§ 3. Mr. Hanley
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received relating to the introduction of amending legislation on copyright law.
§ The Minister for Information Technology (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)
I have received several representations from hon. Members, individual companies, industry representative bodies and private individuals urging the Government to introduce legislation on copyright during the present parliamentary Session or inquiring generally as to when such legislation might be expected.
§ Mr. Hanley
Is my hon. Friend aware of the urgency with which this legislation is awaited in many quarters, not least by the music industry? Is my hon. Friend still committed to the just and necessary levy on blank tapes?
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
Does the Minister accept that the present law is wholly inadequate to deal with, for instance, the development of high technology? Is he aware that whereas one accepts the need to protect intellectual property, the present law allows huge corporations to sue for alleged breach of copyright by smaller companies which, before the case comes to court, are, of course, out of business? Does the Minister intend to introduce a Bill and, if so, when?
§ Mr. Pattie
The hon. Gentleman will be aware from the White Paper that one of the proposals contained therein concerns the speeding up of processes of patent law and the introduction of new procedures which will make it easier, and therefore less costly, for smaller firms to have access to the patent procedure. The introduction of a Bill will be as soon as the parliamentary timetable permits.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Is my hon. Friend aware that the proposals regarding intellectual property in respect of the broad base of engineering design will endanger far more jobs in the component industries than it will safeguard in intial manufacturing industry and that the consumer's interest is wholly opposed to any such legislation, so the balance of advantage for Britain must be against it?
§ Mr. Pattie
I am aware of the strength of representations on this. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we have very much an open mind on this. We want to get the balance right. So far as we are concerned, the question is still open.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I understand the reasons for the delay, as it must be very difficult to translate the White Paper into legislation, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that the long-term development of two firms in my constituency will be inhibited by the delay? Cannot firms of that kind be told that there will be a delay of, say, 10 years—that would suit me—before such changes will take place?
§ Mr. Pattie
I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is referring to delays or to companies concerned about components in the motor trade. As I have just said, we are concerned to get the balance right in this very complicated issue. We are still discussing with the industry what the relevant procedures would be.
§ Mr. Key
I congratulate my hon. Friend on having the courage to grasp this very prickly nettle, but will he ensure that he hits the right target and does not bring down small firms such as Moore's Pistons and Auto and General Electrical in my constituency, which would be especially hard hit, as the alternative to their manufacturing might well be greater import penetration?
§ Mr. Williams
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that when the Secretary of State was previously at the Department, on 22 December 1983, he promised effective and resolute action to tackle the problem of counterfeiting and issued a pamphlet on the subject? Is he aware that three years later, in the peak buying period before Christmas, our street markets are flooded with counterfeit perfume, after-shave, toys and tapes? In November last year the Under-Secretary of State said that he was convinced that no further action was needed. Is that still the Government's view? Do they intend to take any action at all to stop this multi-million pound rip-off of the British public, or will they simply issue another pamphlet?
§ Mr. Pattie
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the recent EEC directive on this. We shall wish to harmonise our legal requirements with that directive. I believe that there is a better way forward under that regime, which the right hon. Gentleman and his party appear not to support.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
We are grateful for the fact that my hon. Friend is prepared to consider this matter especially in relation to the automotive industry. May I emphasise how much hostility and strength of feeling there is in the components and automotive support industries, as shown in my letters to him from constituents and in representations from national organisations? Does he accept that to legislate in that specific area would cause enormous damage?
§ Mr. Pattie
I accept what my hon. Friend said. His representations and others are being taken into account in this complicated and difficult matter. We hope to reach a decision before too long.