient". It may be appropriate if I say a few words. We had a fairly substantial debate when the Amendment was moved on the Committee stage of the Bill in this House, and we have of course debated fish farming on a number of occasions before and since, and quite rightly in my view as it is a very important subject. I am very glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, in his place.

Nevertheless, I think that there are a few new points to be made, and others that may need reiteration. The fish currently being farmed in this country are of course of the high value types and so are those in which there is at present some commercial interest in development. It is a safe assertion that only high value species will be cultivated within the foreseeable future because of the economics of the enterprise. Rainbow trout are the only fish in serious commercial production in this country at present, and reasonably valid comparisons can perhaps be made in respect of that species. France and Italy each produce about 15,000 tonnes a year; Denmark 12,000 tonnes, and West Germany 5,000 tonnes. There is no significant production in other EEC countries.

Taken at their face value these figures indeed suggest that we, as a country, could do somewhat better, and this of course has been said on certain occasions in this House. Given that the British industry has expanded from virtually nothing a decade ago to 400 fish farms today, there is no obvious reason why we should not catch up with the leaders within a few years. I do not wish to suggest that disabilities do not exist. These are precisely the points which the Government Departments concerned are discussing with representatives of the industry.

Rather than repeat these points, perhaps I may now offer an overall view of the situation as the Government see it. As I have said, coupled perhaps with a start on Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout are the only species we are now cultivating on a commercial scale. This is a viable activity, and there seems to be no reason why it should not go on expanding in the years to come. Salmon, sea trout, turbot and dover sole present serious problems, to which a great deal of research effort, both by the Government and by commercial interests, is being devoted. Shellfish cultivation is likely to remain a relatively minor activity, although a very important one—just as our oysters since Roman times have been second to none—but work is being done on nontraditional species and nontraditional methods of cultivation.

It has been pointed out that greater United Kingdom production of farmed fish would mean a net saving in imports, and naturally the Government hope that it will. However, it is important to stress the word "net", because most of the feedingstuffs used are imported at high cost. It has also been pointed out that United Kingdom imports of salmon and trout in 1975 cost £42 million. That is an accurate figure, but it does not give the full picture, because about £33 million of that was accounted for by canned salmon; this is a different species from the Atlantic salmon which we might be farming and is in any case, in its presentation, a completely different product.

I come to the question before the House. We believe the clause to be unsatisfactory in form. It is fair to say that the Opposition, both in this House and in another place, accept that that is so. Nevertheless, the clause has given rise to useful debates in both Houses and the Government, in deciding how best to help the industry, will take full note of all the points that have been made. Here I must say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley—who has sent her apologies in that because of a longstanding engagement she is unable to he here this evening—and of course to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for his constructive attitude.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason numbered 2—(Lord Strabolgi.)

7.53 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for his statement. He would not expect me not to have some observations to make on it, but before doing so I wish to reiterate what he said about my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley, who is exceedingly sorry that she cannot be here for the ill news tonight. The reason why the Commons disagree is given as a financial one, and I thought that Lord Strabolgi attempted to elucidate that a little further. However, I question whether he went as far as he might have gone in that direction.

As I understand it, the imports of fish to this country are running at about £6 million a year at the present time. The price of the net extent of importation continues and I am afraid that the price will go up considerably in the very near future. More attention should there for be paid to getting on with fish farming and, as far as we could make out when doing some sums when the original Amendment was going through this House, it appeared that the cost to the Government of fish farming research plus anything arising from alleviation of rates and possible subsidies could amount in total to something under only £2 million, while the net saving to the country would be very considerable.

