HC Deb 29 April 1983 vol 41 cc1119-37
Mr. John Fraser

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 36 after 'constable', insert 'or Trading Standards Officer'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 3, in page 3, line 3 after 'constable', insert 'or Trading Standards Officer'.

No. 4, in page 3, line 7 after 'constable', insert 'or Trading Standards Officer'.

No. 5, in page 3, line 11 after 'constable', insert 'or Trading Standards Officer'.

Mr. Fraser

I shall be brief, for two reasons. First, I wish to see the Bill have a swift passage to the statute book and, secondly, I should think that the House is anxious to reach the fourth item of business on the Order Paper.

The purpose of the amendment is to extend the powers of search and entry to enable them to be exercised by trading standards officers as well as by constables. Powers already exist under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 which enable trading standards officers to enter commercial premises to obtain material for prosecution if offences have been committed under that Act. Very often offences committed by retail video pirates constitute offences not only under the Copyright Acts but under the Trade Descriptions Act. If a trading standards officer regularly visits retail establishments, it would be ludicrous if he had powers of entry for one purpose but then, upon discovery of offences under the Copyright Acts, had no power to act.

It is right, therefore, to enable the efforts of the police to be supplemented—the efforts of the police may be exceeded — by those who work for trading standards departments. If we are to stamp out video piracy it is important to put pressure on the retail end. If there are no customers for counterfeit video and audio cassettes there will be no trade in them in this country, although I imagine there will be a lucrative export trade. Therefore, I think it right to encourage trading standards officers to supplement the work of the police, not to restrict their efforts of investigation at the retail end under the Trade Descriptions Act and to give them parallel powers through the provisions of the Bill.

I am not convinced that the police, especially in London, will have enough time and men to take on this additional task. The case load of a detective for burglaries is probably heavier now than even two or three years ago, despite the increase of police manpower in the metropolis. It will be a worthwhile step if the work of the police can be supplemented by those experienced in dealing with the retail trade.

Laws that are not adequately enforced are dead letters. If a law is not adequately enforced, it falls into disrepute. Another reason for ensuring that the law is enforced by as many people as can be legitimately engaged so to do—the Committee and the House are unanimous about this — is that piracy and plagiarism of someone else's intellectual property must be stamped out. Immense damage is being done to the great commercial integrity of our country. In this case the boot is on the other foot but generally speaking this country, which has strong trade mark and copyright laws, has a deep interest in the preservation of intellectual property. Britain is a publishing centre for the world and thus has a huge interest in stamping out counterfeiting in other parts of the world, which is damaging to our trade. That would assist us in maintaining our commercial integrity.

Unfortunately, London has become the centre of this trade. London is to piracy what Chicago used to be to gangsterism. As a commercial centre, it does us no good to have this reputation. The wider the power to enforce the law and the wider the integrity of our enforcement, the better.

Video piracy is in a sense analogous to robbery with violence. The robbery is the stealing of the intellectual property, the fruit of the labour of artists, producers, writers and performers, and is no less than the stealing of cash from someone making his way to the bank. The violence is that done to the immediate piece of property that is stolen and to the medium that is the victim of the act of dishonesty. There is a great danger that our film industry and others, which currently enjoy such a high reputation, will be enormously damaged by the continuation of this illegal trade. There is the danger also that Britain's commercial reputation will be damaged.

The amendments are designed to ensure that we lay down a principle and that that principle is rigorously enforced by those experienced in commercial activity. They are designed to extend the powers of search and enforcement to trading standards officers as well as to police officers.

Sir John Eden

I cannot advise acceptance of the amendment of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), but I am grateful to him for having tabled and moved it as it gives us an opportunity to give closer attention to an issue that we raised briefly in Committee.

First, I pay tribute to the work of the trading standards officers. I know that in the context of the Bill, concerned as it is with the pirating of film material and audio material, all those engaged legitimately in manufacturing and trading in these products will also wish to pay tribute to the work of the trading standards officers. I understand that their authority and powers are derived from the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and are mainly concerned with the retail trade. The way in which their duties are carried out is dependent, to some extent, upon the attitude of the local authorities to which they ate directly accountable.

The principal involvement of the trading standards officers in video piracy is to identify counterfeiting, which is probably reasonably well described as what appears to be, and is clearly intended to appear to be, a legitimate copy but in fact is a pirated copy. A counterfeit product is one that someone has made to look like the real thing in the hope that the purchaser, or the hirer, will believe that it is the real thing.

Examples of counterfeiting of well-known films are abundant and they include, for example, "Friday 13th", "Blue Lagoon", "Kramer v. Kramer", "Escape to Victory"—nothing to do with the timing of the general election, I think—and "Endless Love"—that could be, I suppose. There are others.

Incidentally, and interestingly enough, counterfeiting would not have encompassed the notorious case of "ET—The Extra-Terrestrial". The counterfeiting would not have been caught within the powers of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 that are available to the trading standards officers. The illegal copying of "ET" originated from a film that had not, at the time when the illicit copying was made, even been released to the British cinema. It was carried out before any legitimate video cassette recording had been made of it.

In addition to the illicit copying and counterfeiting, there is back-to-back copying. This can be carried out by retailers making copies of cassettes that have been purchased by linking two recorders together. A prime example of this practice were copies of "The Postman always Rings Twice".

I am glad to be able to assure the House that the industry will continue to exercise to the full its own responsibilities to safeguard the legitimate manufacturer and trader. The civil Anton Piller procedure will still be used. The efforts of trading standards officers in support of this work are of the greatest possible value, and always will be. Their powers can properly be said to be complementary to the search and seizure powers that will be given to the police under the Bill. The Bill is not the proper measure by which to seek to extend those powers, and I hope that the hon. Member for Norwood will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Sproat

First, I shall deal with one or two important peripheral aspects that bear upon the remarks of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). On this occasion my reply will not be as impressive as that which followed the debate on amendment No. 1. This is the dull part of the debate.

