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Mr. Fraser: If we are to work efficiently and effectively, it would on occasion be a great advantage for a constituent to be able to get hold of us directly, or for us to be able to access a constituent's call more easily. When a constituent telephones, the message reaches us remotely.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I am listening closely to my hon. Friend, but I am slightly bemused. Since I became a Member of Parliament, my telephone number has been in the local directory. My constituents have no problem getting hold of me.
Mr. Fraser: Nearly all of us have our numbers in the local directory. Mine is also on any publication that I put out. It is nevertheless surprising how many people choose to telephone the Palace of Westminster. I have heard such
The other aspect that I want to raise concerns telephoning abroad from this building on legitimate parliamentary business. To do so, one must go through a long-winded process of having the call logged and then claiming its cost accordingly. An example of the process was given to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), who is chairman of the all-party Hong Kong group. He took the decision to set up that group, and I shall not pass comment on that, but he informed me yesterday that, when telephoning Hong Kong on parliamentary business to set up meetings and make representations, he must pay for the calls.
All I am asking is that the House consider the issue of communication and call diversion. That may be something of which not all Members approve, but there are certainly occasions on which constituents have pointed out that they could not access us directly when we might have preferred them to be able to do so. I draw the problem to the attention of the House and ask that through your good offices, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the matter be considered, via either the Information Committee or the Government.
Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green): I shall also raise the issue of Cyprus. I followed my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) in doing so in the debate on the Christmas recess, too. He is very good at putting the case for Cyprus, leaving one with very much less to say than one may have prepared. The issue of Cyprus is the main issue on which I want to touch, but I shall try to explore matters behind some of the figures and to identify the problems before us.
There are several problems in Cyprus. There are more than 1,600 missing people, and others live in enclaves, surrounded by occupied territories. Since 1974, 37 per cent. of the island has been occupied. The Anatolian settlers from Turkey are not at all the same culturally as the Turkish Cypriots. We have no problem with the Turkish Cypriots; Turkish and Greek Cypriots get on very well. There are tens of thousands of troops on the island, who should be withdrawn, and all churches in the occupied territories have been destroyed. I shall not expand on such points, as my hon. Friend has already made them. I should therefore like to make other comments about some of the causes of and reasons for the situation in which we find ourselves.
I am a delegate of the Council of Europe, which is closely connected to the European Court of Human Rights. Ten thousand human rights cases have arisen among the 41 member nations of the Council of Europe, but by far the most concern just one country: Turkey. As of March 2000, about 2,150 cases of human rights violations concerned Turkey. There are 455 cases land
I could say a great deal more about Turkey. The Loizidu case is before the European Court of Human Rights at the moment. It was decided 22 months ago that Turkey should pay Mrs. Loizidu for her not being able to use her home in the occupied territory, but nothing has happened. Turkey, as a member state of the Council of Europe, and therefore a country that subscribes to the Court, should have acted directly. Britain also has cases before the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights, and, like most countries, we adhere to the Court's decisions--not so Turkey.
I could speak for a long time on such matters, but I do not want to make life difficult for my colleagues who want to speak. I could talk for a long time about the Kurdish issue, but I shall say just one thing. The case of the Ilisu dam has come before us several times over the past couple of weeks. It has been discussed in Adjournment debates, and questions have been raised about it, so we are reasonably familiar with the matter. The dam will affect 36,000 Kurdish people, who will have to move from what they regard as their homeland. The ancient Kurdish town of Hasankeyf will be flooded and that architectural treasure will be lost. Already, 19 villages have been cleared at gunpoint by the Turkish army. One could go on.
It still appears that the British Government are minded to support Balfour Beatty with £200 million back-up from the United Kingdom Export Credits Guarantee Department--for the country of Turkey, which is violating human rights thousands of times over. The real fight is about water. Water shortages in that part of the world are extremely important. If the Ilisu dam is built, one can expect military struggles between Turkey, Iraq, Syria and other nations. The country in that area that controls water and the water supply will conquer everything before it. That is how I think the Turkish Government will proceed in the Ilisu dam project. My message to the Minister is, therefore, that the British Government should insist that Turkey plays a full part in human rights, and until it does so, the Government should resist its advancing further in the European Union.
