HC Deb 09 December 1960 vol 631 cc1645-74

Order for Second Reading read.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When I decided, a few weeks ago, to make this my Bill, I received a letter which said: "The Times is against you; the Minister of Education is against you; the Library Association is against you; you are certain to win. Most hon. Members will probably realise that that letter came from A. P. Herbert. I take this opportunity of saying that he has been most helpful, on behalf of the Society of Authors, as have the representatives of the Publishers' Association, in giving me advice and information.

I do not think that it is entirely true that all those people are against me, because only today hon Members will have seen in the OFFICIAL REPORT that, in answer to a Question about what the promoters of the Bill should do, the Minister of Education said that he had advised them to discuss their proposals with the local authority associations and with other library interests; and he has asked those bodies to take part in discussions.

One of my reasons for introducing the Bill is the intransigent attitude of the Library Association, which has told the Society of Authors that it sees no reason why it should practically waste its time by discussing the matter with the Society.

Things have greatly changed over recent years, especially the position of authors and public libraries. When public libraries were first started, in the middle of the last century, it was openly and definitely to help artisans and poor people to get a chance of reading. Today, everyone will admit that a large percentage of the people who use public libraries could well afford to buy books for themselves if they wanted to. I have had several letters from people who have said that their conscience has sometimes been stricken by the number of books borrowed from libraries by their family and for which they would be prepared to pay if need be.

It must be remembered that the use of public libraries and the development of the buildings and the amount of money spent on them have risen colossally in recent years. In 1924, 76 million public library books were read, and by last year that figure had risen to 400 million, and there are now about 560 public libraries all over the country. Authors have not received one penny other than their royalties on the purchase of single copies of their books. On an ordinary, hard-backed book, an author may get up to 2s., but on a soft-backed book, a Penguin, say, he gets only about 1½d.

Public libraries are making soft-backed books into hard-backed books so that they can go round more often, and we therefore find that the books go out 60 to 100 times and that, although as many as 100 people may read one Penguin, the author still gets 1½d. in royalties. I think that the public as a whole feels that that is unfair.

These days, everybody else is getting a little more for whatever he does, especially in connection with the Welfare State, and it is becoming part of the Welfare State that public libraries should undertake this tremendous free lending of books. Doctors and other people working for the Welfare State have something done for them, but nothing is done for the authors. Some of the libraries are not as good as they could be, and if the Government act on the Roberts Report with a Bill which is soon to be brought in, they will have much to do to improve conditions in public libraries all over the country. But there are also several which are very well equipped, having even swimming pools and all sorts of side attractions.

About £16 million is spent on public libraries through the rates in different parts of the country, but of that £16 million only £4 million goes to the actual buying of books. Most of the rest goes to the staff in pay and pensions, but authors get no pay or pensions. They get only 1s. or 2s. in royalties from each book, or 1½d. on a Penguin.

That is unfair. We want to help the libraries as much as we can and Clause 7 suggests how that can be done—payment for admission to lectures or meetings, charges for notification that a book or other material is available, and a charge for the retention of a book beyond a prescribed period, not exceeding 2s. 6d. for eight weeks. Those are all things which could be done to help libraries.

I am told that the Holborn Library reserves books—indeed, I believe that all of them do and most charge about 4d. for so doing, but the author does not get one penny of that amount. Last year, Holborn Library reserved 252 copies of one book for which it received four guineas, but not a "bean" went to the authors. Westminster Library has a system of fines and catalogues of its books and in 1957–58 it got no less than £8,991 from fines and the sale of catalogues, but not a brass farthing went to authors.

Now the libraries, especially the Library Association, are looking with horror on the suggestion that authors should get a little more. This is a little like Oliver Twist asking for another plate of porridge. The libraries say, "What! You want another 1½d., when we are making £8,991 on fines and catalogues for your books? You want another 1½d? Disgraceful!" The Daily Telegraph today says that the libraries are almost in a panic about this suggestion. I can quote a number of hard cases which have been sent to me by authors, but I will not quote them because it would not be fair to the authors themselves. Some authors are of course best-sellers, but many are living on a margin. Although I could quote many letters, I do not want to publicise the circumstances of individual authors.

The Society of Authors made a survey last year and in confidence asked 600 authors, who were a cross-section of the Society's members, what they were earning. As the Society has a pension scheme for authors, it was only right that it should try to find out the position. The answer was that about 73 per cent. of all the authors got less than £1,000 a year. Some of those with books in the libraries are getting no more now than £3 to £4 a year in royalties for books that came out two or three years ago.

Education is making more people read. It is certainly making them use the libraries more. To a certain extent it is making them buy books, but only to a very small extent compared with the number that go to the public libraries. The commercial libraries' circulations are going steadily down, as, indeed, are those of the book clubs, because more people are going to the public libraries, which are cheaper. Is it fair that authors should be left in this unhealthy state, despite the advance in the use of their work?

The Library Association has sent out a document on which I will only comment by trying to answer some of the points which it makes. It talks about the principle. The Association seems to be not so much worried about whether authors should live better and get a bit more. It is thinking of the principle of it, and what it will lead to in regard to other things. It says that the position is the same as when one buys motor cars, washing machines, or top hats and lends them out.

My answer is that an author is not in the same position. He comes much more under the cultural side. If the public libraries were to buy 100 motor cars and lend them out free, as these books are lent free, to the people in the district, I am sure that the motor trade would be very quickly down on them; and so would the taxi drivers and everybody else. It would be regarded as absurd. An author can stop the public reading of his book. He can stop one quoting from it and ask one to pay, but in the public library it is being used as an exploitation and not just an ordinary borrowing, and in that sense it seems to me grossly unfair.

