HC Deb 04 May 1976 vol 910 cc1049-51
12. Mr. Moate

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about his proposals for State finance for authors.

Mr. Mulley

My hon. Friend the former Minister for the Arts sent copies of the Public Lending Right Bill, which was introduced in another place on 18th March, to bodies interested in the proposals and received comments from a number of them. Some comments were also received from other bodies and from individuals. My noble Friend the Minister of State has had discussions with representatives of the Writers' Action Group and the Society of Authors.

Mr. Moate

When the right hon. Gentleman is proposing cuts in spending on school meals and on primary school building programmes, how does he justify giving priority to this State handout to authors, especially when the scheme is such a wretchedly bad one, and is based on such dubious principles?

Mr. Mulley

I think that the hon. Gentleman tends to exaggerate his criticism of the scheme. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) for his work for the arts generally, and especially for his having turned what was no more than an idea into a practical possibility and a Bill that is now before another place. When the Bill arrives in this place the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) will understand that we shall not be able to decide the beginning of the scheme in financial terms, because of the considerations that he has in mind.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is the Secretary of State aware that the £1 million that the Conservative Government found in February 1974 has since been reduced in value by about one-third by inflation? In view of that, will he give the scheme a reasonably good send-off by excluding administrative costs of £400,000 from the global sum that has been granted for the scheme?

Mr. Mulley

I am not sure about the £1 million that the hon. Gentleman found. If he found a sum of public money of that sort I think he should hand it over. Certainly it has not come my way. No doubt in its deliberations the House will have a number of discussions on these matters. The Government will consider them. I am bound to say that at present I think it will be difficult to give to the public lending right scheme the amount of money that the hon. Gentleman and I, privately, would like to see provided.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am immensely grateful to him for what he has been kind enough to say? Is he further aware that the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is almost alone in his opposition to the public lending right, and that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has always paid lip service to the scheme?

Mr. Mulley

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Freud

Will the Secretary of State admit that an author with very little money will not be pleased to hear of the possibilities contained in the Public Lending Right Bill that is coming to this place? Will the Secretary of State say when an author is likely to receive his first instalment?

Mr. Mulley

I think it will be some considerable time before it is possible for the scheme to come into operation, but when it operates it will be on the basis that those with large incomes will have a maximum, so that writers with smaller incomes receive a greater proportion. At present these are all speculative matters, because the House has to make up its mind about the Bill when it comes before us, as I expect, shortly.