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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Database Protection Agreement Between The United Kingdom on Behalf of The Isle of Man and The European Community) Order 2003

Ninth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 7 July 2003

[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties)

(Database Protection Agreement between the United Kingdom on behalf of the Isle of Man and the European Community) Order 2003

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Database Protection Agreement between the United Kingdom on behalf of the Isle of Man and the European Community) Order 2003.

The order was laid before the House on 9 June. It declares an agreement between the EC and the UK on behalf of the Isle of Man to be a ''Community Treaty'' as defined in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. If Parliament agrees to that and the order is subsequently made an Order in Council, it will enable the Government to exercise powers under section 2(2) of the Act to make subordinate legislation to give effect to the agreement.

The agreement binds the Community and the Isle of Man to provide reciprocal protection of rights in databases, in accordance with chapter III of directive 96/9/EC. That requires member states to provide a right for a database maker to prevent unauthorised extraction and/or re-utilisation of that database's contents. The directive applies to databases made by European economic area nationals, residents and companies, but other databases may be protected by agreement of the Council.

The Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997, statutory instrument 1997/3032, established the right in the UK for EEA databases. The Isle of Man has made similar provision for its databases. However, databases made by Manx companies and Isle of Man residents who are not EEA nationals are not protected by the right in the EC. The Isle of Man therefore requested the Government to negotiate an agreement that would provide protection in the Community for Manx databases, in return for protection of EC databases in the Isle of Man.

The Council has concluded that the Isle of Man offers equivalent protection to that offered by the Community, and has approved the agreement with the UK. That is published in the Official Journal of the European Union of 5 April—OJ No. L 89—and as Command Paper 5836.

4.33 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Mrs. Roe, may I say what a delight it is to speak before you in rather different circumstances from those in which I normally do so? I thank the Minister for his informed

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presentation. Incidentally, I also thank the officials, who always write helpful explanatory memorandums. Those are very useful, because orders are written in a form that is usually unintelligible to a normal human being.

Given that the Isle of Man requested that the order be passed, Opposition Members will not seek to divide the Committee, but I have a number of what I hope will be penetrating questions for the Minister. First, what is the role of the Data Protection Act 1998 in this regard? How will data protection be confirmed in the Isle of Man? Does the 1998 Act as it stands apply, for example, in the Isle of Man?

The order is before us because the Isle of Man operates from outside the European Union in the normal sense of the EU. Of course, that also applies to the Channel Islands, in particular to the states of Jersey and Guernsey. Does the Minister believe that a similar order regarding the Jersey and Guernsey bailiwicks will be presented to the House? If not, why does this order apply to the Isle of Man and not to the Channel Islands? What protection will be given? Will the Minister give more information about which databases in operation in the Isle of Man need protection under this order? Surely financial databases are already protected by the Data Protection Act, so what additional protection does the order provide?

The explanatory notes talk about the

    ''extraction and/or re-utilisation of the whole or a substantial part of the contents of that database''.

The whole or a substantial part of the contents of that database would be protected if the order were passed. How is

    ''a substantial part of the contents''

defined? When do the contents of a database become insubstantial? Is the Minister talking about the number of fields of a database, or about the relative importance of the fields of a database? I am thinking especially of financial information, given that much of the Isle of Man's activity is in the financial sector—in addition, of course, to tourism. I have been to the Isle of Man and can say that it is a very attractive island. Indeed, I encourage hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to visit the Isle of Man if they have not yet been there.

Apart from tourism, a substantial part of the financial input into the Isle of Man is through its banking activities, so what would be an insubstantial part of a database, especially if it were a financial database, which could be released and which would not be covered by the order?

I will not seek to divide the Committee on the issue, but my questions are important. I know that the Minister is more than capable of answering them.

4.36 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), and his questions. I agree that the Isle of Man is an important place. I have not been there, but as a Member who represents part of the Border Television region, I can

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learn more about the Isle of Man than perhaps most Members in the Room thanks to its excellent ''Lookaround'' programme.

I want to focus briefly on a couple of aspects of the order. One arises from the comments made by the hon. Member for Lichfield, who focused much of his attention on the protection of data contained in a database, about which any member of the Committee and anyone outside might rightly be concerned. To what extent does the order deal with that and protect it? To what extent does it deal with the intellectual property rights associated with the design and development of the database itself?

Are we talking about proprietary software, such as Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel software, which contain database functions? Are we talking about the adaptation of those basic bits of proprietary software to highly tuned bits of sales software, which are sold on in commercial environments in the usual course of events, or about particular databases, including data contained in them, such as a company's sales database? The term ''database'' can cover a range of issues, and it would help the Committee if the Minister could clarify the particular issue to which the order relates.

4.38 pm

Nigel Griffiths: I warmly welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. I also welcome the hon. Member for Lichfield to the Committee and congratulate him on his new responsibilities. He made several pertinent points, including the role of the Data Protection Act 1998. The answer to his question is that it does not play a part in relation to the database directive. Data protection is a separate right, and is covered by the appropriate legislation, to which I understand the Isle of Man adheres.

We have no current plans for parallel orders in respect of Jersey and Guernsey, which enjoy a similar status to the Isle of Man. Jersey and Guernsey would have to take the initiative if they wished us to draw up such plans. The Isle of Man specifically requested the

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order. We have been happy to assist it, and I hope that the Committee will be, too.

Michael Fabricant: The explanatory notes make it clear that, although the order was based on a specific request by the Isle of Man, that request stemmed from an initial approach by the UK Government. Have similar approaches been made to the states of Jersey and Guernsey?

Nigel Griffiths: I am informed that the Isle of Man made that request—that it took the initiative, but Guernsey and Jersey did not. If, however, I am misinformed, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the matter.

A couple of other points were raised by hon. Members. A question was asked about the definition of ''substantial''. That is, as usual, decided on a case-by-case basis—it is subject to qualitative and quantitative considerations.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) gave me a chance to explain my connection with the Isle of Man. Before the hon. Gentleman was an MP, I was brought up in his constituency, in the same street as the widow of Jimmy Guthrie, the great Isle of Man TT racer. That is the sole connection that I wish to declare with the Isle of Man at this stage. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's question, software is covered by a separate directive. That directive stands alone, and does not prejudice this directive. Database rights protect the data that is in the database, and not the proprietary software that is used to organise it. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Database Protection Agreement between the United Kingdom on behalf of the Isle of Man and the European Community) Order 2003.

Committee rose at seventeen minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Atkins, Charlotte
Burnham, Andy
Fabricant, Michael
Field, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr.
Horam, Mr.
King, Ms Oona
Marris, Rob
Moore, Mr.
Singh, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Griffiths, Nigel (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry)

 
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Prepared 7 July 2003