The libraries say that it will not be possible to do what I have suggested in the Bill. There is nothing to stop them and us getting together and working this out. If the Bill gets a Second Reading today, we can wait in Committee for some months during which time we could discuss these matters with the Library Association and the municipal organisations. I do not see why that should not be done.

The libraries also say that it would be impossible to check on all the people whose books are taken out. That is for them and for us to get together on. That is what the Minister asked the municipal libraries to do some time ago, and what I understand they will probably be doing in the near future. But not the Library Association. It will not touch the Authors Society. We must get the Association to work with us on this.

I have received the opinions of several libraries on this subject. I have received the opinion of libraries in Manchester, Birmingham and many other places. One suggestion which was made, Which I think is a good one, was that instead of asking for a 1d, per copy, as we do in the Bill, we should come to an arrangement whereby the libraries would pay a lump sum. That is a possibility which could easily be worked out. That is roughly what is done in Scandinavia, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. There is no reason why something like that should not be done here.

Mr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how this lump sum would be apportioned? He has spoken about the survey of authors' remuneration and income. Would he tell us a little about the publishing houses, which will also benefit, but we do not know by how much?

Mr. Teeling

We are only at the beginning of this, and one would think that the authors would get 60 per cent., if not 70 per cent., and the publishers no more than 30 per cent. There is no reason in the world why that should not be dealt with as suggested in the Bill, by a committee of four persons appointed by the Minister, two appointed by the authors and two by the publishers. They could decide how this sum should be allocated.

Another suggestion is that we should have, as on the Obscene Publications Bill, a Select Committee instead of going to a Committee upstairs. If that were done we would get much more detailed figures and facts from publishers, from libraries, and from other groups of people compulsorily. That might be a satisfactory solution. I would like to hear what hon. Members feel about this proposal.

There is no doubt that the education side has to be watched. We are told by some of the corporations that if we insist on the 1d. system it will mean so much extra work for them in the libraries that they will have to take on extra staff which will pretty well cover the same amount of money. The lump sum proposal would get rid of that difficulty. It is not essential that it should cost them so much because they could think out methods which would be cheaper. We complain that they have not been willing to meet us on this subject.

Another thing they say is that it will mean that the funds given by the corporations will be cut to meet this cost, and that, therefore, fewer books will be read. It is very interesting these days to see what books are read in public libraries. Until a year or two ago we were given lists showing the proportion of different types of books that were read. One noticed that the percentage of thrillers and the more shocking books gradually increased until the last time the list was published when over 60 per cent. of the books read and purchased were of that type. Those figures are no longer published, but we know that there are some public libraries which more or less concentrate on those types of books, on the thrillers, the wild west series, and so on, and not on what was the original idea of the public libraries, that of helping on the cultural side.

If libraries found that they had to cut down, it would not be a bad idea to cut down on thrillers. They could well do that. It is I often think because so many thrillers are read in public libraries that we are experiencing the present increase in crime, because it is young people as much as anybody who use public libraries. Be that as it may, if they were to cut down on those types of books and provide more educational books I do not think that anybody would object.

The libraries are suggesting that the publishers should be asked to pay 6d. more on every book. They suggest that that would provide the same amount of money. When one considers that over 37 million people read books and only 4 million do so from the public libraries, it means that we are asking over 30 million people to spend an extra 6d. to keep these public libraries free for everybody to go to. I am not sure that that is a fair proposition.

I would like to point out one thing in the Schedule which is not exactly a mistake but it has been misunderstood. The second paragraph states that in the case of a lending library where the issues exceed 2,000 a year, the charge is to be: one penny far each issue recorded under subsection (2) of section four of this Act; where the issues do not exceed two thousand, nothing. This means that we are not trying to make a charge on those little tobacconist-shop libraries, travelling libraries and small libraries which do not lend in the year more than 2,000 books—not of any one author but 2,000 books altogether. We are aiming only at the bigger libraries.

I therefore ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and then, in Committee, to work out, as far as we possibly can with the libraries and with the different cities and boroughs, the best possible arrangement. As the Daily Telegraph wrote today, it is not quite fair that the authors should be left in a position in which they get nothing. Although we may not insist on collecting 1d. for each book, at least a gesture should be made.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

Can the hon. Member give an assurance that if the Bill is given a Second Reading and sent to Committee he will be in a position to substitute a lump sum payment for the 1d. levy?

Mr. Teeling

Of course I will. It is my Bill.

2.51 p.m.

Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)

In supporting the Bill, I ought to declare an interest in a double sense. First, I am this year the chairman of the Management Committee of the Society of Authors, which is keenly interested in the Bill, and I therefore have an interest in it in that way. Secondly, in a much more direct and personal sense I have an interest in it as an author for, as it so happens, I am just the kind of author for whom this is a burning issue; I write the kind of rather heavy and, I am afraid, rather dull book the author of which is rather lucky if it secures a sale in this country of 5,000 copies, although a very high proportion of those copies go to public libraries and a very high proportion is read, not I am afraid by the million but certainly to a much greater extent than the 5,000 sales indicate.

I think that I speak here for my kind of author when I say that we feel that the arrangement which has grown up under the Public Libraries Act—no one intended it—and the development of public libraries throughout the country.

which in itself is a splendid development, has quite unwittingly begun to do some injustice to one type of author. Some people would say that this kind of book, not perhaps my own, but at any rate those written by other people, on sociology, economics, political science, or any other similar serious book, is an important kind of book to foster and that we ought to enable people to write such works.

