HL Deb 29 March 1977 vol 381 cc755-7

2.45 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 are aware of the great increase in commercial skin diving around the coasts of Britain and whether they will consider some system of control by licensing in order to conserve the stock of shellfish from undue exploitation.


My Lords, commercial skin diving, which took place chiefly around the Cornish coast, has declined recently. The Government are, however, aware that the activities of amateur skin divers have created problems for fishermen in certain areas such as Start Bay and Hope Cove in Devon and the Government hope that these can in future be solved by discussion between the local Sea Fisheries Committees and the British Sub-Aqua Club.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Is he aware that in my part of Scotland—the Western Highlands and the Inner Hebrides—skin diving has not declined, and that skin divers can clear an area of most species of shellfish very quickly indeed, to the detriment of local fishermen using conventional methods? Is the noble Lord further aware that many skin divers come long distances by car and have no connection with the area where they fish? Would the noble Lord not agree that, as these skin divers can earn as much as £100 a day and sometimes a lot more, it might be logical to license skin divers in the same way as fishing boats are licensed?


My Lords, while I note what the noble Viscount has said, I should like to say in reply that there is no evidence at present that skin diving is having an adverse effect on the fish stocks generally. However, it would be open to a Sea Fisheries Committee to propose a local bye-law if it believed that local circumstances required it. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would give careful consideration to any such proposal.


My Lords, might this not very well be part of the study of the Working Party of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which is being set up at the present moment and which really needs a certain amount of legislation?


My Lords, so far as this affects fish farming, which I know that the noble Baroness always has in mind, it will of course be taken into account.


My Lords, while my noble friend's comments about what is happening on the West Coast of Scotland are certainly true, would the noble Lord also consider my belief that there is not any method by which local Sea Fisheries Committees can ban this type of operation? It is mainly done by students, who make very large sums of money during their holdiays and have a nice time. Would the noble Lord also bear in mind in the fish farming context that there are many possible developments for increasing mussels, oysters, lobsters and so on, all of which are at the moment frustrated by the inability to control the development which one has started?


Yes, my Lords. I am sure that there is a lot in what the noble Lord has said. Any such proposals would of course have to be very carefully considered. We must remember that skin diving is not solely a method of fishing: many people dive simply to observe or photograph marine life. The Government have no intention of interfering with their enjoyment.


My Lords, may I remind the noble Lord that I referred to commercial skin diving, not skin diving for pleasure? Nobody wants to license that.


My Lords, I do not know about Scotland. I shall go into that and will communicate with the noble Viscount, if he will allow me to. So far as commercial skin diving in the West Country is concerned, this has declined very substantially: there were 20 skin divers three or four years ago and there are now two or three.