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House of Lords Hansard
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Intellectual Property (Exhaustion of Rights) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018
06 February 2019
Volume 795

Motion to Approve

Moved by

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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 27 November 2018 be approved. Debated in Grand Committee on 14 January.

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My Lords, the Grand Committee debate we had on this instrument on 14 January was extensive and wide-ranging; I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part so rigorously. Following that debate, I wrote a letter to noble Lords who participated, providing details on specific matters raised, and which I placed in the Library.

The EU-derived law which provides for the current EEA regional exhaustion regime needs amending to ensure that it continues to function appropriately after exit as retained EU law. This instrument, therefore, provides a temporary solution if we leave the EU without a deal. If Parliament does not agree to this SI, it would expose businesses to considerable uncertainty and the risk of litigation. During the Grand Committee debate, noble Lords asked whether UK businesses and rights holders were put at a disadvantage. This arrangement should not disadvantage UK businesses compared to EU businesses. UK and EU businesses exporting secondary market goods from the UK to the EU may be more restricted, but that restriction would apply equally to all businesses, whether they are based in Brussels or Birmingham, and it depends on where rights are held and which direction the goods are travelling, not on nationality.

At this point, I would like to mention correspondence I received from the Publishers Association. Publishing is a key contributor to the UK economy and the sector considers that this instrument is,

“of immense importance to the UK’s publishing industry, and it is vital that it proceeds into law”,

and,

“helps avoid a potential regulatory cliff-edge for books, offering interim certainty to the industry, while the longer-term exhaustion framework is consulted upon”.

For the benefit of the House, I wanted to expand on some key matters raised in Grand Committee.

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My Lords—

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I am not going to give way. I think it would be more convenient if I made my speech, allowing the House to listen to it, and then took questions. I will continue.

In Grand Committee, noble Lords asked about the approach taken to consultation on the drafting of this no-deal instrument. The legislative approach for exhaustion of IP rights in a no-deal scenario was being developed at a time of considerable sensitivity over the ongoing withdrawal agreement negotiations and the shape of the future relationship. This meant that the usual formal consultation on the legislative instrument was not appropriate. The level of consultation was consistent with the approach being taken with respect to no-deal legislation across government. My officials have engaged with businesses across many sectors since the referendum. They have spoken to rights holders, distribution companies, academics and trade associations. This engagement helped establish support for the legislative approach taken on this instrument. It is ongoing engagement that will continue as the work progresses, not just on exhaustion but more widely too.

While this instrument is intended to provide a temporary fix if the UK exits the EU without a deal, the Government are already considering options for what exhaustion regime is best for the UK in the future. Such an important decision on the UK’s future exhaustion regime is not to be rushed. It is not sensible to put a sunset clause on this instrument. We intend to take the necessary time to build a robust evidence base and to consult with businesses and consumers before any major decision is made on the UK’s future exhaustion regime.

I appreciate that noble Lords have asked about the process for assessing the impact of the adjustments made by this instrument to retained EU law, as they have asked about other such instruments. I believe I have addressed this matter in my letter to noble Lords, and I hope that the explanation was helpful.

Finally, on a specific point, noble Lords in Grand Committee raised a question as to whether the law relating to exhaustion of rights would be interpreted in accordance with pre-exit EU case law, most notably the Silhouette case. The answer is yes, it will, in accordance with the provisions of the withdrawal Act. In addition, Regulation 2 of this instrument makes it clear that the effect of domestic retained EU law under Section 4 of the withdrawal Act relating to exhaustion of rights does not change after exit, despite the UK not being an EU member state. Whatever effect it had in the UK before exit will be the same after exit.

To summarise, this instrument is important to support the movement of parallel goods, including essential commodities such as medicines. It is a necessary technical fix for UK laws to prepare for our exit from the EU and to provide legal certainty in a no-deal situation. I understand that stakeholders remain very interested in the Government’s future plans on this matter, and I know that my officials at the Intellectual Property Office are keen to have continued constructive engagement with them. The Government value their input in helping them better understand the views of businesses and consumers. I beg to move.

