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There is a precedent--I accept that the figure has not been plucked out of thin air--because a number of offences that come within patent law already attract such sentences. In a sense, what the hon. Gentleman is proposing is by way of co-ordination of sentencing policy or--dare I use the term?--perhaps he has in mind harmonisation.
We must know whether the imposition of such sentences would be likely to deter the recidivism that might now be apparent, or would act as a disincentive and deterrent to commit copycat offences. I am not sure. I do not want to be in the business of knee-jerk sentencing policy, or the passage knee-jerk legislation with what might be described as provision for symbolic penalties, which it is not seriously envisaged will be implemented in practice. We need to know more about these matters than we know now.
There is a related concern, and here I fear that some people, including the hon. Gentleman, will think that I am being somewhat feeble, but I hope that I am not. In terms of justice and equity, we must have a sense of proportion about penalties for these offences and how they relate to those applied for the commission of other arguably more serious and certainly more violent offences.
Even if the 10-year penalty were not applied under the terms of clause 2 but a substantial penalty exceeding four years' imprisonment were applied, it would necessarily follow that the culprits would not be eligible for early release under the Government's home detention curfew scheme. I admit that that causes me a flutter of anxiety about the Bill.
I would feel more comfortable about the Bill if the hon. Gentleman can reassure me that the proposed sentencing policy is open to change. However, I am concerned by the idea that someone committing such an offence could be banged up for a lengthy period with no opportunity for remission. After all, members of the Labour party--possibly including the hon. Gentleman himself--have regularly complained about overcrowding in our prisons. This country has a very large prison population by comparison with the rest of Europe, so we should take great care not to add gratuitously to it.
Mr. Miller: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and I welcome the thrust of his remarks. I assure him that I am prepared to countenance debate and amendments in Committee if the Bill meets with the approval of the House.
My final point relates to the summary of the regulatory appraisal. The hon. Gentleman knows that many of us are unhappy about regulatory impact assessments and the Government's attitude to them. Paragraph 17 of the explanatory notes refers to possible additional costs, but it is gloriously vague and unspecific. Frankly, that is not good enough. I am confident that the hon. Gentleman can do and will do a lot better, but paragraph 17 states:
Sometimes the Government go much further than that and say that there will be no increase in costs at all. We all know that it is a case of "What are those pigs I see flying in front of my very eyes?", and that, in due course, the costs will increase as surely as the passage of the seasons. When we consider the Bill's detail rather more thoroughly in Committee in the way that the hon. Gentleman's advocacy of it warrants, I hope that we shall receive more satisfactory answers.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the introduction of the Bill. A serious evil is apparently growing, it imposes enormous costs, it needs to be tackled and he was right to draw it to the attention of the House. I hope that we shall have a thorough debate about the detailed manner in which we give effect to the laudable principles that he has articulated.
The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Dr. Kim Howells): I am pleased to speak about the Bill and confirm that the Government support it. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) on introducing it.
I welcome the interesting and useful debate that has taken place. It has highlighted very well the need for the Bill and exposed the inadequacies of the arguments of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), who clearly has no conception of the importance of intellectual property rights and the part that they play in any advanced economy. He gave a disgraceful performance when he attempted to pooh-pooh some of the best products that are made in this country. In doing so, he attempted to trivialise my hon. Friend's argument that the crime should be treated seriously.
The Bill is aimed at giving enforcers better tools to allow them to tackle a crime that should concern us all, even if it does not worry the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. Intellectual property crime may not mean much to many people--as we have seen--but most people have heard of counterfeiting and piracy. I prefer to use the term IP crime because other terms often lead people to believe that it is a Robin Hood crime, which is how the hon. Gentleman described it. He thinks that the offence does not matter because the products are overpriced and the criminals, even if they are terrorists,
Legitimate business may, and does, lose money because of IP crime. Consumers are also seriously affected by it. I have been involved in various initiatives over the past couple of years to highlight the consumer angle, because it is not widely understood. Consumers often think that they are getting a bargain when they buy a fake, but the bargain could have cost jobs in their local area or helped to fund serious organised crime. In addition, it could do them much physical damage.
I am pleased that the Bill will close some of the loopholes in the law on IP crime. Intellectual property is a reserved matter and as such the Bill will extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. In supporting it, the Government are mindful of the implications for human rights. l have taken advice and consider it to be compatible with the European convention on human rights.
The Bill is a harmonising measure. It reaches across the criminal provisions in different aspects of intellectual property law which relate to offences of making for sale or hire, or dealing in, illegal material. It copies the best provisions and transfers them to existing legislation, so it contains nothing new. It builds on existing best provision and is a worthwhile measure.
It is entirely appropriate that the penalties for offences relating to certain copyright cases are increased so that the maximum matches those that are available for trademark offences. Although there is much overlap between copyright and trademark offences, it is right that even when there is no trademark offence, an unlimited fine or
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me the time between now and 2.30 pm to explain my view on the Bill. I shall do my best to get started on my remarks.
I have identified several problems. The first concerns the relationship between genuine and copy or fake products, which lies at the heart of the Bill. It is not clear whether we are dealing with consumer protection, safety, or profit and investment. There has been some confusion if we are talking about all three. There has also been a lack of validity in the size or scale of the problem. We have been given figures, but very little--if anything--to support them.
The explanatory notes give rise to several issues. On the first page, there is a reference to maximum penalties, police search and seizure powers and forfeiture of illegal material. Those are serious and grave matters. Any Bill that attempts to tackle such issues would require the most thorough examination on Second Reading, in Committee and beyond.
We also have the options that are helpfully laid out in the regulatory impact assessment. Although one could never tell from this debate, there was a process for considering different options for approaching the problem that everybody has so far agreed is very serious. However, we have not received an explanation for the rejection of some of those other options by the promoter of the Bill and, by implication, the Government--