House of Commons
Wednesday 12 March 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Trade Union Subscriptions
The deduction of trade union subscriptions from payroll through check-off is a matter delegated to Departments in the civil service.
The civil service has used check-off for the last 30 years. Indeed, large companies such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce use it as a very efficient way to deduct trade union subscriptions from salary. Is this not just another ideological attack? Removing check-off from the civil service payroll will cost many times more than running the current system for hundreds of years.
As I say, it is a matter for Departments to decide for themselves. A number of trade unions take the view that it is much better to have a direct relationship with their members than to have it intermediated through the employer—it is a rather more modern way to run things.
My hon. Friend has been a doughty campaigner for the use of facility time to be much better regulated. We inherited from Labour a position in which very large amounts of public money were being spent on subsidising 250 full-time officials in the civil service alone, let alone in the wider public sector. I am happy to tell her that we have got that under control.
The Minister says that this is a matter for individual Departments, but the private secretary in his Department has written to every Department in Whitehall asking them to review check-off. We know that the Government, for political reasons, want to scrap check-off, and I have seen a copy of an official letter from the Department for Work and Pensions, which was subsequently withheld by Ministers, that states:
“The department has concluded that the figure for the financial implications of ending check-off should be disclosed…The information held states: ‘We estimate that implementation costs could exceed one million pounds’.”
In the light of that revelation, will he agree, in the interests of transparency, to publish the full financial implications of this misguided policy?
Well, with respect, I have seen more recent correspondence than the hon. Gentleman has seen. The truth is that Ministers—as he will recall from his time in government—are sometimes given figures for the cost of making a change that turn out not to be true. This is such a case.
The Government have reduced the number of public bodies by more than 250. By 2015, there will be a third fewer public bodies than in 2010, ensuring increased accountability and efficiency, with continuing efficiency savings of £900 million a year.
Many quangos are unaccountable, unelected and have great power over people’s everyday lives. They are incredibly expensive to run, with questionable outcomes. Will the Minister please consider another round of the bonfire of the quangos to continue our march towards a leaner and more efficient Government?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s encouragement. Our quest for a leaner and more efficient Government has already yielded savings of more than £10 billion in the last financial year. Labour did nothing on that whatever, which is part of the reason why we inherited the biggest budget deficit in the developed world. We have more to do, and for the first time we have instituted a round of triennial reviews so that every three years we look at the status of every public body to decide whether it still needs to exist or whether it can be trimmed back. We find that there is scope for much more progress yet.
Will the Minister confirm that the abolition of the UK Film Council and its amalgamation with the British Film Institute will ensure that we continue to make the most of British talent, in that wonderful creative industry?
I am confident that that will be the case. My colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport examined this question very carefully before making the decisions they did. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of the film industry in this country: it is a very bright star indeed, and we should certainly ensure that we do nothing that jeopardises that.
13. Sadly, one of Tony Blair’s lasting legacies was the creation of a huge number of unelected, unaccountable, highly paid quangos, which has ruined this place and taken power from it. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me by telling me what efforts he is making to return power and accountability to the House of Commons? (902992)
A major part of the programme of public bodies reform has been bringing policy functions back to the Government in a way that provides direct accountability to Parliament through Ministers. That is a big part of increasing accountability, but the secondary purpose of the reform of public bodies has been to save money, and I am glad to say that it looks as though the savings will, if anything, exceed our expectations.
That is a continuing process. There is much more to be done to increase efficiency. As I have said, we saved more than £10 billion across central Government last year, and we expect the saving to exceed £13 billion in the current financial year, which will end this month. There is much more to be done on quango reform, but as I have said, we expect to save £900 million a year, and have already saved about £1.6 billion.
In the course of his ongoing work on public body and quango reform, will the Minister consider adjusting the responsibilities of the Major Projects Authority? Among its options, the authority has the responsibility to
“require publication of project information consistent with the Coalition’s transparency agenda”.
That is not happening. The Government have suppressed the MPA’s detailed report on HS2, hiding behind a summary. Is it not about time that we were given an accurate description of public bodies, or that the Government published the report?
As my right hon. Friend knows, we are publishing much more detail about the Government’s major projects than has ever been published before. The role of the Major Projects Authority has ensured that, for the first time, consistent oversight and assurance are being applied to the Government’s major projects portfolio, and as a result, having inherited a position in which only about a third of major Government projects were delivered on time and on budget, we now find that the proportion is more like 70%. We are making a great deal of progress, but I hear what my right hon. Friend says.
Speaking about public body reform in 2012, the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee said that
“the Cabinet Office must get to grips with the programme’s overall costs, benefits and key risks”.
However, a recent National Audit Office report showed that those failings were still in place. When will the Minister get a grip?
It is a bit surprising that the hon. Gentleman should raise that point, given that the last Government did absolutely nothing on this front. We inherited a position in which the Government did not even know how many public bodies there were, but by the time of the next election, we will have reduced the number by a third and cut the costs significantly: we will have cut the cost of quangos by £2.6 billion. I hope that, at some stage, the hon. Gentleman will reflect on the poor record of his own Government. We would be willing, at that stage, to accept his congratulations on what we have done.
Three quarters of British people give money to charity, and on that measure, we are the most generous of all the G8 countries. Collectively, in 2010-11 we gave £16.5 billion to charity through direct and indirect donations, and with active Government support. I am delighted to say that the amount of giving appears to have remained constant since 2010, despite difficult times. I am sure that that is something that the whole House will welcome.
Indeed it is. The Minister will be aware of the good things that we can achieve through “round the pound” schemes, and I know that he, like me, is a fan of the organisation Pennies. Will he therefore back my “Winchester penny” idea? The aim is to support the third sector in my constituency by encouraging local businesses, including those that are part of national chains, to join Winchester’s efforts to ensure that we keep it local and support those who are most in need.
I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend’s initiative. I know that he is a great champion of the voluntary sector in Winchester. We are great fans of Pennies, which is one of the organisations that we have supported through our innovation in giving fund, and which is modernising the way in which we can make micro-donations. I am delighted that my hon. Friend has launched his initiative in Winchester. I congratulate him on his leadership, and congratulate all the businesses that he has so far succeeded in signing up to what seems an excellent initiative.
More and more younger donors are choosing to make their charitable donations by text, yet this group of people are being woefully failed in terms of Gift Aid. Will the Minister look into this, so that Gift Aid support is available for donors who give by text?
I wholly understand the hon. Lady’s point. People are giving in new ways, harnessing the power of new technology. One of the challenges we face is how we can help to make giving easy and compelling in the modern age. She will be aware that we work very hard with our colleagues at the Treasury to try to modernise Gift Aid, such as by making it easier to claim Gift Aid on small donations, and she will be aware that there is an active consultation on how we modernise Gift Aid in the digital world, including how we can harness it to support text-giving.
Public Bodies: Appointments
4. What his policy is on the inclusion of people with different political points of view on public bodies. (902981)
Ministerial appointments to public bodies are made on merit.
The Minister will recall that when in the 1980s the then Conservative Government abolished the metropolitan county authorities, the Government were scrupulous in making arrangements for the successor joint boards to recognise the rights of minority groups on the local authorities as well as the majority groups. Such arrangements do not pertain to the new combined authorities that I see from today’s Order Paper we are bringing in. Why is that?
I will look at the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises. The truth is that in the last year for which the commissioner for public appointments has published figures on public appointments, actually slightly more appointees declared a Labour party affiliation than a Conservative party affiliation, but for appointments generally we seek people with some commercial experience of running large organisations who can bring to bear the same desire for efficiency and eradicating waste as we are showing in central Government.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that the rather artificial and silly row about Conservatives being appointed to public bodies has now thankfully come to an end? Also, I inform him and the House that the Public Administration Select Committee is going to have a look at the relationship between public bodies and their sponsoring Departments, to see how they perform in bad times as well as good, how they deal with crises and how accountability should be improved.
I of course welcome that inquiry. This is an important issue that should be kept under considerable review. Where the Executive and Parliament forgo the ability for a public activity to be directly accountable to Parliament, we need to understand very clearly how that responsibility is being executed.
I am not sure that the row has come to an end, because in recent weeks we have learned that a Tory donor has been made chair of Natural England, that a former Tory Member of this House has been made chair of the Care Quality Commission, and indeed in the Cabinet Office an impartial civil service post, heading up the appointments unit, has gone to a former member of Conservative central office. So can the Minister, who is of course a former Tory party chairman, explain why an exemption was agreed to give Laura Wyld that Cabinet Office post?
One has to admire the gall of the hon. Gentleman, given that the Government of whom he was a supporter relentlessly stuffed public bodies full of Labour donors and Labour lickspittles. It was the most appalling abuse of power. We are running things in a substantially better way, as the statistic I have just disclosed illustrates. Further, I can inform the hon. Gentleman that the number of women appointed to public appointments is now up to 45% for the last period, which is significantly better than anything his Government ever even began to achieve.
Through a range of very overdue commercial and procurement reforms across central Government, the efficiency and reform group set up by the Minister for the Cabinet Office has delivered savings of £3.75 billion in 2010-11, a further £5.5 billion in 2011-12 and an additional £10 billion in 2012-13.
What a shame the Labour party did not do that, and did not mend the roof while the sun was shining. Nevertheless, there are still things that we need to do. My hon. Friend will know that there have been problems at the Ministry of Justice with G4S and Serco. What lessons has he learned from that, to prevent such problems from happening again?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is worth reminding the House that the Labour Front Bencher who had the opportunity to realise those savings but failed to deliver them now leads the party. In answer to my hon. Friend’s question, the review that we launched after the Ministry of Justice found irregularities with contracts let under the previous Labour Government underscored the need to strengthen the commercial capability of the civil service, which was long overdue.
This Government are extremely committed to trying to open up the public service so that more, and more diverse, organisations can help us to deliver better value for the taxpayer. That explicitly includes charities, social enterprises and public service mutuals. Yesterday, we announced a publication that updates the House on our progress. We are making progress. We are not yet where I want to be, as this involves a quite profound cultural change, but we are committed to seeing this through.
So far, we have closed an astonishing 1,789 Government websites. We are in the process of moving the remaining 200 on to gov.uk by July 2014. In that process, we are not just saving £42 million but providing, at long last, a single source of consistent, clear information on Government policies.
That is a very important service, for reasons that the House understands, and it is a priority for us. We have built a prototype, which will be tested with users over the coming months, and our hope is that a version of this important service will be available from October this year.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. There is a huge opportunity to harness best practice across local government, and that is why we have partnered with the Local Government Association and other sector partners to establish a local digital alliance. We are collaborating with and supporting local government to design and deliver local public services online. That will allow them to offer value for money and to maximise the opportunities presented by digital tools.
The Big Society
I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in celebrating the fact that volunteering has risen since 2010 after years of decline, and that almost 2,000 young people in Bristol and the immediate surrounding area will have the opportunity to take part in the National Citizen Service this year.
I am sure that the Government are embarrassed by the fact that food banks have now become by far the most visible sign of the big society in action and have now, de facto, become part of the welfare system. Jobcentres are being told to signpost them, rather than refer people to them, in order to mask their connection with benefit sanctions and delays. Is this a sign of the success of the big society: food banks feeding the starving because of the failures of the welfare system’s safety net?
Food banks are an impressive civil society response to a need that, as the hon. Lady knows, emerged before the last general election. We have supported a number of them through our social action fund. I hope that she agrees that they are not a long-term solution to the complex issue of food poverty. There are no simple answers, despite what Opposition Members claim, but a large part of the solution is a recovering economy and the long-overdue reform of the welfare system, and that is what we are delivering.
I wholly support my hon. Friend. He is a great champion of the big society and is entirely right that a large pillar of that is giving more power to the people. As we have learned today, there is only one party that will give people the power to make that important choice.
The Archbishop of Westminster, Civil Exchange and the Centre for Social Justice have all delivered damning verdicts on the Government’s big society recently. They have shown that people are being thrown on to charity, because the state has failed; that there are three times as many charities in affluent neighbourhoods as in deprived ones; and that while volunteering is thriving, it is not in the places where it is needed most. Was it the intention of the big society that some would swim while others would sink?
In fact, the excellent Centre for Social Justice report actually highlighted how much progress this Government have made in doing what we said we would do, which is transferring power to people, opening up public services so that more and more organisations can come in to help us to deliver better services, and encouraging social action. As I said, giving in this country has remained constant since 2010 and volunteering has risen, which I hope the hon. Lady would welcome.
My responsibilities are for the public sector Efficiency and Reform Group, civil service issues, industrial relations strategy in the public sector, government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.
The Wilson doctrine is a convention whereby Government agencies do not intercept communications with Members of Parliament without explicit approval from the Prime Minister. In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) in 2012, the Minister told him that the Wilson doctrine did not apply to metadata, thereby exposing whistleblowers to risks from which parliamentary privilege should protect them. Will he review this policy, discuss it with the Prime Minister and report to the House?
T4. The Minister has a bit of a reputation as a pyromaniac, trying to have bonfires of regulations, quangos and much else. If that is the case, why is he allowing the Financial Conduct Authority to introduce a new code that will inhibit crowdfunding and local people in their communities in raising money through social media? Why do we have this new regulation? (902996)
I accept the compliment that the hon. Gentleman pays me—gracefully, I hope—but the issue he raises is not one with which I am familiar. I am sure that my right hon. Friends in the Treasury will want to look at it. It is a great pleasure to have representation from the Opposition about excessive regulation. [Interruption.]
T2. My right hon. Friend will know that the Public and Commercial Services Union, which stood up with such militancy against his pension reforms, has discovered that it has a £65 million black hole in its own pension scheme. Does he agree that the union should spend more time looking after its members and less time politicising Government reforms? (902994)
All organisations that run a pension scheme have to live in the real world. I am sure that the leadership of the PCS will take pleasure in the fact that its members in the civil service continue to enjoy a pension scheme that is significantly better than the one that the PCS offers to its own staff.
