HC Deb 14 October 1976 vol 917 cc761-819

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Goodhart

I am delighted that the House, by such an overwhelming majority, has shown its wish that I should continue. I was saying that the administrative cost of these proposals clearly is enormous. The scheme would involve a total of 72 and a central administrative staff of 35 or 40. The Government estimated earlier that the administrative cost would be £400,000 a year, but that was many months ago. Has one ever known a Government to underestimate administrative costs in any of their schemes? [Interruption.]

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is impossible to hear the hon. Gentleman's fascinating speech.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that it will not be necessary for any hon. Member to repeat such an intervention.

Mr. Goodhart

Therefore, the administrative costs outlined by the Government are likely to be excessive. I do not be- lieve that it is possible to bring in a scheme of the kind described by the Minister at a figure of less than £500,000 on present values. I suggest that in the coming years the cost is likely further to escalate. With a ceiling of £1 million and with the sum available to 113,000 authors estimated at £400,000, the average figure will be not £5 per author but less than £4.

Why is it that a scheme, which on the face of it makes administrative nonsense, should have such widespread backing from literary organisations? There are two reasons, one selfish and the other high-minded. The selfish reason is that, just as chambers of commerce tend to be dominated by successful rather than by unsuccessful business men, so do literary organisations and authors' societies tend to be dominated by the more successful authors. Clearly, the more successful one is as an author, the more likely one is to derive substantial sums from the introduction of a loan-based scheme. That is a good reason why, in the face of all the administrative costs, one organisation after another has come down in favour of a loan-based scheme.

The high-minded reason behind the pressure in favour of the scheme is the belief that, if administrative costs take up such a high proportion of the £1 million that the sums available to authors are derisory, future Governments will make far more money available. If £5 million were available for a public lending right, a loan-based system would give a real advantage to the considerable number of authors in this country.

I do not believe that the system outlined rather tentatively by the Under-Secretary in the opening stages of the debate many months ago will be of real benefit to anyone.

My alternative suggestion is that we should help authors at the moment, rather than at some time in future, by introducing a scheme based not on loans but on the number of their books on library shelves. This figure is administratively easy to ascertain.

If an author could prove that the library system held 24 copies of his books, he would be eligible for a tax credit of, say, £20 or £25. In our present highly-taxed system, even the poorer authors pay tax and such a tax credit would be of substantial benefit to them.

I have been to the regional library headquarters and seen how easy it is to find out which books are kept in the library system. The administrative cost of the scheme which I am suggesting would be one-fifth of that proposed by the Government. They propose a loan system without loans—a tactical exercise without troops. We know that there is no money in the kitty for this purpose this year, next year or the year after.

We are play-acting in this debate. We ought instead to be thinking of alternative ways of helping our hard-pressed authors.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

The arguments advanced in favour of the scheme have been extremely persuasive, as one would expect when such skilful wordsmiths as Brigid Brophy and others have been campaigning for a long time for this change in the law.

The Government's proposals are more fundamental than some people might appreciate, and we ought to consider the possible objections before committing ourselves irrevocably to a step which some authors might come to regret for some of the reasons outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart).

As the law stands at present, if A sells something to B, B can do whatever he likes with it unless A has stipulated some condition accepted by B. The Bill intends quite clearly to depart from that principle.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

What about copyright?

Mr. Body

My hon. and learned Friend mentions copyright. Copyright is a right in itself. It has been a right in itself, and a saleable right, for a very long time. If my hon. and learned Friend has a copyright over something of which he may not have been the author, he can dispose of that.

Mr. Fairbairn

Will my hon. Friend clarify his concept that if A sells something to B, that person can do what he likes with it?

Mr. Body

It does not follow automatically. Suppose that my hon. and learned Friend writes a book. I understand that he has done so, and no doubt it is an excellent book. I hope that for his sake he has ensured that there is a copyright, because a copyright is not automatic. This is the difference. In the ordinary way when a transaction takes place and some object is sold, a book or anything else, the vendor reserves no rights whatsoever unless he specifically stipulates that he witholds those rights. May I say, in the presence of my hon. and learned Friend, that if it is not the law of Scotland it is certainly the law of England.

The Bill seeks to change the law, and we should pause to see whether it may not act to the detriment of the very large number of less successful authors, of whom I must count myself one.

If authors feel so seriously that the present system is unfair and that the libraries are being harsh towards them, they have the right, obviously, through their publishers, to withhold their sales to libraries. One knows, however, that no author or publisher would dream of taking such a step. A large part of the publishing world—and, therefore, many authors—depends almost entirely upon its sales to the public library system.

