§ Order read for consideration of Bill as amended (in the Standing Committee).
§ Mr. BOOTH
I beg to move as an Amendment, "That the Bill be recommitted to a Select Committee."
This Bill was discussed on Second Reading in this House, as I think hon. Members will agree, in a very haphazard and insufficient manner. The discussion did not really deal with the machinery of the Bill or the necessity for the Bill. There was a considerable amount of talking at large and a good display of erudition 1903 which did credit to the Members who took part, but the Debate had nothing to do with the merits of the Bill. I felt it my duty to criticise the Bill somewhat severely, but I was asked by a junior officer not to speak at length upon it, as there was an Irish Bill following. Hon. Members below the Gangway took very good care that Irish Bill did not come on, but meanwhile the promoters of the Copyright Bill had avoided my straightforward criticisms. Being a little more experienced in the forms of the House and in the ways of the two Front Benches and the various Whips, I am determined they shall not escape me now the Bill has been before the Grand Committee. During the Second Reading Debate an intimation was given that it would go to a Grand Committee, and the Leader of the Opposition, in speaking on the Bill, justified his intervention by saying no doubt they would not elect him on the Committee. I followed him, and I made some suggestions. I said no doubt I should be in the same position, because they were determined I should not serve on the Committee. I must say I do not think it right the one outspoken critic of the Bill on Second Reading should be deliberately kept off the Grand Committee. Owing to the speech I made on the Second Reading, I have, while this Bill is in progress, had communications from all over the country, from working men, who properly consider it is an attack on their right and privilege to enjoy cheap literature, from some firms who think their interests are adversely affected, and from other firms who declare to me this Bill will put money unjustly into their pockets.
I attended the meetings of the Grand Committee repeatedly, and I waited at them until a quorum was formed. On one occasion the Chairman was delayed for nearly twenty minutes before he could get a quorum of members. I attended there because of my interest in the Bill, and yet I was not counted, and twenty-seven minutes was wasted because I was not allowed to form part of a quorum. I thank the Members of the Committee who have fought the battle of the poor and of freedom and of abundance of cheap literature; and I say the Bill as it has emerged from the Committee justifies the short criticism the Front Benches allowed me to make on the Second Reading. It still requires a great deal more attention, and I think the best course in all the circumstances would be to send it to a Select Committee upstairs to take evidence. I acknowledge the 1904 noble fight the minority on the Grand Committee has made on behalf of right principles, but the Bill is altogether a different Bill. I am obliged to regard this Bill as the Bill of the Opposition, and not as a Government measure at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am certainly not prepared to treat it as a Government measure. The hon. Member for Graves-end (Sir Gilbert Parker) knows all about its origin. He can enlighten us as to where it originally came from.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I certainly do not, from my point of view, regard it as a Government measure. On Second Reading its provisions were explained from the bench on which the hon. Member for Gravesend now sits and sat then. He was able to enlighten hon. Members of the House taking part in the discussion in a way my own Front Bench was not able to do. I give him credit because, though he had nothing to do with its origin and was not consulted, he showed a marvellous conception in grasping its contents.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I am not attacking the hon. Member, I am paying him a compliment. In the course of the Bill through Grand Committee the hon. Member took a very honoured but a very active part. The hon. Member certainly spoke repeatedly in the Grand Committee. I was not able to put a question to him then, but I can now. I heard him repeatedly in the Grand Committee when I sat there as a sort of outsider deny my right of speaking. The hon. Member was again and again able to give authoritative explanations of what all the Clauses and Sections meant. He knew the difficulties to be overcome and the points to be safeguarded. If I were in his position I should take a parental pride in the Bill, and should not be in a hurry to disclaim the offspring. I want to urge the House to send the Bill to a Select Committee. There is no doubt from the communications that are reaching hon. Members, that the Bill is arousing keen opposition. The general public and the trade interested in it thought that this House was so engrossed in the details of the Insurance Bill, that there was no chance of this measure coming on. They had no idea that on a hot day like this the Government would have put aside their popular measures in 1905 order to push forward a retrograde measure of this kind. Let me say at once I have no interest in any trade or company affected by this Bill on one side or the other. I am only intervening on behalf of poor people who are shortly to get 5s. or 10s. weekly sick pay under the National Insurance Bill, and I am opposing, because this Bill will make literature so dear that they will only be able to afford halfpenny papers. The time of a Grand Committee should not have been expended on this Bill when more important measures were demanding close attention.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is not the opportunity for reviewing the Government procedure in regard to this Bill.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I have no desire to do that. I want to give reasons for not sending this Bill back to the Grand Committee. My Motion is to send it to a Select Committee. I do not want to send it to the Grand Committee, because that means obstructing Government business and delaying other useful legislation. Many interests are affected by this Bill, and it is necessary to take evidence regarding it. Further Amendments must be introduced into the Bill, and that can only be properly done after taking the evidence of experts. There is the intricate question of gramophone records. It is new to the House—it is a new commercial problem, with which the occupants of the Front Benches are no better acquainted than hon. Members sitting behind them. The proposals may look perfectly innocent, but it is only if expert witnesses can be examined by a Select Committee on them that it may be possible to find out exactly what is behind them. That portion of the Bill is entirely a matter for investigation by a Select Committee. The question of the desire of the general public for cheap, wholesome literature, may be one for the House itself, but when it comes to making regulations affecting trade, that should be done by means of a Select Committee.
