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Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has just come to the attention of some of us that the Government have snuck on to the Order Book for tomorrow a guillotine motion for the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill. This is the 36th time in the course of the Prime Minister's premiership that the Government have sought to curtail debate--and not just on any old Bill, but on a Bill of huge constitutional importance.
The Government business managers have clearly become alarmed by the return of their out-of-touch Prime Minister from his £500 million jaunt to Japan. The motion demonstrates the arrogance and ineptitude of this appalling Government. Where is the Minister prepared to stand up for the interests of the British citizen rather than the ill- considered meanderings of this exhausted Administration?
When a Government overreach themselves, they attempt to suborn Parliament. Tyranny begins when they attempt to suborn the jury system. Can it be right that this appalling bunch of inept politicians seeks to destroy the
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. What I am hearing so far from the hon. and learned Gentleman sounds suspiciously like a speech on a guillotine motion. What is the point of order for the Chair?
Mr. Garnier: The point of order ought to be clear not only to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but to all the Labour Members here. Is it in order for this appalling bunch of constitutional hooligans to demonstrate its total disregard for the rights of this House and the rights of citizens by, for the 36th time, curtailing debate on a Bill of huge constitutional importance?
The first attempt at this Bill was defeated in another place, after it was mauled in this House. Is it right that the Government should attempt to have another go by curtailing debate in this House? I urge you to stand up for the rights of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the citizens whom we represent.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman must know that the Chair has no responsibility whatsoever for the business that is put before the House, and it is not anything on which the Chair can rule. The hon. and learned Gentleman has had his say and, no doubt, what he has said will be on the record and heard by members of the Government.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We share the concerns that have been expressed, but in far more temperate terms. Of course, I accept your ruling that you have no responsibility for the business put before the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, may I put it to you that it is the Chair's function to protect the rights of Back Bench Members and all parties in the House?
I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you appreciate fully that the way in which the Government are handling the business this week is not in the interests of good scrutiny of legislation. In particular, the lack of proper consultation on the timetable motion for tomorrow is an affront to an extremely important piece of legislation that requires careful scrutiny. Even if you cannot rule on the business of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you can at least ensure that proper representations are made to the Government on the way in which they have handled this week's business.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I hope that I can reply in equally moderate terms to the hon. Gentleman. I have allowed the point of order to be somewhat extended so that concerns expressed by both Opposition parties can be fully heard, as they have been. However, the fact remains that what is put on the Order Paper is a matter for the Government, not the Chair.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I cannot rule on anything further. The plain fact is that the business of the House is not determined by the Chair, and I cannot go on entertaining extended points of order on the same point.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have ruled on the point of order, and I cannot take any more points on the narrow matter before me. Unless there is an entirely fresh point of order, I cannot rule upon it--[Interruption.] Order. We must conduct ourselves in an orderly manner and I must at least hear what is being put to me by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Sir Nicholas Lyell: The Bill has to move on to another place. It came out of its Committee as long ago as 6 June, which was more than six weeks ago. In the meantime, there have been many evenings when the House could have conducted proper debate on the matter. However, the Bill was not brought before the House and is now to be guillotined. It is rumoured that when it is pushed through the other place the Parliament Acts are to be used, which would be tyranny. Is not keeping these matters under control within the House's rules of order?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It may be a matter for right hon. and hon. Members to argue these matters in an orderly way before the House. However, it cannot be taken further on a point of order this evening. There is nothing on which the Chair can rule, and I cannot hear more on that particular matter. I have allowed considerable rein for argument to intrude on a point of order so that both Opposition parties have had an opportunity to have their say on the matter, so I cannot take any more points of order on it.
Mr. Bottomley: On a different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will not mention the Bill that has been discussed. Is it the convention of the House that the Leader of the House makes a business statement in advance so that those Members who are not here now may know what tomorrow's business is? Could the Leader be called to the House to make that statement now? She had notice of her action; she should be here now making a statement about tomorrow's business.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the Chair cannot speculate on who will be called when at this stage the Chair does not even know who will apply to speak in the debate.
Miss Melanie Johnson: The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) is no longer in his place, but he asked me a question about section 37 of the 1866 Act. The original meaning of that section is so obscure that neither the Treasury nor National Audit Office officials who have examined it have been able to decipher it. The main point is that it concerns an old-fashioned practice that is no longer used by the NAO, which has not objected to the repeal of the provision. I hope that the amendment will be agreed to.
Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill; Mr. Graham Allen, Mr. John Healey, Miss Melanie Johnson, Mr. Oliver Letwin and Mr. Keith Simpson; Miss Melanie Johnson to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.--[Mr. Allen.]
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): I must express my pleasure at being able to address this enthusiastic and crowded House on the important issue of brands. That subject is much neglected, but brands are very important to the British economy. They account for £50 billion of gross production, and 400,000 jobs depend on them.
Brands are even more important to Grimsby, which is now designated Europe's food town. It has the biggest concentration of food production and cold storage in Europe, and we are home to household names such as Captain Birds Eye, Bluecrest, Youngs Seafood--masters of the sea--and Baxters soups, with all their wonderful and delicious brands. We are the home of Lean Cuisine, Linda McCartney's menu and Harry Ramsden's batter on Ross Seafood. What is more, we have branded Grimsby fish, because fish sold in Grimsby traditionally has a quality that is very different from that of fish sold in other ports across the estuary, which shall remain nameless. Brands are extremely important, especially in the food industry. Other local brands include McCain oven-ready chips further up the coast and KitKat in York.
Brands are important to a range of consumer products and, therefore, to business competitiveness and competition. They encourage and sustain innovation, because companies are willing to invest if that investment will be protected by a brand name. Brands allow continuous improvement of products, because businesses want to maintain their bond with the consumer. Brands are about trust: the consumer comes to trust a brand that is advertised and promoted and an identity builds up between the two.
