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My Lords, I am most grateful to all those whose expertise has made this hybrid form of participation possible, but I have been warned that my connection is very tenuous. If I am not coming across clearly, I would be quite happy for them to disconnect me.
Fishing is a much more important part of the Scots economy than it is of the UK’s as a whole, so I am one of those who have taken an interest in the issues that the industry has faced over a number of years. Ever since the start of the common fisheries policy, quotas and limits to the level of catch available to the participants has been a topic of dispute.
The conflict is mainly between the fishermen and the scientists. That is what the amendment strives to deal with. One would hope that, by now, their various estimates would be coming together, but, as with the nature of fish and fishing, this does not seem to be a great hope as yet.
The amendment would make remote electronic monitoring mandatory throughout UK waters. REM has certainly been around for a number of years and its ability to record data is very much recognised, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, emphasised. It even went so far as to be the subject of some voluntary trials, but its popularity was not helped when, shortly thereafter, some of the boats on which it was tried were taken to court for infringing common fisheries policy rules.
I note some of the evidence that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, brought in, but I remember talking to fishermen’s representatives at that time, who said that they would back the installation of REM if we could be sure that the ruling would apply to boats of all countries. This, of course, is very nearly where we should be if a favourable deal is agreed, but I am afraid that the fishermen’s organisations seem to follow what I have heard of as the earliest philosophy of St Francis of Assisi, who, as a young man about town, admitted to a prayer, “Lord, make me pure, but not yet.” The briefings they give us list a number of improvements and impediments that they would like to be completed, not least of which is that the regulation of fishing is very much a devolved matter and that the Government, under devolution, do not have the agreement necessary to make this a sweeping power. So I am afraid I do not think I can support the amendment, although I understand exactly what it is designed to achieve.
At the same time, through the various amendments we are considering, we are touching on an important aspect of this legislation. One of the criticisms of trying to introduce any new provisions such as this in Europe was that it tended to be necessary to wait for the most reluctant participant to come to the agreement. It was like the old saying that the speed of the convoy was that of the slowest ship. Due to devolution, we now have separate regional Governments and the devolved Administrations have the power to go their own way. One thing that concerns me is that the amendment is bound to create problems in policing the various boundaries that exist between our Administrations. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, would like to see the measures in place in England only, but there would be complications. Any mandatory REM by one devolved nation would trigger this. Can my noble friend the Minister say what channels the UK Government have to get the devolved nations to reach agreement on issues such as this?