I welcome the support that the hon. Member for Norwood has given once again to the Bill's general concept. It is extremely important that the House is seen to be united on the need for the Bill, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's expressions of support, joined with those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, will be valuable in persuading those outside the House of the seriousness with which we take these matters.

I welcome the reference of the hon. Member for Norwood to Britain's commercial integrity. In Britain illegitimate sound recordings run at about 5 per cent. That is 5 per cent. too much, but it is very much less than in other countries. In some countries 80 per cent. of sound recordings are illegitimate. Even in other parts of the Common Market there is not a 1 to 5 per cent. scale but a 5 to 10 per cent. scale. In Italy and Greece the percentages are very much higher. Britain's commercial integrity is a metaphysical commodity which we must do everything in our power to preserve.

I am sure that the House will wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs for his initiative in setting up an anti-counterfeiting unit in the Department of Trade to pull together evidence of all the different counterfeiting and copyright offences with which the Department comes into contact. In setting up the unit my hon. Friend has carried out an important job of work. The comments of the hon. Member for Norwood reinforce the action that my hon. Friend has taken.

I remember when this matter of the extension of the role of trading standards officers was raised in Committee the look of ferocious alarm which passed across the face of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox). He was horrified at the notion that the Government—dedicated to the principle that an Englishman's home is his castle—should, by this measure, extend the right to a whole new range of persons to knock on doors at midnight and kick them in if no answer was forthcoming. That is perhaps an aspect of what the hon. Member for Norwood has in mind in this series of amendments which I think would not receive general acceptance in the House.

10.30 am

I enjoy the speeches of the hon. Member for Norwood because he invariably says something fresh that makes one think. In our earlier debates he compared Cecil B. de Mille to Rembrandt and likened Daryl F. Zanuck to Rubens de nos jours. This time he compared London with Chicago and video piracy with robbery with violence. I take the crime extremely seriously but I suggest that there is some difference between video piracy and beating up old ladies in the street.

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West remembers a television series starring Robert Stack as Elliot Ness, the man who wiped out the Capone gangsters in Chicago in the 1930s. The vision of my right hon. Friend as the Elliot Ness of today is attractive.

Mr. Brinton

I am loth to interrupt my hon. Friend's interesting and splendid speech and I do so only to suggest that there is a more serious side to the matter, the one to which the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) was referring, and that is the amount of criminal money that is going into video piracy. There may be at the back of it all considerable violence and other deep crime which should be considered.

Mr. Sproat

That is an important point. Violence is associated with it. In Committee I read an extract from an Evening Standard article written by a colleague in the House pointing out how big-time crime was moving into the whole sphere we are discussing. I was merely saying that citing Al Capone and Chicago was perhaps hyping it up even more than the media and show business do generally. However, I take the point my hon. Friend makes.

Sir J. Eden

As the Minister referred to the Evening Standard, he might have quoted from yesterday's Evening Standard an account of traders being held up at gunpoint so that cassette recorders could be seized. The recorders were loaded into vans along with guns and ammunition. Happily the criminals were apprehended, but for a time there was a grotesque example of extreme violence. It was robbery with violence to obtain cassettes to use for illegal copying.

Mr. Sproat

I did not read that story in yesterday's Evening Standard but, as a result of my right hon. Friend's intervention, I shall certainly do so. It is no part of my purpose to minimise the criminal element. In saying that video piracy was on a par with, as opposed to leading to, robbery with violence, I thought that the hon. Member for Norwood had exaggerated a little. Nevertheless, he has clearly made us all think and I have been pointed in the direction of new evidence, so I am grateful to him, even if that was not the end he originally had in mind.

Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) is correct in that, once criminal money becomes involved and the criminals decide that they will maintain their illegitimate business, they use strong-arm tactics reminiscent of the past in Chicago? It is that which must be worrying the hon. Gentleman, as indeed it worries many of us.

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I read in the earlier Evening Standard article to which I referred that the criminals were driving a white Rolls-Royce—I do not know what such a vehicle costs these days; perhaps £70,000 if it is a modern one—so we are certainly talking about a very big and violent business.

Mr. Lawrence

I am sorry to make my hon. Friend jump up and down like a yo-yo, but I must remind him of the war between video pirates in the not too distant past resulting in a car being blown up or set on fire in the east end of London. That is precisely the sort of serious violence which could escalate into a Chicago style situation.

Mr. Sproat

Yes indeed. That case gave rise to the vivid and graphic description given by a Labour Member in an earlier debate. I agree that in that way we are into an "Untouchables" situation; that was the title of the television series to which I referred earlier. Perhaps, rashly, I was attempting to draw a metaphysical distinction between the parallel which the hon. Member for Norwood was seeking to draw and London as the Chicago of modern times.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West rightly said that we should welcome the tabling of this series of amendments, even though I shall be asking the hon. Member for Norwood to withdraw the amendment. His proposals give us an opportunity at this appropriate moment to look more closely at the whole area and consider whether we want to extend the powers which are being given to the police under the Bill.

My right hon. Friend referred to the film "ET". I do not know what has been or will be the loss of money to the legitimate manufacturers of that film, but it must be substantial. We are certainly not talking about a small business; wherever the cut-off point of small business is, it does not include those who are making money out of the pirating of "ET" or, for example, "Gandhi", and I should be interested to know how much money the manufacturers of "Gandhi" consider they have lost as a result of the piracy of that film.

I assured my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) that we had reached the dull part of the debate.

