HL Deb 09 May 1983 vol 442 cc379-92

6.5 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I must declare an interest, in that I am a fish farmer of, I suppose by English standards, fairly considerable size, and furthermore—and this is a point which should be made before speaking about this Bill—I am a fish farmer who produces fish entirely for food. In other words, fish that leave my farm leave it dead. Your Lordships will have realised that there are certain prohibitions and restraints on fish farmers within this Bill which are a little stronger than they were in the 1937 Act, but they will bear a little heavier on those who sell fish for stocking rivers or lakes than on those, such as myself, who as I said, sell entirely for the table.

We have often spoken of fish farming in your Lordships' Chamber and I myself have once or twice before. Lady Emmet of Amberley used to keep the subject before our eyes and perhaps we should have got further by now if she were still with us to do so. The subject is of very considerable importance, and it completely belies the small size of the Bill. In I think 1980 the Government produced a consultative paper which had various paragraphs on fish farming and fish diseases. It bore very heavily on the importance and the danger of fish diseases, in view of the fact that fish farming has grown so very quickly of recent years, and in relation to this Bill we must consider just how quickly this emergent industry, if I may call it that, has grown. It is not a large industry now, but I started fish farming about 14 years ago and I believe that in this country there were then some 20 or so fish farmers of any size at all. Now I am told that there are approximately 470. This morning, I motored up from my home just south of Salisbury and passed four fish farms. Fourteen years ago, after leaving my own fish farm I never saw another fish until I got to Billingsgate.

As I said, this subject is important, and it is also important to look a little at the way in which fish farming has grown. There are a large number of fish farms which take the process from the very start to the finish. They take the eggs from the female fish, fertilise them and grow them on until eventually they go to market in one way or another, either alive or dead. But there is another very large section of the industry which has emulated the fatstock industry and divided itself up. There are farmers who grow eggs and sell them on and others who take the fish as far as the fingerling size, or even larger. One hears of fish that are almost mature being sold just to be finished, as a bullock might be finished off in a yard in the eastern counties, perhaps having been born on the borders of Wales. This means that fish are moving across the country in tanks on lorries or trailers almost every day. As well as passing fish farms on the way up from Salisbury, nearly always I pass a tanker containing, I believe, trout.

Another development of which the Bill before your Lordships takes cognisance is that over this span of 14 years, or a little longer, fish farming, which used to involve almost entirely trout, now involves all sorts of fish. As your Lordships know, the salmon farming industry off the coast of Scotland has become very important, and of some size. One sees farmed salmon advertised in many fishmongers in London and elsewhere. The industry is still growing. People are beginning to farm eels, using the warm waters of power stations, or similar situations. Halibut and turbot are farmed. Shellfish are farmed, too, and have to be taken notice of very particularly. Even such species as crayfish are, I am told, farmed. Whether this is a successful venture I do not know.

If noble Lords consider this growth and the diversity which has emerged, it is not surprising that the fish farming industry has somewhat outgrown the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 and also the Shellfish Act 1967. It would be remarkable if it had not. We should be aware of the risk that this Bill tries to obviate, so far as possible. The risk is that we shall move disease rapidly from one fish farm to another, or from one catchment area to another, or from one marine area to another and damage not only our fish farms but, very important indeed, our natural and still very prolific waters.

Your Lordships know, because it has been written about recently, that in this country there is an enormous and growing population of anglers. It would be ironic as well as a catastrophe if fish farmers, who to a large extent provide fish to give pleasure to anglers, at the same time provided them with the necessary disease to kill what fish they have, plus the new influx, and to destroy their fisheries. We should therefore be very grateful to Mr. Corrie in another place for choosing to promote a Bill dealing with this subject.

As I have already said, the Bill updates and reinforces the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 and makes a small but important addition to the Shellfish Act 1967. It does this in a variety of ways. The Bill enables the Minister to act more quickly in times of emergency, and with a little more force. In Clause 1 there is a slight relaxation of the 1937 Act rules. Salmonids will now, if the Minister sees fit to issue a licence, be allowed to come into Scotland from Northern Ireland. I believe that this is of importance to fish farmers in Northern Ireland. I believe also that their own laws on fish farming and general health and hygiene are very strict.

