Previous SectionIndexHome Page

2.5 pm

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), not only on his result in the

23 Nov 2001 : Column 635

ballot but on the subject that he has chosen for the Bill. If I had been as fortunate as him, I would have seriously considered introducing such a Bill. The best help that I can give it is to be brief.

The Bill will offer significant extra protection to the creative industries. In this country, we have an extraordinarily good reputation in those industries. I have an especial interest in the music industry, which has not always had the recognition that it deserves for its contribution to our economy and our country. Its economic value is approximately £4.6 billion and we have long been successful in it. If we consider the charts or record sales in almost any country in the world, British acts feature at the top.

It has occasionally been reported that I have an interest in rock music. To give one example, I like Iron Maiden, not only because of its admirable name but because of its music. There are people in Japan whose knowledge of this country and impetus for learning English is based on support for a British band such as Iron Maiden. In garages, sheds and barns in every constituency, young people are making music, hoping to become successful musicians one day. They can do that only if the record industry continues to thrive. The Bill offers it extra protection, which it badly needs.

The British film industry is worth approximately £3 billion. It is successful at making widely recognised movies, such as "The Full Monty" or "East is East". Major films such as the "Star Wars" series, "Saving Private Ryan", "The Mummy" and the Harry Potter film were made in this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid–Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) mentioned ELSPA. Like me, he is the father of young children and I am sure that he is familiar with games such as "Tomb Raider" and "Quake". I have been known to assist my son in playing them.

All those industries make a major contribution to our economy and are under threat. The music industry estimates that copyright theft results in 1.8 billion units of pirated material on the global market. Almost a third of CDs are pirate copies. That does great damage to many firms that are involved in marketing intellectual property. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), who is unfortunately unable to be present, has drawn my attention to two firms in his constituency. The Producers is based in St. Ives and says that it has lost £1.5 million through counterfeiting. Just Flight is also based in St. Ives and has lost £1 million due to counterfeiting.

It is normal practice in debate for hon. Members to refer to their constituencies with pride. However, I read an item in my local paper with no pride. It gave an account of a raid that took place on a chicken shed outside Maldon a few months ago. It led to the discovery of a pirate CD factory with 50,000 CDs and 200,000 pieces of forged art work. The person responsible was prosecuted and was recently jailed for 21 months. I derive no pleasure from one of my constituents being sent to jail, but I welcome such a sentence because it may increase the recognition

23 Nov 2001 : Column 636

that such activities constitute theft. The hon. Member for Twickenham was right to state that fact clearly. Intellectual property is as valuable as material property and it deserves the same protection.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire rightly pointed out that it is not only small-scale enterprises in chicken sheds that are involved. Organised crime is heavily involved and even terrorists now see the enormous sums that can be made from illegal counterfeiting activity. There is a need for increased protection and the hon. Member for Twickenham has made a powerful case for tightening the law. We, the official Opposition, fully support his Bill and I hope that it will pass on to the statute book in due course.

2.10 pm

The Minister for Employment and the Regions (Alan Johnson): The Bill is before the House for a second time. I was not present for its first appearance, although my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) was, as it was his Bill. I am pleased to be here today to confirm that the Government continue to lend their full support to the measures in the Bill. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) for introducing it in this Session. He is the father of an opera singer, and if we are declaring our interests I should say that my eldest son wasted his degree by becoming a musician, recording engineer and contracted songwriter, so I know all about the issues.

The previous Bill, unfortunately, failed through lack of time. To make sure that that does not happen today, I shall confine my remarks to specific issues. First, I want to make it absolutely clear that the Bill is designed to deal more effectively and appropriately with those who use the results of other people's creativity and investment deliberately and without permission with the intention of making money for themselves. It is directed against those who use property—intellectual property—that does not belong to them for profit and in the knowledge that doing so is wrong.

The effect of that theft on the owners of IP rights is clear. The hon. Member for Twickenham, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) have explored the wider effects. Consumers are often cheated, although we sometimes have a hard job convincing them of that. Jobs in legitimate businesses, from high street shops to big manufacturing plants, are put at risk, are lost or are simply not created in the first place. I suspect that examples of that can be found in the constituencies of the majority of MPs.

Perhaps most alarming are the links between IP crime and serious organised crime, which are becoming more and more apparent. The latest threat assessment from the National Criminal Intelligence Service noted that more than two thirds of the organised crime groups reported to be involved in IP theft were known also to be involved in drugs trafficking. Furthermore, groups involved in organised immigration crime are known to use illegal immigrants as cheap labour working in sweatshops producing counterfeit goods.

IP crime is neither a victimless crime nor one committed by lovable rogues. We cannot cheerfully ignore it. Tackling IP crime opens up the possibility of

23 Nov 2001 : Column 637

having an impact on serious crime in general in the UK. By investigating the selling of fakes in street markets, law enforcers may uncover much other wrongdoing, from VAT fraud to drug dealing. We must therefore provide law enforcers with the tools they need to do that work effectively, where they deem that to be appropriate.

The Bill rightly addresses some of the inconsistencies between related provisions in the current law that was set in 1988 on copyright, and in 1994 on trademarks. Perhaps there are ways around the loopholes that the Bill would close, but it remains an extremely useful measure in terms of making the job of enforcers, especially the police, easier and making the law more transparent. Greater transparency will provide clearer deterrence and it might convince some of those who regard IP crime as a soft option not to engage in it.

The Bill is not over-ambitious for a private Member's Bill. Despite its apparent complexity, no part of it is not more or less copied from provisions already in IP law. In many ways, it is fair to regard the Bill as a harmonising measure that equalises criminal provisions between trademark law and copyright law where differences make no sense.

Of course, not all cases of IP crime are equally serious and it is certainly not possible to argue that all cases of trademark theft should attract the current maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or up to 10 years in prison. However, in the most serious cases, in which industry may have lost millions of pounds, consumers may have been badly deceived by fakes and there may have been wider effects on society, that sentence might be justified and should be available as a sentencing option. We cannot justify the continuation of the much less severe maximum penalty for a copyright offence, which is currently a fine and/or a maximum term of imprisonment of only two years. Copyright theft can be just as serious as trademark theft. There is no justification for the difference.

There is already a provision permitting the police to seek search warrants if they have reasonable grounds for believing that some of the copyright offences have been or are about to be committed, so applying that more widely across IP offences makes sense, too. Copying the existing, useful trademark provisions on forfeiture of illegal goods that have been seized during an investigation into the copyright and related areas is also worth while.

In supporting the Bill, the Government have carefully considered its human rights implications. We have taken advice on that very important matter and believe the Bill to be compatible with the European convention on human rights. Its provisions provide a balanced and acceptable solution to the problems of IP crime.

All those in the public and private sectors with an interest in fighting IP crime are collaborating more and more closely. Relevant issues are discussed at a strategic level in the Counterfeiting and Piracy Forum, which brings representatives from the private and public sectors around the same table with the Government. Earlier this year, the Government supported the signing of a memorandum of understanding between all the public

23 Nov 2001 : Column 638

sector enforcement interests—including the police, Customs and trading standards officers—and industry bodies active against IP crime on behalf of their members. We will continue to explore and facilitate co-operative and closer working where we can.

Next Section

IndexHome Page