Mr. Lawrence

Before my hon. Friend depresses us by moving from the exciting to the less exciting part, perhaps he will answer a question that has been bothering me since his first remarks about the predominance of revenue lost to the legitimate industry by piracy. Has any estimate been made of the amount of money that video piracy costs the Exchequer—the taxpayer?

Mr. Sproat

I do not have a calculator with me, but if the retail value of illegitimate video cassettes is £120 million, that multiplied by 15 per cent., the VAT lost, would provide a starting figure. In addition, the non-payment of income tax by those engaged in the manufacture of illegitimate films would result in a substantial figure. If he added to that the social security payments to those who claim to be unemployed but who are making a great deal of money by manufacturing illegitimate cassettes, that would provide a very large sum. I will not detain the House on that, but my hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. Not only is there the criminal side of it but there is the tremendous loss to the Revenue and the payout from the Revenue to people engaged in this criminal activity.

As I said, the Government see great difficulties if this series of amendments were accepted. The effect would be to give trading standards officers of local authorities the same powers of entry, search and seizure as the police. I have already referred to the old adage about an Englishman's home being his castle. However, that should also apply to a Scotsman's home, a Welshman's home and an Ulsterman's home. In fact, there are more castles in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the country, so perhaps we could rewrite the adage. We should not dismiss that adage lightly. In some circumstances, for the effective enforcement of the law and the prevention of serious risk to health, we must countenance some derogation from our right to such privacy, but as a general principle that right must be jealously guarded and exceptions might be made only in the most compelling circumstances and after the most careful Government review.

It may help hon. Members to see the difficulties if I explain what trading officers are and what they can do in the area that we are discussing. "Trading standards officer" is a generic name, not found in the statute, used to describe the officers of certain local authorities—that is the county councils in England and Wales, the regional and island councils in Scotland and London borough councils — who enforce a wide range of legislation designed to protect consumers and maintain standards in trading.

The list of legislation that trading standards officers enforce is pretty lengthly. It includes the Weights and Measures Acts 1963–79, the Trades Descriptions Acts 1968 and 1972, the Food and Drugs Act 1955, the Consumer Safety Act 1978, the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the Hallmarking Act 1973, the Poisons Act 1972, the Medicines Act 1978, and a host of others. In addition to the long list of Acts of Parliament, as some of my hon. Friends may learn to their dismay, 600 statutory instruments fall within their ambit.

Trading standards officers began life merely as weights and measures inspectors, but over the years Parliament has seen fit to devolve to local weights and measures authorities the responsibility for enforcing the long list of Acts and regulations to which I have referred. Those responsibilities have inevitably landed on the shoulders of trading standards officers. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West in paying tribute to the work they do. It is to their great credit that the trading standards officers have always risen to the challenge, and have developed their skills and expertise to cope with this new work.

However, the number of officers has not risen commensurately. There are only about 1,500 trading standards officers for the whole United Kingdom and this number has remained fairly static for several years. It must be the case that a limited number of officers cannot be given more and more to do without it having an adverse effect upon what they do already.

I recognise that there is no duty on local authorities to enforce the provisions of the Copyright Act and that the addition of these powers would not give them a duty. I also recognise that, while some local authorities are prepared to take prosecutions under the Copyright Act, many have refrained from doing so. It could be argued that the giving of these additional powers to trading standards officers would merely enable local authorities that have chosen to be active in this field to do the job more effectively, but my view — and, I think, the view of my right hon. Friend—is that, if these amendments were accepted, every local authority would come under extreme pressure to exercise the powers and take prosecutions whenever there is an allegation that pirate video films or sound recordings are being sold or made.

It would be quite understandable if many local authorities continued to be unwilling to allocate their trading standards resources for this purpose and, even if all local authorities were prepared to exercise the powers, the limited number of trading standards officers available would probably mean that the demand could not be met. I particularly draw this to the attention of the House. I suspect that this is the reason why the Association of County Councils is opposed to the hon. Member for Norwood's amendments. They realise that giving such powers to the trading standards officers would raise expectations in the minds of the film and recording industries, but that these expectations could not be met by the local authorities with their present resources.

10.45 am

Apart from the implications for local authority resources, another aspect to the proposed amendments needs to be considered. The new powers in clause 2 have been drafted very much with a view to their being exercised by the police. They are of course exercisable only by warrant but, when a warrant is granted, the powers are both wide and severe. They would enable a constable to enter and search any premises — including private dwellings — and to use such reasonable force as is necesssary.

If such powers were given also to trading standards officers that would represent a significant extension of their current powers. None of the Acts that they enforce at present provides for the issue of search warrants to trading standards officers. Although certain other statutes, such as the Trade Descriptions Act, provide for warrants to be issued in certain circumstances, they give powers only to enter premises and not to search.

It is in the public interest that search warrant powers should be restricted to as few, readily identifiable, bodies as possible. These powers should be considered against the background that there would be no statutory control at all over which persons a local authority may appoint to exercise them.

That is not of course to suggest that the local authorities or the trading standards officers might exercise such powers in an irresponsible way — certainly not — but there is, of course, provision in clause 2 for a warrant to authorise other persons to accompany a constable who is exercising the powers. That should be sufficient to enable the expertise of the trading standards officers in these matters to be used when it is needed.

I am sure that the House will see that these apparently harmless amendments would change considerably the nature of this splendid Bill, mislead the film and recording industries and cause unnecessary problems for many local authorities. In the light of those persuasive arguments, I very much hope that the hon. Member for Norwood will now, after a few interesting words, withdraw his amendment.

Mr. John Fraser

The Opposition do not feel sufficiently strongly about the matter to press the amendment to a Division. Under the circumstances I am prepared to accept the Minister's advice.