I can tell the House that my books usually take me about three years to write, and that if I make £1,000 from a book I am lucky. That is a little over £300 a year, and I do not think that that is an exorbitant rate of remuneration for this sort of work. It strikes me that if that is the only sort of reward for which one can hope, there must be many people who have contributions, probably much more valuable than mine, to make who simply cannot afford to make them because there is no hope of a living wage for them.

That is the grievance which has made the Society of Authors take up this matter. Let me describe the situation as it has developed. I cannot draw it more vividly to the attention of the House than by quoting words in the document which the Library Association has circulated to us in opposition to the Bill. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) has already referred to those words. The Association draws an analogy between the lending of books in free libraries and the hiring-out of motor cars and adds: If the public must compensate the producer when they hire books, why not also when they hire motor cars? We ought to take that analogy a little further. The true analogy, surely, would be if local authorities up and down the country established garages, which purchased motor cars and then hired them out to the public; although "hired them out" is a misnomer, because one should say lent them out to the public free of charge.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

Why not?

Mr. Strachey

It would be a splendid thing for the public but not for the safety of road traffic. I think the House would ring with the complaints of motor manufacturers.

Dr. King


Mr. Strachey

Many fewer motor cars would be built.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

But it would not be dangerous to the public.

Mr. Strachey

I think that the person who hired the car out on the next day might well be a danger to the public.

Mr. A. Evans

Is there not a close analogy with the records library?

Mr. Strachey

I am coming to the analogy of music, which is very important and very pertinent to the Bill. The lending free of am article of commerce, be it a book or a motor car or anything else, by public authorities, supported by public funds, must raise a quite different issue from the commercial hiring-out of a motor car. We are therefore grateful to the Library Association for having raised this point.

Secondly, it is important for the House to think of the scale on which this development has taken place. It was perfectly right and proper in the middle of the last century, when the Public Libraries Act was passed, with the distribution of income as it was at that day, for the free library system to be established. The authors and publishers of that day were right to regard it to some extent as a contribution which they were making to general public education and public enlightenment. But in the seventh decade of the twentieth century the situation has become very different. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion gave the figures, which are remarkable, of the immense growth of the free lending of books, for which neither the publisher nor the author receives any remuneration Whatever.

The Bill seeks to establish what can only be called a public lending right analogous precisely with the performing rights in music. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) shakes his head, but there is an analogy with the publication of a piece of music which is then performed here and there, and reproduced on the air, for it is clearly established by law—and the system works—that the musician and the publisher shall be remunerated. It is a very small amount for each per- formance, but they are remunerated. That is provided for by a performing right. The person who has done the initial work in producing a work of art—in this case a work of music—has a continuing interest in it and a continuing right, when his creation is enjoyed by the public at large, to some small remuneration for it.

What we are seeking to do today is precisely to establish an analogous right for authors of books. It is not an easy thing to do. It is a difficult matter, of course, and it is complicated. I am not by any means convinced that the Bill before us today is exactly the right way of doing it.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

Would not the honest way be to place the matter on a purely businesslike basis and to charge an economic price for the book in the first place?

Mr. Strachey

The difficulty of that is that the book has two classes of purchaser. It has the individual who buys it and it has the library which buys it. They both buy it for different purposes. The individual buys it to read and to lend, very likely to his family, or to a friend. Nobody is questioning that for a moment. The library buys it to lend it publicly to hundreds of customers. This is really a very different thing, and just to put up the price of books seems to me to be a very clumsy remedy.

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

Is it not also true that the extent to which the libraries provide these books free really prevents the rise in the price of the books themselves? If, in fact, there were no libraries which were lending books free it would be possible for publishers to charge more money for the books. The very fact that there is this very vast amount of free lending automatically depresses the price which the book could obtain.

Mr. Strachey

The hon. Gentleman has raised a point about which I am not sure. He must ask a publisher.

Of course, on an analogous point, the libraries in their memorandum say: We are the best customers for books. You would not sell nearly so many books if it were not for the free library. That is a very arguable matter.

No one can question the fact that lending libraries are very valuable and important institutions, but it is very arguable from the publishers' point of view whether an individual book would have a higher sale if there were no libraries. If there were no other way of obtaining novels at all, it is very arguable whether they would have a higher sale than their very modest sale today.

Why should people buy books when they can get them for nothing? That is the question. It seems to us that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I put it to the House—especially, perhaps, to my hon. Friends on this side—is it really in the interests of the general public, and of the poorer members of the general public who cannot afford to buy books, that we should have this strange system which has grown up in which they can obtain books free—which is very nice indeed—but which means that the author's remuneration under the system drops to zero?

I should not have thought that, in the long run, it was in the interests of the reading public, because, sooner or later, there would be fewer and fewer books to read. I should have thought—exactly on the analogy of what is happening in the world of music—that some right analogous to the performing right, which we call the "public lending right", should be established in this country. How exactly it is to be done is a matter of great difficulty and complexity, and one which requires very careful consideration by a Committee of the House.

It seems to me that sooner or later the House will have to find some way of remunerating the producers of books, as, otherwise, the supply may dry up. Some such way should be found now that this wonderful system of great public libraries up and down the country accounts for immensely the greater part of the reading which is done. In some way or another people must pay for their reading. Someone has to pay for the production of books or else they will not be produced.

Mr. Spriggs

Surely my right hon. Friend appreciates that the public lending libraries are supported by the ratepayers?

Mr. Strachey

Yes, of course the ratepayers pay in some way. But libraries buy at the present purchase price, which is the same price charged to an individual purchaser who buys only for himself. Libraries buy books which may be read by hundreds and thousands of people. To we authors that seems an injustice and something which in the end will not be in the interests of the readers, as well as being very much against the interests of authors and publishers. Therefore I ask the House, though I realise at first sight that it seems a retrograde step—

Mr. Spriggs

Hear, hear.