There are some 6,000 public libraries, including the mobile branches of our county libraries. In other words, there are 6,000 outlets for the lending of books. It has been estimated that through those 6,000 outlets no less than 600 million lendings are made every year. That is a fantastic number. Every lending is at public expense, and rightly so. It is public money that is making this enormous number of lendings available.

I think it was mentioned in the debate on the previous occasion that the libraries purchased some 18 million books in 1972. As the price of most books has at least doubled since then, one must assume that some £40 million worth of books is now being purchased by our public library system.

But the public libraries are not the only purchasers. The State as a whole, through the education system and in other ways, is now buying some 40 per cent. of the books now published. This gives the State, in its different forms, enormous patronage. It is a patronage to which many publishers and many authors—particularly the less-successful authors—are indebted. I submit that, but for that patronage, not hundreds but perhaps thousands of titles which come out annually would not find any market or outlet whatever.

Those of us who can only be described as unsuccessful authors are indebted to the present system. Anyone who has experience of trying to get a book published knows that, in many instances a publisher will limit his print to 2,000 and no more, knowing that almost the whole of the 2,000 will be absorbed by the public library system; in other words, it will be public money alone which makes the book available for sale. Therefore, I think that it is unfair—I say this with respect to those authors, and I notice that one of them who has been in the forefront of this campaign is with us in the Gallery tonight—to have thrown quite so many stones at the public library system. Many authors and many publishers owe a considerable debt to the present system.

I wish to put some questions to the Under-Secretary about the economics of this measure. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said when he asked whether this was really the right way to help authors and whether we should not find ourselves setting up some kind of bureaucratic institution which would not justify the expense.

We are assured that the total cost of the central fund—of the scheme—will be no more than £1 million. I appreciate that this perhaps envisages merely a stepping stone, that it is only £1 million for the time being and that those who are really promoting the campaign expect that it will be very much more than £1 million of public money eventually. Assuming, however, that the scheme which is adopted is the loan scheme and not the other scheme, we know that there are some 113,000 authors who are expected to benefit from it. It must follow from that that the maximum that an author can obtain will be less than £10. That assumes that the whole £1 million will go to the authors, with not a penny piece being spent on administration.

We know also that the £1 million must cover the entire cost of administration—

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. My mathematics are not all that they should be, but 113 times £10, even in my arithmetic, does not add up to £1 million.

Mr. Body

I left off a nought. I am a deflationist but not a mathematician. In any event, it is clear that in the course of a year the authors do not stand to gain very much more than what I think my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham described as the equivalent of a bottle of gin.

But perhaps I may probe the costs of administration. In view of some of the facts that we have been given, I am not at all clear that the estimate of £400,000 can be accurate. We are told that the staff will consist of between 35 and 40 people. We must assume that they will be based in London. Anyone who has been concerned with any business or charity in the centre of London knows that the salary of an employee is only about half the total cost of employing him, bearing in mind such matters as superannuation, luncheon vouchers or canteen facilities, rent, the telephone and all the rest. These are items which are increasing in cost every month in central London. Therefore, one must double the salary bill in order to determine the true cost.

If one assumes that the average salary is perhaps £5,000—and this time I will get my arithmetic right—the cost would then amount to £400,000. But this is not the end of the matter. An undertaking was given in another place that the cost to the libraries themselves in calculating what would be due to authors would be met out of the Central Fund. The libraries are involved in 600 million borrowings. Therefore, there will be a sub-industry engaged in calculating how much the authors should receive. This is a function not of the registry but of the library staffs themselves, otherwise the local authorities. Therefore, this item of expenditure must be added to the cost of running and servicing the registry in London. One must assume that computers will be introduced to streamline the way in which these calculations are made.

I hate to talk of such trifling things as postage. I shall probably be derided by the authors and others who hold the principle dear, but it is something which must be considered. The cost of distributing 113,000 cheques every year to the authors will be half as many pounds, so here is another £50,000 in administration, not going to the authors directly, but coming out of the Central Fund, all of which should be available for the authors.

Mr. Fairbairn

How does my hon. Friend imagine that the public libraries in Weem and Dull in my constituency can computerise the number of times his book is borrowed?

Mr. Body

That will be easy. I am more concerned about my hon. and learned Friend's book. I am sure that every one of his constituents would wish to borrow it.