However, I ask the Minister to consider one thing seriously, which is whether there will be sufficient police officers and sufficiently good organisation for the exercise of the powers conferred by the Bill. Recently there has been great difficulty about search warrants in my constituency, but that is a matter to be discussed elsewhere.

The Minister may recall that some of the gravest problems that have afflicted the Metropolitan police force in the past have been about officers concerned with search and enforcement of the pornography laws. I do not need to develop that further except to say that there have been great difficulties when a small number of police officers have been concerned with law enforcement in a highly lucrative area of illicit trade. I very much hope that these problems will not recur, but I ask the Minister to consider carefully the way in which enforcement is carried out by the Metropolitan police and the amount of co-operation that can usefully take place between professional crime enforcement officers and those on the commercial fringes, such as trading standards officers. With those remarks, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.49 am
Sir John Eden

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The new penalties and additional powers of search and seizure in the Bill will be an important deterrent against what has become a major criminal activity that damages the interests of the law-abiding business man and Britain's trade reputation. The international aspects of the traffic are its most serious feature.

Many films are made in the United States of America, so it is not surprising that American interests are carefully watching the progress of this Bill. As the House will know, last year the United States took action under the Piracy and Counterfeiting Amendments Act 1982 to increase the penalties for all cases of counterfeiting and for most cases of piracy. The penalties are now a possible prison sentence of five years and a fine of $250,000. The American ambassador told me that he hoped that the Bill will help to stem an international trade that causes considerable damage to those who make films and the other material that are being copied.

Mr. Lawrence

Is it not surprising that in a debate on such an important national and international matter neither the Liberal party nor the Social Democratic party is represented in the House? Their only alliance in this matter has been to stay away and to take no interest in the Bill.

Sir John Eden

I note my hon. and learned Friend's observation, as will every hon. Member present. I am sure that if Members of those parties were here today they would support the Bill. Perhaps the fact that they are not here shows that they wish the Bill a speedy passage. I hope that I have interpreted their views correctly, although they must speak on their own behalf.

This brief Third Reading debate enables me to draw attention to the importance of public responsibility for the extent of the criminal activity that is going on. The Bill seeks to increase penalties and to provide additional powers for the search and seizure of material that will be used as evidence to achieve conviction. However, the fact that the trade is carried on is largely due to the extent of public demand. I understand what happens. People are, naturally, interested in obtaining copies of highly topical audio or visual material that may give them an advantage over their neighbours. They may claim that they have achieved something that others wish to achieve, but British people should not encourage the practice. I understand the temptation of being able to buy a copy of a video cassette at a price cheaper than a legitimate copy but it is wrong that, wittingly or unwittingly, people should encourage illegal activities.

By going into a shop and asking the assistant whether he has a copy of a film that is likely to be kept under the counter and that is not on display, people are aiding and abetting a criminal activity—they are helping someone else to steal property from a rightful owner. The general public should understand their responsibility to help the police and law-abiding traders to stop such criminal activity. I hope that this Bill will reinforce the efforts of all those concerned to stop such crimes, and I hope that it will help to emphasise to the general public that they should have no part of it.

The Bill is a simple step to deal with an urgent matter, but it is only an interim measure. We must await the outcome of the Government's comprehensive review of copyright law. I hope that soon we can consider new copyright legislation that will deal with all aspects of the infringement of copyright, not just of video cassettes and audio material, but of books—in which I declare an interest—where the international breach of copyright is equally grotesque and on a massive scale.

This short Bill will meet effectively an urgent need, and I hope that the House will give it a Third Reading.

10.56 am
Mr. Brinton

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) on his Bill and wish it a speedy passage into law. I agree with his remarks about the importance of remembering that the Bill is only first aid. It is an important interim measure, but, because of the wider spectrum of copyright problems that emerge more frequently each month, especially as we are moving into satellite and cable television, there must be a major new copyright Bill in the near future.

Apart from catching people with criminal intent, which all but the criminals would agree is a laudable objective, one of the most important aspects of the Bill is that when it has proved effective and has stamped out the illicit trade, there may be a significant improvement in legitimate jobs in the industry. Already 20,000 new jobs have been created in the legitimate video cassette industry. It is worth noting that that is about 5,000 more new jobs than have been created in the ITV companies during the past 26 years. That is an example of the speed of development of video cassette production, which, if it is kept legal and continues at the same rate, may provide proper openings for hard-pressed and well-qualified people in the industry.

The loss to the Treasury must run into many millions of pounds. It is impossible to calculate the loss in income tax. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Minister has said, people may be claiming unemployment benefit while working in this illicit trade. There would be great benefit in stopping that. There is also the expense to the industry itself in its attempts, against a background of inadequate penalties, to stamp out this illicit trade. Legal and investigation fees of nearly £600,000 have been incurred and huge quantities of counterfeit inlay sleeves have been seized in civil action.

The industry needs urgent help. I believe that the Bill will give that help. I greatly welcome the good news given by the Minister that the scale of fines to which my amendment related may be reviewed and the maximum fine on summary conviction that I proposed may become a reality if the Government's review takes place this year without further difficulty. With the prospect of a maximum fine of £2,000 for each illicit copy offered for sale or hire, small-time traders are likely to consider it worth while to get out of this illicit business very quickly.

Such penalties would compare more realistically with those in other countries. I am told that in France the maximum fine for a first offender is 30,000 francs—about £3,000—and there is provision for imprisonment for up to two years. In the United States, the maximum penalties are fines of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to five years. In this country, where London is the centre of this illicit trade, we are now beginning to fight back in a suitable way and to persuade the pirates that their operations have ceased to be worthwhile.

I warmly welcome the Bill and I wish it well. I hope that all those individual members of the public who have so far felt that there is nothing wrong in buying, hiring or copying a film will now realise that in essence they, too, are robbing others of jobs and committing a criminal act.

