HL Deb 16 March 1978 vol 389 cc1544-8

6.20 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is exactly the same Bill as that which came before your Lordships, was amended by your Lordships, and was subsequently passed by your Lordships last year, in the last Session of Parliament. It found favour with your Lordships, but unfortunately failed in another place. But I think that the principle which it sought to establish, and the powers which it sought to give to the Secretary of State for Scotland, found favour with the Secretary of State and his Department.

I therefore waited a while to see whether the Government would, in fact, bring forward similar legislation, which I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, will tell us was at one time their intention. Unfortunately, however, it does not seem that this legislation is coming forward and, in the circumstances, if the powers are to be given in time to the Secretary of State for Scotland, it seemed to me necessary to move again a Bill similar to the one which your Lordships considered before. That is the one which your Lordships now have before you, and which I ask your Lordships to read a second time.

It is only fair to mention that, when this Bill comes to the Committee stage, I may well seek to make Amendments to it. Obviously, one of the reasons why a Private Member's Bill of this kind can fail, is that it imposes the necessity upon the Government to provide money to carry it out, and I am advised that, if this Bill has a compensation clause still in it, it will be necessary to provide money for compensation and expenses, if claimed. On the other hand, my advice is also that, if the compensation clause and the expenses clause are taken out of the Bill, it will then not require money and it might be possible for this Bill to go to another place and to succeed. I put it no higher than that. In the meantime, however, I urge upon your Lordships all the arguments which I adduced last time towards this Bill—the necessity of it in order to protect our stocks of native fish, and in order to give powers to the Secretary of State to make orders to protect our stocks of native fish. I commend the Bill to your Lordships. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Viscount Thurso.)

6.23 p.m.


My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, on introducing his Bill again in this Session. We discussed it through various stages in your Lordships' House in the last Session, and considerable amendment was made to the first version. I am glad that one or two of the suggestions that I made on Second Reading were, in fact, incorporated in Amendments. But one of the strange things that happened was that the Bill expanded from less than a page to about four pages during the course of being amended. I understand that most of the additional material was provided on the suggestion of the Government, because they thought that more provisions were necessary to produce a scheme which would be comprehensive.

The noble Viscount has explained, both on those occasions and again, briefly, today, that the Bill will provide safeguards against any ill consequences to indigenous fish from the imports of strange fish—sometimes known as exotic fish—from abroad, which are not natives of the British Isles. In particular, the Coho salmon has been imported, and many were worried that it might have an ill effect up on our own native salmon, which would have very serious consequences for Scotland. As I pointed out in the debates in the last Session, the salmon rivers in Scotland provide, through the rating system, a great deal towards local finance. Therefore, if visitors from abroad come and pay a great deal for fishing on prolific salmon rivers in Scotland, they are paying money which goes almost directly into the coffers of local government.

I must declare an interest, as I have in the past, that I own some fishing on the river that flows past my own house. I may say that it is not a pecuniary interest, from an income point of view, because I have a system of fishing permits for local people and bona fide visiting fishermen, and the fishing is free. Indeed, I have to pay rates to the local council, which are based upon the average catch of salmon during the previous five years, so that it is far from being a pecuniary interest. But I have an interest in the preservation of salmon.

I shall not repeat what was said about this Bill in the last Session by other noble Lords, and what I said. I would just put one question, which is really for the Government and not for the noble Viscount who has introduced the Bill, because he has given the necessary explanations in the past. This Bill cannot succeed in this Session of Parliament, unless it gets a successful passage through another place. But it is unlikely to get any time in another place, because it is very difficult even for Members of another place to get time for a Private Member's Bill, unless they are successful in the annual ballot and are in the first eight. Therefore, I must ask the Government whether they support this Bill sufficiently to be able to provide some time in another place.

Secondly, if the other place allowed the Bill to go through on the "nod", as it were—that is, without debate at all, which could be possible if nobody objected to its going through without debate at, for example, four o'clock on a Friday—does the Government's support of it extend to the financial part? I ask that question, because the Bill calls for some impositions on the public purse, and, therefore, only the Government can provide the necessary support in the form of a Money Resolution, if it is to pass through another place.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount on the presentation of his views in moving the Second Reading of his Bill on this subject for a second time. When the noble Viscount introduced his Bill last year, the Government pledged support for the aim of the Bill—to provide powers to control the introduction of species of fish which could harm stock already established in this country, either native or well-established immigrants. That Bill fell in the other place, as we know.

There is no need to repeat all that was said in your Lordships' House last year, during the passage of the Bill. I should only like to note that, although such powers have existed for mammals since 1932, when the Destructive Imported Animals Act was introduced, no such powers exist for fish, except in relation to disease. The import of a consignment of eggs of Coho salmon in 1976 brought the issue to public notice. We need not go into detail about the pros and cons that were discussed. I only wish to emphasise the need to keep an open mind, when it comes to considering the case for and against the entry of any particular species. As I said at the time, any legislation aimed at controls of this type must be framed in a way which provides for a balanced judgment being taken.

Care must be taken not to create a situation which is prejudicial to sensible and valuable introductions. Powers such as the noble Lord's Bill provides could have been invoked, had they existed, to prevent the introduction, for example, of rainbow trout—a fish which has proved of great value to us both in the table market and for sporting purposes.

The current progress of the import of Coho which was allowed under a conditional licence issued by my Department under the Diseases of Fish Act is that the fish hatched from the imported eggs have since been held in absolute quarantine. The effluent is sterilised in order to ensure that no live fish or diseased organisms can escape to the outside environment. They are regularly monitored by my Department and to date no trace of disease has been found. The fish have made growth and it is possible that some may mature for spawning towards the end of this year. No broodstock will survive after spawning, but if by then they are found to have remained clear of disease there would be no powers in the existing legislation on disease to control the progeny of the stock. That, of course, is the problem.

Our scientific advice is that the possibility of damage to our native salmonid stocks, especially salmon, should Coho be brought into use in this country for fish farming purposes, cannot be regarded as negligible. This should not be interpreted as meaning that damage would definitely occur, but simply that the possibility of its occurring cannot be ruled out. It is not possible to say how great is the risk as it is governed by the scale of importations and by a number of practical and biological factors, the combined effects of which cannot be quantified from scientific information at present available; neither does this establish an undeniable case for an all-out ban on future importations of Coho.

But whatever the strength or weakness of the case against Coho salmon in 1978, the need for control of entry of—to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy—exotic species of all kinds is undeniable. The Government acknowledge the need to have control powers, and I reaffirm the Government's support for the principle underlying the noble Lord's Bill. There are, however, pressing Parliamentary commitments in another place and I can give no undertaking about the Bill's passage in that place.

Regarding the query raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, as to whether or not the Government will undertake to move a Money Resolution in the other place, again I have to emphasise that the Government are not in a position tonight to give an undertaking as to the passage of the Bill. However, I shall report the points which have been raised this evening to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, for joining in this debate and for their kind words about the Bill. I realise that there are doubts as to the passage of the Bill, but I do not think that they should deter us from giving it a Second Reading. Accordingly, I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.