There will be numerous complications. Postage is something which has to come out of the measly figure of £1 million. Charities have been criticised severely recently for spending as much as 20 per cent. on administration and leaving only 80 per cent. for their beneficiaries. Here we may have the reverse. We may have 80 per cent. being spent on administration—if my calculations are correct, and I accept that they might not be—and only 20 per cent. going to the authors.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

Will my hon. Friend address himself to the principle involved? We have heard an awful lot about authors getting only the equivalent of a bottle of whisky or a glass of beer. Most authors, however, want this measure. There is an important principle here. They want some reward when the public borrow their works. Could we hear more from my hon. Friend about the principle and a little less about the mechanics?

Mr. Body

Authors would rather have cash than waffle. The money counts as compensation for having their books borrowed rather than bought.

I wonder why the task of administering this scheme could not have been handed over to the Performing Right Society. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) may smirk, but those who have benefited from a scheme of that kind will not smirk. They know that the society has been extremely effective, in some quarters—the BBC would vouch for this—over-effective. It has been obtaining more and more for the beneficiaries, and the cost of administration has been notably low in proportion to what the society has been able to distribute.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Will my hon. Friend concede that its administrative expenses last year ran to £2 million—a considerable sum?

Mr. Body

My hon. Friend must also be aware of how much was distributed. I think that he quoted the figures in the previous debate. A major point of his speech was how the society, from a quite small base, was able to expand the amount it distributed. I think that he used the word "escalate". Therefore, I am not sure that he has made a good point. The society has been very successful on behalf of the beneficiaries of its scheme.

The overriding objection to the Bill is its timing. In this week of all weeks, the Government are proceeding with a measure that will increase public expenditure and fail to benefit those who should benefit from it by more than £2 or £3 a year—a mere bagatelle for the average author whom it is intended to benefit. Of all the Departments for the scheme to come from, it is the Department of Education and Science. If there is one certain fact of parliamentary life, it is that in not many months' time the Under-Secretary will be having to defend cuts in expenditure by her Department. When that day comes, she will try to persuade the House that the education of those now at school will not be affected, yet she will be defending cuts of much more than £1 million or tens of millions of pounds. They will amount to a large slice of her present expenditure on education. The hon. Lady will be doing it after having tonight defended expenditure not on education but on providing a mere bagatelle to authors.

I am not trying to make a cheap point, because I accept that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) said, a principle is involved. I hope that I am not putting it crudely when I say that the only people who will benefit are the 35 or 40 people who will have a well-paid job, probably in London, that they might otherwise not have had. It is ludicrous to think that there will be any financial benefit for the authors for years to come. The most that they can gain is a principle which I think—I repeat, as an unsuccessful author—some of them may regret, because there will be other and more effective ways of conveying a bonus to the authors who are having their books borrowed rather than purchased.

I regret this measure because it shows that the Government are not in earnest in saying that their public expenditure must be cut. Irrespective of whether we support the Bill, we take the view that there must be cuts in public expenditure unless social justice or the national interest is to be in jeopardy. I do not think anyone can seriously say that social justice will gain if the Bill is passed.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

Like others who have already spoken I begin by declaring a slight interest. I have put together a number of books and I may put together some more. If the Bill were to become an Act, I should no doubt make some money out of it. However, I intend to vote against it. This is a bad Bill embodying a bad principle and it has been produced at a bad time.

The first point to be made is one that has already been put to the House by my hon. Friends—namely, that it is surely ludicrous to say that the Government will distribute £1 million and that the cost of doing so will be £400,000. That means that 40 per cent. of the sum available will be spent on administration. That makes it a bad Bill from the very beginning. The only excuse offered for that high percentage is that in future public expenditure will rise. We are being asked to go along with the Bill not for what it is now but because it will cost even more in future.

Secondly, we know that successful authors will get up to £1,000. Why should the taxpayer at any time, let alone now, put another £1,000 into the pocket of Alistair Maclean? Do Labour Members say that they will tax their impoverished constituents to make rich authors richer? That would be an incredible proposition to come from either side of the House, but especially from a Labour Government. At the other end of the scale, the less successful authors will get only £2. Those who are less successful in commercial terms will get only £2 or £3 and the average author will get only £5. Are we saying that we shall subsidise rich people by giving them even more money while we give unsuccessful authors £2, £3 or £5? Are we to set up an administration that will cost £400,000 to do that?