The next point that I should like to bring before your Lordships relates to speed. When the Minister wishes to designate an infected area he will be able to do so on the suspicion of disease. This will speed things up quite considerably. In the fish farming climate in which we now live, this is very important indeed. One might say that at the moment there is no disease which requires to be dealt with speedily, but that would be wrong. There are a few diseases which need to be dealt with quickly in order to prevent them getting a hold and causing real difficulty. But what must always be at the back of our minds when we are talking about the Bill are the diseases which might come to this country. Two are now rife on the Continent, particularly in France. For obvious reasons, they are given initials. The first one is VHS—viral haemorrhagic septicaemia. The next is IHN, which is infectious haematopoetic necrosis or something of that sort. The names are enough to frighten any honest fish farmer. I was speaking a few days ago to a very clever professor from Idaho who has studied fish all his life. He said that we can well do without both of these diseases and that we ought not to spend too much time talking about them; the best thing to do would be to take some action.

The Bill also strengthens the controls which the Minister can apply within a designated area. It alters the rules to the extent that, as well as not allowing live eggs or fish to leave the farm, it prevents them from coming into the farm, though foodstuff is allowed to come into the farm. Nobody expects the fish to starve. The Bill also contains the all-important provision extending these controls to cover farmed sea fish. It makes provision for cages in the sea. Both freshwater and seawater fish will be covered by the same rules.

The Bill alters the timing of the preliminary period during which a fish farmer is told that he must stop the movement of fish. At present, a period of 16 days is applied, and it is reapplied ad infinitum, if necessary. The period contained in the Bill is longer in order to give the scientists more time to work on the problem. The period is 30 days and it can be extended to 60 days. After 60 days, however, instead of continuing to renew the period, the area has to be designated. Action of another kind has to be taken.

My next point relates to notifiable diseases. Many new diseases are appearing. This underlines the fact that speed is important. Furthermore, some diseases which long ago frightened us very much are not now considered to be important. Therefore the Minister has been given the power by Negative Resolution to add to and substract from the list of notifiable diseases. The list would only get longer and longer, and in the end it would produce a ridiculous situation. Many practical people agree that certain diseases should come off the list and should no longer be a burden and a worry.

It has been suggested that there should be something in this Bill about the importation of dead fish, which can, of course, carry disease. I am assured that this matter is perfectly adequately covered in the Animal Health Act 1981, and it was said in another place by Mr. Buchanan-Smith that he would be perfectly prepared to use that Act if it were thought necessary to do so.

All these new enabling powers are of importance, but perhaps central to the whole question are the innovations which are included in Clauses 7 to 9. Here we have fresh powers to enable the Minister to ensure that fish farmers are registered. It may come as a surprise to some noble Lords to learn that, so far, they are not registered. There is no guarantee that anybody knows quite where they all are. It is obviously of the most vital importance that one should know where these fish farms are. In fact, nothing would be really workable without that knowledge.

Furthermore, power is given to make fish farmers keep records. We all hate keeping records, but again this is a point of considerable importance, and one would hope that the records would be kept to the absolute minimum. They might be records showing the movement of fish and the quantity of fish kept on the farm, which would go hand in hand with the record of the species kept, and so on. This seems to me to be the skeleton of the Bill on which other matters must be built.

In Clause 6 we come to shellfish. This is a very interesting area but it is a little out of my realm. Previously, under the shellfish Act which I mentioned, there were prohibitions against bringing shellfish into an area—certain areas outlined on a map of the British Isles. Clause 6 seems to bring the shellfish situation into line with the inland fish farming situation, where shellfish not only cannot be brought in to a designated area but cannot be taken out either. That again seems absolutely logical and sensible. I have nothing more to add about shellfish except that I believe it is an area where one would hope that, with sensible controls, perhaps coming in with your Lordships' approval, there might be scope for some considerable expansion.