The Bill as now framed would give privileges to certain firms and would hit other firms. I am not in a position to adjudicate between the firms, and it is necessary to have expert evidence. I appeal to the House and the Government not to deny interested people the opportunity of placing their views and giving the fullest information before a Select Committee; otherwise if my Motion is refused I shall have to state here the points I should have raised had I been a member of the Grand 1906 Committee. I feel very strongly in regard to this Bill, and I am not prepared to shirk my responsibilities, although it may lead to a little unpleasantness on this side of the House. I am prepared to accept a Select Committee as a compromise, and thus avoid a discussion in this House which must last several days if justice is to be done, but I believe it is only possible to secure that justice by referring this complicated question to a Select Committee to take evidence thereupon.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
In seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend I may say that although I was not a Member of this House in the earlier months of the present Session, yet during last Session and since my re-entry this year I have tried to get some Amendments inserted in this Bill. I support the Motion for a Select Committee because there are many points of urgent public importance which I do not think can be adequately dealt with in the House itself. I want such a Committee in order that the House may fairly consider the Bill. As it now stands in relation to the present Copyright Law the public interests will be narrowed by the proposals embodied in this measure.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I hope I shall be able to prove that the question is one of the utmost importance. The whole House recognises the desirability of having the Copyright Law consolidated in a form in which it can be understood, and at the same time we desire to be careful that public rights shall not be made narrower than they now are. Various memoranda have been circulated to the members of the Grand Committee with respect to various points, but there has not been a general one showing in parallel columns the present state of the law and the alterations proposed by the Bill. One serious matter is the extension of the copyright term. The present term is forty-two years from the date of publication, or during the life of the author and seven years after, forty-two years being generally the longer term. The proposal of the Bill is to make a very great extension—the life of the author and fifty years after. It seems to me that that is too long. Again, the term of publication is altogether swept away—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must now give reasons for sending the Bill to a Select Committee. It appears to me he is making the speech he would have made 1907 on the Second Reading had he been fortunate enough to have been here at that time. He must not do that now.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I hope I am in order in saying that this part raises the special difficulties in the case of anonymous and pseudonymous works and unsigned articles generally, difficulties which do not exist now, and it opens up this, that while in such matters the public can generally find out how long they have been issued and whether they are open to public use, it will be impossible to find out until you can ascertain who the author was. These provisions are retrospective, and that is a most important matter in the public interest. It is desirable that the term of existing copyrights should remain the same as it is now, and should not be altered in favour of the public or of the owner of the copyright.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid I did not make myself clear. The hon. Member is now discussing this part of the Bill to which he has objections. He cannot do that at this stage. That stage has gone by. The House has given its assent to the Bill, and it has passed through Grand Committee. The only thing which is now open to the hon. Member is to suggest reasons why, having passed through Grand Committee it should be sent back to a Select Committee. If the hon. Member gives any reasons in support of that view the House will listen to it, and I shall be glad to listen to it, but I am not at all glad to listen to him if he now makes the speech which he would have made on Second Reading.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I have no desire to make a Second Reading speech. My point is that one of the reasons why I would urge recommitment is the importance of these retrospective provisions which have undergone considerable alteration in Committee, also because of the extension of copyright to architecture. That seems to be a matter which the House ought to consider more fully than it has yet been considered, and for several other reasons. On these grounds I think a Bill like this, which touches so many public interests, ought to be considered by a Select Committee.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Buxton)
The principal grounds, as I understand it, why my two 1908 hon. Friends desire that the Bill should be sent back to a Committee are personal grounds.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I may have misunderstood, but I was making no attack on the hon. Member. I understood him to say he was not a Member of the Committee, and therefore he thought he ought to give the House his views in regard to it. There is great competition for membership of these Grand Committees, and the hon. Member, after all, was at that time a new Member who had not made the mark which we are all glad he has since made by his energy, his knowledge, and his humour.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
An hon. Member who was a Member of the Committee desired to retire. He mentioned my name as a successor, but instead of my being appointed another Member of the House was appointed who had no interest in the Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We must not discuss at this stage the composition of the Grand Committee. It has nothing whatever to do with the Amendment. The question now is whether there are any sufficient reasons to send the Bill back to Select Committee.