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My Lords, I merely want to tell the Minister that I too have been advised by the publishing industry. It is with some reluctance that it has agreed that this is necessary legislation, because of the uncertainty that it would otherwise suffer.

The British publishing industry exports more books than any other country. This piece of legislation is vital for it. While it recognises the importance of this SI going through as a temporary fix, it is nevertheless typical of the kind of rushed legislation that has been necessary because of Brexit. This is another example of a gold-standard industry being put at risk because of the pressure to rush that we are all under.

I emphasise that the correspondence that I have had with the publishing industry has suggested that it is extremely unclear about what will happen and that the uncertainty around the long-term provisions for these particular and very important rights causes it considerable concern. For the record, can the Minister clarify this point?

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My Lords, whatever the merits of these SIs, I am pleased that we are now debating them on the Floor of the House. I referred in Committee to what my noble friend Lord Tyler said about the critical importance of effective and timely scrutiny of Brexit-related secondary legislation. We have to do this properly. I noticed that the tag in front of this business is “Business expected to be brief”, but we do still have a few loose ends, even after the Minister’s opening statement.

The problem throughout has been inadequate public consultation and the lack of any sunsetting on these statutory instruments. In his letter of 21 January, the Minister defends the lack of proper public consultation as not being meaningful when,

“no wider policy changes were being taken forward”,

and because it,

“would have risked removing the EU’s incentive to agree to an ambitious future relationship on intellectual property”.

I fail to see the substance of the first point, as these SIs are more than technical, and the logic of the second, as, in my experience, contingency plans do not prejudice negotiations.

As we have discussed, we are unilaterally allowing EU 27 goods already placed on the market there to be exported to the UK, which is good news for parallel importers but not as good for parallel exporters from the UK. It is clear from the Government’s small print that these exporters may well need to seek permission to gain entry into the EU. That remains the case.

The Minister did not respond about what the Government are doing to mitigate their situation, by advice or otherwise. I was pleased that he confirmed that the ruling in the Silhouette case and those that followed will apply post Brexit to this modified exhaustion regime. In his letter and in Regulation 2(2), the Minister prays this in aid. It could still have been dealt with expressly in the language of the statutory instrument.

In his responses, the Minister also failed to totally clarify the work being conducted by the IPO into a future exhaustion regime. I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, about how we know about the Government’s current thinking emerging from the review and research, and about organisations such as the Publishers Association asking for the Government’s assurance that they will avoid an international copyright exhaustion regime being implemented in the longer term. Indeed, they are asking for an effective national exhaustion regime so that the UK’s outstanding creative industries, including the publishing industry, will be properly supported. Is that the intention of a future exhaustion regime?

I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will speak on this SI, but there are a number of aspects that have not yet been covered on the subject of intellectual property rights—the geographical indications, for instance. I see that there is now a draft statutory instrument on what will happen to design rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I look forward to that debate. Then there is the very important aspect of rights of representation by IP advisers, trademark attorneys and the like. I do not recall the Minister talking about that either when he addressed us in Committee.

Finally, I express bafflement at the fate of the draft Intellectual Property (Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations, which the sifting committee and our own Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee considered should be dealt with by the affirmative procedure. I do not think the Minister answered that question. When will the draft SI come before us? There are some loose ends and I hope that in the course of the debate the Minister will be able to tidy them up.

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My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Lord. He has made some detailed comments and posed some questions which I hope the Minister will be able to respond to. Having said that, I accept that the Minister’s letter of 21 January—running to eight pages and covering a lot of detail—as well as subsequent meetings have done a lot to clarify some of the issues that were before us when this was first considered in Committee. But good scrutiny leads to further debate and discussion, so it is not inappropriate that we should come back and point out areas that are not as good as perhaps they should be as we pass this important, time-limited piece of legislation. I also agree that the clarification about the Silhouette case, which was a confusing passage of discussion in Committee, has made things much clearer and will be helpful to those involved in that issue.