I hope that I have been able to outline this Bill with reasonable clarity. If the fish farming industry is to progress and fulfil its full potential, the strengthening of the 1937 Act is absolutely essential. It would be a very good thing if the fish farming industry did progress and grow larger along the right lines. It has done a good job so far in saving imports. It may not be a grand affair but, when I started fish farming, Billingsgate and every other fish market was full of Japanese, Danish and Italian fish, and that is no longer so. They still come in, but not to the same extent. But if in expanding the industry we also spread disease to each other's fish farms and, worse still, pollute our natural waters—whether they be the seas or the rivers of this country—then it will be a real tragedy. This Bill is of the greatest importance to fish farmers, to riparian owners and to anglers. I should like to commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(The Earl of Radnor.)

6.26 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, one of the nice things about this House is the connections one renews. For many years I sat under the noble Earl's father as a governor of the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering. He was a man of great perception and handled his governorship and chairmanship very well indeed. I can see something of the father in the son, in the way that the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, introduced this Bill today—and I should like to compliment him on that. He has, obviously, deep knowledge of the subject, being a fish farmer himself. Like the noble Earl, I should like to compliment the originator of this Bill who was lucky enough in the draw in another place to introduce this Bill, which we all hope we can get through by Friday. As we all heard, a few moments ago, it is to be dealt with tomorrow.

This Bill seems to be very pleasing and satisfying to the NFUs of all the countries concerned, and that is always a good sign. As the noble Earl has said, it has become quite an industry. He gave figures showing how it has developed over the years. He mentioned the fact that motoring up from Salisbury not many years ago he never passed a fish farm—but today, as we all know, one can hardly go anywhere without seeing a sign announcing trout for sale.

I do hope that the suggestion made in another place at Committee stage, that fish farming be called "aquaculture", is not taken up. I believe that the term "fish farming" is much better and that "aquaculture" is really going beyond a joke. We already have agriculture and horticulture, and in some areas we even have "horseyculture"—an expression I do not like, either. I have nothing against the horse but just feel that that is going a bit too far.

This Bill, as the noble Earl pointed out, is necessary because when one gets intensification—and we are experiencing intensification in nearly everything in agriculture at present—there are always problems. One has only to witness this in the case of other stock, be it the fattening of pigs, poultry or even cattle. In the case of agriculture, we are getting into a fantastic situation with cereal diseases. We might even have a Diseases of Cereals Bill—although I hope I shall not see it—in this House, which would give us a far bigger headache than any other Bill I can think of. This question of intensification requires looking at and this Bill is dealing with it, and is doing so in good time.

When the original Bill was introduced in another place, some points arose at Committee stage which were quite interesting. One of them was mentioned by the noble Earl, and it was the matter of compensation if there happens to be a disease where the fish have to be destroyed. We have had cases of fowl pest, which have compensation (although it is a different system now); foot and mouth has compensation; and Aujeszky's disease in pigs has compensation by a levy.

I wonder what the noble Viscount would think of a levy of some description or some method of giving compensation if a fish farmers' stock had to be destroyed and he was put out of business for some considerable time? We have such an arrangement in the case of foot and mouth disease, although there is no compensation for the loss of profits in the case of foot and mouth disease—one has to insure against that. At Committee stage in another place, it was suggested that there could be insurance—but if one insures for loss of profits, then there should be some system of compensation for loss of one's stock.

Then the noble Earl mentioned the question of registration and records. As he said, all of us dislike keeping records, but it is absolutely necessary. When there is an outbreak of foot and mouth records are kept so that animals all over that area can be traced very quickly, and it is an essential part of the system. But it is not going to be an easy one to enforce to begin with. There is the question of registration fees, which was mentioned in Committee in another place. I would have thought that if registration was mandatory it should be free. Otherwise, if it was voluntary and there was a voluntary levy it may be suggested that there should be a fee; that fee has not been decided yet and it will no doubt come out when it is seen what the cost is going to be.

