HC Deb 21 February 1968 vol 759 cc576-84

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Jopling

I beg to move Amendment No. 38, in page 36, line 47, at end insert: (4) This section shall come into operation on a day appointed by an Order made by the Minister. The purpose of the Amendment is to delay the coming into force of the Clause which amends the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act, 1964. Having read a great deal of correspondence on this subject over the last months, I can say that this is a fiendishly complicated problem which concerns many rose breeders in this country, particularly Mr. Sam McGredy, the well-known rose breeder in Northern Ireland.

The 1964 Act allows breeders of various roses to enjoy plant breeders' rights and royalties and it allows the Royal National Rose Society to have roses, among other plants, registered with it under the Society's code of registration. They are also registered with the Registrar of Plant Variety Rights, with the advice of the Royal National Rose Society, but the Registrar accepts only what are loosely called "fancy names" for roses, names such as Maria Callas, Daily Mail, City of Belfast and other names of roses which we all know very well. The purpose of the registration is, first, that the name of the rose should be protected.

The Clause will make it an offence to sell that variety by another name. What is worrying many rose breeders is that the effect of subsection (3) is to stop rose breeders from registering double names.

Many rose breeders find it useful to register double names. They use a "fancy name", such as those which I have quoted and which are easily recognised by the public, and they register code names, which are names which are entirely meaningless to the general public, and they do so in order that they cannot be duplicated in any other country. When the names are double registered, the breeder is covered by plant breeders' rights and by trade mark protection in countries where the international convention on plant breeders' rights are likely to be observed.

This method of double naming, with the fancy name which we all know and the code name which is rather different, has been used and well known in Europe since 1949, but there has recently been an international convention on plant breeders' rights which will tend to unify the law on this matter and which will eventually make life a great deal easier for many of the famous rose breeders in this and other countries in Europe. The difficulty is that this convention had not been ratified by more than two countries by the time the Bill was in Committee. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us how many countries have now ratified it.

It has caused great concern to these companies to find themselves between two stools, not having got the international Convention ratified, and enforced, but at the same time being tied down by the effect of Clause 42. This would mean that many of our most famous rose breeders would get the worst of both worlds in the interim period. This feeling is not only expressed by Mr. McGredy, who has been particularly active and vociferous on this point, but in addition this Amendment is supported by the Plant Breeders Rights Association, who originally thought that this Clause was all right. When the problems were pointed out to it, it decided that there were very serious repercussions under this Clause and it now, as I understand it, sustains its approval of this Amendment.

The greatest problem which will arise in the interim period will be for exporters. This is surely the time, above all others, when we should be doing everything possible to avoid harming or interrupting the trade, and the opportuni- ties of our exporters, particularly in Europe. There has been a certain amount of opposition to the case which I am trying to put on behalf of rose breeders. I would like to quote from the Committee proceedings of 30th January, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was replying to the debate. He referred at some length to one of the objections that had been made to the point which I am now making, put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart). He spoke of a letter which he had received from one prominent gentleman in the rose world. He refers to this gentleman as being: …Chairman of the Association of British Rose Producers; he is also Chairman of the Horticultural Trade Association's Rose Tree Trade Group, and Chairman of Rose Distribution Ltd.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT,Standing Committee B, 30th January, 1968; c. 464.] This sounds very impressive. Here, one would think, was someone who would be jealous to look after the rights and prospects of our rose breeders. When one looks very carefully at one of these companies, Rose Distribution Ltd., one sees in the articles of association of that company the following: To resist applications made by any breeder or distributor of any variety of plants for any proprietary right or interest in respect of such variety, whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. I hope that when we get a reply tonight we will be told that this would be wrong because this gentleman says so. We know that by the articles of association of one of his companies he has an interest in opposing the case that I am putting. His remarks should be invalid in any discussion that we may have.

I have said how important it is to help our exporters. The question is when will this Convention be ratified? We do not seem to know. It would be wrong for this House to jump in at this stage and pass this Clause with all its manifestations until the internal Convention has been ratified. My Amendment would not bring the Clause into effect yet. It would mean that it could be delayed by the Minister until a future date when the Convention was ratified. This is a thoroughly acceptable and sensible Amendment. It means that we can put off the day when we impose Clause 42 on the British rose breeders—and they are a very small and select company of people—until there is a single widely accepted code in the world for plant breeders' rights. What is more important, we can delay it until there is effective machinery for making it work. I hope that the Government will see their way to accepting the Amendment.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I support what my hon. Friend has said. There are emany aspects of the rose growers' market and a great deal of special pleading from different points of view. My hon. Friend fairly quoted the case of a distinguished breeder whose name is a household word, and equally fairly quoted the extreme opposite view quoted by the Parliamentary Secretary in Committee.