11.2 am

Mr. Lawrence

It says much for the calibre and astuteness of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden)—he will be a great loss not just to the constituents whom he has represented so long and well but to his party and to the House when he leaves us at the next general election—that he has identified as appropriate for a private Members' Bill a measure that is so urgent and important and so uncontentious that it is certain to reach the statute book. He will leave on a wave of achievement and with the congratulations and thanks of many people in this country following this, the last of his great services.

It would be a cause for great shame if this Parliament did not deal as urgently as other countries with the problems of video and audio piracy, for the reason, so strongly stated, that London is the centre of the piracy trade and, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, its tentacles reach out all over the world. It will be to our shame if we do nothing about that, not just because the domestic market is saturated with these articles but because a large part of the export market comes from this illicit source. As the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has said, unless urgent action is taken the integrity and reputation of this country will be greatly damaged.

It would also be very stupid if we did no more to stop the growth of this evil because it is strangling the British film industry. I can tell the House that the film "Gandhi" was immediately pirated abroad, as were "Tootsie", "10 to Midnight", "Wicked Lady", "Return of the Soldier" and "Local Hero". All those films have been produced and released since this legislation was first considered back in the days when we were discussing the effects of "ET". As "Gandhi" has shown, the great harm to the British film industry is far from diminishing. Not everyone agrees that it is a good film, although I certainly enjoyed it, but it is certainly a very popular film. If that great inspiration to the British film industry is a sign of the resurgence of the industry, this measure is timely indeed.

It would also be stupid not to take steps to protect the legal video industry. At present, its revenue is less than that from piracy. Legitimate high street traders who show honesty and integrity are losing business because they refuse to stock pirated tapes. The Exchequer—and thus the taxpayer—is also losing a great deal of money, and I am grateful for the Minister's reply on that.

Finally, it would be stupid not to act because the situation could escalate to serious violence even in our streets. As the hon. Member for Norwood has said, the effects of yo-yo interventions may be extremely serious. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister was not seeking to play that down but rather to make a more verbal point—"metaphysical" was the word that he used, showing once again the dangers of importing metaphysics into discussions of this kind.

It would be a disgrace if serious theft of this kind, involving enormous sums of money and causing great damage, were allowed to go unpunished. We in this place stand for a civilised society. That means a lawful as well as a democratic society, and a lawful society is one that protects the lawful rights of its citizens. The rights of people going about their lawful business in the British film, video and audio industries must therefore be protected. A lawful society also ensures that those who offend against its laws suffer when caught and that the punishment is sufficient to deter others.

The Bill will protect the lawful rights of the legitimate industry, not just by increasing the penalties but by making the enforcement of the law more effective through the search and seizure procedures. The present fine of £200 is laughable. This legislation will remove the laugh from the faces of the pirates.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West is to be congratulated on taking this opportunity to end the present ludicrous and highly unsatisfactory state of affairs by providing for a maximum fine of £1,000 in the magistrates court and, to satisfy my hon. Friend the Member of Gravesend (Mr. Brinton), a far more serious penalty in a higher court.

The Bill will be welcomed by the film industry. It will be welcomed by the legitimate video industry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the taxpayer and by all who wish law and order to prevail in our society. The Government should be thanked, not only for giving the Bill a fair wind, but for helping it on its way, making the pirate walk the gangplank and once again showing that this Conservative Government are prepared to strike a blow for the maintenance of law and order.

11.10 am
Mr. Bill Walker

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) on introducing this important Bill. The House and the country have reason to be thankful that he sought leave to bring it in. It is one thing to bring in a Bill but it is another to steer it through all its parliamentary stages. It is difficult to predict what impact the Bill will have if it becomes law. We all hope that it will produce the desired benefits and that the international implications will be beneficial.

We must face the fact that the standards of commercial integrity that we accept as the norm for the United Kingdom, I am sad to say, are not the norm for all other countries. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West referred to that and, like him, I believe that the Bill must be seen for what it is—an interim measure.

As the scale of illicit trade grows, it will inflict severe damage on legitimate traders. As the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said, the opportunities for the gangster to organise the illicit trade, with all the ghastly practices that become part and parcel of underworld trade, must be removed. I wonder whether we are a little late, because some such practices already exist. Perhaps we are locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

The Bill deals with manufacturers, importers and wholesale merchants who are already involved on a colossal scale in the video pirate trade. Only time will tell whether the penalties will drive out the underworld. Only time will tell whether the police and the forces of law and order have sufficient resources to apprehend and charge those involved in the distribution, manufacturing and retailing of pirate video material.

There is no doubt that the level of retail sales of pirate video material has grown alarmingly. It has seriously damaged the prospects for all involved in the legitimate video trade and put at risk Britain's reputation as a lawful society and a world leader in the protection of copyright. We must protect commercial integrity in the United Kingdom. Bearing in mind the much lower standards in other countries, we should recognise that we maintain our standards only by constant vigilance and by ensuring that the law provides adequate safeguards against piracy and sufficient deterrents that are enforced with determination. I make no apology for being a believer in deterrence in all its different forms. The finest and most effective way to prevent villains from exploiting opportunities is to deter them. We cannot talk them out of it.

The difficulty is that the video market has mushroomed. Many families have obtained video equipment and are looking for cassettes at the lowest prices. They are prepared to shop around to obtain the most recent films at what they believe to be bargain prices. Often, innocently, they encourage the criminal element in the pirate trade.