There is the question of sea fisheries, what will be a fish farm and what will not, when it is on the coast. Another thing about the Bill is the question of siting, whether if you have a farm you can site your fish section of it anywhere you wish, or whether the Minister would be given some power of planning control over fish farming. I do not know the answer, but I think it is something that needs to be looked at very carefully. I remember when the fishing grants for sea farming were brought in a few months ago in this House, I asked what would be the case if somebody pumped sea water into an inland reservoir, whether that would be considered salt water farming. I do not think I ever got an answer to that, and that is a little problem that might arise in regard to fish farming.

Then, of course, there is this problem of definition and how you get normal fishing excluded from fish farming. At Committee stage in another place the longest debate took place on the question of barring certain equipment for netting, particularly the gill net, mainly because if a fish gets enmeshed in a gill net it causes injury, particularly in smaller fish, and I gathered that that is a reason for disease spreading in injured fish. I am surprised that this was left out of the Bill. I think the Minister in charge of the Bill gave an undertaking that this would be looked at at some future date. Those are all the points that I want to make. I think this is a very necessary Bill, and it has been put forward to this House by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, very well indeed, So far as we are concerned, we give it our blessing.

6.33 p.m.

Lord Tryon

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, for clearly introducing this Bill; he did it in a very nice, clear, low-key way. I think if I had been in his shoes I would have stressed the urgency a little more, but then I look at it more from a fisheries point of view than from that of a trout farmer. I will come back to that later, but all is not always particularly peaceful between the fish farmers of the country and those who look after the river systems in which the fish farms operate. However, I am delighted at the news we had from the Government Chief Whip that this Bill still has a very sporting chance of survival and becoming an Act before the end of this Session.

I believe that this Bill is just in time for the sport of fishing and for the fish farming industry, because otherwise we were heading for trouble. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, mentioned the intensive keeping of animals in unnatural conditions, which fish farming does, and indeed fish and trout are as susceptible to disease as anything else, possibly more so. There is also the problem with any fish disease in a river system that water flows downhill. That sounds an awfully simple remark, but if you imagine a lot of people in a narrow tunnel with a soft breeze blowing through it, if the man at the front sneezes loudly enough there is a fair chance that everybody else will catch a cold; so it is with the poor fish, and a big outbreak of disease in a fish farm can go down the river.

I set out for the House today with a lengthy list of reasons and examples as to why this Bill was necessary, and indeed a few suggestions as to improvement, or, rather more accurately, additions that could be made. However, with the general election now announced, and it being perfectly clear that there must be no interference with this Bill if we are to get it through, preferring, as always, half of a good cake to no cake at all, I will not be proposing any amendments; nor will I expound at length on the virtues of the Bill; I seem to sense that the House has accepted its virtues.

I have to declare an interest at this stage, although I hope noble Lords will see it more as a qualification for speaking on this somewhat obscure subject than anything more sinister. I am effectively a shareholder and a director of a fish farm by virtue of my membership of a fishing club in Hampshire of which, very democratically, all the very few members are both shareholders and directors; and we do operate a trout farm within the meaning of the Act, although it is largely for restocking purposes and the surplus fish are sold to other people. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, said that he used to drive to London without passing a trout farm. I think that is not strictly true because in fact he passed that trout farm, which has been in existence very much longer than has his; namely, 100 years or more. The noble Earl laughs; he knows the one I mean.

I said earlier that this was half of a good cake, and I say that because I have done quite a lot of homework on this Bill and I am absolutely assured that it has been very thoroughly dealt with in the other place by Members who have considerable knowledge of the subject, whose hearts were in it and who pursued it very thoroughly indeed. I am no parliamentary draftsman, but I am as convinced as one can be that there are no i's to dot and t's to cross and that the Bill is in good shape.