Mr. Strachey

If my hon. Friend will think it out, he will be forced to the conclusion that it is far from a retrograde step to make some arrangement by which the only possible source of these books, which now are circulated—it is a glorious thing—by the hundreds and millions, can remunerate the people who produce the books. Of course, the ratepayers can do it out of the rates and as individual readers. There are many different ways of doing it, but in some way the public lending right of the author and the publisher should be recognised, and that, it seems to us, is something which in the long run this House will have to face.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear whether it is the ratepayers who are to pay the extra or the person who borrows the book?

Mr. Strachey

That is something which must be examined during the Committee stage. The Bill leaves it open, one might say. In my opinion, it is not impossible for the borrower to do it.

Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)

It is quite impossible for the borrower to do it because it is against the law.

Mr. Strachey

Without a change in the law it is impossible, and that is why we are trying to bring in the Bill.

Mr. A. Evans

Would my right hon. Friend be happy at the abrogation of the principle of a free lending library?

Mr. Strachey

I do not believe, with the present distribution of incomes, that there is anything sacred about the principle. On the other hand, if necessary, this could be done without abrogating the principle. It is not true that libraries never collect any money. To take my own case again, my family use the Chelsea Public Library. Frequently we keep books longer than the prescribed period and we have to pay a fine for keeping them. In that way a library collects money from the borrowers and it happens on a considerable scale. There is nothing impossible, preposterous or wicked about the idea. It can be done through public funds or local funds or—

Mr. Spriggs

It is certainly retrograde and anti-social.

Mr. Strachey

If more and more the real mass of reading in this country is done not by the purchase of books but by the reading of books purchased by libraries which lend them free, the production of books will tend to dry up; that must be so. I think the House, and my side of the House, should face that issue and find a way in which something analogous to the performing right in music—which the House does not question any longer—can be used. With that end in view, we suggest that the House should give this Bill a Second Reading today.

3.12 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

The speech to which we have just listened was a very persuasive speech and with every word of it I agreed, as I did with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling), who moved the Second Reading.

There seem to be two main lines of argument advanced by local authorities against the Bill. The first is that the producers of books are already adequately remunerated, or, if they are not, that there are other methods of increasing their remuneration which would be preferable to the method suggested by my hon. Friend in the Bill. The second argument against the Bill is that it would cost the public library administration so much extra burden of work and so much money that either the charge on the rates would be exorbitant, or the number of books purchased by the libraries would have to be reduced.

On the first objection to the Bill, the principle of fair remuneration, I do not think that it is for the libraries to offer a comment. Authors do not question the salaries or pensions of librarians and I do not think that it is particularly appropriate for librarians to question the earnings of authors. I have no axe to grind in these matters. I have never written a book and I do not suppose that I ever shall. My hon. Friend gave some figures, and it is probably admitted by both sides of the House and both sides of this argument that the average author's earnings are somewhat inadequate. My hon. Friend said that a sample survey revealed that 70 per cent. or more of authors earned £1,000 a year or less, 50 per cent. earned £500 a year or less and about 40 per cent. actually earned £250 a year or less. The average earnings work out at about £500 a year, which is not very much money nowadays. I suppose that it is less than the earnings of a manual worker in industry.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I suppose that a great many of those would be only part-time authors. They would have some other job, as a teacher or something else, by which they would be earning rewards.

Mr. Fisher

That may well be. They might be members of the House of Commons in their spare time.

This was a sample survey and I have no details of exactly which authors were questioned and whether they were part-time authors or not. Even if they were, I do not think that their remuneration can be considered very great for the effort, experience and brainpower involved. Of course, some popular authors, as my hon. Friend said, earn very large sums of money, but they are the exception, not the rule.

Authors may receive adequate rewards on a royalty basis for books sold, but they certainly receive very meagre rewards for books read through the libraries. My local authority, normally a very fair-minded and logically minded local authority, wrote to me and suggested that if publishers needed a larger income in order adequately to remunerate their authors, they should increase the price of books—and hon. Members have suggested this in interventions—by 6d. a copy. But should the buying public, which pays quite heavily for its books already, subsidise the free-of-charge borrowing public? I do not understand the equity of that argument.

The second argument advanced by the libraries deals more with the method than the principle. It is that the cost of the administration of this sort of proposal would be considerable. Surely most of that cost would fall upon the publishers. They themselves would eliminate the non-copyright books, and simply send the libraries, each year, a list of books upon which lending fees are claimed. All that libraries would have to do then would be to mark the number of issues against each book on the lists.

Most of that work would be quite capable of being done by the borrower. He would only have to note on an issue sheet the name of the book and its publisher and hand it to the library assistant. All that the librarian would then have to do would be to collate the issue sheets and send them in at the end of the year or every fifteen months.

Mr. A. Evans

Is the hon. Member suggesting that it is practicable for libraries to issue with each book a sheet which the reader will mark and return? He must remember that 20 million issues are made each year.

Mr. Fisher

No. I had in mind that in the public library the borrower would find available forms similar to telegraph forms. All that he would have to do when taking out a book would be to write upon the form the name of the book and the publisher. That would not be a great burden for him. It would certainly not be a difficult task for the library to provide issue sheets of that sort. In fact, they could be provided by the Publishers' Association. Alternatively, issue slips could be sent to the Association for collation. That method would involve the libraries in practically no work at all.

Then there is the lump sum method, which my hon. Friend suggested. Last year the libraries spent £4¼ million in buying books, but the readership of those books amounted to the staggering total of 431 million. That is very good—the more the better—but it is not very fair to the authors. As the Daily Telegraph leader pointed out this morning, library circulation may well add to the prestige of an author but it adds absolutely nothing to his income. It actually reduces his sales, by increasing readership without increasing the proceeds from that readership.