The real villains are the retailers who knowingly obtain pirate material and offer it for hire or for sale. They are the pushers of the pirate trade. Knowingly, for commercial reasons and to make a profit, they set out to break the legitimate market and to exploit an opportunity. I hope that they will be penalised in such a way that they will no longer believe it to be a viable activity. That is what I mean by deterrence. We must ensure that it is no longer profitable and viable to be involved in the pirate trade.

I hope that we can kill off the evil of pirate manufacturing and distribution by destroying the vendors; by making the vendors go out of business. Unless we can stop the vendors, manufacturers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere will not stop manufacturing and distributing. They will stop only when there is no longer a retail outlet and when they no longer have access to the general public. The public will continue, I am sorry to say, to purchase whatever is available in the retail market if it is available at prices that they deem to be worthwhile.

The Bill distinguishes between manufacturers and distributors, and retailers. I believe that to be sound, but I wonder whether the penalties are adequate. Only time will tell. Penalising a retailer to the tune of £1,000 for every piece of illicit equipment should deter, but I wonder whether it will because £1,000 is not lot of money today. White Rolls-Royces have been mentioned and there is no doubt that enormous profits are being made.

I hope that the Bill will change the balance and make it easier for the legitimate trade to continue. More important, I hope that it will stop the British public from encouraging this ghastly trade which is damaging the reputation and integrity of the United Kingdom and encouraging the gangster element in a frightening and horrendous way.

11.18 am
Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). He is a doughty campaigner, who has served the House long and well and held high office. He started his parliamentary life in Hampshire and intends after the general election, whenever that is, to end it in Dorset. My hon. Friends who represent Dorset constituencies appreciate the leadership and help that he has given his colleagues. We may be a long way from a general election, but I am prepared to bet that this is the last private Member's Bill that my right hon. Friend will introduce. It is appropriate that it should deal with trade because he has in front of him an important and successful career in commerce. We all wish him well.

I am a practitioner and have an interest in establishing copyright. I have also been involved in the film and record industries. I regard the Bill's progress as important and it has my full support. The film and record industries are in considerable peril as a result of the theft and malpractices involved in video piracy. The Bill goes a few steps in the direction of checking these abuses, but only a few steps. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton) say that the law relating to copyright was badly in need of being brought up to date. I much regret the Government's slowness in implementing the provisions of the Whitford report.

I am heartened that we have a Minister of the character of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). When I was at university, he was the chairman of its foremost literary society. No one will need me to explain that it was the P. G. Wodehouse society. From that beginning, my hon. Friend has gone on to a considerable literary career. In view of that, he must have a personal interest and, more importantly, he must be aware of the out-of-date nature of our copyright protection for literature and recorded works, both visual and sound. I am sure that he will want to move much more quickly in future to protect the copyright of original work. Copyright is the creation of statute and businesses depend upon it. As technology changes, the law has to keep pace.

I am pleased to see that the Bill contains up-to-date powers to deal with up-to-date crimes. I refer to clause 2 and search warrants. Anton Piller orders may be obtained to try to deal with video piracy and the bootlegging of records, but in theory an order is obtainable only in exceptional circumstances, although the grounds for obtaining it have been extended a little. The much wider powers in clause 2 will be an important means of checking crime.

I am concerned about the state of the film industry and the damage that is being done to the international trade. The British market for foreign films, which is part of our trade, is being hit hard, but so, too, is the British film industry. Our feature film industry's fortunes have gone up and down over the years. Prescriptions have been applied from many sources about what should be done to put our film industry right. There is no shortage of talent, as we know from such films as "Chariots of Fire" and "Gandhi". About the latter I say only that, as a concept —an attempt to see matters from Mr. Gandhi's point of view—it is a good film, although as a piece of history it is not. However, these films are evidence of an abundance of talent.

I want the television companies to make a contribution. But for the television companies, the television film industry and the feature film industry to be combined into one would be to take a step backwards, and I hope that it does not happen.

What the Government can do is limited to supporting a Bill of this kind and encouraging investment. At present, investment is not being encouraged.

The Bill is an important check on crime. I hope that it will help the British film industry to develop.

The record industry is extremely important. Assessments of the advantages to our balance of payments that I have seen show that the good the industry does is underestimated in the House and in the country. Today, it is in a frightening state. Few, if any, major record companies are trading profitably, partly for market reasons but partly for home taping reasons. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will want to introduce legislation fairly soon, and perhaps he will consider the case for a royalty on blank tapes. That apart, the industry is being damaged considerably by the bootlegging activities that have been described.

I summarise my view about the Bill and my support for it. There are violent gales blowing through the rigging in the ship to which I would liken the film and record industries— industries which depend on copyright law and statutory protection. The Bill will do important repairs to the damage caused by the pirates. But the gales blow still, and much important work has to be done to our copyright law superstructure if the ship is to survive in the future.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West and I wish the Bill well.

11.26 am
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

I want to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) and to say how pleased I am to be associated with his Bill. It is an interim measure of limited objective simply because the abuses with which it tries to deal are widespread and we need to look at the issues involved in a much wider context.

These forms of piracy have grown up in a very short time, and it is important that we respond quickly to the threat. The industry has mushroomed in less than three years. As usual, the British sense of justice and fair play has tended to inhibit a prompt response, as in so many other matters. As we have heard, vast fortunes are being made on the back of the legitimate video industry, and that means that drastic action has to be taken quickly. With 3 million cassette recorders already in private hands, those who go into this market are presented with a vast opportunity. The proposal in my right hon. Friend's Bill for the imposition of an unlimited fine, or imprisonment for two years—penalties which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State pointed out had not been taken fully on board by the press—will be a major deterrent.

