Draft Registered Designs Regulations 2001

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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): The good Government Whip said that it was imperative that I be here, and bearing that in mind I thought that I would read up on the regulations. That is one of the lessons that will have to be taken note of. I went to the Vote Office and asked for the document, but was not given an explanatory note, although I asked for one and said that I was a member of the Committee. That underlies the charade of our law making in the House of Commons. I shall not acquiesce by being silent about the nonsense of the law making in which we pretend to engage in this place. I shall draw attention to it and place it on public record. If people want me here, I shall consider the matter, speak, and perhaps even oppose it, unless the Minister can satisfy me.

The points with which I should like the Minister to deal become more important as I move towards the end. I understand that armorial arms are protected if they relate to the United Kingdom, but are not necessarily protected if they relate to a citizen of another European Union country. I am not too exercised by that, but I should like to understand it. For instance, could I use the armorial bearings of ex-King Constantine of Greece? I would be interested to know whether protection in that area is purely through the European Union? Under the Paris convention, I notice that a country has to complain or ask for protection of symbols of the nation. However, what happens when the armorial bearings do not belong to the nation or the person who has lost status in a nation? I should like clarification of that.

Under regulation 2, proposed new section 1D states:

    ``A right in a registered design shall not subsist in a design which is contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality.''

Surely that is extraordinarily dangerous and sweeping. Who is to judge whether the design is acceptable, or whether it might be in conflict with public policy? I am not prepared to acquiesce in such a sweeping provision by my silence on the matter. I am surprised that the Opposition did not pick that up, although Labour Members increasingly provide the opposition in the House of Commons. The House has debated the question of ``accepted principles of morality'' over many years, and it is never consistent from decade to decade. Learned judges have a wide range of views about what are ``accepted principles of morality''. Why are we agreeing to such a sweeping measure without giving it fuller critical examination?

The other issue that needs to be canvassed is that, sometimes, establishment organisations are guilty of humbug and of having overbearing attitudes. We could have crossed the bridge earlier today and bought a T-shirt which had the London Underground symbol on it, and the Houses of Parliament or Westminster gasworks. That is fun. Under this measure, however, London Underground, or London Transport, will no doubt be able to stop that. Any statute must include a provision indicating what is reasonable, but I have yet to discover where that is set out in the regulations.

The other issue in which I hope that I can interest the Committee, and especially my radical Labour colleagues, relates to proposed new schedule A1, paragraph 1, which states:

    ``A design shall be refused registration under this Act if it involves the use of...

    (c) a representation of Her Majesty or any member of the Royal family''.

That is not a republican issue. I recognise Her Majesty as our head of state, and, throughout the world, symbols of the head of state are rightly and sensibly protected, but those of the rest of the head of state's family are not. Why should the rest of the family be so protected? What are the parameters of the family? Perhaps you, Mrs. Roe, are part of the royal family. Perhaps I am, because I am unaware of statutory limits to the royal family. Why the heck should all the hangers-on have special protection in addition to and over and above that of you or I, Mrs Roe? The fact is that there are other remedies in law, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) uttered to me earlier, and which he may want to amplify. Protection exists under the Copyright Acts for anybody who is so aggrieved.

Why should the Duke of Kent, Princess Michael of Kent and Edward of Ardent Television have protection that is not extended to the ordinary people of this country? That is the sort of thinking that irritates and grates. The pathetic Opposition will not raise the issue, because they are fawning and obsequious when it comes to the royal family, and the Government allow such provisions to be included without examining them critically. Some of us must stand up and say, ``It is correct to protect the head of state, but we should not provide such extraordinary protection for a small, privileged few.'' I hope that the Minister will reflect on that. Alternatively, will she explain why members of the House of Windsor Mountbatten should have extraordinary protection over and above that of her constituents and my constituents? Will she also satisfy me in relation to proposed new section 1D, which I regard as an extremely unhealthy censorship clause?

Mr. Waterson: And the King of Greece?

Andrew Mackinlay: The King of Greece would probably like to know too.

We must be assured that the regulations have undergone adequate scrutiny. Frankly, they have not and, if they have, that is wrong because the Windsor Mountbatten family should not have been given this extraordinary privilege, which is offensive to me and to the principles of equality that should endure in this place.

4.50 pm

Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare): The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) made some important points. I welcome the measure, which is clearly friendly and of benefit to small businesses. That is a key matter. I tell the Minister that there are a number of matters—as there always are when there is a change to regulations—about which not all small businesses have recourse to know the details. Will the Minister ensure that small businesses are fully aware of the changes? For example, there is the matter of testing the market. Under the new regulations, a small firm may put a product on to the market for a year and, if the firm decides at the end of the year that the product is a success, it may be protected. However, during that time, small businesses must be aware that they have no protection. If that is not carefully explained—particularly to smaller concerns—small businesses may think that they are protected, although the regulations state otherwise.

We have many regulations and changes nowadays. How does the Minister think that small businesses will take the change on board? Will she assure me that the Small Business Service will be a point of advice for small businesses?

The hon. Member for Eastbourne rightly raised the matter of delay—we are a day behind already. Lord Sainsbury, the Minister's colleague in the other place, gave an answer about that the other day. I shall wait to hear the Minister's answer, but I know what the Minister in the House of Lords said. Will there be a problem if other countries implement the regulations and we do not? Will that be a dangerous period for businesses, or do I not understand what the delay means?

The implication of the supporting notes is that there will not be extra costs, especially to small businesses. Will the Minister assure us that there will not be extra costs because often, these days, registration fees increase? That is often sneaked in under the wire.

I ask the Minister about intellectual property rights. She will recall that I asked a question on Friday 19 October about that and—in case she does not recollect that, although I am sure that she will—she replied:

    ``The Mori research showed that long-term and sustainable action to improve public perceptions is needed and messages are more likely to be understood by the public''

—about intellectual property—

    ``if they can see the direct impact on them.''—[Official Report, 19 October 2001; Vol. 372, c. 1376W.]

That was an interesting answer. It is sometimes difficult for the public to take on board the fact that having protection of intellectual property works for them. Sometimes they see the matter from the other side because products that are not protected may come on to the market more cheaply. Will she follow up the issue of intellectual property to ensure that consideration is given to not only school children, but others?

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) raised several issues in his customary robust manner, but I shall not repeat them. He drew attention to the royal family, and I assume that he meant the well-known royal family, not the television Royle family.

Andrew Mackinlay: I hope that the Minister will confirm that there are no statutory limits to what constitutes the royal family. No line is draw round it—it is open-ended. The concept is entirely meaningless and could be used by hangers-on, who irritate my constituents and those of the hon. Gentleman. The royal family issue sticks in my gut.

Brian Cotter: The hon. Gentleman has a point. I am not terribly well known, but my name or picture could be used. Many people do not know me, but some do, including quite a few in Weston-super-Mare. If my imprint were put on a sweatshirt, would I slip into the same category as the royal family? I have Irish and Spanish antecedents, and it is just possible that I have a royal connection way back on the Spanish side. Am I protected too? Why has the royal family, in particular, been mentioned?

To return to small business, I should like an assurance that clarity will be the operative term. I hope that no extra costs will be involved for business and that it will have a point of contact where it can seek assistance in the same way that it does on many of the other issues with which it must deal.

4.56 pm

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Prepared 29 October 2001