T6. There is huge concern about the Government’s proposals to sell or part-privatise the Land Registry, putting 400 civil service jobs in Durham at risk. It works and even turns a profit for the Treasury. Why fix what is not broken? Has the Minister discussed this with his Department for Business, Innovation and Skills colleagues, and if not, why not? (902999)
I have indeed discussed this with my colleagues in BIS. I do not take the gloomy view that the hon. Lady takes, that any involvement of the private sector means that the Land Registry will be less effective or have less opportunity to grow. A lot of what the Land Registry does is excellent, and there is a real opportunity for it to grow. If that involves bringing in a private sector partner, or private sector capital of one form or another, I hope that she would support that.
T3. May I welcome the Minister’s plans to improve accountability for senior civil service appointments? To ensure transparency and the scrutiny of appointments, may I also urge him to consider making the shortlists for appointments for the heads of quangos, Whitehall Departments and international courts the subject of prior scrutiny by Select Committees? (902995)
My hon. Friend’s latter point is constantly reviewed, and it will come as no surprise to him that his urging is supported by many Select Committees. On his first point, for the first time all permanent secretary appointments are for a fixed tenure of five years. We publish the objectives of permanent secretaries, and all this is beginning to be more accountable than it has ever been before.
T7. This week concerns were expressed in the media about the move to a shared network for emergency services. Why are the Government refusing to share the risk assessment, saying that it will prejudice the procurement process? (903000)
T8. Last weekend I was searching for a V14 form to return a tax disc, I did a search on Google, and a copycat website came up offering services that cost money. What efforts are being made by the Government to work with the advertising agencies to try to deal with copycat websites that are ripping people off? (903001)
My colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and I had a meeting with Google and others last week to address exactly this issue. We are taking urgent steps, with Google and with the Advertising Standards Authority, to address it. It is a real concern, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it and we are on the case.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is visiting Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Sapper Adam Moralee from 32 Engineer Regiment, who tragically died in Camp Bastion on 5 March. He will be greatly missed by his family and friends, and our deepest sympathies are with them at this time.
On a happier note, I am sure the whole House would also like to join me in paying tribute to our first Team GB winter Paralympic gold medal winner, Kelly Gallagher, and her team mate, Jade Etherington, who has won silver and bronze medals at the Sochi games. I, of course, wish to send the best of luck to the other Team GB competitors.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I, too, send my sympathies, thoughts and prayers to the family of Sapper Moralee and my congratulations to Kelly Gallagher, from Northern Ireland of course, who competed and won the first gold medal?
Given rising racism and xenophobia, including recent racist attacks in my constituency, what more can the Government do to ensure that the public debate on issues such as European Union membership and immigration is more balanced and celebrates the huge positive contribution made to the social, cultural and economic life of the UK, particularly in the run-up to the European elections?
Of course I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to strike the right balance, explaining to the public that we are running a tough but firm immigration system where it needs to be tough and firm, but one that is open to those who want to come here, make a contribution, pay their taxes and contribute to our way of life. I was deeply saddened and shocked to hear about the incidents and what had happened to members of the Polish and Chinese community in her constituency, and even more so to hear about what has happened to her colleague Anna Lo, Member of the Legislative Assembly. I understand that she is the first Member of Chinese descent in any legislature in Europe, but she, too, has been subject to terrible abuse by bullies and racists. I rang her a few weeks ago to express my support for what she is doing to stand up against that terrible treatment.
Q2. Since a £700 tax cut, free school meals and the pupil premium will improve the opportunities and lives of many of my constituents, even though these ideas were not entirely welcome to some among our coalition partners, will my right hon. Friend welcome the fact that coalition government and the compromises that go with it can deliver sound policies? (902964)
Yes, I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend, especially on those policies. One of them, as he will know, is in the papers this morning, because of the slightly inexplicable views of an entirely unknown if highly opinionated ex-party adviser to the Conservative party about free school meals. Free school meals, when they are delivered for those in infant school in September, will save families money, improve the health of children and improve educational outcomes. Instead of denigrating that policy, we should be celebrating it.
I join the Deputy Prime Minister in paying tribute to Sapper Adam Moralee from 32 Engineer Regiment. We honour his bravery and service, but above all send our deepest condolences to his family and friends who mourn him.
I join the Deputy Prime Minister, too, in congratulating our Paralympic medal winners, and wish all Team GB the best of luck in the rest of the games.
At the last general election, the Deputy Prime Minister said that local people should have more control over their health services. Will he explain to the House and the public why last night he voted against that?
Actually, we voted for measures that will ensure that there is local consultation. [Interruption.] I am intrigued by the right hon. and learned Lady’s line of inquiry, given the Labour party’s record on the NHS. We do not need to go any further than what is happening in Wales, where the NHS has not met its target since 2009. It was the Labour party in government that entered into a succession of sweetheart deals, with the covert privatisation of large parts of our NHS. I really do not think that, after the Francis report and all the other revelations of what happened in the NHS under Labour, it has much to stand on.
The right hon. Gentleman is even prepared to justify what he voted on last night. The truth is that the Health Secretary broke the law that gave local people a say, so decided to change the law. The Lib Dems could have stepped in and stopped it, but oh no, here is what they did instead. First, they said that they were against the change, then they put down an amendment, then they sold out to the Tories—and the Tories got their way again. Is there any logic to how the Lib Dems vote other than self-interest?
This from a party that spent £250 million on sweetheart deals for the private sector, which led to operations and procedures that did not help a single patient; a party that now rants and rails against competition in the NHS, but actually introduced it; a party that suffers from collective amnesia about the terrible suffering of the patients in Mid Staffordshire and other parts of the NHS mismanaged by it.
Hospitals are under threat and they want a say. People will remember what the Deputy Prime Minister has said in the House today.
At their spring conference last week, Lib Dem Ministers were falling over themselves to denounce Government policies, and even their own departmental colleagues, describing them variously as “unfair”, “absurd” and “hated”, yet they keep supporting them. Take the bedroom tax. The right hon. Gentleman’s own party president says that the bedroom tax is wrong, unnecessary and causing misery, but they voted for it. Now they say they want to abolish it. Are they for the bedroom tax or against it? Which is it?
There are 1.7 million people on the housing waiting lists in our country and there are 1.5 million spare bedrooms. That is a problem that we inherited, like so many problems, from the Labour party. We are trying to sort out the mess that it created. If it is incapable of taking any responsibility or expressing any apology for the mess that it has created, why should we take any of the right hon. and learned Lady’s questions seriously at all?
Guess what the top rate of tax was under Labour. Anybody? Was it 50p or 45p? Anybody? It was 40p for 13 years, and now the right hon. and learned Lady is complaining that it is 5p higher. Honestly, if she is going to try to make consistency a virtue, how about this? This week, the Labour party has been talking about the need to give young people job opportunities. Last week, it tabled an amendment to the Deregulation Bill which would tell half a million young people on level 2 apprenticeships that they are no longer apprentices. Worse than that, it issued a report a few months ago that said that hundreds of thousands of youngsters on level 2 apprenticeships are—get this—dead weight. What a kick in the teeth for the young people we should be helping on to apprenticeships.
Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. and learned Lady. When both principals have been at the Dispatch Box, there has been far too much noise. People ought to be able to hear the questions and answers. Whether or not Members respect each other, they ought to respect the public.
Long-term youth unemployment has doubled under the right hon. Gentleman’s Government. With so many people struggling to make ends meet and many even driven to relying on food banks, it is an absolute disgrace that the Lib Dems voted through a tax cut for the richest.
On Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister shared with us everything that he loves about Britain. He loves his cup of tea, he loves the shipping forecast and he loves flip-flops—not so much footwear for the Deputy Prime Minister, but certainly a way of life. With his broken promises and posturing, does he not realise that he might love Britain, but Britain does not love him back?
The punchline was a long time in the delivery and it was not really worth waiting for. I know that the right hon. and learned Lady does not want the facts to get in the way of a pre-prepared joke, but how about this? Youth unemployment is lower now than when we came into office. In her last year in office, 1 million more people were in relative poverty than there are now; half a million more children were in relative poverty than there are now; 150,000 more people were unemployed than there are now; and 25,000 more young people were unemployed. What we know is that Labour is the party of a 40p top tax rate, of sweetheart deals for the private sector in the NHS and of Fred Goodwin—and now they are the party against apprenticeships.
What the Deputy Prime Minister has shown is that he is siding with the Tories and is totally out of touch. Whatever was said last weekend, no one is going to be fooled by the Lib Dems’ phoney rows with the Tories when week in, week out they are justifying policies at the Dispatch Box and trotting through the Lobby with the Tories. They used to talk about two parties coming together in the national interest; now they are two parties bound together by a mutual terror of the electorate.
She has a record of an increase in relative poverty, an increase in unemployment and an increase in youth unemployment, and of bequeathing to a generation the country’s worst peacetime deficit ever. Is that really a record that the right hon. and learned Lady is proud of? As ever, we are clearing up the mess that she left behind.
Q3. The Government’s response to the recent storm damage, to help fishermen and to restore the link at Dawlish is very much appreciated, but the severe damage to Penzance-Scilly and the vital lifeline transport links to the Isles of Scilly has largely gone unnoticed, and it is not something that local authorities can resolve entirely on their own. Will the Deputy Prime Minister ensure that a delegation from my constituency can meet the appropriate Ministers and officials, so that we can seek the support necessary to find a long-term and resilient solution to the problem? (902965)
I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency to see the damage done to many communities by the terrible floods and extreme weather of recent times. I know how long he has been campaigning on the issue. I will ensure that that meeting takes place with the relevant Minister in Government.
This week, it is surely right to extend condolences to the family and friends of Bob Crow.
The Secretary of State for Defence has issued a ministerial correction in which he corrects the falsehood that there was no measurable change in the radiation discharge at HMS Vulcan near Dounreay. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the Ministry of Defence should be fully answerable to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency?
I also express my condolences to the family and friends of Bob Crow. Whether one agreed with him or not, he was someone with forthright views, and he always worked tirelessly for what he believed in and for the people he represented.
On the issue of Dounreay, the Ministry of Defence sought to be as open as possible. It is important that all of us work together to ensure that the nuclear deterrent is managed and maintained safely, and that is exactly what everyone seeks to do.
Q4. We now know that the Leader of the Opposition is opposed to an EU referendum and will not deliver one. The Deputy Prime Minister is opposed to an EU referendum and will not deliver one. The leader of the UK Independence party wants an EU referendum but cannot deliver one. The Prime Minister wants an EU referendum and will deliver it by 2017. Will the stand-in Prime Minister tell the House which of the party leaders trusts the British people and is a real democrat? (902966)
As ever, it is a pleasure! I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman has fans on the Labour Benches. As he mentions my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, let me quote what he said at this Dispatch Box just a couple of years ago when we voted together on this very issue. He said:
“My clear view is that it is when this Parliament proposes to give up powers that there should be a referendum. That is the guarantee that we have written into the law of the land…It is important that we try to establish clear rules for the use of referendums in a parliamentary democracy, and I absolutely believe that rule 1, line 1 is: ‘If you’re giving up powers that belong to the British people, you should ask them first.’”—[Official Report, 24 October 2011; Vol. 534, c. 33-39.]
I entirely agree. That was the Government’s position then, that was what we legislated on and that remains my view.
The richest in society are paying more in every year of this Parliament than they did in any year under Labour. It was the hon. Gentleman’s party that let the bankers run amok. It was his party, the party of Fred Goodwin, that went on a prawn cocktail charm offensive to suck up to the bankers in the first place. It wiped off so much of the value of the British economy—it amounts to £3,000 lost to every household in the United Kingdom. Is that a record that he is proud of?
Q5. Does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that the measures that have been announced so far have had no impact on President Putin and the Russian Government, who are refusing to negotiate with the Ukrainian Government and continue to strengthen their hold on Crimea? Will the Government now press for targeted economic sanctions against senior members of the Russian Government and their supporters in order to reinforce the message that the annexation of Crimea is unacceptable and wholly in breach of international law? (902967)
I am sure that my hon. Friend speaks for everyone in all parts of the House when he says that we should seek to do everything to deter the Russians from making the situation any worse and to de-escalate. That is why it is terribly important that we work together with our American allies and with countries across the European Union and use the collective economic and political clout of the European Union to set out, as we have done, a ratchet of sanctions, which can and will be deployed if de-escalation does not happen. I hope that that will start very soon with Russian agreements to enter into a contact group so that direct talks can start between Kiev and Moscow.
At least we are not the lapdog of the bankers, which is what Labour was in office. At least we did not crash the British economy. At least we did not cost every household £3,000. At least we did not preside over an increase in relative poverty. At least we did not preside over an increase in youth unemployment. We are creating the stronger economy and fairer society that the Labour party failed to create.
Q6. The Deputy Prime Minister will have been encouraged to hear that the economy is growing faster than expected, showing the value of this Government’s long-term economic plan. Does he share my satisfaction that that is being achieved through a resurgence in manufacturing? In my constituency, Automotive Insulations, suppliers to the motor industry, has more than doubled in size over the past three years and is investing in a new 65,000 square feet factory in Rugby. (902968)
I strongly agree. By sticking to the plan, despite all the overtures from Opposition Members to abandon it, we have provided the stability and growth to the British economy that otherwise would not have taken place. We have seen spectacular success in the automotive sector. A vehicle rolls off a British production line every 20 seconds. We are producing more cars than ever before. Of course, the Labour party presided over a decline in manufacturing three times greater than that which happened in the 1980s.
Q7. Last week my constituents in Clifton North elected a new Labour councillor. Does the Deputy Prime Minister think that it was his party’s support for the bedroom tax, the trebling of tuition fees, unfair cuts to the poorest families or the betrayal of the NHS that led my constituents to put the Buss Pass Elvis candidate ahead of the Liberal Democrats? (902970)
Putting Buss Pass Elvis aside for a moment—I admit that it was a novel experience for us, as it no doubt was for the people of Clifton—did the Labour candidate admit that Labour cost every household in Clifton £3,000? Did it admit that Labour allowed the bankers to run amok in 2008? Did it admit that Labour was the party that crashed the British economy? Did anyone on the doorstep apologise to the people of Clifton for what the Labour party did to this country?
