New Clause 1 - Director General of Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee on 30th January 2014.

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‘(1) The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is amended as follows:

(2) In Part VII (miscellaneous and general) at the beginning insert—

“295A Director General of Intellectual Property Rights

(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint an officer to be known as the Director General of Intellectual Property Rights (“the Director General”).

(2) The Director General has a duty to—

(a) promote the creation of new intellectual property,

(b) protect and promote the interests of UK intellectual property rights holders,

(c) co-ordinate effective enforcement of UK intellectual property rights, and

(d) educate consumers on the nature and value of intellectual property.

(3) In performing those duties, the Director General must also have regard to the desirability of—

(a) promoting the importance of intellectual property in the UK,

(b) encouraging investment and innovation in new UK intellectual property, and

(c) protecting intellectual property against infringement of rights.”.’.—(Mr Wright.)

Brought up, read the First time, and Question proposed this day, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Labour, Bradford South 2:00 pm, 30th January 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. Where does intellectual property lie, whose responsibly is it, who should be the lead person? My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool, in moving new clause 1, said that we should have a director general. I am agnostic about that. It is a good idea. It develops the idea that somebody needs to be responsible. We have referred before in Committee to the report from the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport about creative industries and how important they have become. The Minister might be able to reassure us that, although the new clause may not be the right route, there will be a way forward.

With no disrespect to Viscount Younger of Leckie, I do not think that it is appropriate that the person with responsibility for intellectual property is in the other place. Given the importance of IP in the creative economy, there should be someone in the Commons, whether a Minister, a director general or whoever. The hon. Member  for Hove and I have already discussed it, and I am happy to support his candidacy. I hope the Minister can point us in the right direction of where the thinking is. He might have to reflect and speak to other members of the Government, but the way things are moving, the sector will grow and develop. On the back of the Select Committee report, there is an important opportunity and it is time to get things right by having a dedicated person to look at IP.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

May I welcome you, Mr Turner, once again to the Chair? As the hon. Member for Hartlepool said before lunch, the new clause would create a new statutory role of “director general of intellectual property rights”, with a duty to promote intellectual property rights. We have several cross-currents there. One is about membership of the House of Lords. Before the election, the then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who was responsible for IP among many other things, was—

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

Exactly, and I am sure he only went to the House of Lords to create a vacancy for young talent to come through. And what a successful move that was. This Committee is not the place to object to some Ministers being in the House of Lords. It is how successive Governments have functioned. We have an excellent team in BIS. Viscount Younger is the Minister responsible for IP. That is what he does and he steered the Bill successfully through the other place. John Alty, whom I know and deal with, is the chief executive officer and—in the old language of the civil service—comptroller general at the Intellectual Property Office. Then, and this gives me particular pleasure, we have my hon. Friend the Member for Hove, acting as the Prime Minister’s adviser on intellectual property. I can only describe them as three wise men.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

There is another issue about gender diversity.

We have a clearly defined team and we should judge them by the quality of their output. Since 2010, by commissioning the Hargreaves report and implementing many of its findings, we have made progress—more progress, if I may say so, than the previous Government, who commissioned the Gowers report, which had a significant overlap with Hargreaves, but did not make much progress in implementing its findings.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The Minister is setting out the current approach, but does he think that that approach to championing IP and co-ordination across Government is satisfactory and will not be subject to change or reform at all?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

We are always open to review and reform, but perhaps I can point out to the Committee what has been happening. I have with me successive Government reports on copyright and IP, many of which reached  similar conclusions. They were all about modernising copyright, and the issue is not whether one can produce yet another report on copyright, but whether one can do something about it. Not with one great big omnibus Bill but with successive legislation, both primary and secondary, the team have made more progress in grappling with tricky issues than they have done in the past. I do not feel at all defensive. We have a good team that is performing well—that can be judged by the fact that our intellectual property regime is widely accepted to be one of the best in the world—and we are getting on with implementing Hargreaves. Of course, we keep the machinery of government under review and if specific issues arise, we are always up for looking at how our system is functioning.