I have one other suggestion, which really takes the form of a question to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion. The matter was touched on by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), and it will no doubt be much objected to by certain other hon. Members. If the libraries think that this Bill would make too great a charge on the rates, why should not the charge be laid upon the borrower? What is so sacred about this right of everybody to read anything and everything for nothing? Would it really be so unreasonable to charge a borrower 1d. for reading one of the books written, for instance, by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West?

Mr. A. Evans

Does the hon. Member appreciate that after many years of struggle and difficulties we now have free education? Does he realise that reading is part of that education? The borrowing of books on the part of students and others is part of our educational process. Does the hon. Member intend to initiate a movement that encroaches upon the basic principle of our democracy, namely, free education?

Mr. Fisher

It is all very well to talk about the basic principle of democracy, but that is very high-flown stuff. I am talking about 1d. a book.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

I must perforce declare my interest as being one of a group of what a publisher described to me recently as those despised people who take photographs. Will my hon. Friend tell me where photographers who have photographs published in hooks come in?

Mr. Fisher

That is a very interesting point, but it is a Committee one. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion will deal with the point in Committee.

In this day and age there must be very few people who genuinely cannot afford 1d. to read books written by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West and other distinguished authors. That sum is only about one half the cost of smoking one cigarette. It is much better value for money, because it lasts a great deal longer than one cigarette.

The only people who genuinely could not afford it might be those in receipt of National Assistance. For those who cannot afford it, it would be perfectly easy and correct to make an exception in the Bill.

Mr. Wise

On the question of the 1d. levy, is the library expected to sort out before it charges the 1d. all those books in respect of Which copyright has not yet expired?

Mr. Fisher

No. Under the Bill that will be done by the publishers. They claim lending rights only for books for which they have coypright. That is clear from the Bill.

Hon. Members may dislike the suggestion of making any charge to the borrowing public. It may conflict with their idea of State help for everyone. I can quite understand that point. It would mean, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans), the supply of free literature as part of the Welfare State. I have no objection to that point of view.

Mr. A. Evans

It is not a question of the Welfare State. It is more fundamental than that. We must provide people with the means to read, write and learn.

Mr. Fisher

What the hon. Gentleman said in his earlier intervention was that it was retrograde, because education was now free in this country and the reading of books, which is part of education, should also be free.

Whether it be called the Welfare State or anything else, I accept that education is now free and that this could be regarded in the same light. In that case, let the State pay. Let the Exchequer find the money, as it does for every other service in the Welfare State. But let us try to get away from the idea that the author and the publisher should subsidise the reading public through the provision of a free, or very nearly free, literature service.

I hope that we shall give this Bill a Second Reading today and try, in Committee, to devise the best compromise solution which may be available through which we can give authors—

Mr. G. R. Howard

And photographers.

Mr. Fisher

And photographers. I shall not argue with my hon. Friend, who is a very skilled photographer. But I hope that a solution can be found by which we can give authors fair financial compensation for their books, which are read by thousands, but which are paid for only once.

3.24 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling), my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), and the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) have supported the Bill. It is certain that they have produced all possible arguments in favour of its principle and all possible apologies for the fact that they know that it is not practicable. I was a little surprised that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion did not explain, until I asked him a question, that publishers as well as authors were involved

Let us face the fact that this is a Bill to give more money to publishers as well as to authors. This may be a good thing to do. It may be right that local authorities should be employed for this purpose. If so, we must surely say that the local authorities should look at the books of the publishers to see how poor or how rich they are. If they wish to make a case for money for themselves as publishers, let them put a case. This they have not done. The local authorities quite rightly say that this is not a Bill but a conspiracy. Under the guise of wishing to help authors and of some of the facts given about authors, we have a hidden motive behind this. It would be most improper if a Bill of this type were to be given a Second Reading.

The principle of the Bill is bad, and it would not work properly. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), who is a photographer, raised a point that embarrassed his hon. Friend. It was a very good point. If we are to have reading rights as well as performing rights, why not have viewing rights? Why should not the painter who sells to an art gallery come forward to the community and say to the local authority, "I want a penny a look"? In many cases he deserves it a great deal more than the writers of some of the trash which is stocked in all forms of libraries. This applies also to the sculptor as well as to the painter.

Consider, for example, the Tate, which shows contemporary works and where one has to be a formidable artist to be accepted. There is no evidence that modern contemporary painters as yet get a tremendous amount of money for their work. There are paintings in the Tate by Sutherland that were bought by the Tate for as little as £4. If Sutherland had had a penny a look since those £4 paintings went up he would have had an income commensurate with his value as an artist. [An HON. MEMBER: "Bring him within the Libraries Bill."] I should like to do so, and then, perhaps, we would do justice to the authors as well, but let us keep it away from the publishers, because it is not good enough to have this sort of Bill produced in this sort of way.

I said that the principle was wrong. Concerning practice, the local authority in the area which I represent has written to me to say that the Bill is entirely unacceptable. It states that it could not operate the Bill and make any money to give to authors. We have no objection to authors having a higher income. I have heard the figures; they are desperate if they are true. According to a large sample, 73 per cent. of the authors earn less than £1,000 a year. I remember that in 1947 there were 700 painters and sculptors earning no more than £10 a week. Therefore, it is high time that we had an artists' Bill to see that justice is done to them all. But it should not be done in this way.