Q8. The Cotswolds is a very special place because of stewardship and planning, yet in the past year that has been threatened by thousands of applications for new houses. Localism seems to have gone out the window and the area of outstanding natural beauty is simply not being protected. What can my right hon. Friend do to help resolve that? (902971)
I know that my hon. Friend feels very strongly about this. There are strong planning protections in place for areas of outstanding natural beauty, which are some of this country’s most important treasures, as he rightly said. The national planning policy framework is clear that great weight should be given to conserving areas of outstanding natural beauty, which have the highest level of protection. He might be interested to know that we announced only last week that areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks will be excluded from new legislation allowing agricultural buildings to be converted into housing without the need for planning applications.
Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that if the independent review body on health service staff pay recommends an increase the Government will accept that advice; or will they freeze the pay of some of the lowest earners in the NHS for yet another year?
We will make the announcement on our views of the pay review body’s recommendations shortly, but what we want to do is protect what is now the highest number of nurses employed in the NHS since it was founded. We need to ensure that the NHS continues to employ more clinical staff, rather than fewer, as happened under Labour, to ensure that patients get the best possible treatment under the NHS.
Q9. On Monday, South Korean newspapers said that North Korea was due to execute 33 people for having had contact with a Christian missionary. Given that a quarter of a million people are in North Korean prison camps, will the Deputy Prime Minister urge the BBC World Service to use its existing transmitters to broadcast into North Korea, especially as more and more North Koreans now have access to radios? (902972)
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. As he knows, our embassy in Pyongyang continues to engage critically with the North Korean regime and tries to ensure that there are as many opportunities for dialogue as possible, including information coming into the country. The BBC World Service is of course operationally, editorially and managerially independent. I understand that at the end of last year it decided, following a review, that it could not continue to offer an effective and affordable Korean language service. That is of course a matter for the BBC World Service itself.
Victoria Liggatt of Staveley died after GPs missed several chances to spot her cancer. She is the most serious victim of the failure of the Holywell Medical Group in Chesterfield. Yet she and the 20,000 other patients there who are desperately trying to get an appointment are also victims, are they not, of the Deputy Prime Minister’s shameless, spineless capitulation to the Tories on the NHS?
The hon. Gentleman might not know this, but as I pointed out earlier, it was his party that wasted a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money on sweetheart deals with the private sector to undermine the NHS on tariffs that the NHS could not meet for operations that were not delivered. While he is asking a question, why cannot he tell the House why, only last week, he tabled an amendment to tell 500,000 youngsters that they can no longer be called apprentices? We stand up for fairness, we stand up for a strong NHS, and he does not.
Q10. Has the Deputy Prime Minister read the testimony of Mariana Robinson—a victim of the Labour-run NHS in Wales—in yesterday’s Western Mail? Does he have sympathy with all those suffering on longer waiting lists and with less access to drugs? Does he agree that it is time to give them the opportunity to access the far better services that are being delivered by this coalition Government for NHS patients in England? (902974)
I was appalled, and I am sure everybody would be appalled, by the experiences of one of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. In Wales, where the NHS is run by Labour, 33%—a third—of patients wait more than eight weeks to access diagnostic services. In England, only just over 1% of patients wait longer than six weeks for the same services. I think the comparison speaks for itself.
Q11. This week marks three years since the bloodshed began in Syria. More than 2.5 million people have fled the country, and the dead can no longer even be counted. We must all bear responsibility for our shameful failure to intervene, but the Government are supposed to be the ones running the country. So what renewed effort will the Deputy Prime Minister’s Government make to end the slaughter before all hope fails? (902975)
The hon. Gentleman knows my own views. I felt that there was a case for intervention at the time when we voted on this. Of course, his party voted against it, but if he now wants to speak to his own party leadership on that matter, he is more than welcome to do so. I agree with him. The humanitarian catastrophe there is on an unimaginable scale, and we must do everything we can to help. That is why—I think I am right in saying—our humanitarian effort there is now the largest that this country has ever delivered. It is also why the Home Secretary and others in Government are now administering, in conjunction with the United Nations, a new programme whereby we allow the most destitute and desperate refugees some refuge in this country.
During the recent floods, the Prime Minister rightly announced grants of £5,000 for people in the homes flooded to put in flood defence measures. The Deputy Prime Minister can therefore imagine the disappointment of people from the 1,000 homes in Calder Valley who were flooded only 18 months previously but got no such support. Will he agree to look at this policy with the Prime Minister to see whether the same grants can be made available to those people in Calder Valley who were flooded as well?
Of course I will. As someone who witnessed the terrible flooding in my own constituency some years ago, I know that flooding can hit different parts of the country in different ways. As we adapt to this new, very difficult reality, we must make sure that we build up resilience in all parts of the country and provide assistance as fully and consistently as we can across the country.
Q12. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) agrees with me that the hated bedroom tax is causing misery for those affected. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with the president of his party or with his friend the Prime Minister? (902976)
I think, and everybody thinks, that we need to deal with the mismatch between large numbers of people on the housing waiting list—something the hon. Lady’s party never did anything to address in 13 years—and with the fact that there are large number of spare bedrooms that are not being used. Her Government presided over the change—which we are now delivering in the social rented sector—in the private rented sector. She needs to explain why they want to support the change in one part of the housing system and not in the other.
Q13. Portsmouth football club made history by becoming the UK’s largest, 100% community buy-out. Today, many much-loved clubs face an uncertain future owing to lack of financial transparency, opaque football authority rules and a structure that promotes irresponsibility in business and, if the team in question happens to be a women’s team, that does not promote sporting excellence. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that we need to learn the lessons from Portsmouth, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report and the work of Supporters Direct, and act to protect the interests of clubs, their fans and, ultimately, the national game? (902977)
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend—as, I am sure, will football fans across the country—that this is a really important issue. We cannot have big money hollow out the game that everybody loves. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is looking at the issue on an ongoing basis, and I strongly urge my hon. Friend to take it up with her. It is certainly something that we need to keep a close eye on so that sports clubs large and small can thrive in our country.
Last Thursday, 16-year-old Sam Mangoro from Romsey collapsed in a school PE lesson. One of the reasons he is still alive is that the excellent Mountbatten school already had a defibrillator. It has ordered two more. What steps is my right hon. Friend prepared to take to encourage more schools to make sure that they have defibrillators, and will he commend the work of the excellent Oliver King Foundation, which has been leading the way on this issue?
I and, I am sure, many other hon. Members have also come across this issue in schools, sporting clubs and other recreational facilities in our constituencies. There are some great organisations—my hon. Friend mentioned one of them—that are promoting the need to make defibrillators more available, and I certainly think we should all work with those campaign groups to raise the profile of this important issue.
A report out last week showed that the average nursery cost is now higher than the cost of the average mortgage and that child-care costs have risen five times faster than wages since the election. Given that the Deputy Prime Minister’s long-awaited tax-free child-care scheme will be announced soon, what discussions has he had about the scheme’s relationship with universal credit and the cliff edges it creates, and what assessment has he made of the scheme and its impact on price inflation?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. As it happens, child-care costs are finally starting to come down in England, but they continue to go up, of course, in Labour-run Wales. We must do all we can to help parents and families with these costs. That is why we are delivering 15 hours of free child care and pre-school support to all three and four-year-olds and, for the first time ever, to two-year-olds from this country’s the most deprived families. The hon. Lady is right: of course we need to do more. That is why we will announce shortly the details of the tax-free child-care offer, which will benefit many families across the country who face very high costs.
Private Rented Sector
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prevent the charging by letting agents of above-cost fees; to provide that the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 and Estate Agents Act 1979 apply to letting agencies; to facilitate the establishment by councils of landlord and property accreditation schemes; to establish a housing ombudsman service for tenants in the private rented sector; to require the Secretary of State to undertake a review of the legislation applying to the private rented sector; and for connected purposes.
Two of my constituents recently came to see me at my surgery. They had rented a property in Cambridge. They cleaned up very carefully when they left, but they forgot to fill in three small holes where there had been picture hooks. They were told that some of the deposit would be withheld to cover the damage—fair enough—but the sum charged for three bits of Polyfilla and a lick of paint was £600. They, quite reasonably, refused to pay so much, but were almost immediately offered a deal of half as much. They have now taken the matter to arbitration, but during that time they will not get back the £600.
The letting agency will also not get that money until the deal is settled—such days have gone—but given that many people use the deposit from one place to pay for the deposit on the next, many simply cannot afford to wait to go to arbitration and have to accept whatever deal they are offered. That creates an incentive for letting agents simply to pitch for as much as they can get away with, knowing that some people will just pay it or take whatever they are offered, but that very few will challenge it all the way, regardless of the merits of the case. That is a particular problem in areas of high demand, such as mine, where all the power lies with letting agents rather than with tenants.
There is a similar issue with fees. Letting agents can and do charge exorbitant amounts for credit checks, to put prospective tenants on a register, to extend contracts and to make many other small changes. Shelter, which has run an excellent campaign on this issue, has found that one in seven renters who use letting agents paid more than £500 in fees. That is outrageous, because agents are already paid by the landlord.
Fees bear no relation to the costs. Last night, I looked at one Cambridge site that charges £50 for a credit check and £16 to send any e-mail or letter, which is somewhat above the cost. It also charges £250 to change a name on a tenancy. That is a big problem for houses in multiple occupation, of which we have many, where the people change regularly.
The Bill I seek to introduce would help those in the private rented sector by tackling those problems. It would prevent exorbitant fees being charged, extend to letting agents the controls that apply to estate agents, strengthen local government’s powers to highlight good landlords, extend the existing housing ombudsman to cover the private rented sector as well as the social housing sector, and ensure a thorough Government review of all legislation applying to the private rented sector, as recommended by the Communities and Local Government Committee. The Government are already doing some consultation work.
Of course, many landlords and letting agencies are decent and honest, and do not try to make a living by ripping off their tenants. I was always fortunate to have such an experience. Those good people should have nothing to fear from the controls. Indeed, they will probably benefit as the rogues sharpen up their act or go out of business.
Demand in the private rented sector has continued to rise through changing living patterns and people struggling to pull together the money for a deposit. Shelter’s latest estimate is that about 9 million people in England rent their home, about a third of whom are families. There have been substantial changes in how this business is run, with more and more power in the hands of letting agents.
High fees, especially when they are hidden and people do not know that they are coming, have a huge effect on people’s lives. Many people rent because they cannot yet afford to buy, so they do not have much spare cash. Research has revealed that 27% of those who have used a letting agency in the past three years had to borrow or use a loan to pay fees, and that 17% had to cut spending on heating or food to cover costs. That cannot be right, and it must end.
The Bill strives to give more security and better conditions to those in the private rented sector. There is a housing ombudsman for people in the social sector, as well as for private sector landlords who choose to be covered by it, but why should it cover only the good landlords, who are probably less likely to have problems in the first place? Why should other tenants not have such protection?
We should not choke the sector in red tape, which would of course reduce investment, restrict choice and ultimately drive up costs for tenants, but we can and should do much more. The Government have already done some work in this area. I particularly welcome the £6.7 million given to local authorities to help to tackle rogue landlord activity by the very worst of the worst slum landlords. However, there is more to do to empower tenants by ensuring that they know their rights, know what they are getting and know how to complain if things go wrong.
That is why I propose that councils should be encouraged to run accreditation schemes, as has been done so well in my constituency. Lib Dem-run Cambridge city council’s landlord and property accreditation scheme has been effective. It has helped landlords and tenants, and has driven up safety and sustainability standards. There are far fewer complaints about accredited properties. In fact, there has been only one complaint about an accredited property so far, compared with roughly 250 a year about non-accredited properties. Universities up and down the country know that. They give students the information that they need to know about landlords in the area, such as who is good and who is less good.
Accreditation allows us to tackle issues of safety and sustainability. Safety is a key issue. Privately rented homes are the most likely to contain the worst hazards—category 1 hazards—according to the English housing survey. There is a mismatch in the regime. There is a mandatory requirement to check the gas safety of a privately rented home, but not to check its electrical safety. Given that electricity kills at least one person a week in the home and injures about 1,000 people every day, and that private tenants are affected disproportionately, we should actively seek a solution.
There are similar issues with sustainability. There will always be less of an incentive for landlords to insulate properties that are privately rented, because they do not pay the bills. Cambridge has used its accreditation process to encourage landlords to uprate the energy standards in their properties. I hope that we will see that across the country, because it would help to reduce our reliance on gas, which may come from risky territories.
We should also consider making changes because people are renting for different periods. Tenancy patterns are changing for a number of reasons. People do not always want a six-month or one-year approach. We should look at new forms of tenancy and at expanding the options. There should be appropriate rolling clauses so that people can get what they want. Six-month and one-year tenancies are very insecure for families who want to put down roots and connect with the community in which they live. We should normalise longer-term leases in the private sector and educate landlords about the advantages to them of stable, longer rents. They should do better out of them.
I hope that the House will support the motion and support the millions of families and individuals who rent. The changes that I have outlined are simple, but, if implemented, will not only help to create a fairer and more stable private sector, but improve quality and investment for everybody.
Question put and agreed to.
That Dr Julian Huppert, Caroline Lucas, Tim Farron, Sarah Teather, Lorraine Fullbrook, Mr Adrian Sanders, Greg Mulholland, Annette Brooke, Martin Horwood, Teresa Pearce, Mr John Leech and Jim Shannon present the Bill.
Dr Julian Huppert accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed (Bill 182).
Intellectual Property Bill [Lords]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Future of intellectual property
‘(1) Subordinate legislation to implement the Government’s policy statement entitled “Modernising Copyright”, published in December 2012, may not be brought forward until the Secretary of State has published, and laid before both Houses of Parliament, a report setting out the Government’s long term plans for the future of intellectual property in the United Kingdom.’.—(Mr Iain Wright.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 2, in clause 13, page 11, leave out lines 40 to 41.
Amendment 3, page 12, leave out lines 6 to 7.
Amendment 4, page 12, leave out line 19.
Amendment 5, page 12, line 41, at end insert—
‘(9) In this section “design right” includes an unregistered community design and a reference to the owner of the design right is also to be read as a reference to the owner of a community design right in a design.’.