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

The hon. Gentleman is forgetting that rich authors pay a great deal of income tax. Therefore, the money will come back to the State and our impoverished constituents. It is called the clawback principle—a very good principle.

Mr. Sproat

Will the hon. Gentleman tell his constituents that it is all right to give a rich man another £1,000 because some of it will come back in tax? It is not social justice to give £1,000 to a rich man and to justify it to those who are poorer by saying that the rich have to pay back a proportion in tax. It is a bad principle and it seems ludicrously inappropriate to come from the Labour Benches.

The principle involved is more than exaggerated. First, should authors get any more money? If they should, I believe that the people who ought to pay the authors or contribute to their bank balances are those who benefit from the authors' work—that is, those who read their books.

Taxpayers in general are already paying taxes to the central Government, who support libraries, and rates to local authorities, which support public libraries. Why should they have to pay more? If there is a case for paying authors more, or for getting them more, let the borrowers bear more of the burden. I am sure that many people would be prepared to pay. Old-age pensioners or students could be exempted, but I am sure that the generality of people using public libraries would be happy to pay a certain subscription. I should myself.

Mr. Corbett

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that, as a generality, those who stand to benefit from the publishing of books are publishers, and that the way a fee for the writing of a book is arrived at is an estimate by the publisher of how many copies he will sell? In logic, therefore, does that not take us down the road that, as an alternative to the proposal before us now, perhaps a royalty arrangement between author and publisher could be arrived at so that there was a fee for the writing of the book and then a royalty on every copy sold? That would be an alternative to the borrowing public paying, would it not?

Mr. Sproat

There was such a conversation going on below me on the Front Bench that I missed some of what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

That is not fair.

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) were silent as the grave. It was the "silent" Whips who were making the noise. But these things happen, and I fear that I missed the full complexity of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. If he was talking about different contractual arrangements between publishers and authors, I remind him that that was one of the points I made.

I wish that my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) were here so that he could tell us what were the profits of Macmillan last year. If authors and their literary agents feel that authors are not getting enough money out of books which go to public libraries, it is entirely up to them to make different contractual arrangements with publishers. I should not be against that. Many publishers make a great deal of money out of books. Let them pay. They make a good deal out of it. They have a direct financial link which members of the general public do not have.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) said that there was a principle here. If there be a principle involved, I certainly do not consider that the general public should have to pay more to satisfy that principle. It should be either those who use the libraries or publishers.

We have heard a little about what might be called the authors' poverty argument. It cannot be maintained that anyone is compelled to become an author in the same way as many of us at various times in our lives have had to take jobs which we did not much like in order to make a living. No one is compelled to become an author. There is a difference between authorship and other jobs. Moreover, it is possible to be an author and have another job as well. Many do. My hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) is a very successful novelist.

Mr. Moate

And historian.

Mr. Sproat

And historian. I have not read any of his history, but if it is as good as his novels it must be good. He is a reasonably rich-looking man. Do the Government propose to give my hon Friend another £1,000?

Mr. Corbett

They would get it back in tax.

Mr. Sproat

One can think of many other successful authors in this country who combine authorship with working for the BBC, being a solicitor or whatever it might be. Therefore, there is nothing in the argument about an author's need for a working wage which the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. White-head) advanced in his previous speech. It was a good speech, but I recall that that phrase stuck in my throat at the time. One cannot talk about a wage for an author as one can about a coal miner's wage.

Mr. Whitehead


Mr. Sproat

I shall give way when I have finshed this point. In many instances it is not possible to do anything other than one's primary job, whether as a doctor or as a coal miner. An author, however, can combine his work with other jobs. Therefore, it is not the same as an ordinary job.

Mr. Whitehead

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The point is that, like other professions, it can be combined with another activity. There are doctors who are also Members of Parliament just as there are authors who are Members of Parliament. It should be possible to have as one's whole-time activity the profession of writing and to be remunerated for it. That is the point we are making.

Mr. Sproat

It is possible. Alistair Maclean, to take one example, already makes a great deal of money out of it. It is not correct to talk about a wage for an author as being on all fours with a wage for a doctor or a coal miner.

I suppose that it is possible to be a doctor and a Member of this House, but I doubt whether it is possible for a Member to be a full-time doctor in the same way as full-time doctors outside this House. However, one can be what would for all normal purposes, be a full-time author and work in this House. I think that the hon. Member for Derby, North is spoiling his argument if he seeks to maintain that authorship is a job which is on all fours with being a doctor or an architect.