The Government should take away from this process three main things. First, if there is an SI of the sort of significance represented by the three intellectual property regulations before us today, the fact that consultation need not be carried out is not sufficient to assuage the concerns of those who have had to respond, even as late as yesterday, to these issues. There is a lesson to be learned here about the need for more engagement and a more considered approach to the context of these amendments. I accept the pressure of time and the difficulty of fitting everything in, but the consequence of not consulting according to the style and process that people have become accustomed to, just because this is a special case, has meant that we have not had the best advice that would have been available to us in ordinary circumstances.

Related to that, the question of whether one needs an impact assessment is also important. There is of course a de minimis figure, which was in the Cabinet Office rules. But when one thinks about the impact that these new regulations will have, even for a time-limited period, the Government should be prepared at the very least to bring forward for consideration evidence that the de minimis figure has been met. At the moment, all we get is an assertion; we are left to guess whether the figures that might be construed will work. That is not satisfactory in terms of general process.

Thirdly—this does not apply to the SI before us at the moment but applies to the other two—considerable variations in approach have been taken by the different departments on the EU exit SIs. There should be some overall consideration of this when the time comes to review how, in some areas, the limited licence available to ensure that the statute book is in good order as we leave the EU, if we do, on a no-deal basis, has been interpreted differently in different departments. We heard even today that the Treasury has a completely different approach from that of others on the issues of consultation and preparation of estimates that I have been talking about. The public interest would be better served by a slightly different approach.

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My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for his extensive letter to noble Lords responding to the debate in Grand Committee. I have a specific question and will then make some comments on the wider issue of consultation which has bedevilled all our proceedings on these no-deal statutory instruments, because the consultation has been so haphazard and unsatisfactory. My question is in response to the Minister’s opening remarks, when he said that it was “not sensible” to put a sunset clause on the current exhaustion regime. That is a judgment which the Government have made but, since this is clearly a matter of extreme importance to the industry, can he tell us what the view was of stakeholders who were consulted on the issue of the sunset clause? I understand that that issue has bedevilled these proceedings throughout.

On consultation, the Minister’s letter was significant; it accepted that the consultation which had taken place had been in confidence. Having secret consultations which are not open to all relevant people, or all those who wish to take part, particularly from the industries consulted, is contrary to almost all of the principles of public consultation. The Minister’s letter has an extremely convoluted paragraph about how this secret consultation was conducted. It says that the Intellectual Property Office, or IPO,

“identified the relevant representative organisations or businesses it would usually engage with, and who would give a range of views. Because of the confidential nature of the review”—

which was entirely self-imposed by the Government; this did not need to be confidential but could have been an open, public review—

“the IPO then identified and invited 12 individual experts who had previously liaised with the IPO in a role within one (or more) of those relevant organisations”.

The letter then lists the organisations. It continues:

“I believe this is consistent with what I said in my … clarifying remarks about this process during my closing speech; the IPO’s understanding was that these individuals were ‘from’ those organisations but they were, as I clearly said, ‘a group of individual stakeholders’ and the IPO ‘consulted them in their personal capacity’. I therefore also agree with Lord Warner that the organisations themselves were not consulted in the way that would usually happen”.

Reading that twice, one realises the truly extraordinary nature of the consultation which has taken place. The Government have arbitrarily and secretly selected 12 individuals because—to cut to the chase—officials happened to know them and had dealt with them previously. They then chose to consult them, telling Parliament that the consultation process was adequate. However, when pressed, it is clear that these people do not in any respect represent the organisations from which they have come. We are not told who the individuals are and they are not in any way accountable for their advice. We are told that the advice was given individually, but we are not told what it was. When it comes to disputes on major aspects of policy embedded in these regulations, the Government blandly assure us that the decisions they have taken are sensible. In my experience, Governments always think that their decisions are sensible; I have not yet met a Treasury Minister who said that their decisions were not sensible. However, the Government will not even tell us whether the “sensible” decisions they have made reflect the secret consultation that took place before the preparation of the statutory instruments.