Amendment 1, in clause 17, page 17, line 31, at end insert—
‘(3A) In making an order under this section which confers jurisdiction on a court, removes jurisdiction from a court or varies the jurisdiction of a court, the Secretary of State shall—
(a) ensure he takes into account the views of—
(i) HM Courts and Tribunals Service;
(ii) the Scottish Courts Services;
(iii) the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service; and
(iv) any other appropriate body;
(b) where the number of patent cases is such as to meet the requirements as set out in Article 7 of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court, to confer local divisional court jurisdiction on—
(i) in England and Wales, the High Court;
(ii) in Scotland, the Court of Session; and
(iii) in Northern Ireland, the High Court.’.
Amendment 6, in clause 20, page 18, line 32, leave out ‘obtained in the’ and insert
‘created or obtained in the planning of, or’.
It is good to be back discussing the Intellectual Property Bill.
We discussed the new clause in Committee and are returning to it on Report because, in the intervening period, there has been no progress. I will remind the House about this long-running saga.
The Government made proposals on copyright exceptions in 2012, during the passage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. In December 2012, the Government published “Modernising Copyright”. One could be forgiven for thinking that that was a simple and straightforward means of implementing the recommendations of the Hargreaves review, as the Government try to maintain. I will come on to the crucial matter of implementation in a moment. However, the level of opposition from stakeholders and the delay in implementing the Government’s proposals suggest otherwise.
In “Modernising Copyright”, Ministers stated:
“The Government will publish draft legislation for technical review in 2013. It intends to introduce the measures in the smallest possible number of statutory instruments to minimise disruption to stakeholders, make best use of Parliamentary time and ensure that the revised system is implemented in a clear and consistent manner. The intention is that measures will come into force in October 2013.”
None of those plans has proved successful.
Major changes to copyright have usually been made through primary legislation. The Copyright Act 1911 placed provisions into one piece of legislation for the first time, and the Copyright Act 1956 put into statute the UK’s accession to the universal copyright convention, and protected for the first time media such as films and broadcasts by copyright. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 provided a major reform of the copyright process, and currently remains the main legislative framework.
When modernising copyright, however, the Government do not intend to make changes via primary legislation but rather through statutory instrument. As is clear from the document I have already cited, the Government always intended to bundle up the proposals on copyright exception into
“the smallest possible number of statutory instruments.”—[Official Report, 4 February 2013; Vol. 558, c. 54W.]
On Report of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill in October 2012, the Minister stated that
“any proposed exceptions will be the subject of secondary legislation and will therefore be debated. Each separate element of a statutory instrument can be debated—that is the function of the secondary legislation procedure.”—[Official Report, 17 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 406.]
That is certainly true; each element can be debated separately, but the key point that will concern the House is that it will not necessarily be possible to vote on each element separately, and that still seems to be the Government’s position.
On Second Reading the Minister stated that
“the regulations will not be completely bundled up.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2014; Vol. 574, c. 83.]
That is a curious phrase that I referred to in Committee, which gives rise to the strong possibility—even probability—that bundling will occur. In Committee, he said that he was not in a position to say how many different instruments there will be, and that the Government were still consulting on the matter with parliamentary counsel. It is six weeks or so since we discussed the issue in Committee on 30 January, but I do not think he is in a position to provide much of an update. In Committee the Minister said:
“The problem with IP and copyright is not insufficient reviews, but insufficient implementation. We are implementing. That is what the Bill is about,”.––[Official Report, Intellectual Property Public Bill Committee, 30 January 2014; c. 91.]
However, evidence shows that that is far from the case.
Let us be clear and put on the record the dither and uncertainty that the Government have provided to those stakeholders involved with copyright. As I said, the Government’s response to “Modernising Copyright” was published in December 2012. In early June 2013, documents were published in relation to new exceptions for private copying, parody, quotation and amendments to exception for public administration. Later that month a new exception for data analysis for non-commercial research was published, as were amendments to exceptions for education and research, libraries and archives.
In July 2013, further amendments to copyright exceptions for people with disabilities were published. All documents were subject to consultation periods that ended in the summer or early autumn of 2013. Since then, no tangible progress has been announced. On Second Reading the Minister pledged that regulations would be laid before the House in February, and in Committee I asked whether the Government still intended February to be the target date. The Minister responded:
“That remains our intention; I cannot put it more strongly than that, can I?”––[Official Report, Intellectual Property Public Bill Committee, 30 January 2014; c. 93.]
Well, he could. We are now into mid-March, and we have still not seen any white smoke from Victoria street. That delay is causing uncertainty among the creative industries, and undermining our competitiveness and attraction as a nation for this crucial sector in the new economy.
The hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) is knowledgeable and diligent about these matters. He is the Prime Minister’s adviser on IP and served on the Committee, and I am pleased to see him in his place this afternoon. Last week, he received a response to a parliamentary question that he asked about progress made by the Department on drafting changes to copyright exceptions. I hope he will not mind my quoting the Minister’s response, because it is important and helped shape my view on whether we needed an amendment on Report. In his reply to the hon. Member for Hove, the Minister said:
“The Government are grateful for the contributions of all those who responded to the various consultations and have continued to engage with stakeholders since the review closed. We have made a number of technical changes following the helpful input of stakeholders, and we consider the regulations have been improved as a result. So, the regulations will be different in light of the valuable consultation process.
The draft regulations are subject to final checking and in accordance with routine practice the Department is currently consulting the legal advisers to the Joint Committee on statutory instruments. This process can help to avoid difficulties about powers, drafting, etc. arising at a later stage, and assists both the Department and the Committee in minimising any delay in the passage of an instrument. Unless otherwise agreed with the legal adviser, Departments should normally allow a period of not less than two sitting weeks for this advance scrutiny. The regulations will be laid before Parliament and published as soon as this process is complete. The regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution and will be debated in both Houses of Parliament.
The Government will publish a response to the technical review, explanatory notes, guidance and other supporting documents alongside the regulations. This will explain the changes we have made to the drafts on which we consulted and why. Copies of all of these documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available on the IPO website.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2014; Vol. 576, c. 944W.]
That was a very good speech.
Thank you very much.
Does what the Minister said mean that we will see the regulations in less than a fortnight? When will they come before the House for consideration? Will it be before the next Session begins in June? Given that, as his answer states, the Government have made a number of technical changes, and as the regulations will be different, will he confirm that a further round of wider consultation is not needed? He cannot seriously suggest that a commencement date of 1 April 2014 is still feasible. Will he give further details?
It could be good news, but we are acting in the dark. The Minister said in Committee—the hon. Gentleman was there—that the Government are in implementation mode. However, the hon. Gentleman, who is a knowledgeable expert, must accept that it looks very much like the Government are making it up as they go along, with no long-term vision for the direction of IP or copyright.
The Government have been left floundering. The hon. Member for Hove alluded to the fact that they have had to be rescued by stakeholders and have reinforced the impression that IP policy is not considered a priority, despite the importance now and in future of the creative industries. That is why new clause 1 is as relevant now as when we discussed it in Committee. The Government’s handling of this important matter has been shambolic, and I should like to test the opinion of the House on it. It is important that we send out a clear message that copyright is important. It is an important driver of wealth creation in the 21st century, and what the Government have done is not good enough.
On amendments 2 and 3, clause 13 was debated at length in Committee and in the other place. I do not want to detain the House, but, as I have said several times during the passage of the Bill, it is the most contentious measure. It is a significant matter when Parliament decides to impose criminal sanctions. The provision that ensures that anybody convicted of deliberately infringing registered designs can go to prison for 10 years needs careful consideration.
Some stakeholders have stated that such a provision will have a chilling effect on innovation in this country and that, as a result, Britain will lose something of our comparative advantage and competitiveness in creativity and innovation. We should not easily give away that advantage in innovation and design. As a result of that persuasive argument from industry—from Dyson and others—the Government tabled amendments in Committee to tighten the wording of clause 13 to ensure that unintentional infringement is not captured by the new criminal sanctions.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that outstanding company in my constituency. Dyson now employs some 1,500 designers and does groundbreaking design work in Britain. I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition for agreeing to table the amendment. The word “intentional” should be included in clause 13, but will he explain why amendment 2, which removes insignificant changes from the exemption, makes any sense at all?
I will come to that later, if I may. In Committee, Government amendments reworded the clause to ensure that it referred only to designs
“with features that differ only in immaterial details from the design”.
Amendment 3 would remove that wording. Let me explain the purpose of that to the hon. Gentleman. We do not want to set the bar lower than the Government intend, but the current wording will provide more uncertainty and the prospect of further litigation. Is there not a risk that the clause will focus on counterfeits rather than on intentional infringement and copying? Given what the Minister said in Committee, I am pretty sure that that is not what he intends.
I mentioned in Committee the fascinating and informative case of Apple v. Samsung. In the context of that court case, is there not a need to consider the design corpus and the informed user? The test for infringement of community designs is whether the later design produces an overall different impression on the informed user. I believe that that is important and would like the Minister’s view. Why is he not using that wording from community designs legislation?
The Minister might recall that in Committee I quoted the judge in the Apple v. Samsung case, who said:
“When I first saw the Samsung products in this case I was struck by how similar they look to the Apple design when they are resting on a table. They look similar because they both have the same front screen. It stands out. However to the informed user (which at that stage I was not) these screens do not stand out to anything like the same extent. The front view of the Apple design takes its place amongst its kindred prior art.”
Does the Minister accept that his current wording, which emphasises “immaterial designs”, will more than likely be concerned with counterfeits? Why has he not included in the clause the common community wording for infringement of community designs, which asks whether the later design produces an overall different impression on the informed user? That is the purpose of amendments 2 and 3.
Like other proposals, amendment 5 has been debated several times during the Bill’s passage in the other place and the House. It is essentially about consistency and the scope of effectiveness. If the Government believe—it is a big “if”, and opinion is polarised—that intentional infringement of design rights should be subject to a prison sentence of up to 10 years, why should that criminal sanction apply solely to registered designs rather than also to unregistered designs?
As I mentioned in Committee, about 4,000 designs are registered in the UK each year, and about 18,000 to 25,000 unregistered designs are lodged with the Anti Copying in Design database. I also mentioned in Committee a glaring inconsistency in the Government’s position—that is at the heart of the amendment. On the one hand, in Committee in the other place in June, the Minister said:
“SMEs…do not tend to register their designs”.
If so, what are the Government hoping to achieve with that provision? On the other hand, the same Minister said:
“The introduction of criminal sanctions for unregistered rights could lead to a negative effect on business and innovation.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 June 2013; Vol. 745, c. GC395-409.]
If that is the case for unregistered designs, why is it not the case for designs that the innovator has gone to the trouble of registering? I cannot believe that the Government’s position is consistent.
In Committee, the Minister gave a practical example to illustrate his opposition to the amendment by referring to the design of a sofa. Where I come from, we call a “sofa” a “settee”—that is the proper word for that piece of furniture. The Minister said that, if a case about an unregistered design of a settee—or a sofa—were to be brought before a criminal court, it would need to establish whether the right existed and which parts of the design were original. As we discussed in Committee, surely the concept of design corpus would apply not only in the civil court, but also for the higher standards demanded in the criminal court, where the Government are pushing, and to registered designs and unregistered designs.
In Committee, the Minister said:
“We should not forget the ultimate reason for the Bill and the clause. There are small and medium-sized enterprises up and down the country in the design business that are being ripped off. Their designs do not have the protections that they require.”––[Official Report, Intellectual Property Public Bill Committee, 30 January 2014; c. 67.]
However, the vast majority of designs are unregistered, and the Government’s proposals will do nothing to help them. Small firms without resources will still run the risk of being ripped off by larger and unscrupulous businesses. Clause 13 in its original form did not address that, and the Government changes to the clause through the Bill’s passage in this House do not do so either. The Minister must accept that inconsistency, and amendment 5 tries to deal with it.
The Minister will recall that we debated amendment 6 in Committee as a means of clarifying the precise point at which exemption from freedom of information would apply to research. The purpose of this amendment, as it was in Committee, is to seek assurance that the pre-experimental stages of research would also be covered by the clause. In Committee, the Minister explained that the Government were responding to a request from the Justice Committee to give the same specific protection as exists in Scotland although, as I also mentioned in Committee, there is a difference in the wording of the legislation in that the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 has the additional word “substantially” included.
In responding to the Justice Committee’s recommendation, the Government said they recognise
“that the adoption of a qualified exemption for research would provide additional clarity and reassurance, both to Higher Education institutions and non-public sector research partners. We accept that despite the wide applicability of existing exemptions, the lack of a dedicated research exemption can at least give the impression that FOIA does not provide adequate protection. On balance, therefore, the Government is minded to amend FOIA to introduce a dedicated exemption, subject to both a prejudice and public interest test, as recommended by the Committee. The Government shares the Committee’s view that this would constitute a proportionate response to the concerns expressed.”
That is a fair summary.
The Minister also said in Committee that if the Government found any
“genuine problem in the real world and that academics’ lab notes are being obtained under FOI—despite the range of protections that exist in FOI legislation at the moment—that would be something that we would review and consider.”––[Official Report, Intellectual Property Public Bill Committee, 30 January 2014; c. 77.]
I understand that representatives of the academic research community met officials from the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on 4 March to discuss this matter. There remains some doubt whether the wording on the face of the Bill provides exemptions for information created during the planning phase of a research programme.
Given that context and the meeting on 4 March, will the Minister confirm that if information that is created in the planning phase of a research programme is intended for future publication—and, if it found its way into the hands of competitors, would prejudice the research programme or the research institution having an interest in the programme—such information is covered under FOI and clause 20 of the Bill? The purpose of this amendment is for the Minister to provide that clarity.
Would the Minister also respond again to the point that I made in Committee—why is the wording of the Scottish FOI legislation, especially the use of the word “substantially” not replicated in this clause? I look forward to the Minister’s response and I hope that he will look favourably on my arguments.
