Clause 6 - Search warrants

Copyright, etc. and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 9 January 2002.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I shall not detain the Committee for long. However, before we bid farewell to the Bill at this stage, I shall raise two or three points with the hon. Member for Twickenham about enforcement. No matter how well intentioned and excellent the provisions of the Bill may be, it is important that they are enforced after it becomes law. I fervently hope that it will be enacted. If there is not proper enforcement, the process in which we are involved will be almost a complete waste of time. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Bill will not increase dramatically criminal penalties but will harmonise criminal penalties for cases in which there are current anomalies?

I return to a point that I made in an intervention about the tariff, which I address more to the Minister and his advisers. It is desperately important that we do not pass maximum sentences. Ten years is a sensible maximum sentence given that we may be discussing hardened criminals—I shall not make the obvious joke about stealing the intellectual property rights to viagra—and serious sums of money are involved in such activities. For both reasons, a court may well wish to impose a sentence of up to 10 years. The tariff adopted after the Bill becomes law should reflect that. The committee of judges which decides the tariff may set it at a low rate when considering such crimes in comparison with others. We must send a message—and this is my only way of sending it to those who produce the tariff—that such crimes are potentially very serious, involve large sums of money and damage respectable businesses and our economy.

The second point, which I do not wish to labour, concerns the potential damage to people's lives caused by, for example, toys having a dangerously high lead content, badly constructed Christmas tree lights or counterfeited defective Bob the Builder toys. The

worst example is of drugs being pirated on a massive scale, especially in India, and then sold to countries in Africa and elsewhere.

Who will enforce the provisions? The explanatory notes are more helpful than usual. In paragraph 15, assurance is given that the Bill will not involve any additional public expenditure and that there may well be cost savings. The following paragraph states that

''increases in manpower are not anticipated.''

That is a tad worrying because, as those of us who have been closely involved with our local authorities know, trading standards departments are under enormous pressure. They are almost always the first to experience cuts and have a massive range of legislation to enforce, ranging from noise and nuisance through to dodgy timeshare selling. Not matter how well intentioned and committed the men and women who work in those departments are, they do not have time to do everything.

The police would also be involved, and I should not need to mention the problem of police numbers and so forth. A question of priorities would arise. The Government must consider the issue of resourcing. In fact, I am surprised not to have received a brief from the Local Government Association on the under-resourcing of trading standards officers. Such points should be considered, otherwise what we do in Committee will make no difference. I welcome the Bill, wish it a fair passage and hope that it is on the statute book as soon as possible.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 11:00, 9 January 2002

I do not want to delay the Committee for long. I struggled to find the right place in the Bill to make this point, so I am gratuitously landing it on the clause, because it concerns enforcement. The issue remains unresolved because it applies only in England, Scotland and Wales. It is impossible for us to legislate for the problem faced by the Spanish, French, German or Belgian Governments of people legally buying decoders in this country and watching material in other countries although they have only bought the copyright to watch that material in the United Kingdom.

Such a problem is significant for many of our broadcasters. It is often unrecognised by platform operators, because they still receive the money, but the broadcasters who sell them the programmes are aware of the problem. People in Belgium, Spain and France who have legally bought set top boxes in the United Kingdom are using them elsewhere in Europe illegally. Sky is aware of the problem because people enter competitions that they can have watched only on a Sky box and give a Spanish address, although they bought the box in the United Kingdom. That issue must be resolved because it will not be covered by the European Union copyright directive. It is difficult for us to resolve it in Committee, but the fact that British goods that are made effectively with British licence payers' money yet are enjoyed by others who have not contributed to their manufacture is a matter about which we shall need to remain vigilant.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I thank the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) for his helpful and supportive approach to the Bill, which is appreciated. He wanted reassurance that the Bill would not lead to a proliferation of new sentences. That is implicit in all that has been said so far in our proceedings. We are talking not about a new crime, but one that already exists. In effect, all that would happen under the Bill is a process of harmonisation. It would bring the property law of copyright theft into line with the criminal sentencing provisions of trade mark crime. That would be a relatively limited change, and I should have thought that it was not beyond the scope of the judiciary to extend its range a little in that direction.

The hon. Gentleman wanted to make sure that the authorities were aware of the seriousness of the offences and the potential for additional sentencing for the most hardened criminals. As he rightly said, that is a matter for the Minister. His third point was important and was referred to also by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant). I accept that an Achilles' heel of the Bill is that some of its provisions will be the responsibility of local government trading standards officers, although much of the investigative work is done by the industry. Given that the industry loses large sums, it has an interest in undertaking investigative work and providing the authorities with the results of its inquiries. Much of the spade work is done by the industry, not local government officers. However, TSOs are clearly necessary.

In taking that point on board, I hope that the Minister will think in terms of joined-up government. As was said on Second Reading, the Chancellor of the Exchequer loses vast amounts of revenue as a result of copyright theft. Goods are going into the black economy. It has been estimated that about £1.5 billion of the Government's revenue have been lost, so it would be in their interest to ensure that trading standards levels of provision are sufficient to ensure that effective prosecutions take place.

I hope that much more emphasis will be placed on trading standards officers and minimum standards for local government under the future consumer Bill that the Government have promised us. Perhaps the problem can be encountered when that Bill is discussed. That point is important. I do not believe that it was intended as a criticism of the Bill that it would only be as effective as the enforcement troops.

I am impressed by the way in which the hon. Member for Rhondda shifted his focus of attention from the apostolic succession to copyright law within 24 hours. He made the valuable point about the way in which decoding technology can be applied offshore. As he said, there is nothing very much that we can do about it under the Bill because that application would be extra-territorial and difficult to apply. I hope that, when the European copyright directive passes through the House, account will be taken of the fact that copyright law is subject to weak treatment in some European countries. The hon. Gentleman's input to the debate was helpful.

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

Members of the Committee will know that the Home Office is currently reviewing its sentencing policy as a result of the Halliday report. There will be a review of how sentences are applied in practice. Trading standards officers are represented in the counterfeiting and piracy forum, which has brought together concerns about intellectual property crime. It is considering ways in which to facilitate and improve co-operation more generally to make enforcement more effective. That should assist TSOs and law enforcers, including the police who are the subject of the clause under discussion, and allow them to do their jobs more effectively. I cannot speak for

TSOs in Spain, but the point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda. I hope that the Bill will help make convictions more certain. That, in itself, will act as a deterrent. If fewer people attempt such crimes because they know that there is a greater certainty of being caught, that will lower the cost of enforcement. With that, I commend the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at ten minutes past Eleven o'clock.