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): On 19 April, in Westminster Hall, in one of my longest and most complicated speeches, I spoke about a west country computer firm, AllVoice Computing plc. I am sure that the House is pleased to hear that I do not intend to make a similar contribution today unless I am seriously provoked.
On that occasion, I told hon. Members that AllVoice is a specialist computer company with some extraordinarily innovative products. For instance, it has made the technology of voice recognition a reality. AllVoice did not invent the technique of computers being able to write out dictated speech, but it produced software that turned that invention into a reality. Before that, it was almost as if a car had been invented, but could never get out of first gear. AllVoice produced the gear box that turned a theoretical possibility into something that worked.
As I said, the story is long and complex and it is sufficient for my purposes simply to make the point that, although AllVoice patented its invention, it soon found out that it was a minnow in a sea full of sharks. IBM and Dragon Systems Inc. systematically exploited AllVoice's innovation, took it away and used it in their products. Without my going into great detail, one can imagine the effect on this small, innovative west country computer company if that practice had been allowed to go on unrestrained. To try and restrain IBM and Dragon Systems from behaving like that, AllVoice began proceedings in the United States to enforce its patent.
An extraordinary series of events in the American judicial system then followed. AllVoice applied for interim relief in the form of an injunction. Injunction proceedings are well known to Members of the House and to anyone with any acquaintance with the law, and they provide instant relief to ensure that there is no damage in the interim that would ultimately make a court case ineffective. Almost a year after the judge heard the application, he was not prepared to say whether he would grant temporary relief, so AllVoice, in desperation, asked me to bring the matter before the House of Commons. It wanted to ask Ministers for assistance, and argued that, through the small firms merit award for research and technology and other grants from the Department of Trade and Industry, a substantial sum of taxpayers' money had been paid to it to enable it to develop its products. At the very least, AllVoice hoped that Ministers would say that, in relation to that investment, they had an interest in what happened to that company.
To be fair, the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce gave a surprisingly helpful and encouraging response. Indeed, judging by the faces of the civil servants who were present, she was more helpful than she had been briefed to be. I made the point that I was not asking the Minister to attempt to interfere in the American judicial process. However, I said that it seemed appropriate for Ministers to express surprise and concern that it should take a year to deal with an application for temporary interim relief. At that time in April, the application had not yet been dealt with. The Minister also conceded that something might be done under the trade-related intellectual property agreement or TRIPS, as I suggested. TRIPS conventions provide that a signatory to the proposition that patent law should be enforced across international boundaries is under an obligation to ensure that that patent legislation is applied in its own country. Uniquely, in the experience of the American lawyers acting for AllVoice, the judge took more than a year to consider interim relief and, each time he received a motion asking for direction, refused to consider the matter. On any showing, that suggests that the TRIPS conventions were not followed properly.
At the end of our debate, the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce was content that she had given a proper response to my argument. The civil servants looked miserable, but there is nothing wrong with that. There were some grounds for thinking that action would be taken. As I said, that debate took place on 19 April, and at least had the effect of taking matters forward, as, after a year, the judge quickly decided that he would not grant temporary relief at all. I then had a rather curious exchange of correspondence with the Minister. In those
The company is now faced with continuing litigation against IBM and Dragon Systems, two of the most powerful companies in the world. There seems to be no end in sight or, if there is, it is the outcome that happens all too often, especially on the other side of the pond, in which big predatory computer companies simply steal the innovations developed by smaller companies. When the smaller companies litigate in defence, the big companies simply drive them into the ground. On the broader argument that it is in the public interest that innovation should be protected and taken forward, as well as on the narrower ground of consideration for a company that has received large sums of taxpayers' money, Her Majesty's Government cannot stand idly by.
Certain action could be taken. First, Ministers could take account--and should already have done so--of the fact that Dragon Systems has been taken over by Lernout and Hauspie, which is known as L&H; that is an easier way of referring to it. In the course of the public filings that L&H had to make with the Securities and Exchange Commission in America, it was required to state specifically whether there was litigation pending against it. Extraordinarily, L&H said that no litigation at all was pending, even though AllVoice had litigation pending against Dragon Systems in America. It is extraordinary that Ministers can stand idly by--as, I am afraid they are, as I shall explain--during such takeovers, when British companies are involved and it is stated publicly that no litigation is pending, although, in fact, it is. Ministers could take a view on that.