May I start by paying tribute to all the members of the Bill Committee for an excellent couple of days of deliberations on the clauses? In particular, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) for drawing out points for debate without needlessly pushing for votes on each one, and of course to the Minister for reflecting on each point in a highly constructive manner—and not grumpily at all.
There are several areas of concern in the Bill. The first is in relation to education. As a general rule, rights holders have lost the debate with the public generally. Many see creative output as something they should be able to access for free—after all, they have been doing it for years; it is not a tangible product; they probably would not have bought it anyway, so they are only increasing the awareness of performers; and the chances of getting caught are low and there is no penalty. On a positive note, there have been moves by industry to step up the game in terms of education, and we have had some Government-funded schemes such as those produced recently by the Intellectual Property Office. But with the Department for Education ruling out any formal copyright education in schools, we need a co-ordinated approach, led by Government and helped along by industry. In my view, the IPO is best placed to lead the charge on education on IP matters and it was my intention to add a clause to the Bill to formally require the IPO to report annually on what initiatives it had undertaken in the past year. In the end, I have not pushed for that amendment after hearing assurances from the Minister that education on the importance of IP will be at the heart of the IPO’s activities.
My second concern related to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hartlepool, especially in relation to the differences between offline and online crime penalties. Even with this Bill, there remains a worrying message that online crime is considered to be one fifth as serious as offline crime. It may be that the maximum penalty of 10 years for offline crime is too high and is unrealistic, and therefore online crime will never get the same penalty. I hear that argument. However, in Denmark they have recognised this and have a two-level crime, with 18 months maximum for less serious stealing and six years for serious commercial crime. Importantly though, in Denmark the penalty is the same for both online and offline crime. I was particularly pleased that in Committee the Minister accepted that this issue does need to be looked at, even if only to underpin the message that IP crime is equally serious, and has undertaken to review the anomaly and report back. That is a very positive step and I look forward to the results of the review. For that reason, I will not support the hon. Gentleman’s amendment.
My third concern has been less easily satisfied and relates to criminal penalties for copying designs. I welcome the introduction of a criminal penalty for registered designs. While it has always been possible to claim for damages in the civil court, this was expensive, took a great deal of time and, ultimately, did not provide a sufficient deterrent. The threat of criminal proceedings almost certainly will. I also welcome the addition of the word “intentionally”. This may give rise to difficulties in proving intent, but ultimately no one should want to see anyone subject to criminal penalties for not knowing. I appreciate that ignorance is no defence normally in law, but in design it probably should be. Providing someone has undertaken reasonable checks to be sure that someone else has not already produced the idea, criminal sanctions would be a step too far.
The Bill does not include a criminal offence in relation to unregistered designs. I fully understand that all designers should be encouraged to register their designs formally in most instances, and I fully understand that doing checks to ensure no infringement of an unregistered design is more difficult—and in many instances, impossible to check completely. However, given the insertion of the word “intentionally” into the Bill, one has to ask why the penalty cannot be a little harsher and more of a deterrent. As it stands, even if a designer can prove that a copy of an unregistered design was done intentionally, the only recourse the original designer will have in law is once again the civil courts, and that is often just not enough of a deterrent for someone who wishes to take others’ designs as their own. Nevertheless—
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, I do not intend to support his amendment which would harmonise unregistered and registered designs, at this time. The Bill is a step in the right direction and I merely put down the marker that should evidence be provided that the law is failing in this regard, we should come back to this issue and consider it again. I am prepared to see where the legislation as it stands takes us, rather than supporting the amendment now. All I ask now is that the Minister acknowledges the potential and agrees to return to the point in a future Bill.
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that an IPO conference is coming up in June, which will address some of the IP issues that he was talking about. I will return to the issue on Third Reading, but it is important that the Prime Minister and No. 10 make a clear declaration about intellectual property being a property right. If that is done, it is not necessary to add new clause 1 to the Bill.
I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr Speaker, in this not so crowded Chamber. I presume that everybody is paying great attention to the debate on their television screens. It goes to show the lack of interest in intellectual property issues, which disappoints me very much. As I have said before, we need a Minister who is answerable for intellectual property in this House, so that we can raise these very important questions, and so that an IP Minister can respond to these critical debates on this very important issue.
Amendment 1 stands in my name. We have discussed the issue before—on Second Reading and in Committee—and we have had assurances from the Minister, but now is the time for a cast-iron commitment. He knows the anxieties and concerns about this issue, not just from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, but from the whole legal community in Scotland, which remains very concerned that Scotland will lose the right to judge, assess and hear cases to do with patents.
The Minister may have his views about me as a Member of Parliament, but the Faculty of Advocates and the Court of Session in Edinburgh could hardly be described as hotbeds of nationalist militancy. If even the Faculty of Advocates could write to the Minister in such graphic terms about its concerns, surely those concerns should be taken into account and treated seriously. We have heard enough warm words from the Minister; we must now start to hear him express a commitment to Scotland.
It is possible that, after centuries, we will lose the right to consider patent issues in the Scottish courts. Clause 17 makes provision
“to confer…remove… or vary the jurisdiction of a court”
in relation to the new unified patent court, thus effectively allowing the United Kingdom to decide how to approach the whole issue of divisional courts. The UK can have up to three or four of them. Why can it not accept the Court of Session as one of those courts? My amendments would simply ensure that Scotland was once more a jurisdiction with the ability to rule on important patent cases.
We all support the arrival of the new unified patent court. Of course it makes sense for patent hearings to be unified across all the jurisdictions in the European Union, and many of us have argued long and hard to that effect. It will make life so much easier for our inventors, creators and artists. However, it cannot come at a price for Scotland’s legal establishment. For Scotland, with its history of invention and creation, to be denied the ability to consider the issue of patents is—patently—absurd. For decades, if not centuries, the Court of Session in Edinburgh has had the power to consider patent issues in Scotland. We have built up experience and skills that may be lost if we are denied access to a divisional court.
Scotland has a distinct legal establishment. For the last 300 years, as members of the United Kingdom, we have been able to keep our own Scots law when it comes to matters such as this, and people have acquired the necessary experience of that law—and, of course, we in Scotland have a history and culture of creativity that goes back for centuries. As you know, Mr Speaker, Scotland practically invented the modern world: everything from tarmacadam to television was invented by Scotsmen, and today we are still achieving things through our biotechnologies and biosciences. There has been Dolly the sheep, for instance, and—I recall that the Minister rebuked me when I mentioned this in Committee—our contribution to the Higgs boson. Scotland has a culture of being able to invent and create, and we must be allowed to consider issues relating to that culture in our own courts.
Yesterday, in advance of today’s debate, a programme on BBC Scotland showed some of our fantastic new creators and inventors, who are coming up with wonderful new products. They were discussing the importance of allowing these matters to be considered in Scotland. Our Scots law is a totem, an important centre. Some fantastic examples were shown during that BBC Scotland programme—and, I should add, there were some particularly good comments from me. The programme demonstrated the degree of interest in these issues that exists in Scotland, as indeed it should, because the creative industries are important to Scotland. Indeed, they are probably more important to Scotland than they are to the rest of the United Kingdom: we invest more in them, and they play a dynamic and important role in the overall Scottish economy.
Our history of invention and creation makes it plain that Scotland is more than adequately equipped to be a successful independent nation. We know that we could be one of the wealthiest nations in the world because of the resources and skill of our people. If we were independent, this would not be an issue, because, as a member state of the European Union, we would be allowed direct access to the unified patent court. There is an especially important reason why that should happen. It is important to the legal establishment, and it is important to all the individuals who are involved in business. Why should Scottish business men have to bear the extra costs of going to a different jurisdiction to have their day in court and secure justice in relation to important patent issues? We have some incredible new industries in Scotland, not least in the renewable sector and particularly in oil and gas. Our businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, need to be able to come to Edinburgh for this purpose. Not being able to do so is an inconvenience that small businesses in Scotland can ill afford.
This is in the Government’s gift. All the Minister need do is say “Yes, the court in Edinburgh will be one of the divisional courts.” London, of course, will have one of the central divisional courts, as will Paris and Munich. As I said in Committee, all that we need is New York: then we could have “Pop Muzik” by M. So London will be looked after, but what about the other capitals in the United Kingdom? We are always being told that Scotland has a part to play in the UK—indeed, that is what the debate that we shall continue to have over the next few months is all about—so why has it been overlooked?
I shall tell the House why I think Scotland has been overlooked. My view—and perhaps the Minister will be able to confirm it—is that the Government simply did not think about it. As so often when it comes to issues to do with Scotland on their watch, they did not really consider it. Now they have been told about it, and they are saying “This must be addressed, because it is clearly a bit of an issue.” The Minister needs to say that this will be resolved, and to give a cast-iron commitment and guarantee that the Court of Session in Edinburgh will be one of the UK’s permitted divisional courts. If he were to do that, he would be a hero of the Scottish legal establishment. He would be carried through the streets of Edinburgh by the Faculty of Advocates. He would be celebrated. Moreover, he would be doing his bit for the Union. After all, the denial to Scotland of a divisional court could become an issue in the referendum. The Minister now has an opportunity to put that right, and I very much hope that he will be able to do so.
This issue could be resolved very easily. It is in the Government’s gift. The Minister knows our concerns: he has heard them again and again. This is one issue that has united Scotland’s entire legal establishment. I say to the Minister “Just resolve it, for goodness’ sake. It is in your gift, and you could do it very easily.”
I support new clause 1, and if the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) seeks to divide the House, I shall continue to support it. I am afraid that I missed the debate on this important new clause in Committee, and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not being present then. Such are the limited resources among the personnel of the Scottish National party that, unfortunately, I had to exercise my responsibilities for home affairs in relation to the Immigration Bill, but I am grateful to him for returning the new clause to us.
The issue of copyright exceptions is proving to be the most controversial aspect of the Hargreaves process, and it has caused real angst and concern among members of our creative community. They are the people—the stakeholders, or rights-holders—who come to see the Minister regularly. They are the people who work day in, day out to ensure that the United Kingdom remains in the top five of every creative, artistic and inventive discipline in the world, whether that is music, films, television or design. We cannot mess about with that; we must ensure that we get it right.
The people who come and speak to the Minister about these issues know their business, because they are involved in it day in, day out, bringing billions of pounds’ worth of economic activity to the United Kingdom. The Government must start to listen to them. They have been accused of “lobbynomics”, but not by the Minister; indeed, I have never heard any member of the Government use the term. I believe that it was used by Ian Hargreaves while he was conducting his review. I know that the Minister, members of his Department and representatives of the Intellectual Property Office frequently meet the stakeholders, consult them, discuss the issues with them, and take on board what they say, but they do not actually listen to them. We may have consultation fatigue, but we certainly have no fatigue when it comes to trying to put the case to the Government and trying to ensure that they listen.
Why does the issue of copyright exceptions cause so much grief to those who work so hard to ensure that our creative industries continue to be world-class? The answer is quite simple. The more exceptions there are to our copyright legislation, the more difficult it is to protect our creators, artists and inventors. They are the primary drivers of all the cogs and wheels of our creative economy, and they must be central to any discussion of that economy. Copyright protection is one of the things they can rely on to make sure that they continue to innovate, take risks and produce wonderful works that we uniquely are able to produce right across these islands.
Those who argue for copyright exceptions continually suggest and assert that copyright is restrictive—that it somehow stifles creativity and is effectively a barrier to growth. That is what we continually hear from Ministers of whatever party, but nothing could be further from the truth. I just wish that some day we would have a Minister who will come to the Dispatch Box and tell us what a wonderful thing copyright is, and what a contribution it makes to the well-being of our artists, inventors and creators. I have never heard that in my 13 years in the House, and I am sure that most other Members have not heard it either.
Copyright is not a barrier to economic growth and development and support for our artists. It enables that. We are successful in this country and we have such success in our creative industries not despite copyright, but because of copyright. It would be really good to hear about the contribution and value that copyright brings to our creative industries and how it enables and supports our artists, creators and inventors.
I believe that this Government still see copyright as a barrier to growth. I believe that because of the way all this started. It started with the Googlesburg address from the Prime Minister, when he told us he could never foresee the arrival of a Google in the United Kingdom because our IP laws and copyright framework would restrict its emergence. The very process we are debating and concluding today, possibly along with the whole Hargreaves process, started with the assumption that somehow copyright is a barrier—that it is restrictive and gets in the way of economic development and growth. The whole of the Hargreaves process was predicated on that assumption, and as a result we are today looking at these particular exceptions and dealing with them in this way. The Government are again putting forward the idea that exceptions are required because they see copyright as a restrictive practice.
That is so unimaginative. It is the language of the last decade. That battle has been fought and won. It was the battle of the Digital Economy Act 2010. We have moved on since then. The world view of copyright and supporting our artists has changed dramatically, yet we are still fighting the battles of the past. We are talking about intellectual property here, so let us be intelligent and creative; let us start to look at things differently. Let us stop going through the tired old prospectuses. Let us start looking at copyright as an enabler—at how we best support our artists, creators and inventors. This is a new world. We have moved on since the Digital Economy Act. We are in the world of complete digitisation and of e-commerce—of ensuring we can monetise people’s works and efforts online. We have not done that with this measure. We have lost this opportunity because we have focused so much on copyright exceptions, inspired by the IPO, and taken forward by Ministers. It is such a dreary and unimaginative way to progress with such an important issue.
If this Government are re-elected next year, let us try to do this differently. Let us try to be creative about how we take this forward. I cannot see that happening, however, because I still very much believe that in the heads of this Government’s Members, just as in those of previous Government Members, there is a difficulty and an issue with copyright that must be rectified and challenged to ensure that it is not going to be restrictive.
We are going to have these particular statutory instruments, therefore, and the hon. Member for Hartlepool is absolutely right that we have no idea what is being taken forward. This is all still with parliamentary counsel and we do not know when we are going to see these SIs or how many there will be. Will there be one? Will there be several, and if so will they be put together? This debate goes all the way back to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill and we are still no clearer on how this is going to be taken forward. It would be totally unacceptable if these SIs were to be bundled together into one.