May I suggest, however, that this is an opportunity—and it would not be a waste of our time—to raise two very important matters which are not covered by the Bill but are in need of legislation shortly. The first is directly concerned with fish farming and its impact on fisheries and fishing in our rivers. It sounds a small matter, but I hope I will show that it is a matter of considerable concern to the fisheries with whom the fish farms have to exist. It relates to the gratings used at the top and bottom ends of the flow of water through the fish farms. It seems that no regulatory authority has any jurisdiction in this matter. The National Farmers' Union guidelines, which I understand is the document that aspiring fish farmers and existing ones refer to from time to time, are quite silent on the subject. Incidentally, the NFU guidelines are fairly long on very sensible suggestions, but very short on details. If the NFU is listening, they could well do with some up-dating.

To return to the gratings, and to start at the upstream end, there seems to be some evidence in some rivers that smelts, the young salmon descending down the rivers, are becoming either trapped against the gratings at the upstream end of fish farms or passing through into the fish farms and being trapped there. A standard of grating should be imposed upon fish farms to ensure that this is not possible. Alternatively, a by-pass for the smelts should be provided, or it should be ensured that they are lifted out by some method and put back safely below the fish farm. With the state of salmon as it is, it is vital that every smelt should get back safely to the sea. I gather that is not always happening.

At the downstream end of the fish farms the problem is one of escapees from the fish farms. Noble Lords may think that fishery owners adjacent to fish farms would be delighted with a bit of free restocking. But that is not always so. They have not welcomed fish from the fish farms among the wild popoulation. Frequently they are of the wrong breed. For example, small rainbow trout may get loose among a fishery that tries to concentrate on brown trout. The balance of the ecology, and the number of fish in a fishery, are very delicate matters. Angling literature is full of examples of waters being over-stocked, which totally ruins the fishing in the process. What happens is not, as one might expect, that some fish die and the stock then balances itself. All the fish in the fishery suffer. Therefore, a sudden arrival—obviously accidental because no fish farmer wants to lose fish, but they are just careless—should be prevented as far as possible.

The second matter, touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, that is lacking in the Bill but on which I hope we shall get some action from the next Government, whichever it might be, is the question of monofilament gill nets. As we have heard, this was brought up in another place under this Bill, the argument being that salmon which escape from these nets, which is quite frequent, are badly damaged by them. They have big cuts and gashes on them, as I have often seen. When this was raised in the other place the Government Minister, Mr. Buchanan-Smith, said on Third Reading: It would not be appropriate to deal with the matter now at length, but there is no evidence of a causal connection between certain type of tackle and disease"—[Official Report, Commons, 22/4/83: col. 552.]. The scientists may not yet have come up with the full answer on that, but I should have thought that any animal suffering the loss of large parts of its skin and covered in raw patches must be more vulnerable to disease than animals that are unharmed.

Gill nets for salmon, in my view, remain a national disgrace and are operated by those who seek to reap where they sow nothing. The species will rapidly become endangered. They are not subject to any effective control, and I trust that the next Government will urgently grasp this nettle. This is a non-party matter and, if your Lordships will excuse me, I can do no better than to quote from what Mr. Mark Hughes, a Labour Member, said on Second Reading on the subject of gill nets: Finally, it is the will of the House of Commons that the use of monofilament gill nets"—[Official Report, Commons, 22/4/83; col. 552.] Did I hear, "Order"?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is out of order in quoting a named Member of the other House.

Lord Tryon

I stand corrected, my Lords, but I believe I may paraphrase. What he said, in effect, was that everyone, apart from the gill netters themselves, now seemed to be agreed that gill nets were thoroughly undesirable in every possible way and that it was time something was done about it. I could not agree more with that, and I pass on that remark.

To conclude, fish farming, as we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, is a rapidly growing industry. Rod fishing is a rapidly growing sport; perhaps one of the fastest growing in the country. The National Anglers' Council says that about six people an hour are taking up fishing for the first time. That is quite a growth spread over the year and, as we know, adds up to many millions of people with trout fishermen alone now standing at the remarkable figure of about 800,000. All of this is at risk from disease unless we are very careful, and this Bill is the first useful step to our being more careful.

6.48 p.m.