Objection has been taken to the proposed method. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West said, "I write books that go into libraries and which people do not buy for their own homes. They borrow them from the libraries. When I spend three years writing, I am lucky if I get £1,000." That is not a strong argument to offer in favour of the Bill. What he was really telling us was that if there were no free lending system he would not get anything at all. That is true. The House must accept it, that by the free system of public libraries, by their buying serious works like those of my right hon. Friend, we subsidise authors at once in this way, because otherwise there would be losses on those books and the publishers would not publish my right hon. Friend's works at all.

Mr. Strachey

Haw can my hon. Friend tell whether my books or any other books would sell less or more if there were no free lending library system? They might still be bought. It might well be, from the purely selfish point of view of the authors, they would sell more. That is not the only desirable thing. We want our books to be read as well as bought, of course; but we do want some remuneration when they are being read by very large numbers of persons.

Dr. Stross

I was basing my argument upon what I have heard my right hon. Friend say himself, and although I cannot know in full, I think I have a right to know in part as well as he. Let me tell my right hon. Friend that I always bought his books and read them before I came to this House, but since I became a Member of this honourable House I borrow them from here whenever passible; but before I came here I had a very large income and I appreciated his works so much that I got them and read them, and I have still got them. If he wants more money for his labours, then this is not the right way to go about it.

Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Bosworth)

Does my hon. Friend not realise that before public libraries were thought of a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago books were much more expensive and authors much richer?

Dr. Stross

One thing I am certain of is that in those days books were fewer, even if they were more expensive, and there were fewer authors and few people who could afford to read them.

Mr. Strachey

There are more who are richer today.

Dr. Stross

In the situation today, we are asked, as we have heard this last hour, "Why should people get their books free?" They do not get them free. We discussed a Bill earlier about co-operation which met with the approval of the whole of the House. Is it not simple co-operation when people band themselves together and say, "Here there are 5,000 people in the town. We cannot afford more than perhaps 50 books if we individually buy them, but we can afford one hook each if we band ourselves together, and can have 5,000 books, and gradually we shall all be able to read them all." Of course we are paying. There is nothing free about it, and that is why I say that if hon. Members want to assist authors, let them not attempt to do it this way.

My right hon. Friend, if he had his own way, would really kill the goose which lays the golden egg.

Mr. Strachey


Dr. Stross

Because he would find he would have very few books sold. Not just £1,000 would he get for three years' labour and thoughtful work, but probably less than £100, and there would hardly be any publisher who would come forward to publish them.

If there is a guaranteed market because of the public library system—

Mr. Strachey

Is my hon. Friend now suggesting that this Bill is a Bill to close down public libraries and to stop the public libraries from lending? Of course, it is not. It is nothing of the sort. We would not dream of doing such a thing. My hon. Friend is really making the most gross misrepresentation of the Bill, if I may say so.

Dr. Stross

This is very unfair. I am making no gross misrepresentation of this Bill. I am simply highlighting the nonsense which I have heard while I have been sitting here, and the nonsense spoken by my own right hon. Friend. Because of his own clarity of mind I would never have believed that he would have lent himself to such loose thinking. It is quite unlike him.

Mr. Strachey


Dr. Stross

I must continue. Other people wish to speak, and I want to sit down in a couple of minutes. The House is interested in this Bill, and rightly so, and other people want to intervene in the debate, too. The first three speakers have supported the Bill and no doubt there will be others who may try to do so.

We have been told by those who sponsored the Bill that there is no other way of getting the money. They exclaim, "What! Charge 6d. extra on every book to get an extra million pounds? That is impossible, you would break the book-publishing industry". How can we accept that unless evidence is brought before us? None has been brought. Books are dearer now. I remember before the war hawking books, including some written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, for 2d. each, and I and some of my friends sold 20,000. One cannot do that now.

Mr. Strachey

Does my hon. Friend want to make them still dearer, then?

Dr. Stross

I do not want authors and publishers paid from the rates and this impost put upon the ratepayers. It is a bad way. It is not practicable, it is not just and no case has been made out for it. A sum of £1¼ mililon is expected, but the total already spent by local authorities on books is £4 million. I have brought evidence that an extra 6d. on the price of new books would bring in £1 million. Why do not the publishers consider that move? Why should we not have a Bill to do that and the sum total of £1 million given to the authors?

We have heard that the publishers would take only 20 per cent., or 30 per cent. or perhaps 40 per cent. of the £1¼ million. They have not made out a case for taking a farthing. Where is the evidence that they need more money, quite apart from money paid to authors? It is wrong that in this House we should face demands of this kind. My local authority in Stoke-on-Trent, and I am pretty sure every other local authority, will not wear it for a moment.

3.36 p.m.

Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)

It is time that a voice was raised from this side of the House against the Bill. It is a curious thing, and, to me, it has always been an anomaly, that although it is for the Government to propose charges on the taxpayer—a privilege which, I might say to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, who is on the Front Bench, is grossly over-exercised—we as back bench Members are apparently entitled to do anything we like with the unfortunate ratepayer.

I have never regarded that as a sound principle, and I still do not. This, of course, is entirely a charge upon the rates. It cannot be anything else. There is no practical possibility of charging borrowers of books 1d. a book when they take the book out. It is, to start with, a violation of the entire principle of the public libraries. This is something that we have been building up slowly. Westminster started its first public library about 1872 and from that time the service has been provided free, whatever the service might be. Even those libraries which issue gramophone records, which are much more expensive than books, cannot charge for the issue. Those libraries that lend pictures cannot charge for the lending. It must be done free and, in my view, it should rightly be done free.

The suggestion put forward from both sides of the House that the Exchequer should pay is impracticable, because the moment that is suggested the whole darned Bill is out of order. There is no possibility of including an Exchequer charge in a Private Member's Bill. Therefore, it does not seem possible to carry out the object of the Bill without putting an extra charge on the rates. The effect of that might be quite considerable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Ms. Teeling) has said, 60 per cent. of the books published are thrillers or novels of various kinds.