The creative industries have concerns about some of the economic impact assessments that have been done, and there are concerns about compliance with European law in respect of some of the technical details of these exceptions. The parody issue is particularly important. Some of the economic impact assessments done by the IPO were totally bizarre and hardly worth the paper they were written on. For instance, the exception for parody is said to be worth £600,000. That figure was arrived at by taking the total value of the global entertainment market, which the IPO reckoned was about $2 trillion, and then it estimated that with the parody exception the UK share of that market would be up to 0.05%, which translates to something like £650 million in growth. What a fantastic way to look at these things.
On private copying, the IPO said in its economic impact assessment that if a private copy exception were in place by 2020 it would bring £2 billion into the UK economy. That extraordinary figure was arrived at by assuming that all sorts of UK technology firms that otherwise would be restrained and held back would be bursting to come through with new ideas and new pieces of hardware. The contention is that the iPod could possibly have been invented in that period. That is how these economic impact assessments are worked out. That is why we must be able to consider all these SIs differently. We must be able to look at them so that we can challenge some of the figures and ask the Minister again and again about the detail and how we move forward.
I support the amendment which asks for this to be done in the context of the Government’s view about how to move forward in respect of intellectual property. I would like to hear about that. I would like us to move forward with renewed vigour and with imagination and creativity.
I also support the other amendments of the hon. Member for Hartlepool. I will start with the Scottish one. We have no issues at all in academia in Scotland. Things work perfectly well for us in terms of freedom of information. I hope that this will be pursued and I think it can be brought forward.
A case can be made for both registered designs and unregistered designs. That is where we find most of the business. We have seen the assets database and we know this can be done.
This has been an interesting debate. We now move forward to considering these SIs. I sincerely hope that they will not be bundled together and that we have the opportunity to consider them properly and vote on them separately.
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond on the amendments and new clauses proposed by the hon. Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), and to respond to the important contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley).
Amendment 6 relates to the Freedom of Information Act. The new exemption in clause 20 should give substantial reassurance to the academic community that important research and related information obtained or derived from ongoing research programmes will receive appropriate protection under the FOI Act. Indeed, in the spirit of respect for Scotland, which the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire called for, we are implementing the so-called Scottish exemption. The provision already applies in Scotland and we are applying it to the rest of the UK. That is what we were asked to do and we are doing it.
However, I understand that there are still some concerns about whether the Act provides effective protection in relation to premature release of information created during the planning stages of research programmes—for example, information contained in grant applications, plans and licences. The Government recognise the significant value that material may have to researchers and institutions. I want to place on the record why we believe the Act is capable of protecting such material.
Section 22 of the FOI Act allows any material to be withheld if it is held with a view to future publication and it is reasonable and in the public interest to withhold it. That means that research material intended for future publication can already be protected. Also, clause 20 builds on the protection offered by section 22 by providing specific protection for material that is part of a research programme whose results are intended for publication. But the protection it offers is not just for the results; it extends to any information that is obtained in the course of, or is derived from, a research programme.
In addition to the provisions in clause 20 and section 22, the Freedom of Information Act already provides a range of other exemptions that may be used to protect research. For example, section 43 allows material to be withheld where it would prejudice the commercial interests of any person to release it, and where it would be in the public interest to do so. For example, that exemption allows valuable intellectual property to be protected, where appropriate. It might also extend to cases in which the premature release of research plans would inhibit a university from entering into partnerships with commercial partners for the purpose of pursuing research or creating future intellectual property.
In addition, section 36 of the Act protects material whose release would, or would be likely to, prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. That exemption does not refer to universities or research specifically, but universities and the research they undertake play a hugely important role in public life. Where the release of research material at an early stage would undermine a university’s ability to establish research programmes, and thus to do the job the public expect of it, that exemption might be highly relevant.
Clause 20 also provides parity with Scottish public authorities already protected by section 27(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Such is our respect for Scottish wisdom and experience that we have spoken to the Information Commissioner in Scotland and the Scottish Government about these matters, and they consider that the Scottish legislation is effective in protecting pre-publication research information. I hope that that will assure Members on both sides of the House. We will keep this matter under review, and if there is evidence that further action is necessary, the Government will give it careful consideration.
I will now respond to the hon. Member for Hartlepool’s amendments to clause 13. They would have a rather peculiar double effect. He wants to extend the criminal sanction to unregistered design, but his amendments would also narrow the circumstances in which the sanction would apply. We debated the question of unregistered design at length in Committee. The Government do not believe that unregistered design rights should be subject to criminal sanctions, because the risks involved would be too great.
I can assure the House—and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove in particular—that if it were practical to introduce this measure, and if it would not have a stifling effect on innovation, the Government would see a case for extending criminal sanctions to the unregistered design right. However, our concern is that it would not be practical to do so, and that it would stifle innovation. That is because unregistered design rights are much harder to become aware of and to track than registered design rights. That does not mean that we do not understand the value to designers of unregistered designs, and there are other ways in which the Government can support UK designers with unregistered designs. We are working with relevant bodies, including A©ID—Anti Copying in Design—to establish the best way to do that.
Unlike the hon. Member for Hartlepool, we believe that there are clear reasons for having criminal sanctions for registered designs and not having them for unregistered designs. Registered designs are logged on an official, easily accessible Government register, which shows the protected design, the owner and other key information. Unregistered design right protection can apply to the whole design, or to separate elements of that design. Those could belong to different people and have different time scales left to run on their protection. That could create uncertainty over whether a design could be used as the basis for legitimate activity.
We discussed this matter in Committee. Does the Minister think that, as a result of the implementation of clause 13, the ratio of registered designs to unregistered designs would change? In a nutshell, does he think that more people would register their designs as a result of clause 13?
It is hard to give an estimate on that. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has underestimated the significance of registered designs. He suggested that their scope was quite narrow in comparison with unregistered designs. Let me give him the figures. There are already a large number of registered designs in existence. The UK’s and EU’s publicly accessible registers hold about 728,000 design registrations that are in force in the UK. That is a substantial number. I do not want to try to forecast whether it will become even greater, but we are extending criminal sanctions to cover those 728,000 design registrations. That is a significant step towards protecting our design community.
It would be difficult to extend those sanctions further to include unregistered designs, given the uncertainties involved, but let me assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hove that we will evaluate the effects of this legislation. Following its conclusion, a suitable framework will be developed to evaluate its measures, including the criminal sanctions for copying a registered design. The evaluation will include an assessment of the effectiveness of this measure, and we will keep an eye on whether further changes need to be made to its operation and scope, and whether there might ever be a case for including unregistered design rights.
I do not want to give a time scale. The hon. Gentleman has already referred to one that I gave upstairs that has come back to haunt me, so I am wary of offering him any more time scales when faced with his blandishments. All I can say is that it will take time for the new system to take effect, and we will need to monitor it. We will undertake to do that.
I will now move on to the hon. Gentleman’s amendments 2 and 3. Having sought to broaden the criminal sanctions to cover unregistered designs, he is seeking in the same group of amendments to narrow the scope by effectively restricting the sanction to exact copying only. That would be the effect of amendments 2 and 3. That would go too far in narrowing the scope of the provision.
I remind the House that the clause was introduced to assist designers who told us of the problems they had in dealing with copyists who set out to copy their designs intentionally and blatantly. That is what we are tackling in this important legislation. They believed that such copyists were skilled at playing the legal system and counted on smaller businesses running out of time and money to pursue them. They told us—as I am sure they told my hon. Friend the Member for Hove and others—that the issue was not restricted to exact copying. Copyists are clever enough not to implicate themselves in that crude way; the issue often involves tweaking an existing design. The sanction protects against that by referring not only to exact copying but to the copying of
“designs which differ only in immaterial details”.
The amendments would in effect restrict the penalties for copying to exact and counterfeit copies only. The sanction would therefore fail to address the very problem the designers have told us about.
The combined effect of the amendments would be to create greater uncertainty by extending criminal penalties to unregistered designs, and to fail to tackle a genuine grievance by narrowing the provision to cover only exact copying. We are tackling that grievance in the Bill. I hope that, in the light of my comments, the hon. Gentleman will not press his amendments.
Let me now turn to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. I always enjoy his speeches, in which he proudly talks of the contribution of Scotland, not only to the UK but to nothing less than world history. He is absolutely right about that. For me, the Scottish enlightenment is one of the great events in the history of ideas, and I always enjoy hearing celebration of it.
I understand the principle behind the hon. Gentleman’s amendment and the importance of the issue to legal services and innovative businesses in Scotland. We have been working closely with the court services in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, as well as with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service in England and Wales, so that we can take account of their views. Let me make it clear to him again: the Government will look favourably at any proposal to site a local division wherever there is a business need, and a local division can be located in Scotland should there be enough cases to support one. I said on Second Reading that it was very possible that there could be one in Scotland, and I stand by that.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will consult with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland and with the court services in those jurisdictions. It is not necessary to legislate to ensure that the consultation and co-operation will happen, because we are already doing it. It is also not necessary to legislate nationally in order to set up a local division, because the process for doing so is purely administrative. That process is set out in the unified patent court agreement. We will be following it with consultation.
I am reassured by what the Minister has said. He has been consistent in his responses on the issue. Let me try to put it in another way. Does he foresee any reason why the Court of Session in Edinburgh could not acquire one of the divisional courts of the unified patent court?
The only reason I can imagine for that not happening is if there were a conspicuous lack of demand for the services of a local division. That is the issue: if there is no demand for it, there is no point setting it up. The hon. Gentleman, however, assures us and we are hearing a lot of people say that there is a demand for it. We are saying that, if there is a demand, it is likely to go ahead, but we do not need to legislate for what is an administrative process to set something up in response to demand. If demand is substantial, it will happen. I hope that I have made our position clear.
New clause 1 was tabled by the hon. Member for Hartlepool. On this, he is in a bit of a muddle. We have set out our plans on copyright exemptions, following the Hargreaves review. Some hon. Members may recall the large volume of reports and consultation exercises that I wielded in Committee. We have had an enormous amount of consultation and engagement with stakeholders on the planned copyright changes. We do not need a new clause such as this to provide for yet more consultation and consideration. We are grateful to all those who have responded to the various consultations and we have continued to engage with stakeholders since the timetable for the last review came to an end. We have made a number of technical changes following the helpful input of stakeholders, and we consider that the regulations have been improved as a result. They will be different in the light of the valuable consultation process.
The hon. Gentleman read out at great length my response to a parliamentary written question last week— I do not think there are any copyright exemption issues in quoting at such length from parliamentary answers—in which I said that the draft statutory instruments are now being finalised, and we anticipate that they will be laid before Parliament
“as soon as this process is complete.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2014; Vol. 576, c. 945W.]
I will go a tiny bit further for the hon. Gentleman and say that probably, and I very much hope that, they will be laid next week.
I fully recognise that laying the draft statutory instruments next week, if we are able to do so, still means that this process will have taken longer than we forecast and expected. That is a source of great frustration, but we are dealing with parliamentary draftsmen, and they need time to sharpen their quill pens, to get the right parchment out and to prepare their processes. Nevertheless, we will be laying the draft statutory instruments very soon indeed.
I am not yet in a position to confirm the exact structure of the draft instruments, but—as I undertook upstairs, in Committee—I listened to concerns about bundling and expect to be able to lay a number of statutory instruments. I reiterate my commitment to write to hon. Members on the matter as soon as possible. What I said in Committee about unbundling wherever possible was simply so as to ensure that debate could happen in separate, coherent units. It might be the case that one or two have to be taken together, but we understand the crucial point, that each substantial area should have its distinctive debate. That is what we will try to secure.
The measures included in the copyright exemption package will benefit innovation, competition, research and education and will increase respect for copyright law. The sooner we can bring the measures into force, the sooner the benefits will start to be realised. The hon. Member for Hartlepool, however, is now calling for a further delay in the process—that would be the effect of his new clause—but we do not need further delay. The Labour Government tried to tackle the problem; as we had the Hargreaves report, so his Government had the Gowers review. The difference is that after Gowers, they were not able to make any progress and they did not bring legislation before the House. I believe that they broadly accepted Gowers, which was not dissimilar to Hargreaves, but we are making far more progress in getting on and implementing measures in this important area than the Labour Government did.
The Minister simply cannot get away with that. I am not leaping to the defence of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), which I am sure he can do for himself, but the Labour Government did bring in the Digital Economy Act 2010, which the Conservative party said it would support and implement. Whatever happened to that?
We are talking about the copyright exemptions covered in new clause 1. Let me be absolutely clear that, by comparison with any previous Government, we are now moving on to implementation. I have said to the House that we will be aiming to lay the draft statutory instruments before Parliament soon.
I have the experienced and wise Leader of the House beside me on the Front Bench, and I think that things are reaching the stage where, arithmetically, once we remove the weeks in which the House is not sitting, it will be hard to have the commencement date as 1 April. We recognise that it might be some time shortly after 1 April. That will depend on how the timetable pushes out.
A paradox in the position of the hon. Member for Hartlepool is that we are here getting on with something that the Labour Government were not able to implement, but he is standing up to say that it is taking us too long, while bringing before the House a new clause that would make things take even longer. We do not need any more delay, we want to get on with it and we are trying to get on with it. The only effect of his new clause would be to bring the process to a grinding halt so that he can have yet another review, when the last thing we need is more reviews. I hope that in the light of that he will withdraw the new clause and not press his other amendments.
It has been an interesting debate on this group of amendments. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for taking part.
The Minister started with amendment 6. He said, rightly, that the Government are implementing the Scottish exemption. The whole purpose is to provide as much reassurance as possible that, despite any premature disclosure, research plans are protected under freedom of information. I am not entirely certain that he has provided that to the satisfaction of the research community, but this is something that we will need to look at.
The Minister went on to talk about clause 13, and I still maintain that there is a huge inconsistency between the approaches on the infringement of registered design rights and on the infringement of unregistered design rights. Looking at the body language and the eyes of the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), I would say that he thinks that too. I cannot understand why having criminal sanctions in respect of unregistered design rights would have a chilling effect on innovation but such sanctions in respect of registered design rights would not. Surely the position is inconsistent. My other concern is that this is hindering and penalising micro-businesses and small businesses. Registering a design is a huge cost to business. The cost of registering a single design or the first design in a multiple application with the Intellectual Property Office can be £60. For every additional design in a multiple application the cost can be £40. That cost and the time scale can be particularly prohibitive to design businesses, which is perhaps why we see only a relatively small proportion of designs being registered.