Viscount Long

My Lords, may I first congratulate my noble friend Lord Radnor upon bringing this Bill before your Lordships, and say how pleasant it is to be here with what is virtually a non-controversial Bill, but a very important one for the fish farming industry as a whole. My noble friend started off with the echoes of one of our late noble friends, Lady Emmet, who never wasted a moment from the Back-Benches to inform whoever was Minister of Agriculture that fish farming was a very important subject, and she would never let it rest at that. I am sure that she would be very proud that we are now going one step ahead to help fish farming in regard to fish farming diseases.

My noble friend mentioned also, as he commenced his Second Reading speech, that this is now a very up and coming and growing industry. I understand that there are now about 470 fish farms scattered about the country. I can probably name one more which is just opening in my own town of Bradford-on-Avon. Therefore, in listening to your Lordships this evening I welcome and sympathise with all that has been said, and, whatever we can do to help the fish farming industry, this is where it should begin. Therefore, on behalf of the Government I welcome the Bill.

Although the Bill was not introduced by the Government, it has received the Government's wholehearted support. The Bill concerns fish diseases and as such is of particular interest to the fish farming industry. Fish farming is a small but important part of food production in this country and, as I have already said, a growing industry. The measures that the Bill introduces will provide a significant step forward in fish disease control and prevention. I am pleased, therefore, that the Bill has been welcomed by the fish farming industry as a whole.

In England, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has responsibility for the policy and implementation of legislation which the Bill amends: the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 and the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967; in Wales and in Scotland these Acts are the responsibilities of our right honourable friends the Secretaries of State.

Both the 1937 and 1967 Acts are amended by the Bill so as to give Ministers powers that go wider than those currently contained in those Acts. For example, the amendments to the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 will mean that it will be possible to take precautionary disease control measures at a much earlier stage, thus helping to stop the spread of fish disease. The amendment to the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967 will mean that, in addition to controls on depositing shellfish, it will now be possible to control the taking of shellfish from specified areas, again helping to stop the spread of disease.

As your Lordships have heard, the Bill also introduces new powers in relation to registration and record-keeping by fish farms and shellfish farming businesses. This will provide Ministers with information hitherto not available which will enable movements of fish and eggs or shellfish to be traced if there should be an outbreak of disease.

These powers already exist in relation to animal disease and, similarly, are essential for fish and shellfish diseases if we are to have a chance of keeping ahead of the most virulent diseases on the notifiable disease list. Thankfully, some of these diseases have not been found in our fish, but the economic implications for fish and shellfish farmers, were they to occur, would be disastrous. Something of what can happen has been seen recently in relation to bonamia in shellfish. The situation in relation to disease does not stay still. The Government are, and will continue to be, in close contact with the industry to ensure that the powers provided in this Bill, taken with existing powers, will be selectively used in the way most suited to the circumstances of a disease. The vast majority of responsible fish farmers and shellfishermen recognise the need for the provisions of the Bill and welcome the protection which tighter control should give against the minority who could put their livelihoods at risk.

I have listened to some very interesting speeches this evening. I feel that I should now try to answer some of the questions which have been asked. My noble friend Lord Radnor mentioned the control of the movements of fish, eggs and food into farms, as I believe did other noble Lords. The Bill provides a general order-making power. Orders will be made individually in each case, as is appropriate. As now, movements will be controlled only to the extent necessary in the circumstances. Some flexibility may be possible, depending on the risk, and it may be possible to authorise certain categories of movement. This is how we have dealt with diseases in the past. We shall continue to develop our policies in consultation with the industry. There will be no sudden general imposition of tighter controls on infected sites. That is not the purpose of the provision.

My noble friend and other noble Lords were worried about the list of diseases. The Bill enables diseases to be added to a list of notifiable diseases, and removed from it, and for this to be done more swiftly than under the 1937 Act. The changes will be made by order, subject to the negative resolution procedure. Speed can be of the essence if a new disease threatens fish stocks. Our scientists will keep the list of notifiable diseases under review, and make recommendations as circumstances change.