Brands both protect innovation and act as a catalyst for it. A 1998 study showed that branded businesses in the consumer products sector innovate twice as much as those that have no brands; they spend more on research and development as a percentage of sales to stimulate and develop the brand; and they extract more value from innovation in branded products. Brands are associated with market growth and profits. As shown by the market strategy report of 1998, brands provide an assurance to the consumer and a guarantee of investment.
Brands form an essential part of the modern business practice of reputation management: a business depends on its brands for its reputation. Anything that undermines a brand--for example, copycat products--undermines a company's investment, leeches off the innovation of the brand owner and weakens its competitive position. Brands are crucial to the operation of a modern economy. They are essential to advertising, which encourages demand, which boosts production, which leads to economies of scale, which reduces the price of the product and encourages and protects investment. Brands are an essential element of a competitive economy.
However, unlike patents and trademarks, brands confer inadequate protection on the investment and expertise, and on the bond with the consumer that they help to build. That protection is especially inadequate in this country compared with other European countries. To protect itself and to pursue competitors and producers of copycat
Therefore, to protect brands under the law of tort by attacking the competitor on the grounds that it is passing-off a product as a branded product is an expensive and unsatisfying exercise that offers little prospect of success. That is why so few actions are brought. There have been some conflicts, such as between Ireland's Dunn supermarket with its St. Bernard brand and Marks & Spencer with its St. Michael brand. There was also an argument over Penguin biscuits and Puffin biscuits, which were Asda's competing version. The argument resulted in a very expensive court battle, at the end of which nothing was effectively decided. Both sides claimed victory. The headlines from Asda said, "Puffins Rule the Roost", whereas United Biscuits said "United Biscuits Wins the Battle". All that happened was that the look-alike product was given publicity.
It is particularly important that we act now to give brands better protection. We should do so, first, because of the globalisation of brands and trade. Brands are now sold on a world market and their reputation internationally is traded on. Indeed, they are traded as commodities. Secondly, better protection is important because of the increasing emphasis on intellectual property, of which brands are a part.
Thirdly, we should act now because of the coming explosion of e-commerce. More and more sales will be made on the internet. Consumers are more at risk when they do not have the opportunity to evaluate the product, and are likely to turn in e-commerce to brands that they know and trust. People want to buy in the established framework of established trust and know what they are getting. For those three reasons, brands are becoming more important and we should act now to protect them.
Action is not being taken; indeed, the matter is being shuffled around. I remember when trademark legislation was agreed by the House in 1994 that there was an attempt to include brands, which in fact are a form of trademark. The then Government said, "No, not in this Bill; the question is one of competition legislation." Yet when the Competition Bill came before the House a couple of years ago, the defenders of brands were told, "No, it is a trademark matter." So, it was dismissed on both counts and the Government had it both ways. Now, the consumer White Paper makes no mention of brands even though they are a basic tool of competition for consumer loyalties. We are therefore missing an opportunity to put the matter right, to put brands on a firmer basis and to give companies weapons to enforce brand reputation and loyalty.
I emphasise that I am not talking about brands on the balance sheet. There is a difference between the Securities and Exchange Commission recommendation that brands cannot be valued, and our own Accounting Standards Board desire for some balance-sheet evaluation. I am not in favour of lumbering the balance sheet with more and more intangibles. I remember that Captain Bob Maxwell had his brands--The Sporting Life, Daily Mirror and
Nor am I talking about supermarkets' own brands. They are a vital part of competition and would not be threatened by any action to protect brands. Supermarket brands are sold on the reputation of the supermarket--Sainsbury's, Asda or whatever.
Nor, finally, am I talking about parallel imports. Indeed, in some ways, I am in favour of parallel imports. I do not see why the weight of European Union legislation should be invoked to protect high-priced sales of luxury items on the European market from cheaper imports of the same branded product from other markets.
As someone who has something of a sunglasses fetish, I was interested to see how cheaply big-name sunglasses such as Serengeti and Bausch and Lomb can be bought at Wal-Mart for £30, whereas in other shops they are sold for £100 or £80. I look forward to a collapse in the price of the products due to the importing of the same brand. That is a question of the pricing policy of luxury goods manufacturers, but I am not dealing with that.
I do not see why in our economy we should be suckered by high-priced products. I am speaking about protecting well-known brands, especially in mass market goods, where look-alike, copycat products can be a form of exploitation which undermines the quality of the brand and investment in the brand. Brands protect innovation, and their role is especially important for competition. We are obsessed with competition, and perhaps a little too obsessed with price competition.
We should protect brands by putting brand law into a form in which it can be effectively enforced. The Select Committee on Trade and Industry a couple of years ago recommended a voluntary code, but I do not think that that would work. We have been pressed by various international bodies--for example, the agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights in 1994. Article 10 bis of the Stockholm convention of 1967 stated that countries
all acts of such a nature as to create confusion by any means whatever. . .
The World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva published a model law on brands in 1994, which some countries have already implemented, so brands are better protected in other European countries than in the United Kingdom. We should implement such a law. I hope that in his reply to this brief debate, my hon. Friend the Minister can give us some assurance, first, that the Government recognise the importance of brands, not only in serving the consumer but in stimulating and protecting innovation and competition; secondly, that the Government will act to give firmer protection to brands because of their importance to competitiveness; and thirdly, that the Government will give brand owners a means of redress against the debasement or the copying of their product.
That would enhance consumer confidence and, more important, it would give businesses the confidence to develop brands and invest in them, and to build up branded production, with all that that offers the consumer, as a stimulus to greater competitiveness, both nationally and internationally.