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Intellectual Property Crime

5. Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to combat intellectual property crime. [52000]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Barry Gardiner): The UK is widely recognised as one of the lead countries in the world on intellectual property enforcement. Through the Patent Office, the Government have implemented the national IP crime strategy. It put in place a multi-agency IP crime group, involving Government, public enforcement bodies—including police, trading standards, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs—and key industry sectors to deliver better-targeted enforcement action. In December 2005, we carried out the first multi-agency operation at Wembley market in London, where more than £1.5 million of counterfeit and pirate goods were seized. I pay particular tribute to Brent police and Brent and Harrow trading standards for leading the action. There were a number of arrests, which are being pursued to prosecution by trading standards and the police.

Mr. Flello: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that response. Given my interest in the ceramics industry, and the pressure that that industry is under from rapidly rising energy prices, will my hon. Friend explain what measures specific to that industry are being considered to ensure that the theft of ideas and designs does not become yet another nail in the industry's coffin?

Barry Gardiner: The whole House is aware of my hon. Friend's strong support for the ceramics industry, with which his constituency has long been proudly associated. He is right to point out the threat that the industry faces from counterfeit goods, particularly from China and the far east. We have developed specific training programmes to ensure that Chinese enforcement agencies develop strategies to stop such infractions at source. Last year, the Chinese Government reduced the threshold for offences there, and in the past year there has been a 23 per cent. rise in
 
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successful actions in the Chinese courts against such perpetrators. In the European Union, under directive 85/500/EEC, we have been campaigning to ensure that a back stamp goes on to ceramic goods, which will help to prevent counterfeit goods from entering this country.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Which countries does the Minister regard as offering best practice in regard to the protection of intellectual property rights? What lessons are to be learned from them?

Barry Gardiner: As I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), this country has one of the proudest records on the protection of intellectual property rights. We have been working with our partners in Europe to develop that further as an EU-wide strategy, because this is an issue that all developed countries are facing. As we seek to make the UK the hub of the intellectual creative industries, not only for Europe but for the world, it will be increasingly important to have provisions in place to protect not only our ceramics market but the music industry and all the other creative industries for which this country is so well positioned.

Nuclear Power Stations

6. Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): If he will bring forward earlier comprehensive decommissioning of nuclear power stations. [52001]

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has set out its proposals for the decommissioning and clean-up of its sites in its draft strategy. The Scottish Ministers and I have until 31 March to consider and approve the proposed draft.

Mr. Drew: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. He will soon receive a report from those involved with the Berkeley site in my constituency, which contains exciting proposals for the next stage of the decommissioning and clean-up of the site. I hope that he will look favourably on the proposals, and ensure that there is a proper role for both the public and private sectors in undertaking the work. I hope that he will have some positive things to say on that.

Malcolm Wicks: I hear what my hon. Friend says. The clean-up of our waste legacy is one of the big challenges that we face; in my judgment, it should have been tackled before now. We now have in place the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and an expert committee will be advising us in the summer on the equally important issue of a final repository for nuclear waste. Once both of those are in place, we shall be in a position to discuss with the public—should we need to, and should that be our decision—the future of civil nuclear power in this country.

Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the costs of nuclear decommissioning depend very much on the methodology used, and in particular on the discount rate that is applied? In the context of the present energy review, will he commit at an early stage
 
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to publish the Government's methodology, so that we can have a proper debate on the issue before the conclusions of the review are reached?

Malcolm Wicks: We are looking at the economics and carrying out a cost-benefit analysis of a range of technologies, and I will certainly consider what my hon. Friend has said. By any judgment, the cost of clearing up the nuclear legacy, calculated over time—possibly 50 or more years—is estimated at £56 billion, with the annual cost at present about £2 billion. This is a very expensive project, and I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said.

European Energy Market

7. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): When he next expects to meet the European Commissioner with responsibility for competition to discuss opening up the European energy market. [52002]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alan Johnson): I last met Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes to discuss opening up the European energy market and other issues on 27 January 2006. I continually emphasise to the Commissioner that she has our full support for the sector inquiry that she is carrying out and that we look forward to seeing the results.

The inquiry's initial report in November last year identified a number of issues in the European energy market, in particular a lack of unbundling and transparency in some parts of the EU. We hope that the latest report, which is published today, will build on those findings and that it will identify individual cases where there has been a distortion of competition.