I believe that my noble friend and others were quite worried about the import of fish and eggs from Northern Ireland. The Bill provides for the amendment of the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 to enable the absolute prohibition of the import into Great Britain of live salmonids to be relaxed by order. Following consultations among English, Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers, it was decided to instruct our scientists and veterinary experts to consider further the absolute ban on the imports of live salmonids from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. Obviously, the outcome of that examination is not yet known. It may be that some relaxation can sensibly and safely be allowed; it may be that the existing absolute prohibition will have to be adhered to. We shall have to wait to see. However, it seems sensible to provide for the possibility at some time in the future of allowing some imports of live salmonids into Great Britain from Northern Ireland, or conceivably from elsewhere. The Bill provides for this eventuality. I hope that the answers I am giving are a help to the House, because we should like the Bill to go through before the end of this week.

My noble friend asked a further question regarding the registration and keeping of records. We propose to make an order establishing a scheme of registration for fish farmers as soon as possible after the Act comes into force. Without the registration and the keeping of stock and movement records, we cannot hope to trace the movements of fish and consequently cannot keep one step ahead of a disease. I should stress that there will be no question of refusing registration; all fish farmers will be on the register.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, mentioned a further worry as to the compensation of fish farmers. The Government understand the wish for the compensation of fish farmers who may face financial hardships as a result of the Ministry's movement control measures. The question of compensation is a difficult one. It has been raised in the context of our review of inland and coastal fisheries. The Government have listened with interest to the representations that have been made; but we do not think that this is the time for a decision. More discussions are needed and will take place to analyse the problems and ensure that we get the approach right. When solutions emerge we shall consider any implications for legislation.

However, I should like to bring one further point to your Lordships' attention. In the animal health field, compensation is paid only in respect of animals slaughtered compulsorily. Ministers do not at present have a power of compulsory slaughter in relation to fish disease. This Bill does not seek to provide them with one. I would recommend to your Lordships that the questions of compulsory slaughter and compensation are linked together. We should not try to separate them. This is not the appropriate forum for these issues to be resolved, and we should permit the separate discussions on these complex issues to go forward unhindered. The Bill before us has tackled many questions on which there is wide agreement. We should seek to secure these measures and consolidate them, and not put them at risk by trying to address matters of great controversy to which solutions have not yet emerged.

I turn to a further point raised by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and, indeed, by the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, and that concerns gill-netting. When this Bill was considered in another place there was a full and valuable discussion about the use of monofilament gill-nets to catch salmon. It is the Government's view that this subject is outside the scope of this Bill. This Bill is designed to extend the protection for farmed fish from diseases, and is not primarily concerned either with methods of commercial fishing or with fish in the wild.

A number of amendments were tabled in another place which sought to introduce into the Bill measures designed to control the practice of monofilament gill-net fishing for salmon. However, controls on the use of monofilament gill-nets are already available to water authorities in England and Wales under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. Under that Act, water authorities have extensive responsibilities over the fisheries in their areas and they have wide powers to make bylaws banning or regulating the use of different sorts of nets. A number of water authorities have already made such bylaws. However, I am very well aware that the water authorities face problems in enforcing their bylaws. Therefore, the answer must not be to produce even more legislation but to enforce the existing controls effectively.

In Scotland, there is a complete ban on the use of drift nets from fishing boats for catching salmon and migratory trout. The issue of the use of a particular type of net such as microfilament gill-nets therefore does not arise. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland makes strenuous efforts to ensure that the ban is enforced.

One of the arguments put forward for the need to control the use of monofilament gill nets was that such nets were a contributory factor to the spread of disease among fish because fish that escaped from the nets were invariably injured and maimed, making them more susceptible to disease. However, in the light of scientific guidance there is no casual connection between certain types of tackle and diseases. All nets can injure fish, but I have no evidence that monofilament gill nets cause proportionately more damage than others. Scientific advisers have presented preliminary reports on the use and distribution of gill nets in England and Wales and on a survey of public literature about the use of gill nets in other countries. These reports do not demonstrate that the gill nets cause undue damage to fish, or that any regulatory measures are needed. These reports have been placed in the Library of the House. However, these are only preliminary reports. If the final report produces evidence which will mean further controls to establish that banning, and so on, might be necessary for certain reasons, the Government will have a totally open mind and a readiness to consider the matter.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, it was interesting to hear that scientists say that gill-netting does not do any harm or any more harm than other types of netting. Would the noble Viscount care to take a nylon cord through his hand quickly and then compare the difference between that and a natural fibre cord?