Mr. Fairbairn

I was desperately unimpressed by what the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said. If we are to have the view that anybody who paints ought to be entitled to obtain a viable wage by so doing, which practically nobody who paints does, we shall have to have a fee for anybody who looks at a painting that he does not buy.

Mr. Sproat

My hon. and learned Friend speaks as a very distinguished painter. I do not know whether he makes more money out of his painting than out of his books, but he makes a valid point about the dangers of extrapolating arguments from one section of the arts to another.

Authors are different from other wage earners, and writing is different from painting and music. That is why arguments about the Performing Right Society do not have a great deal of relevance to the debate. We are talking about writing, royalties and payments to authors. Any other section of the arts that is brought in tends to be an irrelevance.

Another argument of which we have not heard much tonight, but which was mentioned on the two previous occasions when we debated this matter, was that of justice for authors. If this were a case of justice for authors, the most successful authors would scoop nearly all the money. It was explained to us, however, that that was not the case and that that was why it was to be limited to approximately £1,000 for the most successful authors. We cannot say that that is justice for authors.

I think that the hon. Member for Derby, North was half arguing that it was some kind of welfare for authors. If it is welfare that we are after, surely there are more deserving people in need than authors to whom we can distribute £1 million in welfare. I do not believe that this matter has been properly thought through.

I am amazed that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) is not now present. The last time he was on his feet he was half saying that this was some kind of litmus paper for cultural appreciation and that those who did not support the Bill were uncivilised or uncultured.

Mr. Moate


Mr. Sproat

Philistine. Indeed, I thought that the hon. Member for Putney uttered what, in the context of the debate, must have been one of the most Philistine sentences—and he must have thought about it—when he said that a life's work of 800 pages must be worth more than a "mere essay", as though somehow "Gone with the Wind" in 800 pages is a greater love story than Turgenev's "First Love" or that Arthur Hailey's "The Final Diagnosis" is somehow greater than Chekhov's "Ward Six". A man who can say such a ridiculously Philistine thing as that does not deserve to be listened to. Some of the authors in the Gallery tonight, if there be any there, must be ashamed of some of their friends for advancing some of this argument.

On the question of bad principles, there is here a kind of feeling that libraries are homehow villains of the piece and that somehow it is the existence of libraries that is doing authors out of sales and, therefore, money to which they are entitled. I do not think that that is so. One cannot prove it either way. To that extent, I am happy to come to the Under-Secretary's point.

I believe that authors have probably sold more copies of their books because of the existence of public libraries than they would have done if public libraries had never existed, and that they therefore already have this financial advantage. I cannot prove that, but I know that I have certainly never gone into a public library and borrowed a book which if it had not been there I would have bought. I tend to borrow books from library shelves because the books are there. If I see on a library shelf a book by P. G. Wodehouse that I have not read, I might take it off the shelf. However, it does not follow that if that book were not there I would go into a shop and buy it.

Therefore, one cannot make out a direct numerical relationship between the number of books taken from library shelves and the number of sales of which authors are thereby deprived. There are many books that would not be read at all if they were not borrowed from public libraries.

Quite apart from the well-made argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) about the contribution of public libraries to the economics of publishing, I should not have thought that there was a first novel from an unknown author that would ever have been published in the last decade if it were not for public library sales. For a print run of 1,500 copies, one would expect up to 1,000 copies to be bought by public libraries. If the publisher could not get the libraries to buy those 1,000 copies, he would not have published the book at all. Therefore, authors are deeply indebted to public libraries for getting into print at all.

I shall not go into my argument in detail now, although if I am lucky enough to be selected for membership of the Standing Committee I shall go into it at greater length. One could make a very good case for saying that most people acquire a taste for books through public libraries. They learn the joys of literature from a public library, and then they go and spend money on books. Therefore, public libraries are encouraging the sales of authors. All these factors are ignored in the rather glib assumption that authors are done down financially by public libraries.

Mr. Corbett

By publishers.

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding me. I am saying that authors want public lending right because they feel that the existence of public libraries is doing them down. That is what authors say. They say that people who borrow books from public libraries would otherwise buy them, thus paying royalties to the author, whereas when a book is borrowed from a library the royalty is paid only once, when the library purchases the initial copy. I maintain that, far from public libraries having reduced the financial benefits to authors, they have, for the reasons I have enumerated, increased the benefits for authors.