Because of the unsatisfactory nature of this whole procedure, we will have to approve this regulation. However, in any normal circumstances, we would not approve a regulation on the basis of a secret consultation with 12 individuals—selected secretly by the Government, whose names we do not know and who are not in any way accountable—when there should be a public consultation. I raise this point not only to highlight the unsatisfactory nature of this, which goes to the heart of all this no-deal planning, but because of the cascade of regulations still to come. Every time your Lordships meet, a plethora of regulations appears before us. In the health Bill, which we debated yesterday —I did not participate, but I read the Bill during the proceedings—there was provision for a whole slew of further regulations, with procedures as yet undecided.

I invite the Minister to respond on this, as I think it is important to get this on the record. Can he give some undertakings that consultation on future regulations laid before your Lordships will be done in an open, transparent way, so that we are not faced again with consultations with secretly selected individuals? As noble Lords will recall, when we were debating one of the instruments, we were told that the individuals were “selected and trusted” respondents—presumably on the grounds that a general public consultation with people who were willing to share their views would not engender trust.

This is not good government. In any circumstances other than this national emergency, I am confident that your Lordships would not agree to process, let alone consent to, regulations on this basis. We need some assurance that, in the time remaining, consultations will be conducted in a proper manner, rather than in the secret, cloak and dagger, totally unaccountable fashion that we have seen in respect to this instrument.

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I want to follow up that point. I remind the Minister that after our rigorous series of exchanges in Grand Committee on these regulations, I took the liberty of submitting a Written Question, which was answered extremely helpfully on behalf of the Cabinet Office by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I wanted to check that my memory was correct about the Cabinet Office rules on consultation. Not only do they require 12 weeks—during which people can comment in what is often a helpful way for the Government of the day—but the twin leg to this is that the Government have to publish those responses to their consultation. Not only have the Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, cut out the middleman in their approach to consultation, but by doing it that way they have avoided the commitment to publish the responses to that consultation. So there is a twin problem with the Government’s approach to many of these SIs. I suspect it is going to continue in relation to the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, which contains Henry VIII powers for the Government to produce a lot of SIs. If the Government go on behaving on these SIs in the way that they have behaved on those we are discussing today, they will drive a coach and horses through their own Cabinet Office rules on the way we go in for consultation on legislation.

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My Lords, I have waited in vain for some Conservative Members to contribute to this debate. When I moved here from the other place, a number of people, including the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who I am glad to see here, told me that the great thing about the House of Lords is its careful scrutiny, the work that it does scrutinising detailed legislation using all its expertise, knowledge and background. That is why I am surprised. We are dealing with a statutory instrument on intellectual property, which a lot of Conservative Members, in particular, must have expertise in. I see the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, who has probably been involved with this in his work in the legal profession. There are others who no doubt could contribute. We have 12 statutory instruments here. I have been at a number of meetings of the Grand Committee, and with the notable, standout exception of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, there have not been any Conservative Members contributing. What has happened to this great scrutiny of the House of Lords? We have had wonderful and important contributions from some of my noble friends, including my noble friends Lady Kingsmill, with her experience in the law, and Lord Winston, when we were discussing the transfer of embryos and other matters. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Warner, from the Cross Benches, but no Conservatives. Yet today we have 12 statutory instruments—

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We have 11.

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We have 11. The noble Lord has made my argument much better, actually. On the Order Paper there are 180 statutory instruments waiting to be discussed by the Grand Committee and by this House, on planning procedures, plant protection, ozone depletion, plant health, equine records—I could go on. I will not, your Lordships will be glad to hear. But I could go on and on, because there are 180 of them—and some are on really important matters.