The Minister may recall that in Committee I mentioned the different lengths of protection. Although registered design rights provide 25 years of protection compared with the 10 to 15 years of protection provided by unregistered design rights, registered design rights need to be renewed every five years. The cost of re-registering a design increases on a sliding scale by about an additional £100 each time, up to a cost of £450. So on a five-yearly basis the cost of re-registering a design for small businesses and micro-businesses could be in excess of £1,000. That seems to be penalising small businesses and micro-businesses, and inhibiting innovation as much as possible. That is not what we should be doing. I maintain that the costs of employing and commissioning a lawyer to deal with this process are prohibitive now and will be in the future. All this is costing designers a fortune and I am not convinced that the Minister has a consistent position.
The Minister finished by discussing new clause 1 and saying that I am in a bit of a muddle on it. If I am in a bit of a muddle, most experienced stakeholders in the copyright business are, too. The Government have floundered. They have taken far too long, floundering in the dark. They are not providing the certainty and long-term vision that is so important to the future of the UK economy—it needs that. We need to show our lack of appreciation for what the Government are doing. He has not been able to provide any real certainties. We may have the measures in a couple of days or we may have them in a couple of months, but there does not seem to be any great co-ordination and certainty. We are also still in the dark on the issue of bundling. It is not good enough for him to take more than two years on this and I want to show my dissatisfaction by testing the opinion of the House on new clause 1, although I will not press the other amendments.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
Queen’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I start by giving thanks to all those who served on the Committee and spoke on Report. I thank the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) for his lively scrutiny of the Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) on his close and constructive engagement with the Bill.
The UK is in a strong position. As recently as January this year, the US Chamber of Commerce ranked our IP framework as second only to that of the US, and our IP enforcement as the best in the world. We are now maintaining and improving that global position. According to the most recent United Kingdom trade and industry business barriers survey, one in four British businesses had been put off doing business abroad because of the risk of IP theft. That is why we are working with businesses to improve their understanding of IP protection and providing specialist IP attachés for overseas markets.
In the course of our debates, several Members have spoken specifically about China. On the basis of my recent visits to China, I can assure the House that we are noticing a significant change in China’s attitude towards IP. It is putting resources behind enforcement and we are engaging closely with it. Most recently, the Intellectual Property Office and City of London Police met senior Chinese police and customs officers and contributed to an Interpol training programme for 400 Chinese police managers.
At home, we have been equally tough on tackling IP crime, and £2.5 million has been invested in the police IP crime unit, which has made 17 arrests since its launch in September and helped to suspend 690 worldwide websites that were selling counterfeit merchandise online. The new crime unit is also leading on a ground-breaking initiative in collaboration with the creative and advertising industries to target infringing websites offering illegal downloads of music, films and books, and to disrupt the advertising revenue on such sites. We are also making it easier, quicker and cheaper for businesses to resolve their IP disputes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hove and others have asked how we will ensure that businesses are educated appropriately about the changes that the Bill will introduce. We will be taking action in a number of ways to educate business. We will be building on existing guidance and we will incorporate education about the changes into our wide-ranging outreach programmes. We will be working with key organisations, such as Anti Copying in Design, to ensure that businesses are clear about what the new law means for them. But our focus will not just be on business. To raise awareness about the new criminal offence brought forward in the Bill, the Government will provide training for trading standards officers and engage in other measures.
The Bill has been broadly welcomed by industry and by Members of this House and the other place. It will offer real support to Britain’s 350,000 designers, which is long overdue. The design measures in the Bill will improve the legal framework for both small designers and large businesses. The introduction of a criminal sanction for the intentional copying of a registered design in the course of business has sparked the most debate in this House and the other place. Opinion remains divided on whether a criminal sanction for design copying is necessary, but I believe that the right balance has been drawn and I look forward to seeing how the sanction has deterred criminal activity from taking place.
Let me be absolutely clear. We believe that a culture of copying in design is not acceptable in this country. However, we have listened to concerns that the wording of the criminal sanction is not clearly enough defined. Amendments were made in Committee that were welcomed by industry organisations the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys and the IP Federation. The Bill that we are sending back for the other place to consider has been further improved.
Other changes to the designs legal framework made in the Bill have been widely welcomed. They include clarifying who owns a design and removing inconsistencies between EU and UK systems. Clarifying the IP landscape increases certainty for industry and makes it easier to use IP in the course of business. That aim is also carried through into the patent changes, such as marking products with an internet link and increased work sharing arrangements with overseas patent offices.
In 2013 the total number of UK patents processed surpassed 2.5 million. Our numerous UK patent holders have benefited from the very successful patent opinions service, and the Bill provides a logical and useful extension of that service. The proposal to allow the Intellectual Property Office to initiate revocation proceedings has been welcomed by patent holders, with one SME stating:
“It makes absolute sense that revocation proceedings should be able to be started by the IPO....as clearly SMEs cannot afford the high legal costs to challenge patent validity.”
That is just one of the many ways in which the Bill will help SMEs.
Finally, I wish to touch on the Freedom of Information Act exemption, which led to some debate in Committee and on Report. The exemption provides the appropriate parity with Scottish legislation, and I am certain that the Ministry of Justice will wish to review how it operates in practice.
The Bill is not an attempt to solve every IP issue; it is part of a wider programme. Nevertheless, every measure in it is practical and desirable and reflects the views of our designers and creators. I very much hope that the House will support its Third Reading.
As I said during my opening remarks on Second Reading, intellectual property matters and its importance is growing in the world of the 21st century. Britain will retain and extend its comparative advantage and ultimately create wealth, prosperity and rising living standards for all in this country, not by undermining employee rights, sacrificing the security of those in work and racing to the bottom, but by commercially applying our research, innovation, creativity and design skills. That requires a robust legal framework to ensure that people’s creative efforts, whether in music, film, broadcasting, video games or high-value manufacturing, are not stolen.
On Second Reading, I quoted the recent report of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport on the creative industries. It is worth quoting again:
“Given the importance of the creative sector to the UK economy and the relative importance to that sector of strong IP protection, strongly enforced, the Government must do more to protect and promote UK IP as a system for growth.”
That is what we have tried to bring about during our deliberations. On a number of occasions in Committee, the Minister and I mentioned the recent Global Intellectual Property Index, produced last year by Taylor Wessing, in which the UK was placed at No. 1 in the world for IP. It should be the objective of the Bill and of IP policy that this country should retain that No. 1 spot in the face of fierce competition around the world.
The desire to remain the best in the world drove the Opposition to question, challenge and scrutinise the Minister throughout the passage of the Bill. We do not want to see a chilling effect on innovation in this country—a concern raised by some senior industrialists—and the introduction of criminal sanctions for up to 10 years for infringing registered design rights needed to be considered extremely carefully. I hope that we have done that.
There remains a concern. Last month, the Institute for Public Policy Research said in “March of the modern makers”, its excellent report on the creative industries:
“Overall, government policy both on…promoting value in intellectual property and on protecting intellectual property from theft has unravelled somewhat.”
The IPPR highlighted the fact that
“Enforcement measures are delayed, proposals for new copyright exceptions are being brought before Parliament with unproven benefits and potential risks, and new systems for better access to copyright material have not yet been given a chance to prove their value.”
There remains a risk that the UK will slip down the global rankings for IP faster than a music track slips down the download charts—
Thank you; I thought long and hard about that. It is copyrighted.
The risk I mentioned will remain if the Government continue to provide such an unravelling policy with uncertainty, delay and lack of enforcement.
I thank hon. Members for contributing during the Bill’s different stages, particularly in Committee. I am delighted to see in their places the hon. Members for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who made excellent contributions. I would like to think that the deliberations were good natured throughout. I thank the Minister, who was never less than polite—if occasionally grumpy.
He knows it is true. I also thank the Minister’s officials.
In many ways, the Bill is brief and flimsy. However, like the issue of IP itself, it is important and often overlooked. We will continue to hold the Government to account, to ensure that we retain the No. 1 spot in something that gives us a significant comparative advantage in the modern economy, now and in the future.
The Bill is excellent as a step in the right direction. At times, back in 2010 and 2011, it felt as if the juggernaut that is intellectual property rights was heading towards dilution as the norm. However, I feel that the brakes have been applied recently and that the mood in both Parliament and elsewhere is now changing.
We have an excellent IP Minister in Viscount Younger, and I found John Alty and others at the Intellectual Property Office to be very accommodating and helpful. However, given that the Bill is the main legislation on intellectual property over a full Parliament, it is important to mention some of the items that have not been included but should definitely be considered.
The first is education. Government and industry must work together to inform the public better about the fact that IP is important to every single one of us. Is it too much of a stretch to say that our NHS depends on our protecting IP for our creative industries? I do not think so. Without the £71.4 billion added gross value that we generate from our creators, which includes £15.5 billion from overseas earnings, we would need to borrow or raise taxes elsewhere. Those are not attractive options.
As a country, we should thank the creative industries for being such an important contributor to our economy. I welcome all Government measures to support the industry, and protecting IP is one measure of support. I have challenged the IPO to provide details of 100 forums a year that we need to be at to promote IP. Industry has committed to find representatives to go to those forums. That, and other measures, need to be carried out.
The second item not included in the Bill is what I refer to as “follow the money”. If we can stop sites that host illegal material advertising and, additionally, find a way to stop payments being made for illegal material via Mastercard, Visa, PayPal and other forms of payment, we can take away the main reason why many of those sites exist. I recently met representatives of the police intellectual property crime unit and others on that very point. Following a very useful discussion, I hope we can produce a report with suggestions in the next month or two. I thank Steve Head, the commander of PIPCU, and his team for their excellent work and support. I have also just met Google representatives to discuss the same point.
All that brings me to search engines generally. We often forget that it is not the search engines that create or consume illegal content. I am aware of a band that recently released a CD that was on 20 Russian torrent sites within an hour—it did not appear on Google rankings until some hours later. The CD was not on those Russian torrent sites because it was on Google; it was there because the Russian sites were monitoring what was on iTunes. I am currently working with Google on some suggestions and I have promised the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills a report on the matter shortly. I thank the law firm Olswang for its assistance.
There is one other point in the IP chain that needs to be mentioned—internet service providers. Like search engines, they are not the persons creating or using illegal content, but their lines are transporting the activity. They do not need to be the policeman, but they can be part of the solution. Whether that is via a levy on users to fund education enforcement or whether it is making the ISPs accountable for illegal activity is something to be debated. None the less, I am sure that they need to be part of the solution.
A worrying footnote is that I am told that the voluntary copyright alert programme—VCAP—proposals cannot be implemented for at least a year once an agreement has been found on the other technicalities that we are going through at the moment. I must say that that feels more like prevarication than determination to implement, but I am not a technical expert, so I cannot comment on that further, but I would welcome others doing so.
The industry has made it clear to me that it feels that a US-type IP tsar or director-general would be useful in co-ordinating Departments and industry and delivering IP-related initiatives.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion. I would like to see the Government at least look at the idea. I appreciate that we have an IP Minister, but his priorities would be different to those of a director-general.
Finally, above all else, what the Bill needs is for the Prime Minister to state categorically that IP rights are the same as property rights, and are something to be cherished and protected. In many ways, Europe is looking to us, in the UK, for IP direction, and this repeated message is important so that rights are not drip fed away.
The IPO is organising an IP enforcement conference for June, which will be important. Indeed we are renaming that conference “Respect for IP” and I am sure that it will form part of the Government’s direction on IP generally. In summary, there is still much to do, but this is a good Bill overall and a positive step in the right direction.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the last Back-Bench word in this Intellectual Property Bill. It is significant that this is the first dedicated intellectual property Bill that I have actually seen in my 13 years in the House, and I would like us to mark that. I hope that we see many more in the future.
I thank all Members who have taken part, especially those on the Front Benches who have contributed so much to what has been a very friendly look at some of these issues. I did not know until Sunday that the Minister and I share a birthday. I wish him a belated happy birthday, and hope that he had as good a day as I did.
I would not dare to answer that one. None the less, I hope that the Minister had a good day on Sunday. No Minister could be better equipped to deal with a Bill on intellectual property than the one who is famously known as “Two Brains”. He has deployed those brains to a fantastic extent as we have discussed this over the past few weeks.
Is the Chamber not quiet? We have had just one speech from the Opposition Benches and one from the Government Benches. That reinforces the point made by the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), which is that we need a champion for IP in this House. We need to get this matter fixed properly. It is unsatisfactory that IP is placed in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills when all the other disciplines that IP is there to serve—the creative industries, music, film and television—are handled by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. There is something wrong in the way that this is managed across Departments. It is unsatisfactory that the Minister who is responsible for intellectual property is an unelected lord whom we do not get an opportunity to question and who does not lead debates in this House. We need to start thinking properly about how this matter is co-ordinated across Whitehall.
It is surprising that there is so little interest in this matter. Let me just go over the figures again. The creative economy has grown by 8.6% in recent years and is now worth something like 4.3% of our total GDP. That is £71 billion a year—that is what the IP industry contributes to our economy. I would expect people to be rushing into the Chamber to contribute to debates such as this, but, as I have said, the House is empty. It is disappointing to see so many empty seats and to hear so few contributions on something that is so important and significant for our whole economy.
When it comes to intellectual property, Governments only get one shot. We heard mention of the Gowers review, which was conducted in my first few years in the House under the first Labour Government. The Minister was right to say that progress on the matter was slow until Hargreaves stepped in. None the less, the Gowers review was really what defined that first Labour Government for me. I remember leading an Adjournment debate on the conclusions of the Gowers review in Westminster Hall. We managed to discuss some of the things that had been suggested.
