HC Deb 16 May 1968 vol 764 cc1522-6

9.43 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order, 1968 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 2nd May. Since the 1880s the United Kingdom has been a member of both the Paris Union for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. These are two most important world-wide international bodies regulating respectively patents and copyright. Each Union has possessed an international secretariat appointed by and working under the supervision of the Swiss Government. In 1893 the secretariats were amalgamated to form the United International Bureau for the Protection of Intellectual Property, which is commonly—and fortunately—known under the less cumbersome formula of B.I.R.P.I. There was, however, no formal machinery for the member countries of the two Unions to direct the secretariats' activities. Nor was there any co-ordination between the Unions in such matters as finance.

In October 1962, however, it was decided to aim at a new organisation which would more effectively co-ordinate the activities of the Paris and Berne Unions, thus creating an effective forum for discussing matters of common concern which would be open to all countries whether or not they were party to the Paris or Berne Conventions.

A conference was held at Stockholm last summer which drew up the necessary convention to set up a World Intellectual Property Organisation. The Organisation will have as its primary objective the protection of intellectual property—which means particularly rights relating to copyright, patents, trade marks, industrial designs—throughout the world. The United Kingdom participated in the conference at Stockholm last summer and welcomes this development. There is everything to be said for creating a new organisation which will be the specialist body in a most important field, and one to which all countries can belong even though they may not yet be ready to accept particular Conventions. For example problems of patents and copyright of mutual interest to the developed and the developing countries can be discussed, and programmes of legal and technical assistance can be drawn up. We have joined with 50 other countries in signing the Convention and look forward to the establishment of the new Organisation in Geneva as soon as possible.

However, the Organisation cannot be legally established until seven members of the Paris Union and ten members of the Berne Union have ratified the Convention. In turn, the United Kingdom itself cannot ratify until our own legislative processes have been completed. This draft Order in Council is required to give effect to Article 12 of the Convention. Assuming that it is approved by each House, an Order in these terms will then be made by the Queen in Council. It will come into effect at the same moment as the new Organisation comes into existence as a result of a sufficient number of ratifications of the Convention being deposited.

This may sound complicated, but it is an example of a normal legislative process with which, I am sure, the House is familiar. May I make clear that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Stockholm Protocol to the Berne Convention, which deals with developing countries. This was a subject of some controversy last July, but it is quite unrelated to this draft Order in Council.

May I also make clear, in case the title of this draft Order should mislead the House, that its scope is limited to conferring on the World Intellectual Property Organisation the legal capacities of a body corporate. It confers nothing else in the way of immunities and privileges on that Organisation, and it is not in any case envisaged that any such immunities or privileges will be required in the United Kingdom. Wider immunities and privileges will, however, be required by the Organisation in Switzerland, which will be the host State. I know the House is sensitive on the broad issue of immunities and privileges. That is why I am anxious to give the assurance that it need not concern itself on this point in regard to the present Order.

I hope that the Order will now receive the approval of the House.

9.47 p.m.

Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

This Order is part of a plan to create a world-wide agreement on copyrights and patents. I am sure that the House will regard that as a desirable end, but one cannot help wondering how effective it will be. The Minister told us that 50 countries have so far signed the Convention. What about the countries which do not sign? Is the U.S.S.R. to be a party to the agreement? In that country, I have always understood, there is the very worst violation of international copyright. If the agreement is not to be worldwide, how effective will the Organisation be?

There are, I understand, three types of corporation under English law. First, there is the body incorporated under Royal Charter. Second, there is the corporation created under special statute. Third, there are companies registered under the Companies Act. Presumably, the Organisation with which we are here concerned comes under the second head, being created by Order under the 1950 Act. In the circumstances, I think it fair to ask whether a new and originally created corporation of this kind should be brought into existence merely by Statutory Order.

However, we on this side have no wish to oppose the Order, although we are inclined to wonder whether the Organisation will be effective in practice in bringing some sort of order into this very disordered field.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. William Rodgers

May I have leave to speak again?

I greatly welcome the help which we have received from the Opposition.

We do not know how effective this new organisation will be. As I mentioned in moving the Order, 50 countries have already signed it. I hope that other countries which have not signed it, and which I agree have hitherto sometimes not conformed to the standards which we have every right to expect, will see the advantage of an international agreement of this kind, which will be a defence for them as well as for us. I certainly share the view that this should become more effective by gaining strength and further ratifications as time goes by. A new organisation of this kind, encompassing aspects of both previous Conventions, is more likely to attract outsiders than the organisational framework which it replaces.

The hon. Gentleman will wish to know that the Soviet Union was represented at Stockholm and signed the Convention which establishes the new organisation. But I concede that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and we must see what progress can be made.

On the second point, I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, but I think that the fact this is an Affirmative Order and that we are debating it tonight shows that we recognise the importance of the matter and that it was proper to discuss it in this way.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1968 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 2nd May.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.