HL Deb 07 February 1973 vol 338 cc1052-5

2.54 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 whether they can yet make a Statement on the result of the survey of East Coast lobster stocks.


Not yet, my Lords. The survey is part of a two-year examination of lobster stocks throughout the United Kingdom. This will be completed in 1973 and it is hoped that a full report will be available early in 1974.


My Lords, I appreciate that the survey team is not yet in a position to give solutions' for' the problem. Would it not be possible to issue an immediate report of what they have been able to find out so far, so that other people who are interested in this matter and knowledgeable about it can consider their findings?


My Lords, I appreciate my noble friend's concern about this matter. In fact, an interim report is being made by the survey team for my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I would ask my noble friend to be patient, because that is a report of work that is being done, and the conclusions which could be drawn from it might be the reverse of those which would be drawn from the final report. At the moment the indications are that pre-emptive measures are not necessary, but I can assure my noble friend that my right honourable friend is very concerned with this matter, and if it is necessary to take any measures, he will take them.


My Lords, I am certain that the House is grateful that the Government are concerned. On behalf of my noble friend Lady Serota, may I ask, where have all the lobsters gone? Is it that, like beef, they have now become so expensive that they go to Paris and not to London?


I wondered whether the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, would get us back on to prices. But I think that the price of lobsters is slightly different from the price of beef to which he referred yesterday. When the noble Lord asks where have all the lobsters gone, I would ask him to be as patient as I asked my noble friend to be, because that is precisely what the survey team is trying to find out.


My Lords, can the Minister say whether this report will include a reference to the taking of berried lobsters out of the sea, which reduces the stocks of lobsters round the East Coast?


My Lords, that is another point with which the survey team is concerned. One of the things which is concerning people most is not that there are not enough eggs laid by the lobsters, but what happens to the eggs after the lobsters have laid them. The noble Lord, Lord Blyton, will also wish to know that the survey team is considering measurements of catches, the size and range of the lobsters caught, the effort of the industry relative to the catches, the scale of the activities of part-time fishermen and skin divers and so forth and the study of lobster growth and migration, which would include berried lobsters.


My Lords, can the Minister give any indication of when he hopes that the report will be completed? I know that lobster-men, particularly in the Northumberland area, are extremely interested in this matter as it affects their livelihood. They are concerned about the results of this research.


My Lords, it is expected that the report will be ready at the end of the year and published early in 1974.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Cornish fishermen are very disturbed about the number of lobsters stolen out of their pots by holiday skin divers.


My Lords, I was aware of that. It is one of the matters that the survey team is looking, into—not into the lobster pots, but into the effect on the lobster population of the activities of skin divers and amateur fishermen.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that we are amazed at his versatility: that he is able to answer questions on Defence matters and on lobster pots?


My Lords, the two things are not disconnected. My noble friend's Question referred to the defence of the lobster population.


My Lords, can the Government give any information about whether the survey team will examine the problem of lobster farming off Scotland and its potential, which I understand is very considerable?


My Lords, I should prefer not to answer that supplementary question off the cuff, but to find out the facts and write to my noble friend. The survey is concerned with the lobster population, what happens to lobsters and where they go; but I would not be prepared to say that it is necessarily concerned with the future farming of lobsters off Scotland.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a fine method used in some places to increase the lobster population, by providing suitable reefs in which the lobsters may hide themselves and lay their eggs? In many places this seems best done by using old motor cars which, if dumped in suitable quantities and in suitable spots, provide splendid hiding places for the lobsters. Is it being considered whether we should have a few artificial reefs round the coast? It would dispose of a number of cars, which some people might think an advantage.


My Lords, in anticipation of the supplementary questions that might be asked, I thought I would try to find out as many of the answers as could, but I am not aware that the possibility of providing cars in suitable places is part of the survey being carried out by the Department concerned.