Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill [ Lords]

Part of Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) – in the House of Commons at 2:43 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 2:43 pm, 1st April 2009

I should like to start by thanking Mr. Speaker, who was in the Chair at the beginning of our proceedings when I raised a point of order. The main act, the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, which we are seeking to amend today, was not available in the Vote Office and the Speaker indicated that he expected action to be taken in that respect. We now have proof of the power of the Chair, because the 1957 Act is now available. I am grateful to the Speaker for facilitating the availability of the original Act.

It is sad, but perhaps an accurate indication of the slim chances of world peace, that we have heard today that the world cannot even agree a single symbol for humanitarian activity. The measure is important, and it raises a number of important questions, some of which my hon. Friends have already raised. Concern has been expressed, for example, about the lack of prosecutions. My concerns run in the other direction, however. I am worried that unnecessary and unreasonable prosecutions might take place if the Bill becomes law.

If we see a white vehicle with a red cross on the side with the words "Red Cross" painted underneath, we know what that vehicle is. The words "Red Cross" are deeply embedded in the collective memory of the nation and, indeed, that of many nations. However, would we understand that a vehicle bearing the words "Red Crystal" represents the same organisation?

It also occurs to me that commercial companies might already be using the name, and perhaps even a similar logo, although they have nothing to do with providing aid or humanitarian services. What will happen to those companies? Will they be prevented from trading as they are doing now? In the field of commercial law, there exists the term "passing off". If a company sets up in business and seeks to emulate an existing, successful company, the new company can be prosecuted for trying to dupe customers into believing that it is the original, successful company. However, if a company using a similar name is operating in a completely different part of the world, and perhaps dealing with an entirely different product, it is often allowed to continue to do so. What would be the position in this case?

The explanatory notes to the Bill are woefully inadequate. Indeed, the Bill itself does not make it clear what will happen. Page 2 of the explanatory notes refers to clause 1, the part of the Bill about which I am concerned. The notes state that

"unauthorised use of the emblem will be punishable by a fine up to level 5 on the standard scale."

There are no words to suggest a limitation on the arena of use. The notes do not refer to a battlefield or war zone, for example; they simply refer to the unauthorised use of the emblem. The Bill itself refers not only to the emblem but to "designs or wording". We can assume from that that the words "Red Crystal" could be banned from use by any organisation other than a wing of the Red Cross.

I have suggested that commercial companies might already use the name "Red Crystal" and a similar logo. I decided to find out whether that was a fanciful view on my part, so, before the debate, I went on to the internet and typed in the words "Red Crystal". Lo and behold, up came an advertisement for a display of ladies' gowns made by a company called J Style. The range of gowns shown was called Red Crystal. I also discovered that Clare Francis has written a book called "Red Crystal", which is already on the bookshelves. Those products both use the two words that we are being invited to approve in the Bill today. We are also being invited to approve the imposition of a level 5 penalty on anyone using those words without authority. Will Clare Francis and her publishers have to remove all those books from the shelves, because the book happens to be called "Red Crystal"?

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