Mr. Teeling

I did not say 60 per cent. of the books published. I mentioned 60 per cent. of books bought by libraries.

Mr. Wise

I will accept that. In that case, books of that kind are probably about 98 per cent. of the number of books actually produced, because libraries presumably do not take into account the sort of paper-covered garbage which one sees very largely, I regret to say, in the bookshops of my hon. Friend's constituency.

Let us assume that 60 per cent. of these books are thrillers borrowed from the public libraries. It has been argued on many occasions by many reputable local authorities that libraries should not provide a service of fiction, with the exception of the classics, and there is a great deal to be said for that point of view.

The public library is, as one hon. Member opposite said in an interjection, part of our system of education. I am not sure how far the modern English novel or, indeed, the last generation's English novel, is a part of our system of public education. The most famous of the last generation's has only succeeded in publicising a word which we all knew before, and I do not think that it has added very much to the educative pool of knowledge in this country.

These libraries, if they are faced with this charge, may very well, and rightly, cut down on their fiction. There are several thousand libraries throughout the country and where will the author or the publisher be if this basic market is arbitrarily cut away?

I have a little experience of publishing—very little—and it was highly selective. It mostly consisted of extremely expensive books on various forms of art, which we published before the war. As a firm then, we relied entirely on the libraries before we would touch a book at all. I am not surprised. If one produces a work on Chinese art costing ten guineas, one does not expect it to be bought by anybody but a library. The high grade stuff has always been dependent upon the libraries for its basic market.

I was not really touched by the financial predicaments of authors. It may be that only a modest percentage of them are earning £1,000 a year and that some are earning only £250 a year. But after all, there is no direction of labour into the trade and alternative occupations are available to them if they are not earning enough. They can get a lot more than that in a factory if they wish.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

Or in the House of Commons.

Mr. Wise

If an author decides that that is the way in which he can earn his living because he can do it in an armchair with a pad on his knee, he must either write extremely good books, when he will be extremely well remunerated—

Mr. Strachey

I did not write like that.

Mr. Wise

I regret to say that it is a long time since I read one of the right hon. Gentleman's books, and, as far as I remember, it would be one of those which be would be glad to forget.

Mr. Strachey

A number of my books I would be glad to forget.

Mr. Wise

This is not a compulsory profession and those who do write do not, in my view, do too badly. Whether one should encourage a man who writes badly I do not know. I should say not. Whether one should, indeed, even encourage authors at all—for they seem to need little encouragement—is another question. One cannot stop them, if they once have the itch to write. It is in the Book of Jab that the man says Oh … that mine adversary had written a book. It rather indicates that a friendly soul would discourage a man from adopting this rather hazardous profession.

I cannot see that there is any case for this proposal. Local authorities are not irresponsible bodies and are quite unanimous about it, from the richest to the comparatively poor. My own local authority is a small one, a borough council, and it has a library. A council on which I used to sit has a library which lends 2 million books a year. It is equally against the Measure. It is not a question of its meaning very much more than perhaps a 1d. on the rates, I agree, but every 1d. counts, and we are putting quite enough burden on local authorities now. Local authorities are very hard put to it to perform the services which they are required to do without vastly increasing their rates.

Mr. Jeger

Does not the hon. Gentleman also appreciate that it is not the actual cost to the rates but the increase in administration which would be entailed if local authorities had to keep records of all the individual lendings?

Mr. Wise

I entirely agree. I should have made reference to that had I not wanted to keep my speech brief. It is true that the cost of administration would amount to a fair figure. Indeed, if we managed to violate the whole principle of public libraries and started imposing an individual charge on books, the cost of administration would, of course, be more than it is now.

I do not think that my point about the difficulty of sorting out the books on which one would have to make a charge has been met. The Bill contains provision for a list to be sent to the library by the publishers of the books on which the pennies should be collected. The library would still be responsible for scrutinising the books which it lent to see whether it had or had not to charge 1d., which means scrutinising all the books it lent. After all, copyright lasts a long time. This would add greatly to the cost of administration.

I suggest that Committee points are not enough. I believe that it would be impossible to improve the Bill in Committee. I made this remark on another Bill not so very long ago, but the House disagreed with me and the Bill went to a Standing Committee. It came back so emasculated that it could not even have got a job in a Turkish harem. I suggest that it would be merciful not to subject this Bill to the same fate and, therefore, to ensure that it does not go to a Standing Committee.

3.48 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton. Itchen)

I wish to follow the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise), not in his last figure of speech, but certainly in his opposition to the Bill. I wish that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) had been a little more generous in their attitude to our libraries. I think that both sides of the House regard the public libraries as a great national institution, rejoice in what they have achieved and rejoice in the kind of figures which have been almost urged against them this afternoon—that they spend £4 million on books and then get many millions of people to read them, which I should have thought that authors particularly would have welcomed.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said that one of the causes of juvenile delinquency was reading crime books in public libraries, as though part of the sin was to read a crime book which could be obtained from a public library and as though a crime book would not have this effect whether obtained from a public library or not.

As for my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, I was brought up on his Left books in the Left Book Club days. I find it very difficult to equate his, almost, attack on the libraries when I remember his municipal socialism, to which I should have thought he would still have stuck. To speak about books being free when they are paid for by the ratepayers, roughly on the principle of from each according to his ability to pay and to each according to his need, struck me as surprising.

