HC Deb 05 November 1986 vol 103 cc941-2
4. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received from the automotive industry about his proposals for the reform of the copyright laws.

The Minister for Information Technology (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)

I have received a large number of representations from the automotive industry about the unregistered design right proposed in the intellectual property White Paper.

Mr. Atkins

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is some concern and not inconsiderable anger in the automotive support industry, represented by large and small companies in my constituency, at the proposals in the White Paper? Will he recognise that their fears are based on two counts, because they believe, first, that the proposals will affect competition and the quality of the products that they can provide to the industry and the public, and, secondly, that this will have a deleterious effect on jobs in those small and large companies throughout the length and breadth of the country?

Mr. Pattie

I am aware of the points that my hon. Friend has raised. He will not be surprised to hear that they are being taken into consideration.

Mr. O'Brien

Will the Minister assure the House that serious consideration will be given to the points that have been raised, as there is a general feeling in the industry that the manufacture of component parts for the vehicle industry will lead to further redundancies, factory closures and general unemployment? There is a factory in my constituency which manufactures hydraulics and everybody there—from management to shop floor workers—is worried stiff about the future. Does the Minister intend to withdraw the proposals contained in Cmnd. 9712, allow the industry to prosper and thus remove the fear hanging over it?

Mr. Pattie

I think that the industry will be reassured when we are able to come forward with a suitable compromise proposal, which we are at present discussing with it and which I think will meet most of the objections that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

Is my hon. Friend aware that his comment that the industry will be reassured when he comes forward with proposals will reassure many British manufacturers? Does he recognise that a substantial amount of risk is involved in new investment in new products and that that risk must be rewarded by some form of protection? Does he also recognise that there is limited scope for relaxing his proposals when standard proprietary items are incorporated in an original design?

Mr. Pattie

I agree with my hon. Friend. However, I am sure that both he and the House will not wish me to detain the House on these complicated issues at this stage, other than to say that all these matters are being very carefully considered.

Mr. Loyden

Industry in many cases is very concerned about the implications of the White Paper. Does the Minister not agree that the first thing that should have been done was to indentify the implications of the questions that cause uncertainty in the industry, before the White Paper was produced?

Mr. Pattie

Yes, that is a perfectly fair point. However, we were addressing the fact that it is also important to recognise that a certain degree of copyright protection is needed for original designs. The problem is to balance the respective interests in the motor industry. That is very important.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is my hon. Friend aware that the only important point for the retail customer is to know what he is buying? The customer should then have freedom to buy what he wants. My hon. Friend must guard against manufacturers who will not supply spare parts, but only replacement units at hideous cost, which is taking the consumer for a ride.

Mr. Pattie

I am obviously aware of the consumer arguments. We must also recognise, however, that there is a perfectly legitimate case to be made on behalf of those who devise the original spare part, component, or whatever it may be, because they have rights, too.

Mr. Ashdown

Nevertheless, these were Government proposals. Will the Minister explain to the House why the Government believe that their proposals will increase freedom of choice and competition in British industry?

Mr. Pattie

Yes, I will. It is important for the welfare of those in the British automative industry that those who originate designs should have a proper, though not an excessive, degree of protection. That in itself will assist the competitive process.

Mr. Jackson

On the question of the reform of copyright law, will my hon. Friend reaffirm the Government's commitment to abolish the licence of right on pharmaceutical products in the course of the next year?

Mr. Pattie

We have said that we wish to abolish that right as soon as the legislative timetable permits.