HL Deb 21 May 1968 vol 292 cc639-46

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, Lord Chalfont, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Moved, 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 the House on the 2nd of May.—(Lord Beswick.)


My Lords, could the noble Lord explain what this extraordinary body is? It sounds like one of the companies floated in the era of the South Sea Bubble.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, this Order is required to give effect to Article 12 of the Convention establishing the World Intellectual Property Organisation. This is a new Convention which was negotiated at the Stockholm Conference on Intellectual Property and signed on behalf of the United Kingdom in July, 1967. The Convention will provide an administrative framework for co-operation between the countries which belong to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the most important international agreement regulating the subject of copyright, and countries which belong to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the corresponding international agreement in the field of patents. It will also provide a worldwide forum for discussion, open to countries whether or not they are party to the Berne or Paris Conventions. In this way, problems of patents and copyright of common interest to the developed and the developing countries can be examined, programmes of legal and technical assistance to the emergent countries in these fields can be properly drawn up in such a way as to ensure the best value for money and effort expended, and the spread of intellectual property rights—a perhaps rather confusing term, but one which includes copyright and patents— can be encouraged. Thus, the new Organisation will be the specialist body in this field to which all countries can belong, even though they are not yet ready to accept particular conventions.

The United Kingdom has since the 1880s been a member of both the Berne and Paris Unions, which are set up to administer respectively the Berne and Paris Conventions, and has supported from the outset the proposal made in 1962 to establish the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The administrative framework for the Organisation has existed on an informal basis since 1893 and it is generally thought necessary now to establish it on a firm international basis. In the view of the United Kingdom, the new Organisation will make a valuable contribution to the international protection of legally regulated property rights. The United Kingdom therefore welcomed the conclusion of the Convention establishing the World Intellectual Property Organisation in Stockholm on July 14, 1967, and joined fifty other countries in signing the Convention. The Headquarters of the organisation are to be in Geneva.

To become a member of the Organisation it is necessary for the United Kingdom to ratify the Convention. Before ratification can take place all measures necessary to enable effect to be given to all the provisions of the Convention must have been passed. The purpose of the present draft Order is to enable the United Kingdom to implement a provision of the Convention which requires all members to grant the Organisation legal capacity; that is to say, the power to purchase property, enter into contracts, to sue and be sued in its own name. It is general practice to give international Organisations legal capacity when they are set up, since obviously they cannot function efficiently without it. I should perhaps explain here that the expression "legal capacities of a body corporate" —this is a crucial expression in this context—does not imply that the Organisation will become a limited liability company subject to the requirements of the Companies Acts.

This Order is much more limited than previous Orders in respect of Organisations of which the United Kingdom is a member. I think it important to make the point to your Lordships that the scope of this Order is limited, as I have said, to conferring on the World Intellectual Property Organisation the legal capacities of a body corporate, and it confers nothing else in the way of immunities and privileges on the Organisation or on persons connected with it. It is envisaged that the Organisation will need other immunities and privileges only in its host State, Switzerland, since it is unlikely to engage in activities in other countries. The Convention therefore leaves the question of privileges and immunities for the Organisation, for its officials and for representatives of member States to be dealt with in a separate bilateral agreement between the Organisation and the host State. So, in conclusion, I should like to make abundantly clear the point that this Order does not confer any special immunities or privileges, but is simply to give this new Organisation an international legal capacity.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to know a little more about this Order. What would happen if this Order were not passed? I belong to a club. It has not, I should have thought, the legal capacities of a body corporate, yet it contrives to buy somewhere or another the food out of which it provides me with not too good a dinner. The Foreign Office, in the same way, has various cantonments (shall we call them?) abroad in the shape of Embassies and other similar bodies, and I should have thought it very doubtful whether any of them had the legal capacity of a body corporate. We are told in the Note attached to the Order that: It will enable the United Kingdom to give effect to Article 12(1) of the Convention.… Does that mean that this particular body has to be, in order to give effect to that Convention, a body corporate with legal capacities? Is that a stipulation; and, if so, what was the object of the stipulation?

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps before the noble Lord replies I may say, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, that I am sure the House is very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, despite the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, for explaining in such clear and con- cise form this draft Order. The Order has a somewhat formidable title, but for all that I believe that it is an Order which the House should welcome, even if some of us perhaps have doubts as to how effective the good intentions of the proposed Organisation will prove in the future.

Many of us, I am sure, were interested to learn to-day from the noble Lord that this proposed new Organisation, whose prime purpose is to protect through international agreement the rights of patent, copyright, trade marks and industrial designs and other matters, has evolved from two similar bodies both set up over seventy years ago, and both supported by the United Kingdom. One cannot help reflecting that if there was a need seventy years ago for such an organisation, there would seem a much greater need to-day for this international agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has told us that at the Conference held in Stockholm last year 50 countries, along with the United Kingdom, signed the Convention that was drafted to set up the Organisation. I wonder whether the noble Lord could tell us to-day whether all the countries represented at this Conference added their signatures to the Convention. The noble Lord has also told us that this proposed Organisation cannot be legally established and up in Switzerland until the 17 countries, all of whom were former members of the two former organisations, have ratified the Convention; and in turn the United Kingdom itself cannot ratify the Convention until our own legislative processes have been completed with the approval of this Order. I wonder whether the noble Lord could tell us this after noon how soon he expects that sufficient numbers of ratifications will be lodged to allow the Organisation to be established.