London is the pirate video capital of the world, and that can give no one in the House any pleasure. It has been said that the reason is America's use of the English language, which gives rise to another major outlet for the art of that country too and that it is appropriate that it should be copied in Britain. We have learnt that two thirds of the British market is already subject to video piracy and the £120 million of revenue which should be going back into the industry and giving strength to its creative roots is being lost. The film industry is a high-cost, high-risk business. We all realise and appreciate this, and know that those involved in other forms of art go to considerable lengths to get sponsorship. The Government have done everything that they can to encourage the art world to look elsewhere for its sponsorship than directly to the Government. Therefore, it is right and proper that the House should do everything that it can to make sure that the rightful income from the arts should go directly back to that source and not be filtered off elsewhere, as has been the case in recent months.

My hon. Friend the Minister spoke of the penalties and considered whether they were adequate. He has shown that the legislation that allows for updating may now be so. I know that since 1945 the value of money has tended to halve every seven years and I hope that it will take due account of that fact. Since the Government came to power, the progress of inflation has been slowed down, but that has been true up until now. Therefore, a fine of £100 21 years ago is worth only £25 in today's terms. That is an inadequate sum for a penalty. I trust that the penalties will be triggered in such a way to make a continuous penalty of sufficient magnitude to deter those who are likely to be pirates in this or any other industry.

We are not of course only talking about video piracy but we are trying to show that Parliament responds quickly in these matters and that, if the need should arise in future and someone else climbs on some other bandwagon, we can rely on another hon. Member to take up the issue—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West has done in this legislation — and introduce appropriate legislation quickly. I hope that this will discourage those who think of moving into a new sphere from doing so because they know that the fruits of their labours will not last long.

The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) mentioned the role he proposed for the trading standards officers in this legislation. I am pleased that he withdrew his amendments, because the trading standards officers have an important role to play in retailing, and they already have enough on their plates. I hope that the powers given in the Bill will make it really worth while for the police to pursue these issues to a satisfactory conclusion. A major problem in all these matters, as, for example, the Sunday trading laws, is that those who are given responsibility for implementing an Act are disheartened if they find that the penalties are inadequate in relation to the effort involved. Trading standards officers have plenty to cope with already. The police are the right people to deal with this matter. I am sure that the penalties that are being introduced will provide what is required.

Before allowing the Bill to speed on its successful way, I should mention a connection with the publishing industry. The United Kingdom suffers considerably from the effects of piracy in publishing, particularly in school textbooks and similar books. We must be very strict about the way in which we apply video piracy laws so that we can encourage those elsewhere who face the major effects of publishing piracy. There are places, in the far east in particular, where this is being done with medical and other textbooks, whose legitimate publishers and authors —many of whom come from this country—are deprived of their rightful revenues.

The publishing industry has suffered extremely badly. How we manage to stop this piracy overseas is a difficult problem. I know that there are black lists for sporting contacts in some parts of the world. Whether or not one agrees with such an approach, we must look for some way to put pressure on Governments overseas to ensure that they take similar and prompt action where piracy is taking place in publishing, as it is so disadvantageous to us.

I have great pleasure in supporting my right hon. Friend's Bill, and I hope that in the near future it will get a speedy passage through the other place on its way to the statute book.

11.36 am
Mr. John Fraser

I add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) on the speed and ability with which he has taken the Bill through the House. Although I normally regard the Under-Secretary of State for Trade as the driller-killer of the Government, the Prime Minister's Mr. Nasty, on this occasion alone he has added his personal weight to what is a small but extremely important reform of the law. I wish to press on him, as did the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), the opinion that our copyright law is in a shambles, as is our support for the film industry. It is not good enough to leave these matters to private Members' amending Bills in each Session.

There must be a major initiative by the Government to respond to the needs of the film industry. I know that the Under-Secretary has given that matter his attention, but the Government must respond to the main recommendations of the Whitford committee report. Technology is moving at an amazing rate. If the law fails to move at the same rate, Governments, and Parliament, fall into disrepute.

I hope that the Minister will take those points on board.

11.37 am
Mr. Sproat

The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) took me by surprise. With all those compliments flying about, I thought that we were in for a long speech.

I assure the hon. Member for Norwood and my hon. Friends the Members for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton) and Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) that the Government are strongly seized of the importance of new copyright law. A major problem was referred to by the hon. Member for Norwood when he talked about the amazing speed of technological change. It is difficult to draft a law that makes sense today and ensure that it is not outdistanced by technology tomorrow. However, my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Trade are determined to introduce legislation as soon as possible. The House will know of the Green Paper that was recently published and of the consideration that is now being given to it by the Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend spoke of the importance of copyright law, and he has been a staunch ally of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) in the process of the Bill. Back Benchers often ask questions of Ministers, but I should like my hon. Friend to answer a question for me. He said that 20,000 jobs had been created in the video business over three years and over 26 years the ITV companies had created 15,000 jobs, if I got him right. Could he ask his advisers to tell me whether the 20,000 figure that he quoted for the video business was the legitimate industry or the illegitimate video industry?

Mr. Brinton

I have been advised that the 20,000 was created in the legitimate video industry. I hope that answers my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Sproat

Yes, I am grateful. My hon. Friend phrased that extremely neatly. That is the sort of figure that sticks in the public's mind and helps to bring home to us the job and revenue potential that video offers to Britain and its entrepreneurs.

It is wholly appropriate for me to pay a genuine and marked tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West on the Bill. The unanimity of view in the House today on all but a few matters may make the bringing forward of such a Bill appear easy but it was not so. It was only my right hon. Friend's determination and hard work in bringing together some of the varied parts of the legitimate film and video industry—the makers, the distributors and the retailers—that has enabled us to consider the Bill today. The Bill has had widespread support and that is a great tribute to my right hon. Friend who has contributed so much to the House over the years that he has been a Member.