If the Lord Speaker is still running the visits to schools that we have been involved in, how can I honestly go to schools and say, “I am a Member of this great House of Lords, and we scrutinise. We are there to scrutinise legislation line by line”? This is a dereliction of duty. We are going to pass these statutory instruments, which could have unforeseen consequences —yet we are rushing them through. It is an appalling situation.

I know I am going a bit beyond intellectual property and making a general point—but we will see this again and again. It will go on all day today, all next week and the week after that. We shall certainly not have got through even the 180 on today’s Order Paper by the end of March. Can we really go before pupils—or, indeed, anyone—and say, “The House of Lords has done a really good job of scrutinising all these statutory instruments”? This is not to mention the six Bills that we still have to deal with—the Trade Bill, which is currently under way; the one on healthcare, which we discussed yesterday; the ones on agriculture and fisheries—and a whole range of other things that we still have to do.

This is an astonishing situation. It is only the Liberal Democrats, the Cross Benches and the Labour Party who are doing as much as possible within the time available to scrutinise these documents. The Conservatives—where are they? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, can tell me where the great people in the House of Lords who would scrutinise this legislation are, and what an important job we have done. I am very disappointed.

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My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House for a moment. I was not here at the start of the debate but since the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has mentioned me twice, it is only fair that I should defend myself. His proposition is stuff and nonsense. Of course the House of Lords offers great scrutiny of all kinds of legislation, including secondary legislation of this kind. But the noble Lord ought to assume that the fact that noble Lords do not speak is because they are entirely satisfied with the opening speech of my noble friend Lord Henley, the Minister, who has used his skill, judgment and expertise, built up over many years, and gives great comfort to the House when he stands at the Dispatch Box.

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I am most grateful to the noble Lord. The lesson in fly fishing that he taught me has worked.

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My Lords, I rise briefly just to make a point to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. On intellectual property, the Minister did not say one single word about the changing technologies that greatly affect the way in which intellectual property is seen. I have not read, or even picked up, a book for the last two years—because I read on a Kindle. What about that sort of change?

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My Lords, some of us still read books, and some of us still read letters. I shall not follow up the Scottish exchanges that have just taken place; I shall start with the letter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson—the letter that I sent, I think, on 21 January. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, described it as “extensive”; the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said that it was eight pages long. What I have in front of me is six and a half pages long, so I just want to be clear that we are all talking about the same letter. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I are going to count.

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I read it on my iPhone, so I have no idea how long it was.

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I think that deals with the point about modern technology—but I deal in letters, and mine is six and half pages of A4. I hope we are all talking about the same letter, which I sent on 21 January. I think, and hope, that it dealt with a great many of the points that have been raised.

I shall go through some of the points that came up in the debate. The principal one referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Stevenson and Lord Foulkes, is that there has been a failure of consultation—it just has not been good enough. I believe it has been consistent with the approach taken on no-deal legislation across government. The Government’s consultation principles are clear. Consultations should have a purpose. The statutory instruments in question make only those corrections to retained EU law that are necessary to give the UK a functioning statute book in what we have all made clear is the unlikely event of a no-deal exit, and maintain as far as possible the existing domestic position. A consultation on policy change would not have been meaningful as that is not what these instruments do. Again, I set that out in my letter.

I make it clear that there will be full and proper consultation on further changes. All those who have had dealings with the Intellectual Property Office will accept that it has a good record in this respect. It consults properly and will take into account the concerns of all those who have an interest. I give an assurance that the IPO will do that: it will consult and make sure—

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Before the Minister sits down, could he address the second leg of the Cabinet Office guidance? Even if we accept that there is a truncated and specialised consultation process, what about publishing the findings of the process, which is a key part of the Cabinet Office rules? Do he and his colleagues accept that if we are to have special arrangements, they should also publish findings of that consultation process?

