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Copyright, etc. and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.6 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I will not begin the debate with the same biblical quotations as the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) used in the previous debate. I suppose the only close connection between the Bill and the bible is to be found in the first chapter of the Old Testament. Only one person had copyright.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to bring the Bill before the House. I hope to be able to convince right hon. and hon. Members that it is worthy of support. It is about intellectual property crime--theft--which should concern us all. The Bill should be welcomed by industry and consumers alike. I believe that it deserves widespread support.

I am particularly grateful to the Alliance Against Counterfeiting and Piracy and to the Patent Office for their help in recent weeks. Both organisations have given me far better insight into the effects of intellectual property crime. The alliance is an umbrella group of many industry bodies concerned about the theft of their intellectual property, especially copyright and trademarks.

Last year, the alliance assessed annual losses to United Kingdom industry due to intellectual property crime and came up with the extraordinary figure of £8 billion.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I hope that the hon. Gentleman will attempt to explain where that figure comes from. I hope that I shall have the opportunity to expand on these matters, but it strikes me, having read the papers, that to conjure up a figure in this area of all areas is somewhat paradoxical, if not entirely unreliable.

Mr. Miller: I shall help the right hon. Gentleman by citing some examples that he will see in his constituency. Members of the public are being ripped off, and the scale of the operation is enormous. The figure alone is sufficient to justify a Bill that will help to tackle counterfeiting and piracy.

Not everyone is impressed by large figures. They argue that big business makes enough money to cover the losses, but that is not true. Many small businesses suffer the effects of intellectual property crime and some might not be able to survive as a result of it.

I have been contacted twice about the issue in the past couple of days. Trevor Bayliss is a well-known inventor and, like hon. Members on both sides of the House, he keenly supported the proposal to create the Academy of Invention. The idea was supported by Lord Hunt of Wirral, who used to represent the constituency neighbouring mine, and by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who serves on that body's board. Trevor Bayliss urged me to make it clear to the House that the Bill has his support as an inventor. For a long time, he has wrestled with the problems of copyright theft.

I also received a letter dated 4 March from Branko Babic. Colleagues will remember that he was, in his words, "ripped off" by an American group that stole his invention, which cost him a significant sum.

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I know that some regular attenders of Friday debates take a different view about the role of private Members' business. I respect their views, and it is an issue that the House should debate seriously at the appropriate time, but I urge those who take a different view not to take this opportunity to block the Bill by using the procedural vehicles open to them. I hope that I shall provide solid evidence to convince them that the Bill deals with a crime that not only affects ordinary consumers, but funds terrorism and organised crime. Such crime could result in the death of children.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): The hon. Gentleman is doing the House a signal service in introducing this important measure. Nevertheless, I would like to be clear about its scope. It deals with counterfeiting and piracy, but will he explain for my benefit whether it also covers plagiarism?

Mr. Miller: Yes, it does. I shall give examples of DVDs and CDs that I hope will illustrate that point.

Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman has made the plea that we should let this nice Bill go through because it is very important and many people want it. The House decided to devote much attention to the previous Bill, so we have but an hour and 20 minutes to consider what is by any measure a comprehensive and complex Bill. Does he believe that, regardless of the time available to us, a worthy Bill should necessarily be let through?

Mr. Miller: When I have completed my remarks and given the right hon. Gentleman and others the chance to speak, I hope that he will agree that the Bill should go through so that the matters of detail can be considered in Committee.

It is not a complex Bill. It merely proposes tougher action against criminals. Surely the House is in favour of tougher action being taken against crime. The problem reaches as far as organised crime and terrorists.

The £8 billion of losses covers a wide range of products. It includes clothing that is sold on market stalls, DVDs, CDs and videos. The scope of the scam extends to car components, which should concern the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) given the relevance of Ford to his constituency. There is a worldwide scam of car components manufactured in Taiwan and China, which get on to the market, damage the vehicle industry in this country and put drivers and pedestrians at risk.

There is a big market in bogus perfumes, but many other products are involved, including cosmetics and alcohol. The nature of the products is such that they create a chain with a high added value. As it is so simple to produce and package an item that looks like the real thing, the figure that I have mentioned can easily be reached.

Some products are of an extremely high standard and it is difficult to tell them apart from the genuine article. The people who produce them rip off patent holders, inventors and legitimate businesses. Other products are downright dangerous and threaten life. For example, a couple of years ago car brake pads were found to have been made from compressed grass. It is unbelievable that they found their way on to the market, placing not only

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the driver who purchased them at risk--perhaps more fool him--but others too. We cannot allow such products to enter the market.

Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman has to satisfy the House as to why such examples would not be caught by the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 as not being fit for purpose or by other provisions that are on the statute book. It strikes me that we might over-provide legislation when a proper enforcement of existing laws and regulations should do the trick. I should have thought that his example would be covered by that.

Mr. Miller: The right hon. Gentleman is right, but I want the punishment to fit the crime. I am concerned about crimes that lead to people's deaths. I do not believe that existing legislation is sufficiently strong. I demonstrated that last week at the Bill's press launch. Hon. Members may have seen the example that was shown on the BBC website. I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the Serjeant at Arms; I was not trying to be a latter-day Guy Fawkes when I set fire to a child's T-shirt in Canon row. The item was a sweatshirt with the character Kenny from Channel 4's "South Park". I do not know whether hon. Members are familiar with that programme.

Mr. Forth indicated assent.

Mr. Miller: I see that the right hon. Gentleman has been initiated in it. He will know that Kenny regularly gets killed and comes to a sticky end. Well, I killed Kenny last week. Although this may seem frivolous, the sweatshirt was bought for £5.95 and looked like the genuine article. It went up in a ball of flames and produced acrid smoke. It disappeared in 30 seconds. The toxic smoke would have killed and the melting plastic would have produced atrocious third-degree burns. We cannot allow such products to be in the marketplace. We have a duty to take every step to help purchasers understand that buying them puts their families at serious risk.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): The Opposition support, in principle, the Bill's objectives. Does the hon. Gentleman have a considerable number of examples of prosecutions that have occurred under existing legislation in which there has been a genuine feeling that the two-year sentence imposed was too short?

Mr. Miller: There have been cases of vehicle suspension units collapsing because fake wishbones supplied through what seemed to be a legitimate source then turned out to be counterfeit. The maximum penalty open to the court in those cases was two years' imprisonment. Given the risks not only to the individual driver but to the wider community, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that penalty was not adequate. The industry and trading standards officers are saying that the current legislation does not have sufficient teeth to do the job and to act as the deterrent that we would like.

Mr. Bercow: Although it is for the hon. Gentleman to develop his own argument, I am interested in what he has to say about the gateway to terrorist offences, which is an important point. Further to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb)

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raised, has the hon. Gentleman done any research into recidivism on the part of people who have received those rather modest sentences? Have they reoffended in similar ways?


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