My Lords, I would finish by saying that I am sure we all welcome the concept of this new Organisation to strengthen by international agreement protection of the rights of patents and of other matters. It will, it seems, have to operate on, and indeed to depend on, to a large degree, good will and understanding if it is to succeed. I am sure we all wish it to succeed. For this reason I shall advise those of us on this side of the House to approve this Order and to allow the United Kingdom to ratify the Convention.


My Lords, I never welcome any of these particular forms of Order, but this one I have received with some relief, because, as the noble Lord has said, we are not conferring any immunity on the members of a new international body to mow down our people in motor cars and to incur debts to our tradesmen with no redress. That is presumably a delight to come in some further Order which will confer immunities. Meanwhile, I should like to ask the noble Lord why this particular Order is called the "Immunities and Privileges Order". What is the immunity; and if in fact it does not confer an immunity, why is it called that? In this House we cannot amend an Order, otherwise I should move to remove the word "Immunities" from this Motion, because it seems to me to be grossly misleading. I should like to hear from the noble Lord precisely why these words have been chosen.


My Lords, is it the case that this Organisation, when it is fully constituted, will be able to take action, legal or otherwise, to protect the rights of the owners of copyright and patent right who are British subjects?

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the interest that has been shown in this draft Order, and I am particularly grateful for the support it has received. Perhaps I can throw a little light on some of the patches of darkness that appear to exist. Dealing first with the question of the name of the Order—the Immunities and Privileges Order—I would explain that this title is based on a number of precedents. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that on the surface it seems rather paradoxical to have an Order called the "Immunities and Privileges Order" when in fact we are not proposing to confer any immunities and privileges on the body concerned. However I can assure the noble Lord that this is based on respectable precedent, and I can also assure him that this attempts to conceal no hidden threat. In fact there is no intention of conferring immunities or privileges on this Organisation. It is intended simply to give it a legal capacity to enable it to perform in its own name certain legal acts in the United Kingdom, such as the buying and selling of property and the making of contracts.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, I understood him to say that this is the first instalment and that the immunities will appear later. The noble Lord said that he has precedents for Orders entitled "immunities and privileges" but conferring only privileges. I have seen many Orders conferring immunities and privileges, but I am not aware that any of them confer no immunities. I shall be interested if he will quote the precedent.


My Lords, we are now getting into water that may be familiar and congenial to certain noble Lords, but it is much too deep for me, We are now moving into the legal and technical aspects of this, and I beg the indulgence of the House. If there are real points of substance which noble Lords would like to have answered I will undertake to get the answer, and I certainly undertake to get the answer about the title of the Order and to send it to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. I must confess that I do not have at my finger tips the answer to that rather technical point.

With regard to the question of suing and taking legal action in defence of copyright and patents, I understand that this Order will give the World Intellectual Property Organisation the legal right to sue, and indeed, as I said, to be sued —so far as that is relevant—in its own name. As to the extent to which that right will be exercised, I will again seek further guidance and information, and I will let the noble Lord know.

To go on to the wider aspects of this Order, and particularly to refer back to what my noble friend Lord Mitchison, said about the amenities of his club, I am not aware (although I should be) which club has the great honour of having the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, as a member, but I think I am fairly safe in assuming that it is not an international organisation. Orders such as this are designed entirely for the purpose of protecting the rights, and establishing rights and privileges, of international organisations, and it has always been the policy of the United Kingdom Government, when they support the setting up of a new organisation, to make sure, so far as they are able to, that it can function successfully, otherwise it would seem to us to be an empty gesture to support it. This entails granting privileges and immunities necessary to enable the organisation to discharge its responsibilities.

Here I think I might clear up one point. I may inadvertently have misled the House. It is the case that under this Order no individuals will enjoy privileges and immunities. Of course by its very nature the Order confers upon the Organisation privileges and immunities—certainly the former—of the sort I have mentioned. It gives the Organisation a legal capacity, which is a privilege in itself; but the point I was at pains to make is that under this Order no individual will enjoy privileges and immunities. For example, the Order will not confer immunities such as those connected with the parking of motor cars on the part of individuals employed by this Organisation. I hope that this explanation goes, some way towards clearing up that particular misunderstanding, if indeed it existed.

With regard to the questions about ratification and signing of the Conventions—, and these were specific questions asked by the noble Lord opposite—the Convention was not signed by all the countries that took part in the Conference, and so far as the coming into existence of this Organisation is concerned, it will legally come into existence three months after ten States which are members of the Paris Union and seven States which are members of the Berne Union have either signed the Convention without reservation as to ratification—which is a concept that will be familiar to the noble Lord—or deposited an instrument of ratification, or an instrument of accession, to the Convention. That is the actual legal moment at which the Organisation will come into existence. So far, only one country has ratified the Convention, the Irish Republic, and I am afraid that I am not in a position at the moment to guess how soon it will be before the conditions for the Organisation's coming into existence are fulfilled. But I hope that in the light of what I have said the House will feel ready to approve this Order.

I have said, and I confess fully, that I am not seized of all the detailed legal technicalities behind this matter, but if there are any points of substance about which noble Lords are unhappy 1 will undertake to get the information and to let them have it. In any case, I will certainly do that in respect of the title of the Order, and I will let the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, know about the precedents.

On Question, Motion agreed to: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.