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If there are findings that it is necessary to publish I give an assurance those will be published. If the noble Lord will bear with me, I want to talk about the future and make it clear that the IPO will consult and publish the findings properly so that the noble Lord and others with an interest will know what is going on.

I turn to some of the other points I want to address—I was not about to sit down, because there are other points to be dealt with. The noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, asked about long-term certainty for publishers and referred to the letter from the Publishers Association. I repeat what I said in my remarks: the Publishers Association made it very clear that it saw it as vital that these regulations should be on the statute book in the event of no deal.

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The Publishers Association also made it clear that this was not entirely satisfactory, but that it was an essential interim position that needs to be taken. As it said in the letter, this is not ideal, but something forced on publishers. My point really was that this wonderful industry, which is gold standard, as we all know, has been forced to accept unsatisfactory legislation because it is a last-minute attempt to put a finger in the dyke of the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. The publishers again made it clear in the letter that they need some clarity about the future. That is the point I want the Minister to cover in his answer.

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I do not accept the noble Baroness’s metaphors, but I repeat what was said, and the noble Baroness is quite right to repeat the other parts of the message from the Publishers Association.

I come to the point I was about to deal with: the long-term certainty that the Publishers Association and the noble Baroness are looking for. The regional exhaustion regime currently in place supports frictionless trade in goods within the EEA and is considered to provide the optimal balance between the interests of rights holders and consumers. Consumers in the UK will continue to have access to a wide range of products at more competitive prices. Maintaining the current arrangements avoids the uncertainty of cost for UK businesses and consumers associated with a change of exhaustion regime, while the UK considers the impact of a future change to the regime. The SIs, we have made clear, essentially preserve that status quo, but that allows us time to consider evidence and consult on any future change.

I shall move on to the sunset clause, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. Again, I believe I dealt with this in my opening remarks, but the instrument is intended to be a temporary measure. The Government are considering options for the future. As I made clear, that will continue with extensive stakeholder engagement and consultation, and we must make sure that we have robust evidence. Until we have dealt with that, we will need this in place in the event of no deal. Therefore it is not necessary to have the sunset clause referred to by the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. Planned research removes the purpose of the sunset clause and the consultation will, in the end, provide the appropriate solution for the future.

I turn to the noble Lord’s further question, on mitigation for exporters. I make it clear that the arrangement will not disadvantage UK businesses, as opposed to EU businesses, as the effect depends on where businesses hold rights, and not on which country they are based in. A continuation of the status quo will minimise any negative economic impact. For example, it will allow existing import arrangements into the UK to continue, including for businesses that rely on secondary market goods. Businesses wishing to continue to parallel export goods from the UK to the EU will need to check with owners of rights in the EU—which may be UK businesses themselves—whether they need permission to do so. For example, UK businesses owning trademarks in the UK and EEA may choose to limit how their goods are parallel exported from the UK to the EEA, if they wish to exploit market conditions such as consumer preferences and labelling regulations.

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My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. That is precisely the detriment that I was talking about—that they will need to seek permission if they are going to export in those circumstances. Therefore, the question is: what assistance and advice will they be getting directly from the Government?

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They will have advice, as is appropriate, from the Government, and the IPO will offer that. However, we cannot force the EU to take a more favourable position to mitigate this effect. Again, this will, we hope, be dealt with in any deal; we are dealing with a no-deal situation in these regulations.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, wanted the Silhouette case expressed more clearly. The withdrawal Act makes clear that EU case law before exit will continue to apply to the interpretation of EU-derived domestic law after exit. Furthermore, Regulation 2 makes clear that the effect of domestic retained EU law under Section 4, relating to exhaustion of rights, does not change after exit, despite the UK not being a member state. Whatever effect it had in the UK before exit will be the same after exit, as I hope I made clear in my opening remarks. I believe that deals with the questions that have been put to me.

Motion agreed.