HC Deb 24 April 1969 vol 782 cc648-50
33. Mr. Ridley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress has been made in his consideration of a scheme of public lending rights for public libraries, based on a charge for each book borrowed.

Miss Jennie Lee

A Departmental Working Party is reviewing various possibilities and, in particular, the Arts Council's proposals, but none which involves a charge on borrowers.

Mr. Ridley

Since the right hon. Lady said earlier that she could not find the £2 million of public money involved in this scheme and since a penny on borrowing would yield £2½ million, why does she not put the cost of the scheme on to those who benefit from it, the readers, rather than on the taxpayers, who do not?

Miss Lee

I know that a few hon. Members opposite look with favour on a small charge for borrowing, but I hope there will not be many who do so because we must rule out entirely the idea that we should breach the principle of a free library service. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] There are all kinds of people, old and young, who are attracted by books, even though they may not all be first-class literature. This is a gain which we have. While we are grateful to the Arts Council for putting forward a scheme acceptable both to authors and publishers, it is not acceptable to many local library associations or to the Association of Municipal Corporations. We are working on various schemes and we hope to bring the various interested parties closely together.

Mr. Ogden

Would there not be an acceptable medium whereby local authorities could make a contribution from rates to pay those authors whose books are loaned through local libraries, thus maintaining the principle of a free library to those who want to use it while at the same time making a proper contribution for those who write the books?

Miss Lee

I am sure that the Working Party will listen to anything that is said by hon. Members and will consider it. The Working Party is also considering other schemes which may raise funds, but not from rates or taxes.

Mr. Channon

Can the right hon. Lady say when we are likely to see the Report of the Working Party, which seems to be taking a long time? Has she seen reports about the alarming situation in Sweden where authors are taking militant action, which we do not want to see happening here?

Miss Lee

In Government everything is a matter of priorities. The £2 million which it is reckoned would be the cost of the Arts Council scheme would not in any circumstances be found from the Arts Council grant. This must be additional Treasury expenditure and, as additional Treasury expenditure, it is a matter of Government priority.