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Mr. Rooker: I am no expert and I have not been able to take advice, but I have been in the House long enough to know that the powers under clause 45, which are supplemental, incidental and transitionary provisions, would not come to that. This is a meaty issue, which cannot be dealt with by a technical drafting amendment.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) raised the issue from the other side of the coin. Let us suppose that the date were 2009. I do not wish to be quoted on that, although it may now have been taken down and used in evidence against me. Ministers do not intend to abuse that power, but would use it in the light of agreements with the industry. Following a meeting last week between the NFU and plant breeders, understandings were arrived at and will be complied with in the normal course of professional discourse. If they are not, the first to complain to Ministers will be hon. Members from both sides of the House. They will not be happy if that happens when people enter freely into commercial agreements with which the House does not wish to interfere.

There is a point of substance regarding the drafting of the amendments and I have no doubt that my words will be carefully dissected and probably looked at in another place.

Mr. Cash: Further to the point that the Minister has just made about statutory instruments, he seemed a little unsure about the application of orders. Clause 9(11) says:


I stress the words "as they think fit"--


    "for the purpose of securing that it corresponds with the provisions for the time being of the law relating to Community plant variety rights about farm saved seed."

Will the Minister reconsider the point that he made, because my question relates directly to whether there is a power to revisit by order the matter to which I referred? Subsection (11) is unusual as it overrides many of the more general points, which I agree would normally apply to the making of orders.

Mr. Rooker: At the risk of repeating myself, order-making powers exist throughout the Bill and they

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are quite specific. There is no general order-making power. Clause 9 contains two such powers. If it were accepted that we could do as we thought fit with one order-making power, the House would operate in that way and would not give Ministers those powers.

The order-making powers in the Bill are specific. The order-making power in subsection (6), which is the subject of the amendment, relates specifically to the date. We are reluctant to write a date into the Bill. I have given a commitment about the date and said that the exemption would not be withdrawn before 30 June 2001, so the amendment is unnecessary. I understand that Ministers can come and go, but I speak on behalf of the Government.

7.45 pm

Mr. Paice: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He has a longer period of service in the House than I, but he would agree that no Minister wants to abuse the powers given to him in a Bill; that does not necessarily mean that, at some stage in the future, that would not happen. The amendment would ensure that it would not.

I appreciate the Minister's argument that the amendment may be defective because it couples two issues that should not be coupled, but I wonder whether I may push him. He made it clear that the Government have no intention of abandoning the exemption before 30 June 2001. Will he give an undertaking that he or his noble Friends will accept an amendment to that effect when the Bill goes to the other place if the two issues are decoupled? I am concerned that the Minister's undertaking should appear in the Bill by inserting that date.

Mr. Rooker: I undertake to discuss, well in advance of the Bill going to the other place, with my noble Friend Lord Donoughue, who will take the Bill through the other place, whether the Government can come up with an amendment likely to meet those points.

Mr. Cash: Would the Minister be kind enough to give the same consideration to the point that I made?

Mr. Rooker: Yes, of course.

Mr. Paice: In the light of that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill. Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Duration

Mr. Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 6, line 32, leave out subsection (2).

I understand that I should not have called you Mr. Deputy Speaker, Sir Alan. I hope that you will forgive me. Some of us are still learning our ways in this place and the intricacies are many.

The Chairman: Order. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that we are all learning in this place.

Mr. Baker: That makes me feel better.

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The amendment is to test the Minister on the reasons for including subsection (2). Subsection (1) clearly states for how long plant breeders' rights should have effect. Subsection (2) seems to undermine that by saying that those specific periods can be removed or extended but gives no maximum period. Earlier contributions to the debate showed that hon. Members on both sides of the House wanted, albeit with different interpretations, to ensure that plant breeders' and farmers' rights were balanced. Subsection (2) would weigh those rights in favour of plant breeders and away from farmers. I should be grateful for any clarification and assurance on that.

Mr. Rooker: Indeed, we are all learning. This is all new to me, too.

Clause 11, as the hon. Gentleman says, is an important clause which extends the period of protection for most trees and vines from 25 to 30 years, as compared with the 1964 Act, and from 20 to 25 years for many other species. Potatoes already enjoy 30 years protection, and a few minor ornamentals and tree species are protected for 25 years under the 1964 Act.

I cannot accept the amendment because it would prevent periods of rights being altered by secondary legislation, which is currently possible under the 1964 Act. As I said on Second Reading, 80 per cent. of the Bill is existing law. We are not introducing a great deal of new legislation. If we were doing so, the House would rightly want to proceed with the Bill in a different way.

It is unlikely that the powers in the clause would be used very often. The current periods of protection mirror those in the Council regulation. The periods specified in the clause bring the position in the United Kingdom into line with that in the European Community. Should they be changed by regulation by the Community, that would lead to considerable confusion and unfair competition, if the UK were unable to respond quickly to bring the periods of protection into line with our own legislation. We need the power to do that by secondary legislation.

Mr. Baker: I am grateful for the Minister's clarification and for his assurance that he would not--or rather, that the Government would not, as I doubt whether he will still be in the same role in 30 years' time, although he may be here perhaps in a different role--extend the time limits willy-nilly, and that the purpose of the clause is to accommodate European legislation. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill. Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

Remedies for Infringement


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

Mr. Lansley: I wanted to raise two matters, to which I referred briefly on Second Reading, and to seek the Minister's reply. First, I refer to provision for remedies for infringement in clause 13, which do not provide specifically for circumstances in which the holder of rights fails to receive remuneration from the user of farm-saved seed. Would it be possible for the provision

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also to be used by the holder of those rights to sue for proper remuneration? I understand that the clause could reflect provisions in the European regulation, articles 17 and 18.

Secondly, if persistent offenders take original seed and sell it in local markets or by other routes without giving proper return to the original holder of the rights in those varieties, could the clause be used to increase the penalties for such persistent offending?

Mr. Rooker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Because of our truncated arrangements, I am keen that no part of the Bill which any hon. Member wants to discuss gets hidden away. The fact that amendments have not been tabled is no reason not to ask questions about clauses. I could not answer every question on Second Reading.

The plant variety rights office has no role in enforcing rights. It would be incorrect to read such a role into the Bill. Clause 13 provides for holders of plant breeders' rights to take civil action in relation to infringement of their rights, including their rights in a dependent variety. It gives plant breeders the same remedies in law as are available to other owners of proprietary rights.

The Bill and the 1964 Act do not cover the case. It is a matter for arguments in the courts between two parties who happen to disagree. We do not seek to give new powers to the plant controller and the PVRO. Individuals who are aggrieved must go to court.

Question put and agreed to. Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill. Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.


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