Viscount Long

My Lords, I see that the noble Lord is a fisherman. I am not. I do not know how cruel one can be towards a fish, but I am sure that netting does injure them.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, mentioned registration fees. The Bill requires that a registration fee shall not exceed the cost of registration. That appears in Clause 7(6). If that is any help, it is one small step forward. The noble Lord also asked about inland fish farms using pumped sea water. Such farms are dealt with in the same way as inland farms using fresh water. I am not an expert on whether you tap the salt water straight from the sea or add salt to it. I hope, however, that my answer is what the noble Lord requires.

The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, mentioned gratings on fish farms. That is a good point which can be taken up in continuing discussions with Ministers and the National Farmers' Union in England and Wales. The noble Lord will be relieved to learn that the NFU guidelines are currently under revision in this forum, as he probably already knows. I am not a fish farmer, nor an expert on fish; nor am I an expert on aquaculture. I hope however that my answers to your Lordships' questions will have helped the progress of the Bill. I hope that the Bill goes through the House at the earliest opportunity in order to help fish farming. In the meantime, I congratulate my noble friend and leave him to wind up the debate.

7.5 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, for giving the Bill such a kind and considerate reception, slightly critical in places. I thank my noble friend Lord Long for putting the Government's position so clearly and sympathetically. I must admit that I was pleased to hear (if I heard rightly) that the remaining stages of the Bill will be dealt with tomorrow. That is very important. It is like sitting on a volcano, with had diseases abroad and with a growing industry. To put this Bill back at this stage and not to bring it forward to the statute book would constitute a real danger to the fisheries of England.

My noble friend Lord Long has done so well that there is nothing much for me to say. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, in the hope that this subject will not be called aquaculture. I shall continue to call myself a fish farmer and not an aquaculturist. That term does not seem to suit either the job or the people who perform it. I like the idea of a levy to guard against possible compensation. There is one enormous disadvantage. When a levy was exacted for another purpose, it took a long time for fish farmers to agree to part with their pennies to fund a situation that had not yet materialised. It was, however, an extremely good idea. It is very much an aside, but insurance for fish farming is difficult. One is always being asked to count the number of dead fish. If one is dealing with four and a half million, half of them at the bottom of four feet of water, with just their tails sticking out of the mud, it cannot be done. Then there is no payment which, I suppose, is reasonable.

The whole question of siting and planning is wide. I would imagine that any Government would keep it under review simply for the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, mentioned—that water runs downhill and that pathogens, I understand, run uphill, or perhaps upstream. The noble Lord also mentioned migrating smolts. In my experience, the water authority deals with that situation. It takes a great deal of trouble to see that they are put in smolt traps or diverted in some way or other, preferably around the farm. It has been many people's experience that once they get into the farm some rather large smolts are found among the trout and there they sit. Whether they ever reach the sea, I do not know. Fortunately, whereas the eel follows the bottom of the current, the smolt follows the top current and goes over waterfalls. It is often possible to see that they are diverted around the farm.

I am probably wrong, but in my experience I have always assumed that if I have an inadequate grid, this would be considered as polluting the water. Whether or not that is so, we look carefully at grids and water authorities to see that they are behaving themselves. This is possibly a loaded question. The noble Lord who is a little upstream of me on the same river, has perhaps experienced some foreign trout creeping up to him.

I do not think there is anything more to say except to feel pleased that Mr. Corrie, in another place, has brought this Bill forward. I congratulate him on his luck in the ballot, and express my great pleasure that the Bill will be carried through. I commend it to your Lordships once again.

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