Under the second Labour Government—the Minister was a little unfair on them—we had the Digital Economy Act 2010. With exceptions, it was an important and meaty piece of work that was prepared to be quite brave and to take on vested interests. I do not know whether other Members remember this but we had thousands of e-mails about that legislation. I remember too the bravery of the Labour Government in pursuing it in the face of such orchestrated opposition. The sheer number of e-mails coming through from organised groups and self-proclaimed digital champions is the sort of thing that spooks Members of Parliament. The Labour Government were brave and it was unfair of the Minister not to recognise that or the efforts that were made to address some of the clear issues that we have in the creative economy, especially in digitisation.
The Conservative Government said that they would pick up measures in the Digital Economy Act. I remember the then shadow Minister coming to the Dispatch Box passionately to support and defend the Digital Economy Act, but what happened? Absolutely nothing. That is not entirely the fault of the Government. They have had legal disputes and ongoing tensions with the internet service providers. Now that we are just about there, we have no clear way forward for the Digital Economy Act. That Act, in terms of the Hargreaves process, is probably more important than this Bill. It is probably the one thing that could make a real difference in re-educating new generations of people who want to access content responsibly. We need measures on the statute book. We are running out of time in this Parliament, so it is very unlikely that we will see them. It is a big, big loss and a massive disappointment for all of us who want to address, productively and constructively, the very many issues that concern our creative economy.
What has defined this Parliament is Hargreaves, and this Bill is probably the end of the process. Is it good enough? Well, there are good things in it. The digital copyright exchange is a fantastic innovation, and the things that Richard Cooper demonstrated proved that positive and good things can be done. There are obviously exceptions. I know that we will be looking at all that in a statutory instrument over the course of the next weeks. There is great anxiety and concern in the industry, and the Government must listen to it. Yes, I know that we consult stakeholders and hold meetings with them, but the Government must listen to these people and take what they are saying a little more seriously, because they run incredible creative industries.
I thank the Minister for his response to my concerns about the divisional court in Scotland, which I raised on Second Reading and again in amendments. I assure him that we will produce the demand for such a court, if that is the only thing stopping Scotland securing it. I am pleased that that was the only barrier that he was able to detect to our having a divisional court in Scotland. I look forward to reporting that back to the legal establishment in Scotland, so that we can move the matter forward.
Then we come to the huge elephant in the room—Google. We must address Google, because it is the gatekeeper—
Order. This is about what is in the Bill, and not what is not in the Bill. I have given the hon. Gentleman a little bit of scope, but we are now running into danger. I know that we are not under any time pressure, but we need to talk about what is in the Bill and not what is not.
My last word on Google is that we must deal with it. We must ensure that we address the matter. This Bill is good, but thin. I know that the Hargreaves process was dealt with in a number of ways. There has been the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, statutory instruments and of course this Bill. As I have said, this is the first dedicated intellectual property Bill. The response from the design industry has been mixed. Obviously, it welcomes some of the very good measures, such as criminal sanctions in the areas of registered designs. I note that there was disappointment that unregistered designs were not included, but we had a good debate about that. I hope that we can revisit that at some point and deliver more satisfaction to our design industry.
All in all, we are where we are with this. We look forward to going forward. Let us be a little more creative and imaginative when it comes to dealing with intellectual property and copyright issues. The Government have more or less concluded their look at intellectual property. Now it is time to start thinking about how we go forward. Let us go forward constructively and with a bit more imagination.
I want briefly to make two final comments. First, several Members referred to the need for an IP tsar. Let me make it clear that we have something better than a tsar—a viscount. In Viscount Younger of Leckie we have a Minister who is already discharging those responsibilities very well. Of course, for those who say that it is not right that he is in the House of Lords, it is worth pointing out that under the previous Government the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Lord Mandelson, was in the House of Lords. Having a Minister in the House of Lords is a very reasonable way of proceeding, and Viscount Younger does an excellent job.
Finally, I am grateful for hon. Members’ contributions. I am not sure that I would describe the Bill as thin. I would certainly call it a slim but well-proportioned and effective Bill. On that basis, I hope that it will secure a Third Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.
Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill: Programme (No. 3)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 24 June 2013 (Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (Programme)) and 9 July 2013 (Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.
2. Any further message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Mark Lancaster.)
Question agreed to.
Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill
Consideration of Lords amendments
Reduction in size of Assembly to be reserved matter
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 1 is the first of a number of amendments made in another place at the Government’s behest following extensive discussions there. They follow changes we made to the draft Bill after discussions in this House’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I hope that it can therefore be said that we have listened to people during the passage of the Bill and that it has been improved as a consequence.
Lords amendment 1 limits any reduction in the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly to one Member for each constituency—from six to five. It also requires that any such reduction must have cross-community support in the Assembly. In the other place it was correctly pointed out that under the Bill’s previous provisions the larger parties in the Assembly could legislate to reduce its size by a substantial number. The House of Lords was of the view that there would be limited safeguards to prevent them so doing.
Many in Northern Ireland believe that, with 108 Members, the Assembly is too large, but it is not the Government’s intention that the Assembly should shrink dramatically. When it was established, the intention was that it should be a widely inclusive body, which is essential to the healthy functioning of the Northern Ireland settlement. The Government therefore tabled this amendment to ensure that the drafting of the Bill better reflects that policy. We hope that the Assembly will carefully reflect on the possibility of reducing its size at a time when spending in all parts of the public sector is under pressure.
We are, of course, leaving it to the Assembly to decide whether to reduce its size, and the amendment confines any reduction to one Member per constituency. If the Assembly decides to take that up, smaller parties and minority voices will still be well represented. I trust that the House will agree that these are welcome amendments.
My colleagues and I are comfortable with Lords amendments 1 to 3, which we think are sensible, so we will not oppose them. Any reduction in the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly should quite rightly be a decision for that Assembly. As an MP who no longer sits in the Assembly, like some of my Northern Ireland colleagues sitting behind me, I agree that any reduction in its size should be voted on by the Assembly, rather than imposed from here.
Although my party agrees that there is a case for reducing the number of Members of the Legislative Assembly at some stage, any discussion of that must take into account the sensitive local considerations. Such a move might be inadvisable at the current time. We firmly believe that any change to the Assembly’s composition must be guided by the principles that it should be representative, proportionate and reflective of both traditions in the wider community.
As Baroness O’Loan said in the other place, reducing the number of MLAs returned to each constituency could have serious consequences for representation in Northern Ireland. We must always be careful not to leave certain areas unbalanced or unrepresentative. We have a clear interest in retaining plurality of representation and must pay keen attention to factors that are specific to Northern Ireland when making these decisions.
We have also made it clear that we are concerned about the increasing concentration of power in the hands of two parties. We would be cautious about any measure that might exacerbate that situation. For that reason, we support the measure to ensure that the Secretary of State requires a cross-community vote in the Assembly before any legislation to reduce its size can be passed. That cross-community element is embedded in the Good Friday agreement of 1998 and the consequential Northern Ireland Act, which was passed in July that year. Embedded in that Act were the principles of proportionality, mutual respect and understanding. Given the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland, and given that we do not wish to exacerbate the situation, we feel it would be better if those principles were embedded in the size of the Assembly. I am therefore happy, on behalf of my colleagues, to support the amendment.
Our party strongly supports reducing the size of government generally in Northern Ireland—and across the United Kingdom for that matter—including the number of Government Departments in Northern Ireland. We are also on record as wanting to see a reduction in the number of Assembly Members. We believe that Northern Ireland can function more efficiently and in a leaner and better way with fewer politicians for the size of its population.
In May there will be elections to new councils in Northern Ireland, the number of which will have been dramatically reduced from the present number, and the number of councillors will also be reduced. We are in favour of the general thrust to reduce the size of government, and we have already put proposals to the Assembly’s Assembly and Executive Review Committee on that issue.
When the Minister responds to the debate, will he comment on the consultation that took place with the Assembly parties on the amendment? Although, under the amendment, the decision to reduce the number of MLAs can be taken by the Assembly, it can reduce the number by only one for each constituency—from six to five. I would certainly be very interested to know to what extent the Government consulted on that provision with the Assembly parties, because it has been generally understood that the measures that would come before the House would have the broad consensus of parties in Northern Ireland.
Perhaps when he responds the Minister will say not only whether consultation was held, but with whom it was held and what information was given by the individual parties. That would allow us to see whether the results of the consultation are in line with what he proposes today.
I will correct this if I am wrong—it was before my time—but my understanding is that as a result of the consultation with the parties in the Assembly, which I believe took some time, the intention was to reduce the size of the Assembly by one Member per constituency. The problem with the Bill as drafted, until amended, is that it would allow the parties in the Assembly, if they so wished, to reduce the number by as many as they wished—perhaps down to one—because there is no limit. That is their lordships’ point, which we took on board in saying that the number would be determined by that which had been consulted on.
I thank the Minister for that clarification.
We certainly take on board the reasoning behind the amendment. What strikes me, though, is the Government’s concern about the Assembly passing legislation on a substantial reduction that could disproportionately affect the smaller parties. One of the things that was raised in the previous debate and is worth raising in this debate is that the Government did not express any corresponding concern when proposals were brought before this House on reducing the number of constituencies for the United Kingdom Parliament. We well remember the debates in this House, which ultimately came to nothing, about reducing the number of seats. Many of us from Northern Ireland constituencies pointed out that the net effect in Northern Ireland would be a reduction of two parliamentary seats. In fact, it would have provided for a rolling review whereby the number of seats in Northern Ireland—and indeed in other parts of the UK—could have been adjusted upwards and downwards virtually from election to election. That would have had not only a very destabilising effect on the political process generally, but a direct, knock-on, consequential effect on the number of Assembly constituencies and Members. The concerns expressed across the House—certainly by all the Northern Ireland parties—did not seem to have the same resonance with Government.
I accept the sincerity with which the Minister has brought this matter forward. We should bear it in mind, however, that the number of Assembly Members would have been directly affected as a result of the proposed changes that eventually came to nothing but were certainly intended by the Government. That would have had a major impact on the Assembly and its workings—on the stability and outworkings of the agreements, and so on. When we are discussing the size and powers of the Assembly, and all the rest of it, sometimes things are done that have, or could have, very direct impacts.
We have no particular number in mind for the size of the Assembly, but we do believe that it is time to get on with it. Now that we have this enabling power, assuming that the Bill is passed with the amendment in place, we hope that the parties that have been reluctant to reduce the size of government, and thereby the burden of government and the extent of the over-governance in Northern Ireland, will take seriously the views of the people out there. I hear that people on all sides believe there needs to be a reduction in the numbers in the Assembly and in Government Departments. There is an idea that interfering with or changing in any way anything to do with the institutions that were set up by the agreement would somehow undermine the process, but that is not sustainable or tenable. People are looking for more efficient government and for Government to save money in a time of austerity, and we should take their concerns on board. I hope that people will now take this enabling power and use it to reduce the size of the Assembly.
We once heard the then leader of the Social and Democratic and Labour party, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), say that some of the ugly architecture of the agreement needed to be done away with. Some people still hold the view that nothing about the institutions can change at all. However, we are now in 2014, many years on from the Belfast agreement and a considerable way on from the St Andrews agreement, and it is time that politicians responded to people’s views and concerns and took a lead in reducing the burden of government on households and on taxpayers.
Not so much wiser, I think.
I vividly recall that we decided on the final number for the Assembly in the middle of the night on Maundy Thursday. There was an argument that the Assembly should be bigger than it turned out to be—some of the smaller parties thought it was essential that they should all be represented—but we came to what appeared to be something of a compromise with 108 Members. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). When the Government were dealing with the United Kingdom parliamentary boundary changes, they were challenged—I challenged them, as did the right hon. Gentleman and others—about the consequences of reducing the number of MPs in Northern Ireland for the Assembly, and therefore for the whole balance that had been agreed. That is now water under the bridge, so it is not an issue today, but it shows the mentality at the time.
In Wales, we have a population of 3 million compared with a population of 1.5 million in Northern Ireland, and an Assembly of 60 Members compared with an Assembly of 108 Members in Northern Ireland. That is obviously quite a difference. The Government recently appointed the Silk commission, which has recommended that the number of Members of the National Assembly for Wales should be increased because it has now achieved primary legislative powers and therefore has an insufficient number of Back Benchers to scrutinise legislation.
I very much take the point that there is no great merit in having a set figure if there is agreement to reduce it. My only mild criticism of the amendment is that it specifies a figure of five, and if, with agreement, the parties said that it should be four, the Bill would prevent them from implementing that. Nevertheless, a reduction from six to five is a start. Two important principles lay behind the number that was chosen: first, the need to make the Assembly in Northern Ireland as pluralist as possible so that as many points of view as possible are represented, which was a good approach; and, secondly and crucially, the need to ensure that changes are agreed with the political parties in Northern Ireland. I would be interested to hear what the Minister says about any consultations he or his predecessors had with Northern Ireland’s political parties to come up with the final figure and final recommendation that we are considering.
A few weeks ago, Northern Ireland was, in a sense, captured by a crisis about a so-called one-sided deal that may have occurred some years ago. I do not want to go into the details of that, but merely say that anything that is one-sided will eventually flounder. Everybody has to agree; otherwise, eventually, the deal will not last. This can be very difficult. For example, our agreeing on the release of prisoners in Northern Ireland—perhaps the most difficult part of the Good Friday agreement—was based on the agreement of the parties involved in the talks. Therefore, the key aspect of the amendment, which I wholly support, is the importance of getting general agreement.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a deal brokered and supported by one party for republican terrorists who are on the run from justice in Northern Ireland cannot be described as a “so-called” one-sided deal? It is a one-sided deal, and its secrecy makes it a dirty deal as well.
Mr Deputy Speaker will stop me if we go into the details of what we discussed some weeks ago, but I will simply say that the principle of all parties agreeing a policy is critical to its success. The issue, as the hon. Gentleman has just said, is one that involved not just political parties, but paramilitary organisations as well. The principle, however, has to be agreed: there must be agreement between the parties all the time, even if it takes weeks, months or even years to achieve it. Otherwise, it will be so fragile that it simply will not continue to have any validity at all.
I agree with the Lords amendments. I will also be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the consultation that was held on the details of the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly.