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Lord Williams of Mostyn: The point of this amendment is to restrict the admissibility of video recorded evidence in chief, and therefore video recorded cross-examination, to videos of child witnesses and witnesses with mental disorder or physical and learning disabilities. We believe that that restriction is too harsh if we are genuinely engaged upon a search for the best evidence to be placed before a court.
The Bill offers a wider discretion to admit video evidence, and a stronger presumption that it should be admitted for children than is provided at present. The Bill as presently drafted will allow us to have evidence in chief and video recorded cross-examination arranged according to a timetable for a vulnerable witness who is outside the category that I specified and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, indicated.
The Bill as presently drafted will make it possible to admit video recorded evidence, both evidence in chief and on cross-examination, of witnesses for whom "audience" intimidation at trial is considered by the court to be a critical deterrent from giving the best evidence. It is this last provision that the amendment seeks to remove.
There is a case, if it is carefully and cautiously approached, for keeping nervous witnesses out of court and allowing them to give their evidence in a more relaxed way. We need to bear in mind that for witnesses intimidated by threats or fear of violence the law already allows the written statements of absent witnesses to be placed before the court, or for a witness to be granted absolute anonymity in court.
We do not want to go that far in this provision. We are simply offering the courts a discretion to make a direction that video recorded evidence of a witness should be admitted, and therefore be admissible, where the court is persuaded that the measure is needed to put important evidence before the court. We do not expect directions to be made simply to save the witness embarrassment or shame unless it is truly debilitating. To qualify for this provision, the witness must be so distressed or frightened that his or her ability to give evidence will be affected. I repeat: such witnesses can give evidence at present by way of written statement. I should have thought that that is a good deal less satisfactory than video evidence in chief and cross-examination. I should expect it to be difficult to convince a court to admit video recorded evidence in cases involving frightened witnesses rather than directing that another measure should be used. It should be difficult. It is not an open invitation for all witnesses to give their evidence on video.
The party calling the witness will have to consider whether the witness's evidence would make more impact when given live at trial, whether by live television link or in the courtroom itself. But where the court is capable of being convinced that the measure would offer proper benefits for the witness, and therefore the best evidence, the court--this is all that we say--should have the discretion to award it.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: If video recordings are to be admitted as evidence in chief, sometimes they will have been taken by police officers and others in the earlier stages of the investigation. I wonder, therefore, whether those police officers and others will need special training to make sure that interviews are conducted in accordance with the normal rules of court and not simply as an investigation might otherwise proceed. A police officer interviewing a witness in the course of an investigation will not normally follow all the intricacies that are required in court. If he has this provision in mind, he will need to do that. That will involve considerable training, and so on. I note from the Financial Memorandum to the Bill that it is expected to cost the Crown Prosecution Service some £0.7 million a year to admit video recorded evidence in chief. It may be that part of that amount is intended for training, at
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am heartened by some of the Minister's remarks. He said that it would be in exceptional circumstances that the interview of a witness would be admitted as evidence in chief. Nevertheless, I am not entirely satisfied with his reply. It seems to me that there is a great distinction between a child--a child can be identified as one who requires evidence to be given in this way in court and therefore an interview can be conducted right at the very beginning with all the proper safeguards in place--and any other adult competent witness. It may not be until much later that the question of the competence of that witness, or the quality of the evidence being affected by fear and distress, becomes an issue at all. If at that point, some months later, one then returns to an interview that the police conducted by way of a video recording, I should have thought that in the case of adults the safeguards referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will not be in place. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I shall return to the matter again.
I should declare an interest, which is non-financial, as chairman of Scottish Aquaculture, which is a new organisation created to represent and promote Scotland's various aquacultural interests and species.
This very short Bill amends Section 7(4) of the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967 in respect of several fisheries. The amendment would give Ministers, when granting a right of several fishery, powers to specify what implements may be used by fishermen in the area covered by a several order. The Bill, therefore, intends enabling Ministers to authorise, on a case by case basis, the use of non-damaging types of fishing gear, such as creels, in several fishery order areas by fishermen as well as by the grantee of the order. Currently, the 1967 Act is inflexible in this respect. This inflexibility prevents the recognition of a legitimate and compatible capture fishing interest. As a result, the fishing sector has felt compelled to be equally inflexible in its opposition to the granting of several orders.
The Bill promises a win-win solution and therefore comes before the House with the full support of all interested parties. Indeed, this proposed solution has enjoyed support that is widespread and from both sectors of the fish industry since a public meeting in Inverness in May 1993. None will know this as well as my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who chaired the Inverness meeting as the then chairman of the Sea Fish Industry Authority. That meeting unanimously identified the introduction of flexibility as the key to removing the current adversarial stand-off, thereby promoting the use of several orders for shellfish interests, while at the same time protecting the legitimate interests of creel fishermen.
Research by the Sea Fish Industry Authority has indicated that the use of seabed cultivation, protected by several orders, has the potential to increase significantly the production levels for species such as scallops. In addition, and of significance, there is a general recognition that the existence of a high density population of shellfish on a several order site is likely to enhance recruitment to the natural fisheries.
There is, therefore, a strong underpinning element of sustainability in this Bill's proposal. On the one hand, it will enhance both the fishing and shell-fishing opportunities available to some of our most remote and fragile rural communities, while, on the other hand, it will simultaneously promote conditions that enhance natural recruitment. The latter is good for conservation purposes.
The Bill, I reiterate, is the result of long and careful consideration by all interested parties. The wide consultation has attracted support and approval from all those parties. I should add that, if the Bill completes it passage through this House, its sponsor in another place will be the honourable Member for Orkney and Shetland, Mr. Jim Wallace.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I apologise for rushing into your Lordships' House and speaking in the gap. I have arrived just in time to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lindsay yet again on introducing the Bill to amend the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967. I have been fortunate enough to listen to him now and to hear again so many of the points that the Sea Fish Industry Authority proved were important the last time that we talked about this matter. The authority carried out a great deal of work on scallops to which my noble friend Lord Lindsay referred.
It is important to be vigilant and to keep up to date in all our fishing regulations as technology advances and as monitoring of our maritime environment shows an ever-changing picture as we approach 2002 and prorogation. On this occasion I can see nothing to stop the Bill receiving a fair wind in its passage through both Houses. Our British fishermen need all the help and support that they can get. As we have heard, the Bill will allay the fears of many in Scotland. I am happy to support it and I wish my noble friend every success.
Viscount Thurso: My Lords, I too wish to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, on once again bringing this short Bill before your Lordships' House and for explaining it to us in his crisp and complete way. I confirm that we are delighted to give this legislation a fair wind, not simply because it is my honourable friend who will be sponsoring it in another place but also because, for all its shortness, it is an extremely important piece of legislation.
I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will be dealing with the Bill from the Opposition Front Bench since he is the broker of Inverness through whom this important piece of legislation comes before us. He is to be congratulated on having brokered the agreement eight years ago, even if it has taken that length of time to arrive in Westminster.
I am tempted to ask your Lordships simply to refer to columns 88 and 89 of Hansard of 1st June because I do not think I can add anything to the copious amounts said on the Bill at that time. However, I was slightly chided by the noble Earl for having ended my remarks on that occasion with a rather feeble attempt at wit, since when a noble friend has pointed out to me what the proper quotation should be. It comes from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor:
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it would be nice to say that I am delighted to rise to support my noble friend, but I wish that it was not necessary and that the Bill had proceeded through the House last year. On that occasion I was unable to come to the Second Reading debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Lindsay. Perhaps I may, first, thank him for the kind things he said about me. The meeting in Inverness seems so long ago that I had almost forgotten about it. I have not been able to calculate how many scallops might have been brought to the market if we could have had action rather more quickly.
As my noble friend Lord Lindsay said, it is important that we pass the Bill, and I hope that the other place will do so as quickly as possible. The scallop population of the west coast of Scotland, in particular, has declined markedly over the years with two consequences. The first consequence is for the fishermen and the second is for those of us who enjoy scallops: they have become so expensive that it is difficult to enjoy them without thinking about the price.
When the Sea Fish Industry Authority, of which I was the chairman for three years, investigated the cultivation of scallops it was found that one of the ways in which it is done is by the use of lantern systems suspended in the water. But the trouble with that system is that the scallops attract all kinds of other creatures to live on their shells, with the net result that it is an inefficient method of cultivation. The same is true of other shellfish
Scallops are proving quite difficult to cultivate with the so-called lantern system. The clever people who work for the Sea Fish Industry Authority, based largely at Ardtoe in the West Highlands, thought up the idea of taking tiny scallops, about the size of a small fingernail, and seeding them in a suitable place in a sea loch, where they would then grow in natural conditions, with clean shells, and so on, and could be harvested at some stage in the future. The side benefit to everyone from that would be that, if they were allowed to go through at least one reproduction cycle, they would help to repopulate the whole of the loch system.
I remember chairing a public meeting in, I believe, Kinlochewe with regard to carrying out such a project on Loch Ewe. We made little or no progress between the various "warring parties", although the warring party on one side was represented by only one person. Obviously, if one puts these shellfish down, one has to make sure that people do not go through the area trawling and thus digging up the small shellfish that have been put down. That is the whole point of the order. While the fishermen and their organisations were very keen to accept the principle, one of the problems was that creel fishermen, who would not damage the bottom of the loch, would also have to be excluded because we had to exclude everyone. That is the importance of this Bill. I hope that we can move ahead quickly with some of the projects in this regard in any area where this takes place. The only kind of fishing that needs to be prevented is that which damages the growing scallops and the sea bottom. Creel fishing or fishing for lobsters, crabs and prawns does not cause that damage and should be allowed to continue. I say that to show that I can still remember some of the things I learned about eight years ago.
I hope that this Bill will hasten its way to the statute book. More importantly, I hope that the industry will be able to take advantage of it and carry out some of the important work that could be done on the west coast of Scotland. It would bring employment to some of those areas for fishermen and fish farmers--and perhaps even manage to bring us slightly cheaper scallops at the restaurants.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, for introducing this Bill again. It was extremely disappointing that it was objected to last June in another place--although, as noble Lords opposite know, it was through no fault of the Government. The Government's view of this amendment Bill has not changed: we welcome and support it. We recognise the important role several orders can play in the development of farmed shellfisheries and the protection afforded for stock within the designated areas. Only eight several orders have been granted in Scotland, and this has much to do with the concern expressed by the inshore fishermen, which this Bill seeks to address.
The Government want to see greater use of several orders: they make sound economic sense; they offer employment opportunities for those living and working in rural and remote areas; and they can provide the basis for a sustainable shellfishery and a means whereby production can be increased to meet consumer demand for top quality shellfish.
At the present time, the granting of a several order under the 1967 Act provides protection for the shellfish stocks and the owner's rights within the designated area. All other fishing activities are prohibited, except where pelagic trawl nets or hook and line are used.
Herein lies the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as long ago as 1993, tried to resolve the sensitivities which had arisen between fishermen and shellfish growers over the use of several orders. Since then, improved guidelines have been introduced. Applicants must submit sound business plans for the operation of the several order site, which the Scottish Office monitors. If enacted, tonight's Bill will address the most important of these issues--namely, that of access of creel fishermen in a several order area. The 1967 Act places an unreasonable restriction on fishing within several order sites, and this fact is accepted by shellfish farming interests and other fishermen. All are agreed that greater flexibility is needed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who spoke earlier in the debate, helped to improve the scope and effectiveness of this legislation in 1997. It is good that she is still fighting the good fight for this Bill.
The noble Earl's amendment will provide that much needed flexibility by removing the current prohibition and giving Ministers discretion, on a case-by-case basis, over the types of fishing which may be permitted within a several order area.
As I have said before, I am grateful to the noble Earl for bringing forward the Bill. I am confident that the amendment, if enacted, will help to resolve some of the difficulties surrounding the granting of several orders in Scotland and should, as a result of greater up-take, stimulate shellfish farming production. Your Lordships gave their support before to this Bill. It has been gratifying tonight to hear the support expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and other noble Lords who have spoken. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful for the support shown for this Bill by all who have taken part in the debate. I am especially grateful that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, resorted to Shakespeare this time rather than his home-made wit, which was a feature of the earlier occasion when we discussed this Bill.
I am very appreciative that the Government continue to support this Bill so strongly and unambiguously. The Minister gave as good a summary as I could have hoped for of the very cogent reasons why this Bill should be passed into law as soon as possible.
I express special thanks to my two noble friends who have spoken. They have both had considerable experience of the industry, as was obvious from their contributions. My noble friend Lady Wilcox very kindly
My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish left us in no doubt as to just how well he knows not only the specific problem that the Bill seeks to address, but many of the other features of this very important industry, which is of extraordinary value to many remote and rural West Highland communities. He was right to stress some of the extraordinary local difficulties that shellfish interests have provoked, and he reminded us of his experiences in Kinlochewe. He is also right that a Bill such as this will promote not only employment but a greater natural recruitment, which will be of immense value in a much wider sense.
I repeat that the badly needed solution is encapsulated in this amendment. It is wholly modern in the way it would work in promoting both employment and the long-term conservation interests of the natural fisheries. The amendment has enjoyed considerable support outside of the House; I welcome the fact that there is cross-party support for it inside. It is a true reflection of the consensus which lies beyond this House. On that basis, I beg to move.