Tony Baldry: The Secretary of State earlier drew the House's attention to the new realities in the electricity markets and the Prime Minister told the House yesterday that it is very important that we have a level playing field in energy pricing. Can the Secretary of State promise the House that the Government have got a grip on this; that time is of the essence; that competitiveness for the UK, and indeed for Europe, will be critical in terms of energy pricing, as we have the highest wholesale gas prices in Europe; and that this will not be shuttled off so that, whenever we ask a question, we are told that the EU Commission is dealing with it? We all want the understanding and the guarantee that this is something that the Government are genuinely taking seriously and that we are not just getting some holding line to take.

Alan Johnson: I think that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. What happened over Christmas between Russia and Ukraine was a wake-up call for the rest of the EU. It builds on the suggestion, which we made at Hampton Court during our presidency, that the EU needs to get a grip of this issue, right across the EU. Earlier I mentioned Germany. Its prices have gone up 75 per cent. wholesale, and 41 per cent. of its supply is dependent on Russia.

There is a question first of liberalisation. In that respect, not only the industry sector report is important. We also instigated a report on the specific incidents last
 
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year when gas was not coming through the interconnector. The Chancellor and I wrote to the Commissioner, and there is a separate inquiry on that. There is a third inquiry, which the transport and energy directorate-general is handling, to consider whether additional measures are needed to enable the internal energy market to develop properly.

There are three strands there in the EU, as well as the wider question of the geopolitical issue. There is a real need to ensure that, in future, our energy supplies are not dependent on some unstable countries and some countries that are huge monopolies and able to exert the power that huge monopolies can.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on keeping the home fires burning while in Italy, by contrast, power cuts are leading to central heating being switched off and Italians having to snuggle under their blankets and stay warm in bed together, which might explain why the Italian Prime Minister has given up sex for the general election. Will my right hon. Friend send one of his excellent Ministers to Italy to show how a sensible energy market might be run?

On a specific point, waiting for Europe to do what we want might mean a long wait. The profits of the British glass industry have been wiped out by the rise in gas prices and 150 jobs in my constituency of Rotherham went yesterday, in part because of high energy prices.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Italian part was all right.

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy has just said that the energy review will look very carefully at two people snuggling together under a blanket as one solution to our problems for the future. As for the situation in Italy, I think I need to go myself.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) raises an important point, and the glass industry in particular has been severely affected by the price increase. It is still the case—I say this although it offers little comfort to those affected—that over the past 10 years British companies have paid £9 billion less for their energy than German companies, for instance, but there is an issue here that we need to tackle.

We are working with the energy-intensive users such as the company in my right hon. Friend's constituency to get the right transparency, to see what we can do to reduce energy consumption and to avoid what happened in Italy, which was a disastrous imposition by Government that we want to avoid at all costs in this country.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): De la Rochefoucauld said:

What happened in Ukraine was a reminder of how successive Russian regimes have treated weaker neighbours. What, in the Secretary of State's judgment, is the maximum percentage of gas that should be imported from Russia?

Alan Johnson: I have never thought about what the maximum should be. All I know is that the Ukraine-
 
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Russia spat did not affect the UK, because none of our gas comes from Russia. If we do nothing, however, and carry on decommissioning nuclear plants, and decommissioning coal-fired plants because of emissions problems, by 2020, 80 per cent. of our gas supplies would have to be imported. It is inconceivable that a large chunk of that would not come from Russia. That is a specific reason why the review needs to go right across the field, considering renewables, energy efficiency, nuclear, fossil fuels and clean coal technology. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to ensure, not just in this country but throughout the European Union, that the dominance of Russia does not become a real problem in future, as it was for Ukraine over Christmas.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are to remove ourselves from the stranglehold of rising gas prices, enormous reliance on gas and all that goes with it, we need to make sure that our coal industry does not fade away? There are only half a dozen pits left, one of which is Harworth, which has 288 miners. Its coal is important, and he should make sure that the loan guarantee is granted. If there are any problems in the tinpot Common Market, he should tell that Commissioner to pull her finger out and allow those miners to work.

Alan Johnson: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) in relation to Harworth. There is an opportunity for coal, because rising gas prices have meant that coal has become much more competitive. Imports from South Africa and other countries, however, are still far cheaper than indigenous coal. Nevertheless, the advent of new technology such as carbon capture and storage provides an opportunity to consider coal with a completely fresh eye. Things have moved on even from the 2003 White Paper. The support for the coal industry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has given over the years will be important in relation to the energy review.


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