§ Mr. BUXTON
The matter is one of great moment, and my hon. Friend who last spoke also says it is a question in which we require consolidation, that the whole matter of copyright has got into absolute confusion, and the position is a very difficult one. A Commission so long ago as 1878 which looked into the matter very carefully made the recommendations on which this Bill is founded. There was then the Berlin Convention, in. which the whole matter was carefully considered, and then it was gone into with minuteness and care by another Committee, and very largely on their recommendation this Bill was founded. I also presided over a conference which went into it carefully, considered it, amended it, and also endorsed it. I only remember one occasion on which the Grand Committee failed to form a quorum, and that was simply because the meeting of the Committee had been put back from 11.30 to 11.0, and very few members were aware of the fact. I doubt if any Bill has been subject to more careful and more minute attention in any Grand Committee, and I am extremely indebted to its members for the consideration and care which they gave to it. My hon. Friend himself says it has emerged in 1909 a better condition than when it went in, and I entirely agree. I think at all' events Members of the Committee will give me credit for this, that it was my anxious desire in carrying that Bill not to make it a Government measure in the sense that I desired to put pressure on any Member in regard to any particular point, but I endeavoured to arrive at a general conclusion and general unanimity so far as I could in regard to the main principles of the Bill. I deny altogether that the Bill, take it as a whole, is in any sense an infringement or a diminution of the public rights or interests, and I hope it will be endorsed by the House more or less in the form in which it has come from the Grand Committee. If so it will be a great step forward in the reform of our Copyright laws, and while on the one hand it will be a benefit to the author it will also be a benefit to the public from the point of view of simplicity in the law. I am sure that the position so far as the public is concerned will not be worse now, but better than it would have been under the Bill as introduced. The Bill had most careful consideration before it was brought before the House, and since coming to the House it has been endorsed on the Second Reading. The proposals in the Bill were gone carefully into by the Grand Committee, and I think the changes which were introduced by the Committee make it a measure which is more likely to carry the support of the House acting in the public interest in regard to copyright and the consolidating of the present law. I think everybody admits that it is of the greatest possible advantage from the national point of view that that should be done. I hope, therefore, the House will not support my hon. Friend, but will let us get on to the Report stage so that the Bill may be placed on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. LEACH
I support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth). I do so as a copyright-holder, and I wish to give three reasons why I take that course. First of all, as I read the Bill its Clauses are inconsistent with themselves, and if we get to the details, in the event of this Motion being lost, I shall try to show that, they are inconsistent. Secondly, I support the Amendment because the Bill, if carried in its present form, will limit the issue of cheap literature, cheap pictures, and cheap music. It offers to me as a copyright-holder what I do not wish to have. I wish to see within reasonable limits the circula- 1910 tion of cheap literature to the poor. The third reason is that the periods stated in the Bill are altogether too long. It protects copyright-holders to an extent they ought not to be protected. I shall be prepared to support my objections by my vote if the Amendment should go to a Division.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
On the Second Reading of this measure, I offered a few observations, and I should have liked very much to be placed on the Grand Committee, but my services were utilised by my being placed on another Committee. As to the Amendment before the House, I wish to say on behalf of those with whom I customarily act, that we are not in favour of the recommittal of the measure. It seems to us to be undesirable that Parliamentary time should be wasted in the manner proposed. I cannot subscribe to the idea that the House fully approved of the measure on the Second Reading. I thought at the time that we were taking a leap in the dark. I think I had then a fair appreciation of what the measure aimed at, and of what the effect of it might be, and I stated my views in the observations I made. I still think that the observations I made then were well founded. I believe the Bill received careful consideration during its progress through Committee. I have had an opportunity of consulting my colleagues who served on the Committee, and I believe it is generally admitted that they fully stated the views held by the Members of the Labour party. They were not completely successful in getting Amendments made, but I am glad to say that it was due to their arguments that some considerable modifications were made on a number of Clauses in the direction of meeting objections which were previously entertained. The ordinary Parliamentary procedure has been full and unfettered in regard to this measure, and therefore it is our intention to oppose the Amendment. We think the Bill has had full consideration, and we do not desire to associate ourselves with any proposal which would block Parliamentary progress. We feel that this measure ought to be got out of the way in order that we may be able to proceed with other matters.
§ Dr. HILLIER
I feel that I cannot allow the observations of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment to pass without protesting against some of the arguments he used. A point on which he laid great stress was one which I hold to be absolutely 1911 unfounded—namely, the statement to the effect that this Bill trenches on the rights and privileges of the poor, deprives them of cheap literature, drives them to the halfpenny Radical papers, and things of that sort.
§ Dr. HILLIER
The "yellow" Press! The "cocoa" Press is no doubt the one to which he refers. I did not rise to enter into controversy on that point. I protest against the argument that this Bill in any way deprives the poor of any opportunity of obtaining cheap literature. I hold, on the contrary, that it will have the opposite effect. So far from restricting those opportunities it encourages them. I thought it necessary to enter that protest against what was said by the hon. Member.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill considered.