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Lord Whitty: I am gratified that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is not expecting a great deal of sympathy from our Benches on this matter. While most of his amendments are either probing or designed genuinely to improve the Bill, this Motion comes close to being a wrecking Motion because it would take out a major part of the Bill.
This clause introduces the whole concept of the workplace parking levy which we regard as a major new tool for the control of urban traffic in particular. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, we make those new powers available to local authorities but we do not oblige them to use them. We shall certainly not force them to do so. Therefore, the powers are discretionary. But the authorities which adopt them must go through an extremely rigorous process of making clear that a workplace parking scheme fits in within their traffic objectives in their local transport plans.
We all know that the availability of convenient and free or cheap parking at work is a major encouragement to travel to work in the car during the most congested part of the day, even when there is available good, appropriate, clean, fast and safe public transport. Because it involves finance, the levy will focus the minds of business on the provision of parking and they may then assess how their employees get to work and encourage them to adopt patterns of travelling to work, and perhaps patterns of operating the business, which reduce car reliance.
It is important also from the point of view of local business that the recycling of all the revenue obtained from the scheme will be to the benefit of transport within that locality, which will, of itself, be of benefit to business.
Prior to the approval of any plans, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that they will help to tackle congestion; that they will be accompanied or preceded by improvements in public transport; that there has been adequate consultation; that there is an appropriate assessment of the impact; and that 100 per cent of the funds obtained will be spent on improving local transport.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked: who will pay? I ask: who will benefit? Many of our cities are clogged up with traffic, particularly at certain times of day. A huge contribution to that is people who are driving into the centre of those cities for work because there is the provision of free or cheap parking.
It is greatly to the benefit of business that that clogging up of traffic and gridlocks within our cities are removed. The removal of such traffic by this disincentive would greatly improve access to those business premises; improve ability to deliver through those difficult times; and improve the journeys and reliability of journey times for all sales persons, delivery persons and clients of those businesses.
The noble Lord sees this matter through one end of the telescope and says that business will pay. I look at it through the other and I see that business can achieve a major benefit from this measure. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not press this wrecking Motion. That would not be to the advantage of those local businesses for which the local authorities see advantage in providing such a scheme and, of course, local authorities will be obliged to consult local business before introducing it. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not press the Motion.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I had difficulty in appreciating his reference to good, appropriate, clean, fast and safe public transport. In my experience, most people use public transport out of sheer necessity. It is a matter of bitter experience that those adjectives do not apply.
It may be that there would be some benefit to business if congestion were reduced. But if one looks at the relevant transport system, the idea that it is ever going to be an alternative to the mobility which a car provides is unbelievable.
We need to pause for a moment and wonder why people use their cars. It is easy to say that they do so because public transport is not available and that there is a chicken and egg situation. However, the fact of the matter is that public transport is appropriate where a lot of people want to make the same journey. The reality is that the diversity of employment and movement is such that the majority of people, rather like a blob of mercury hit with a hammer, every morning fly in a vast number of different directions. In those circumstances it is not easy, except in the metropolitan areas, to see how a public transport system will help to a great degree.
There is also the fact that as the economy grows, the demand for movement grows. There is precious little evidence at present that we have managed to get the growth in public transport to run faster than the growth in the economy. Growth is talked about in rail and bus use. There may be a picking up in growth but so far it is not faster than the growth in the economy. Therefore, there is a real difficulty. None the less, I shall study carefully what the Minister has said. The Committee will be relieved to hear that at this hour and this stage I shall not oppose the Motion that Clause 177 stands part of the Bill.
The draft legislation concerns the implementation of Articles 1 to 11 of European Directive 98/44/EC on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions into United Kingdom patent law. Biotechnology is a relatively new science and offers huge potential. For example, treatments for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, hepatitis B and some forms of cancer are already being improved through biotechnological solutions. Biotechnological changes to crops, so that they are able to withstand extremes of climate while reducing reliance on pesticides and herbicides, are highly significant developments and these may be merely the tip of an iceberg. If this sector is to develop its potential benefits for enhancing quality of life, the legal framework within which decisions are made to invest in research and to bring new products to market must encourage innovation and the taking of commercial risks. The patents system is an integral part of that framework.
While those examples and other developments of themselves must be good things, I am very much aware of the social and ethical concerns that surround this new technology and the need for a full understanding of the relationship between scientific research, ethics and the law. Scientific developments must be life enhancing and not dehumanising. The directive sought to address those issues as far as patent law can, and sought to get the balance right.
The directive has a long history. As far back as 1985, the Commission's White Paper on the completion of the internal market foreshadowed action on biotechnological patents. A first proposal for the harmonisation of patent laws in this field emerged in 1988 and the Council of Ministers was able to adopt a common position on a directive in 1994. However, the European Parliament voted against that text in 1995 and the proposal was not adopted.
The Commission produced a second proposal later that year. Following scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament, the UK Government joined a qualified majority in adopting the directive in December 1997. The directive entered into European law in July 1998 and member states have until 30th July to implement.
The texts of European national patents law are already closely aligned as all EU member states are party to the European Patent Convention, an intergovernmental agreement dating from 1973. However, differences in interpretation of these laws in respect of biotechnological inventions encouraged the European Commission to bring forward a proposal to reduce or eliminate variations which were cited by industry as causing uncertainties, and so reducing incentives to invest in costly research. Such a deterrent is unwelcome and the directive sought to address that.
Of course, patent rights are without prejudice to other bodies of law. Patents provide what might be called a negative right; that is, a right to prevent others from using a protected invention. They do not give rights to use an invention or to market products or services embodying a protected invention. Such use is determined, for instance, by regulations safeguarding human dignity, the environment, animal welfare and competition. Those are not affected.
The regulations create little change in United Kingdom law, which is the Patents Act 1977. They do not lead to anything becoming patentable which is not currently patentable under existing legislation, but introduce changes to limit access to patent rights in certain sensitive areas of technology. For example, patents will not be granted for reproductive cloning of human beings, for processes where the germ line genetic identity of human beings is modified and for certain processes in which human embryos are used.
In particular, it should be noted that under UK law at present, human genes as they exist in the cells in our bodies cannot be patented. The directive establishes that basic principle across Europe, rightly making clear that patents will be obtainable only for inventions for new technical solutions. The simple discovery that a gene sequence exists in nature, or the information contained in such a sequence, will not be able to be patented as it is not of itself an invention.
That is fully consistent with the joint statement made by the Prime Minister and President Clinton on the human genome. That stated that raw, fundamental information about the genetic make-up of the body should be freely available. The United Kingdom has very clear rules, reinforced by the directive and the draft legislation before us to ensure that basic gene sequence information will not be patented.
I should add that a regulatory impact assessment was signed by the Minister on 3rd July and has been placed in the Library of both Houses. It gives evidence of extensive public consultation earlier this year. A summary of the views expressed in the consultation and the information available from the consultation will be published in due course. The consultees will be advised of the debate in this House.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 3rd July be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)
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