We have an excellent triumvirate steering policy in this area. I presume that the proposal for a new director general of intellectual property rights is another paybill for the civil service, which would create another office and another set of supporting officers. We in BIS are busy reducing our overhead. We have reduced our civil service and administrative costs by more than 20%, and we continue to bring them down. The last thing that we need is legislation urging us to create new civil service posts. We have a regime that works well and we are successfully holding down costs.

The hon. Member for Bradford South mentioned the links to the creative industries and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Of course, there is an overlap; although BIS is the main Department responsible for IP, certain issues fall to the DCMS. There we have the creative industries council, which is co-chaired by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—another excellent team—who ensure that the overlap between DCMS responsibility for creative industries and our responsibilities for IP is properly dealt with. I should mention that the council is also co-chaired by Nicola Mendelsohn.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Labour, Bradford South

The Minister is right to point out that the creative industries council exists, and I welcome that, but there is a feeling that its membership is too large and that it does not get down to the detail of issues. IP is sometimes lost in the framework of the discussions around the council. For me, the issue is that IP is becoming more important. I accept what the Minister has said about the variety of ministerial teams involved, but we need to look at whether we are accessing the best advice and support, and whether more can be done. I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Hove has particular expertise in education, training and improving awareness of IP. As we have heard, some companies involved in the sector do not understand the issues that exist.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to conclude?

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Labour, Bradford South

The Minister needs to be aware that there are issues that must be addressed.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

I am aware. There is an IP sub-group of the creative industries council, so IP is properly dealt with under the auspices of that council, which straddles  the two Departments. I think we should be judged not by theories about how organisations should be structured—we have got a perfectly reasonable structure, but it is always open to improvement—but by our output. My view is that our output in getting to grips with IP exceeds that of previous Governments.

Photo of Mike Weatherley Mike Weatherley Conservative, Hove

I have two points on that. When the Minister says that he will keep the matter under review, will he assure me that he will look at the American IP tsar model and take representations on its potential effectiveness? Will he also take into account that, when I wrote to each Department to ask when they get involved in IP, the response from each one was, “When we have to.” It must be geared up another level. I accept that it should not be part of such a Bill and that there are lots of questions to be answered on specifics, and so forth, but will he assure me that he will keep an open mind on future representations to bring all the Departments together?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

Of course, I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we will continue to consider that important matter. However, I challenge him on one point. IP is a policy responsibility of a dedicated Minister in BIS; it is not something that we randomly do when we have to. We recognised that one challenge facing us was sorting out the IP regime. There have been four or five major reports on that. For the first time, we have a report on which we can act, and we are busy acting. That is one of BIS’s priority activities. However, of course, if people have suggestions—especially my hon. Friend, with his particular responsibilities as the Prime Minister’s adviser on intellectual property—we will always consider those carefully.

For people who are concerned that we need to be doing more on IP, I hope that, during this year, we will bring forward various items, especially of secondary legislation, in the House, implementing yet more of Hargreaves. I tried to set out, in a letter to the Opposition spokesman, which we are putting in the Library, an account of how we will handle a range of regulatory issues. I hope that, at the end of 2014, people will not be saying, “This Department has failed to grip IP”, but will say, “This Department has done a lot to implement Hargreaves”. I look forward to seeing the happy faces of Committee members during subsequent scrutiny of the detailed regulations that we will introduce as part of our energetic commitment to reforming IP.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

It is good to see you back in the Chair, Mr Turner.

The Minister was talking about modernising copyright. We will come to that during consideration of new clause 2.

It has been an interesting debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South said that he was relatively agnostic about whether a director general or a Minister should be involved. However, IP matters and it needs a champion in Government. How that is perceived, both within Government, to ensure a co-ordinated, not a silo-driven, approach, and across private industry, is vital. The downgrading of the housing Minister’s role,  from Minister of State to Under-Secretary, sends out a powerful message that housing does not matter to this Government. I should hate to see such a perception reinforced in respect of intellectual property.

The hon. Member for Hove made a telling intervention, mentioning his writing to Departments, saying that IP is looked at “when we have to.” It needs to be better than that, given that it is going to be a big driver of economic activity in the next few years. New clause 1 was tabled so that we could debate this matter, to ensure that there is a co-ordinating champion’s role for IP.

I understand what the Minister is saying. I hope that he looks on this as a proactive, constructive step to ensure that IP gets the serious consideration that it deserves. However, given what he said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.