The merit of my hon. Friend's Amendment is that it will give the Government time to consider this matter again. They may feel that they have had a lot of time already, but the fact remains that these rose breeders, propagators and vendors are three minute industries, with three very different special points of view. They are bedevilled with many special problems. I mention a minor one: the great difficulty, in recent years, of getting landing permits for profesional budders who come to this country from Holland and Belgium for the budding season.

We are feeling our way gradually in plant breeders' rights. We are breaking new ground, and we should continue to break new ground; but we should do so gradually. We should not rush in. We should at least enable the Minister to wait until this International Convention is ratified by more countries.

My hon. Friend has referred to the need to help our exporters. In this purely pleasure market there is a big argument for hindering the importers, and saving imports. We are importing far too many high-quality and high-priced shrubs from Belgium, Holland and France. In addition to thinking about helping our exporters we should see that no preference or advantage is given to would-be importers. If the Clause goes through unamended importers rather than exporters will be the gainers.

I therefore hope that the Minister will pay close attention to the merits of the Amendment, because it cannot possibly wreck the Bill; it can only help it.

Mr. Godber

I support the Amendment. What has been proposed by my hon. Friend is a sensible way of trying to reach a solution to what proved a difficult problem in Committee. It is an interesting point in relation to rose breeders. We all recognise that few people are involved, but we discovered in our discussions in Committee that there is a wide divergence of view between them. Each man feels passionately about his own point of view, and he is entitled to say so when his business will be directly affected by the Clause.

We have to recognise that a change is being instituted under the Clause. In Committee we discovered that there are some who see considerable merit in the Clause and others who see grave harm to themselves in it. Still more time is needed to arrive at a fair solution and we must see where the balance lies. It is a complicated matter.

In Committee I tried to distinguish between those who breed, those who propagate and those who sell stock. Clearly the breeder has by far the greater expense, but it is a difficult matter to conclude who is right in this dispute. Even in the speech of my hon. Friend, when he mentioned a gentleman—I think it must have been Mr. Harkness, Chairman of Rose Distribution Ltd.—I thought he was a trifle hard on him.

That gentleman, when he wrote to us. did something which is very rarely done by people who lobby Members of Parliament. He set out the arguments for and against. I think the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will remember the letter in which he set out a number of arguments for and a certain number against. He was clearly trying to find a fair solution. I honestly do not think that the Government have found a fair solution yet.

11.0 p.m.

The real trouble arises from the fact that this is almost the only country—there are one or two others—which so far has got involved in ratification of the Convention. It is because of this that my hon. Friends felt that some time is needed so that other European countries can ratify the Convention and then our breeders would be on level terms with them. This marks a considerable move from the position we took in Committee. I hope the Government will come towards us and meet us as we have honestly tried to find a compromise position, and I hope that we shall arrive at a conclusion considered satisfactory by the rose breeders of this country. None of us wants to penalise our rose breeders. The Amendment hinges particularly on ratification of the Convention.

Therefore, I hope the Minister will pay attention, when he replies, to the timing. I hope he will find himself able to accept the Amendment, which. after all, will leave discretion to the Minister as to when he brings the Clause into operation. The Amendment would give him more freedom to choose the time which would be least harmful to the breeders concerned.

Mr. John Mackie

I agree with hon. Members who have spoken, not only in the House but in the Committee that this is a complicated matter and one which takes a considerable amount of study to understand. The Amendment would enable my right hon. Friend to postpone the operation of Clause 42 until an appointed day. As the Clause now stands, the amendment to the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act, 1964, would come into operation when the Bill receives the Royal Assent. Quite frankly, I do not think the arguments for this breathing space are strong enough for us to agree to it. and I must ask the House to reject the Amendment.

The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) quoted a letter from Mr. Harkness. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) said, it was a very fair letter and put at the end the points Mr. Harkness thought were for and against. He himself was for the amendment in the Bill. I think it is right to point out that in his letter—and I presume the hon. Member for Westmorland has read the whole letter and not looked only at the articles of association of one of the bodies—there is set out a number of bodies. I shall not read out the list. I have various letters which have been written to me in favour of the amendment in the Bill, including one from the Royal Horticultural Society of the United Kingdom, which, the hon. Member will agree, is no mean body. The body which was against the amendment in the Bill was the Plant Breeders Rights Association. Mr. Harkness told us that 31 persons living in the U.K. have applied for plant breeders' rights.…Of these, 12 are members of Rose Distribution Ltd., ipso facto either expelled from or going to be expelled from or not members of the P.B.R.A. I believe inquiries would show that 10 of the remaining applicants are members of neither organisation; which leaves 9 out of 31 applicants…. of that Association who were not in favour. This is one body connected to rose breeding. It was a very small minority indeed.