Video piracy has grown, together with the whole fledgling video industry, at an extraordinary rate in Britain over a very few years. That is the heart of the problem. However, while the growth of the legitimate industry, with its scope for increased employment and business opportunities, is to be welcomed, the growth of the pirate sector is to be deplored. The Government are determined to cut out the cancer of piracy that is eating away at the living heart of the British film industry. Nobody can doubt that that heart is living. The quality of British films has rarely been higher or more widely acclaimed. Although we may have grave doubts about the accuracy of the history of the film "Gandhi", few people have doubts about it as an entertaining piece of film-making.

The scale of video piracy in Britain has often been discussed in recent months, but perhaps on this last occasion on which the House will deal with the matter for some time it may be helpful to repeat the figures to underline, particularly to the public, the staggering size of the criminal industry that we are discussing. Perhaps two thirds of the videograms—pre-recorded video cassettes—on the market in the United Kingdom are pirate copies, made without the authority of the copyright owners. The film producers and the creators of the work involved in the film—for example, the music and the screenplay—have the right to expect recompense for the commercial exploitation by video of their creativity. Without such recompense the incentive and the essential funds needed for further production will dry up. Yet piracy is draining away some £120 million a year that should be returning to the industry.

It is a clear sign of the Government's determination to defeat the pirates that we have given support not only to the present Bill but also to the Copyright Act 1956 (Amendment) Act 1982 which was so skilfully piloted through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby).

Copyright in general is a matter for the civil courts. This matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North. It is in the main concerned with the private rights of individual creators of original works, although many important industries base a major part of their commercial dealings on those rights. The publishing, recording and film industries are obvious examples of that. Given the essentially private nature of those rights, it is proper that the normal processes of law that arise when copyright is in dispute should take place in the civil courts with individual rights owners suing infringers and obtaining such remedies as damages and injunctions.

The now familiar Anton Piller orders are an important part of the civil process. They have been evolved by the courts to deal with the situation where a plaintiff—the copyright owner—has good grounds for believing that if he obtains an order in open court in the normal way—for example, for the delivery up from the defendant of various documents and other evidence of infringement—the defendant is likely to hide or destroy that evidence. In short, they deal with the fly-by-night defendant. In those circumstances a plaintiff is able to go to the High Court ex parte and in camera — without the defendant's presence or knowledge—to seek an order. The first that the defendant knows of it is when the plaintiff's representatives knock on his door seeking entry so that he has no time to organise the removal of the offending material, perhaps through the back door.

Those civil provisions can be effective if pursued strenuously. That is clear from the fact that the United Kingdom recording industry has been able to keep record piracy in Britain down to less than 5 per cent. of the total market, whereas in the United States the band is between 11 and 20 per cent.; in Italy 21 to 40 per cent.; in Portugal and Greece 61 to 80 per cent.; and in much of north Africa, the middle east and south-east Asia over 80 per cent. As I said earlier, in supporting the hon. Member for Norwood, we must do everything possible to maintain Britain's commercial integrity.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

My hon. Friend has given the figure of 5 per cent. twice but I must tell him that my contacts in the record industry believe that the figure is much higher than that. Will my hon. Friend ask his advisers to see whether they can obtain some up-to-date figures?

Mr. Sproat

I should gladly do that but it may save my advisers a little time if my hon. Friend were to send to them what evidence he has from his contacts in the record industry. I shall be extremely happy to consider it.

The Bill's most important effect is to increase the penalties which, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) rightly said earlier, are ridiculously low. It also gives the police powers of search and seizure in the ways that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West has explained to the House on many occasions and on which I shall not detain the House further, except to underline what was rather curously missed by some elements of the media during the earlier stages of our deliberations—that the maximum penalties under the Bill are very heavy indeed. They are unlimited and the Government warmly support my right hon. Friend's proposals, which reflect the seriousness with which the offences are viewed.

It will no longer be possible for a large-scale manufacturer of pirate video tapes to scoff at the prospect of facing a small fine, which he would be able to write off immediately with the profits from his next batch of pirate copies. Instead, he will have to think twice—and more than twice—before risking a huge fine or even a spell of up to two years in prison, either of which could effectively put him out of business.

The remaining record and video copyright offences are treated rather less severely under the Bill, although the maximum penalties available are still considerably increased compared with their present value. The offences concerned are those of selling, letting for hire, and exhibiting or possessing by way of trade. The essential difference is that those offences will remain as purely summary, triable only in a magistrates' court. The maximum fine will, however, increase to the highest level that such a court may in general impose—at present f1,000—and there will be the additional option of up to two months' imprisonment. In addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend so well brought out in his amendment and the discussion that followed, that fine of £1,000 maximum is likely to be increased to £2,000 later this year and, of course, the fine can be attached to each cassette that is sold by an individual retail outlet. Therefore, there will not be just a fine of £1,000 for a series of activities by a retailer but a £1,000 fine for each offence of which he may be found guilty.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West brought out well the serious criminal nature of what we are dealing with. As has been rightly emphasised, there is heavy criminal involvement and serious crime in this sphere. This Bill will go a long way to solving the problems that all hon. Members agree exist.

This is a short but important Bill. Britain, and apparently London, has acquired in a short time the unenviable and unwelcome reputation of being the video piracy centre of the world. Whatever that says for British initiative and enterprise, it is a reputation that is at odds with our traditional and long standing status as a respected and leading nation in the world of copyright. We must quickly repair the position. Our international standing and the well-being of all branches of our home film and video industries are at stake. Public confidence in the rule of law is bound to suffer when such blatant and widespread criminal activity operates so visibly in our high streets.

Consequently, I am pleased to give the Government's support to the Bill and to express the confident hope that it will proceed rapidly through its remaining stages to become law. Thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West, the days of the video pirate are numbered.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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