HL Deb 06 February 1986 vol 470 cc1341-3

8.6 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th January be approved. [9th Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Importation of Live Fish of the Salmon Family Order 1986 will allow live fish of the salmon family to be brought into Great Britain from Northern Ireland under licence. When the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 was enacted, it prohibited all imports of live fish of the salmon family into Great Britain and that prohibition includes those fish originating in Northern Ireland.

However, in the Diseases of Fish Act 1983, the opportunity was taken to amend that provision of the 1937 Act so that the total prohibition could be relaxed by order, the draft of which having first been approved by both Houses of Parliament. The draft order which I am putting before your Lordships today has been approved in another place and is the first example of such a relaxation that we have proposed.

The absolute prohibition under the 1937 Act has contributed greatly to Great Britain's relatively high fish health status when compared with many of our neighbours in continental Europe. The fish farming industry in this country finds this advantage of considerable value and I can only assure your Lordships that the draft order which we have brought forward will not jeopardise our fish health status in any way.

Following extensive and detailed discussions between officials in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, my right honourable friends and I are satisfied that we should allow live fish of the salmon family to be brought into Great Britain from Northern Ireland under licence. We have taken that decision in the light of Northern Ireland's excellent fish health status which is certainly as high as Great Britain's. Moreover, imports of fish and fish products into Northern Ireland are strictly controlled in order to safeguard their high status. All fish farms in the Province are regularly tested and no fish stocks may be moved from farm to farm without consent in Northern Ireland. For those reasons we have concluded that the present absolute ban is not reasonable in relation to live fish of the salmon family coming from Northern Ireland.

Noble Lords may wish to have some details of how the arrangements will work in practice. When the order comes into force, live fish of the salmon family may be brought into Great Britain from Northern Ireland but only under licence. Licences will only be issued for consignments which come from fish farms which we know to have a satisfactory fish health record. Licences will require the certificate of origin and health to be completed in relation to the individual consignment and that the certificate accompanies the fish during their journey. If those requirements are not met the consignment may be seized and disposed of as we see fit.

The fish farming industry throughout the United Kingdom will benefit from the arrangements which we propose. Northern Ireland fish farmers will have many more potential customers for their fish while fish farmers in Great Britain will have a greater choice of suppliers. Our fish health status will not be jeopardised in the process. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th January be approved. [9th Report from the Joint Committee]—(Lord Belstead.)

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, we should like to thank the Minister for explaining this order because it is a little unclear whether it refers to fish from farming or fish from rivers. However, the Minister explained that it relates to fish from farming and not to fish from Ireland's rivers.

I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, is present at the moment, but I discussed this matter with him earlier. He said that, although he did not know much about salmon, he did not think there was much salmon in Northern Ireland. This measure will certainly help because fish farming in both countries is expanding at a tremendous rate.

However, I wonder whether a danger could be involved. The Minister must know that quite recently storms destroyed the cages of a fish farm in Scotland and literally tens of thousands of fish were let loose. I do not think we can control fish as we can control sheep. I cannot believe that they would not swim across from Ireland to Scotland, because it is not very far! If storms burst the nets or cages of particular fish farms and the fish get loose, there could be a disease danger there. I do not know whether any allowance has been made for that sort of thing happening. It has happened in Scotland but I do not know where the fish went. There could be a danger there.

I think the Minister said this ban has been in force since 1937. If the Irish have cleaned up the disease situation, it is all to the good that the ban should be lifted. It reminds me of a situation in relation to importing cattle from France. I tried that way back in 1954, but the disease situation was such that the Department of Agriculture for Scotland would not even accept a letter from me making such a request; they said that I would be wasting my stamp. However, in due course the French tidied up the disease question and the ban was, as we know, lifted in 1962.

If the Minister could answer my question about what happens to the fish that escape, along with him I would be delighted to approve the order.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, always has one shrewd thrust, and he produced one on this order. My response is that fish might escape in one direction but they might very well escape in the other direction and therefore there could be pollution either way across the Irish Sea. It is something which could happen whether or not this order is agreed to.

I think it is important to say that, under this order, before issuing a licence we shall look very carefully at the health status of the specific supplying site, not just at the health status of Northern Ireland in general. Therefore, we look at the particular fish farm first to see whether we can grant a licence. Sites from which movements are proposed must have been regularly tested to rigorous standards for at least two years. They must have been found free from a range of diseases. They must also operate on a water source free from potential disease contamination and they must operate good husbandry practices in order to minimise disease sites. Therefore, that really means that the health status from the individual supplying site will be of the very highest, and all this will be kept under close observation by the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland veterinary offices. I hope that that is a good enough reply to the noble Lord on the particular issues that he has raised.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we find ourselves in a slight difficulty in that we are due to resume consideration of the Shops Bill at a quarter-past eight and it is now only fourteen minutes past. Whether I should attempt to speak for another minute, which I might find difficult at this stage, or whether I should adjourn the House during pleasure for—

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, the noble Lord clearly underrates his ability to fill in a mere minute and a half. I am quite sure that with assistance from other Members of your Lordships' House we can help him out of his agony.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. We have now probably almost reached the stage when we can continue consideration of the Shops Bill on Report.