In our debate on 19 April, the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce said that about £750 million had already been paid in DTI grants to companies such as AllVoice to enable them to take forward innovative programmes. The irony is that, in this country, IBM itself benefits from Government grants such as those for regional assistance. In certain areas, IBM is practically subsidised to come to this country. We therefore seem to be in a position in which companies can come here, receive Government assistance and, at the same time, drive--or attempt to drive--into extinction British companies that have done innovative work. The Government should consider whether it makes sense for one hand to pay out to companies such as AllVoice and the other to subsidise those who would put such companies out of business. As I said, I understand why Ministers cannot interfere directly in the judicial process in America or this country, but there is no reason why they should not be entitled to take a view on the track records of those companies that they subsidise. Before they subsidise a company such as IBM, it is appropriate that they should look at what that company is doing and consider what sort of company it is.
I have always taken the view that it is all too easy to bring problems to Ministers, but the least that one can do is to attempt to offer a solution as well. In correspondence with the Minister, I have pointed out that things could be done and that she should look at the way in which assistance is given to companies such as IBM. At the very least the Minister could meet AllVoice and hear about the work that it has done, the good use to which it has put taxpayers' money, and listen as it explains why it is essential that action is taken.
I wrote to the Minister on 2 July and 14 July. I accept that they were long and somewhat complex letters in which I asked her to meet AllVoice. So far--although I have not checked my post this morning--I have heard nothing back. Why? Before I became a Minister, I saw an episode of "Yes, Minister" many years ago, when Hacker arrived and saw that the contents of his in-tray were a nightmare. Those of us who have been in government will know that that is close to the bone. Sir Humphrey sorted it out; he picked up the in-tray and dropped it in the out-tray, saying "We will deal with it for you, Minister."
The problem sometimes with being a junior Minister is that the system can accommodate only those situations to which it is used. I have no doubt that when officials read the debate that I initiated on 19 April and the lengthy letters that I have written since, they said that the matter did not fit into the mainstream of their activities. Perhaps they thought that they should pause for reflection; perhaps over the summer recess. That is all fine and dandy, but for companies trying to survive in the marketplace, it is lethal.
Ministers must understand that this is not a usual situation; it is not something to which their civil servants will be used. We need Ministers to look at this and take an innovative view. One of the things that I find remarkable about this Administration, with their huge majority, is the lack of confidence among their junior Ministers. As I am addressing the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office--whose help I greatly value--I am restraining myself massively from saying that some of the outer members of the Cabinet suffer from that lack of confidence, also.
I see a number of other ex-Ministers in the Chamber, and I believe that if a junior Minister really wants to do something, he very often can. He may not have much power, but, very often, he has influence. If one looks at a problem without attempting to find reasons not to do something, and if one looks positively at how one can help, very often one can achieve extraordinary things.
I am bringing the Parliamentary Secretary a problem and a solution. I would like an assurance from him; not that he will begin to understand the complex details of the case--that would be outrageous--but that he will acknowledge the concerns that I have expressed. He and I have known each other long enough, so I hope that he realises that I do not turn up here every week making such requests. I hope that he will specifically draw this debate to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
If Ministers do not act, and act soon, there will be two consequences--one national and one specific to AllVoice. The national consequence is that if we keep subsidising major companies which use predatory litigation to steal the software and inventions of small British companies, we will make this country a breeding ground for overseas predatory companies which will use taxpayers' money to rip off the taxpayer.
More specifically, AllVoice is not some dot.com company. It is not a fly-by-night company, but one with a proven track record in terms of profits and patents. This company has shown an ability to work at the forefront of technology and has received a substantial imprimatur from the Government with the investment of taxpayers' money. Even as I speak, the company is working on innovations which could bring billions of pounds of investment to this country. Ministers may do nothing and may allow themselves to hide behind the formula that this is about litigation which must be left to the courts. They may believe that it will be fine; at the end of the day, no Minister will be found responsible for not dealing with the matter as I have suggested. The safe option for Ministers, as always in these circumstances, is to do nothing. The right option is to look at the matter and say, "How can we help?"