Lord Strabolgi made a point about it being the dearer types of fish, luxury fish, which were the most easy to cultivate. That may be so, but does it matter so long as we have good edible fish? Today, salmon or rainbow trout are a delicacy on the market, but if I remember aright, the first debate we had in recent years on this subject, which was on a Motion moved by my noble friend Lady Emmet, caused headlines in the Press the following day saying "Trout and chips", and obviously it could be done. The price of trout will come down once we get going efficiently on a proper fish farming basis and people will be delighted to eat trout instead of plaice, herring and mackerel. Certainly I should prefer trout if I could bay it at about the same price as those other fish. We could be getting it at about the same price quite easily when we consider the present parlous state of our fishing industry.

Having made that point—and I do not want to rub it in any more than I have—I wish to add one point in conclusion. A little bird has whispered in Scotland, and from that I understand that Lord Strabolgi has really been rather busy behind the scenes, in spite of the hard work he is doing in front of us here on so many Bills. I have been led to believe that quite an important conference will be taking place at a very early date this month and that that may eventually lead to a better recognition of the fish industry and its national importance.

7.57 p.m.


My Lords, far be it for me or any of us on this side of the House to quarrel with any efforts the Government are making in order not to spend money. On the other hand, there is this question of imports of food, which are very considerable and expensive. If we can find an alternative form of food which we can cultivate, as I am sure we can, then it will be possible, as my noble friend Lord Balerno said, for us to be getting rainbow trout as cheaply as herring. We must begin somewhere, and naturally I am disappointed that the Government have thought fit, on this extremely original suggestion, that they cannot give the aquaculture industry more recognition.

I can remember—I am sure that many noble Lords can—a time when chicken was eaten only by people who could afford to buy expensive food. Chicken was considered a luxury. Today, chicken is about the cheapest food one can buy, much cheaper than other meat, and that has all come about because of new methods, new developments and a certain amount of money spent on them. The net result has been that chicken is now produced as a very popular food at quite a reasonable price, when in days gone by—and I am talking about quite a long time ago—it was quite rare and expensive.

I visualise that if we could develop the fish farming industry—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is as keen to do that as any of us—then quite rapidly we would be providing a cheap food, or at any rate a cheaper food (food is going up in price all the time) which would be of great value to a very wide section of the public. I am sad that this is one of the suggestions made by this House which the other place has seen fit to turn down. It is a great pity.

8 p.m.


My Lords. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has the problems of fish farming very much in the forefront of his mind. This was evidenced by his speech on the Amendment, which was so mellifluous that it made me think that he intended to invite us to disagree with the Commons in their rejection of our Amendment. I know that the other place has not agreed to put aquaculture into the Bill but the mere fact that it has been considered has highlighted the importance of the subject, and indeed the noble Lord emphasised, either inadvertently or intentionally—I believe the latter—its importance only yesterday in reply to a Question by my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley. Then he pointed out that over the last 10 years the number of fish farms had increased from 20 to 400. This is colossal and it is an indication of the growth of the new industry. If the Amendment has done nothing else, it will have highlighted the importance of the industry.

From all points of view, the industry seems to fall between all the stools. It is not farming, it is not fishing. It is rated in some places and Berated in others. One cannot get investment grants for it, one cannot get capital grants and, as I understand it, one cannot get development grants. It seems, for the purpose of legislation, to be neither fish, fowl nor good red herring. I believe that when my noble friend Lady Elliot referred to the situation of chickens she was right because the aquaculture industry is going through the same stage that the broiler industry went through 20 odd years ago and it has just the same problems.

I well remember an occasion when a High Court judgment was given, I believe by none other than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, on the question of whether broiler houses should be derated. The operative result was that those birds which, by the nature of the method under which they are kept, had to be kept inside, could, if they were allowed out on the ground for an hour a day, have their buildings derated because it could be shown that the birds had had contact with the land. I well remember that judgment and it showed what an absurd situation the industry was in then. The broiler industry has come into its own, and has been recognised as an industry that has produced a great deal of meat very inexpensively. I believe that this is the situation in which we shall find fish farming. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will keep this very much in the forefront of his mind because at some time in the future some Government somewhere will have to try to put the aquaculture industry into some form of legislative context.

On Question, Motion agreed to.