Mr. Godber

It seems to me that that argument is not very valid. The number of rose breeders in this country is very limited, anyway. It is a small minority of the people of this country, but is that a small minority of the rose breeders as opposed to the rose growers? That is the point.

Mr. Mackie

These are the figures Mr. Harkness gave us. We had to accept them. The list I had and his letter would lead us to believe that the weight of opinion in the industry as a whole was definitely in favour of the amendment of the 1964 Act to stop up this gap in it.

We spent a tremendous amount of time discussing these various points in Committee. I do not want to go into all the details again. The hon. Member for Westmorland went through these various points, and I do not need to go through them again. The system of double naming is one which will lead to great confusion. My right hon. Friend is strongly supported by the responsible opinion that I have mentioned, including the majority of other rose breeders in seeking to prevent the confusion.

There is a good case for making the new Clause effective as soon as possible. With the overwhelming support of the industry we want to strengthen the protection of plant breeders and to guard against attempts to introduce a system of double naming of rose varieties in this country. Such attempts have been made by a minority of breeders. My right hon. Friend is determined that they shall not succeed. It has been suggested that there is no hurry about this and that we should wait until the International Convention comes into force. This is the main point made by hon. Members opposite. This is a mistaken view. It is true that we would need Clause 42 when the Convention comes into force, but we need the clause now for the benefits which it will confer on the industry.

It has been suggested that we should wait, because otherwise our breeders will be put at a disadvantage compared with breeders in other countries which may intend to wait for the Convention to come into force. This is the point which the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) made. This is not so. If for the time being a British breeder wants to protect his variety in another Convention country by trade marking the registered variety name, this Clause will not stand in his way. Nor will the Clause prevent the Controller registering as a variety name a word which the breeder has trade marked in another country. The Clause has no direct effect outside the United Kingdom. Whether a breeder can obtain trade mark protection in another country, and for how long he can go on doing so, entirely depends on the domestic law of that country. My right hon. Friend is aware that certain countries, unlike the United Kingdom, are at present prepared to register trade marks for the names of plant varieties. If our breeders wish to take advantage of that system the new Clause will not prevent them.

For the time being, a variety name trade marked in, say, France, could be registered in the United Kingdom under the 1964 Act if acceptable in all other respects. I ask the House to note, however, that when the International Convention comes into force, countries which ratify the Convention have undertaken to drop trade mark protection in favour of the Convention system of plant breeders' rights. It is important that hon. Members should note that. The position then will be that all breeders, whether United Kingdom or foreign, will have to seek plant breeders' rights in Convention countries instead of trade marks, not, I emphasise, because of the Clause now before the House, but as a consequence of those countries changing over to the Convention system.

I would point out to the hon. Member for Westmorland and the hon. Member for Maidstone that Holland and the United Kingdom have already ratified the Convention, and the prospects are that Denmark will ratify very shortly and there is no reason to suspect that Belgium, France and Germany will not ratify the Convention before the end of this summer.

I hope that I have said enough to show that we need Clause 42 now to stop double naming and that it would be wrong to wait for the Convention, and, further, that the Clause does not discriminate against our own breeders who will still be able to obtain trade marks in other Convention countries so long as the laws of those countries allow it.

I hope that the hon. Member for Westmorland will be satisfied that the Clause should go into law with the Royal Assent on the Bill and let us get on with the job and not wait for other countries.

Mr. Jopling

It is difficult to know what decision to make, in view of the Parliamentary Secretary's answer, which seemed to argue for a breathing space to enable other countries to ratify. He said that Holland and the United Kingdom had ratified and that Denmark would do so before long and that the process would not take long. I hope that he is right, but what if he is not? There can be no guarantee. Some of the other European countries do not seem very forthcoming in ratifying.

But the matter may be raised in another place and that is probably the best course. If the breeders are still sufficiently concerned they will be able to arrange this, especially in view of what the hon. Gentleman has said. With this understanding, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Further Amendment made: Amendment No. 39, in page 39, line 23 [Clause 48], after "23(1)(b)" insert "and regulations under section 2".—[Mr. Peart]

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