I believe that there can rarely have been a time in which the writer, if I may coin a phrase, has had it so good as in our time. Political writers today get far more money for attacking their party, from either the Right or the Left, than Mr. Robert Blatchford did for helping to create it, or Swift or Addison got for supporting it. The successful dramatist makes far more out of his plays than Shakespeare ever did. The novelist today does better than Scott, the historian better than Gibbons, the economist better than Adam Smith. I believe that Bertrand Russell has got far more out of his writings on philosophy than most of his predecessors in philosophy.

With the ever-widening reading public, caused partly by education and partly by the public libraries themselves, the market for a good book, the market for a fairly good book, even for a mediocre book, and certainly for a rubbishy book, increases every year. While it is true that the greatest rewards go to the most ephemeral and least worthy writers, the genius is usually recognised in his own generation, certainly more in this period than before, unless he is a poet.

The poet has a rough time today, unless he has some other source of income, and I think that the success of John Betjeman is the exception which proves the rule. It is possible that an outstanding genius will still have to starve in the garret, or earn his living in other ways while writing his masterpiece, but I think that it is extremely unlikely. In this affluent society of ours the genius stands more chance of being discovered, even if we discover a lot of non-geniuses in the same process.

I believe that the House is not concerned with the arrangements between the publisher and the author. It may be that we are all getting our books too cheaply, and, that being so, the publishers should charge more for their hooks. It may be, on the other hand, that the publisher is taking far more out of the profits of a book than the author, in which case the author ought to address his grievance to the publisher.

What seems to me to be utterly wrong is that the public libraries should be called upon the right any wrong which the author feels is done to him, or which the publisher feels he has to endure. I suggest that this is a case of the author biting the hand that feeds him. The public library, in many ways, is the author's best customer, if the figures given by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion are correct—that 60 per cent. of the cheap fiction goes to the libraries—and would benefit under the Bill and would take the major share of the royalties or the new tax to be levied under the Bill.

Both for fiction and non-fiction, the libraries provide for the author what we have at least provided for agriculture—a guaranteed market and guaranteed prices with some stability.

Mr. Shepherd

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not saying that 60 per cent. of the output of publishers goes to the public libraries.

Dr. King

If the hon. Gentleman had heard his hon. Friend, he would have known that he said 60 per cent. of the cheap fiction.

Mr. Teeling

What I said was that the public libraries take 60 per cent. of the cheap literature.

Dr. King

The hon. Gentleman means 60 per cent. of the contents of the library is cheap fiction, which would benefit from the Bill.

I have watched in my own county the growth of the county library service over many years. It now covers almost every village in Hampshire. We are taking, by mobile libraries, books to corners of the county in which people had never before had an opportunity of reading books of the variety and range that we are taking, and these books would never have reached these villages if they had not been taken by us.

Our county library expenditure has increased its expenditure on books year by year, and must be spending at the moment ten times what it spent ten years ago and fifty times what it spent fifty years ago, and on each of the books which the Hampshire County Library buys the author gets the royalties which he would have got if the book had been sold to anybody else.

The most serious works, the great biographies, the great histories and the great scientific text books could not be published at all if publishers were not certain that they could count on the learned libraries not only providing a definite demand for most of the first edition, but as the years went on and as the libraries built up their reference libraries, a regular demand for books for which there is no commercial market. Much of the ephemeral literature might not reach print. Public libraries often give the new writer his first opportunity. I understand that libraries often take as much as 50 per cent. of the publication of a first new novel, and it is because of that that the publisher is able to encourage young novelists whom he would not otherwise think of encouraging, so that the ratepayer, through the public library, is acting as a patron of the arts just as effectively as the rich patrons did in the days long past.

The Bill introduces a new idea into English law and into book reading. It is that one should pay twice for a book—once when buying it and again when reading it. While I can do as I like with my books—and I buy my own books, not using libraries very much—and can read them and read them and read them again, and lend them to my friends—and hope to get them back—without any charge, as a ratepayer through the public library I must become liable to a further charge of a penny any time I as a ratepayer use one of those books.

A parallel has been drawn between the levy made by the Performing Right Society on musical performances, but if a library lends a musical score or a gramophone record, no royalty is demanded by the Performing Right Society. The Performing Right Society rightly insists on royalties being paid for performances. It is literally true that even if a composer could insist on every member of the orchestra having a complete score for which he has to pay, the composer of music could not get by merely on the sale of the sheets of his music.

If the dramatist has his play performed, he will have his performing rights and if my right hon. Friend can get anyone to give a public performance of any of his books, he will be entitled to performing rights.

Books are written to be read. They are bought to be read and to ask for an extra sum for the reading of a book is utterly fantastic. The Bill could create a position in which the efficient public library committee, in an endeavour to keep rates down, would lock up the books it had bought in an effort to prevent them being used, or if it had to choose books, would be likely to choose them on the basis that nobody would be likely to read them.

Mr. Teeling

rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Dr. King

Why should the Bill be applied only to libraries? Why should local education authorities not be charged a penny a book for every book used by children in classrooms, if that book is copyright? Why confine it to copyright books? Why not make Shakespeare pay something towards the profits of the publishing houses?

The Bill is almost unworkable. The machinery for levying the £½ million or £1 million which it proposes for public libraries would cost nearly as much as that to set up. I ask the House to note what the Bill asks local authorities to do—every library will be supplied by every publisher with a list of copyright books; every library will have to make sure which of those copyright books it has; it will have to be sure that it keeps a complete record, as distinct from its issues of books, of each of its, books, sub-divided into non-copyright books and copyright books.

Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)

Supposing that a student goes into the reading room of a library and reads a book for half an hour; would that be included for the levy?

Dr. King

The hon. Member will not expect me to answer for the promoters of the Bill, but if they are logical they would have to insist on a check being kept of the reference library and other references in the library so that—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.

  1. ADJOURNMENT 16 words
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