HL Deb 26 June 1989 vol 509 cc537-9

6.10 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 6th June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I can be very brief since, despite its complexity, the draft statutory instrument before your Lordships makes very little change to the law of the United Kingdom. Before I explain why it is necessary, I must say that I have received an apology from the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who played such a great part in passing the copyright Bill when it went through the House last year. Unfortunately he had a prior engagement, but he has said to me that he totally supports the instrument and is sorry not to be here.

This instrument is necessary for two reasons. First, it is necessary to modify the regime of design protection set out in Part III of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, so that when the Act comes into force on 1st August it will conform to an EC directive on the protection of semiconductor chip designs. Secondly, it is necessary to implement a decision of the Council of Ministers to extend the protection given to semiconductor chip designs in Europe to designs from Japan, certain of the EFTA countries and the French dependencies—all of which protect European designs.

In order to achieve these results, we have had to resort to some complex legal drafting. We have, however, consulted closely with industry in the drafting process and it is satisfied with the outcome. On this basis, I hope noble Lords can agree that it is right to approve this Statutory Instrument for the purposes I have described. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 6th June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Strathclyde.)

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for explaining very carefully what the regulations are about. As the noble Lord will be aware, when the Act was a Bill before your Lordships' House, we were not at all happy with the whole concept of design right. Indeed, we had long and intense discussions about what it really meant. Furthermore—here I come to the point of the regulations—it seemed to us to be clear, although I stood as always ready to be corrected, that the concept of unregistered design right was not one which was accepted by our partners in the European Community; in other words, this was something that we were introducing ourselves and that other members of the Community were not introducing.

On my first point I should be grateful if the noble Lord could correct me, but this is my memory and understanding of our discussions. My second point is that the design right that we have before us is, as the noble Lord says, a product of masterly parliamentary drafting in the sense that it uses the exemptions which are given in the Act to allow the Secretary of State under the European Communities legislation to vary the application of certain clauses in the Act. That is something we discussed when the Act was a Bill before your Lordships' House. It gives us continual nagging worry that under the European Communities legislation, under which these regulations are laid, power is given to vary the way certain clauses in the copyright Act should apply.

Finally, the noble Lord indicated that 1st August was the commencement date for the design right provisions in Part III of the copyright Act. Does that mean that the whole of Part III will commence on 1st August, or only parts of it?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, to the final part of the question of the noble Lord, Lord 'Williams, I can say "yes". The whole of the Act will come into force on 1st August of this year. I hope that after all the hours the noble Lord spent discussing the Act when it was a Bill in this House, he will regard that as being worthwhile.

I shall just state why we need to adjust the Act so soon after Royal Assent. We were always aware that an adjustment would be necessary. Indeed, we pointed to that fact in both Houses during the passage of the Bill. This was unavoidable, given the existence of the directive and the fact that international discussions on the protection of integrated circuits were still taking place. We did not feel that resolution of the longstanding and vexed questions of channel design protection in the United Kingdom should wait on developments in this one area of design. Nor did we consider that our domestic protection for designs of all kinds should necessarily follow the outcome of international agreements on integrated circuit designs, given the compromises that are inherent in agreements of that kind.

Consequently, in Part III of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, we enacted, on its merits, a regime for the protection of all kinds of designs in the United Kingdom. But we took powers to depart from this regime to the extent necessary to ensure compliance with international agreements. These powers could have been used instead of, or in addition to, those provided by the European Communities legislation. In the event, the instrument before your Lordships is to be made entirely under the European Communities legislation, as this seems the tidiest solution. It amends Part III of the CDP Act in two significant respects, and in a number of minor ways. It is the result of close consultation with the electronics industry which has told us that, while it wishes that life in this area could be simpler, it is entirely satisfied with the drafting.

I hope that that has essentially answered the point of the noble Lord, Lord Williams. The net result is that we shall continue to give protection for integrated circuit designs which is fully in line with that given in the USA, Japan and the European Community, as well as in several other industrialised countries. This is important to our industry, both for the protection it gives against piracy in the United Kingdom and for the basis it provides for the reciprocal protection of British designs in other countries. Therefore, I commend the Motion to your Lordships.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Will he tell the House whether the Government will continue to amend the Act by regulation? After all, the Act was passed only very recently in your Lordships' House. At the time, I understood that there could be a major amendment to the Act once the European Green or White Paper on copyright had been absorbed and possibly adopted. Are we now going to see a series of regulations like this one amending provisions to the Act in a minor way, and then another copyright Bill fairly soon in order to implement the European Green or White Paper?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, that, of course, will depend entirely on what is happening at the time. At the moment there are no particular plans. But where it can be amended by regulation, we shall of course attempt to do so. After all, that is why the regulations were put into the Act in the first place.

As regards the question of a Bill in the future, I can say that at this moment there are no immediate plans to bring anything in. We shall, of course, have to see how this Act develops. It is rather early to say at the moment.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and I do not wish to prolong this discussion because we have no particular objection other than to the general nature of design right which, as the noble Lord knows we do not find very attractive.

However, I put in a plea that on regulations of this nature, which are non-party political, the noble Lord could achieve what apparently has not been achieved in the past, in that the Opposition might at least be consulted. In the passage of the copyright Bill we made our contribution, and we may be able to make our contribution on future regulations of this nature. If we could be consulted, I believe it would help this kind of discussion.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord's plea is noted. I shall make sure that he, or whoever is in his place on the Opposition Benches, will be consulted.

On Question, Motion agreed to.