I take up the point made by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett). If there is a case for more money, let it be through direct subscribers or through publishers. That is why I think that the Bill is bad and why it contains essentially a false principle. I would add that this is also a bad time. Having been a Member of the House for half a dozen years, I know that nothing which happens here seems incredible. If I were not a Member, however, I would find it incredible that at a time when the country is up to its ears in debt, when we are continually having to borrow more and having to cut back on truly essential services, and when the truly deserving are not getting the money they want, the Under-Secretary comes along with a Bill to spend £1 million on authors. The average payment will be £5 per author. It just does not make sense. I would say that it was an insult to the hard-working people of this country to give away £1 million at this time of economic crisis when there are so many deserving cases of need.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Margaret Jackson)

I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it seems to have escaped the attention of Opposition Members that I am not planning to spend any money on the scheme at this time. What we are seeking to do is to establish the principle. No date is set for when the money will be spent.

Mr. Sproat

In that case, it is even more ridiculous to waste the time of the House on the Bill. In any event, apart from the cash which is being spent, what does one think that all the chancelleries which are now lending us money will say? What would the German Chancellor, who apparently had a remarkable conversation here the other day, say if he ever read our Hansard? He would say "Here are the British in terrible debt. They are not planning how to get out of their debt but are planning how to spend even more money."

Never was the spendthrift quality better illustrated than by the hon. Lady. She has admitted that she has no money to spend, but she is wasting the time of the House on this matter. She is saying "I will spend the money when I have it." It is an insult to the House and a waste of our time. It is an atrocious example to people who want to see this country pulling itself out of its economic mess. What will those people think when they see that we are debating how to spend more money?

I would say to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I was truly astonished to find that apparently almost the only piece of legislation which the Conservative Party was pledged to support was the Public Lending Right Bill, when we are standing up and saying that we must cut public expenditure. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition rightly said that we must cut public expenditure and cut the number of civil servants, yet we are apparently to go into the Lobby—at least, that is what the Conservative Front Bench will do—to support something which increases public expenditure and the bureaucracy. The people of this country will not take us seriously if we do that, and those outside the country who are lending us money will not take us seriously either. Here we are up to our ears in debt and planning to spend even more money. I hope that tonight the House will throw out the Bill or, if not, drastically amend it in Committee.

11.4 p.m.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

Unlike some Opposition Members, I shall take up the time of the House for only two or three minutes. I hope that we give the Bill a Second Reading tonight. This is the third time the House has tried to get the Bill. On those occasions there have been many speeches about how it is not the time to debate a principle. For some time people there never is a time to debate the principle.

After 25 years of campaigning, as some people in this country have been doing, I believe that we should establish the principle of public lending right. I ought to say that I have absolutely no interest to declare in this matter. I am not a writer and I do not suppose that I ever shall be. I am, of course, a reader, and I am a library reader. That is my only interest in this matter.

Mr. Fairbairn

Is the hon. Lady a taxpayer? She might then have an interest to declare.

Miss Richardson

In that general sense, I suppose that I have an interest to declare. However, hon. Gentlemen opposite have all argued that they are authors or hope to become authors. All I am saying is that I am not an author or a writer.

I cannot see why we are hanging about. Other countries accepted the principle long ago. Sweden has a public lending right. Other countries have some form of public lending right or are about to have one. It is ridiculous that we should be dragging our feet. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, there is no date in the Bill from which the payment will operate. All we want to do is to establish the principle.

Much has been said about libraries. There have been accusations that writers are against public libraries. I do not believe it. There is no reason why they should be. The existence of libraries is in their interest. Those who oppose the Bill talk rather arrogantly about "successful" authors and about "serious" books and "trashy" books. It is arrogant to make such judgments on behalf of other people. That is for the individual to decide. That is why I welcome the wide range which exists in public libraries.

The only sale which some writers make is to public libraries, but their books are nevertheless widely read. Many of them are light novels, read by pensioners, by housebound housewives and by those who want something to read on their way to work or in bed at night. Why should we force such people to buy books instead of being able to borrow them from the library, at the same time benefiting the writers?

There are about 6,000 libraries in this country, but there are only about 500 good bookshops with a wide range of hardbacks. The majority of people want to borrow books. They cannot afford the time or the money to look for them and buy them. Those who want to buy books must first find a good bookshop and then, if it is not in stock, order the book they want. Why should they not be able to go to a library and at least browse to discover the kind of book they may eventually want to go and buy?

Nor should we forget that writers provide employment. If they are not properly recompensed, there may be fewer of them. No one would want that. There would then be more people unemployed—not only the writers themselves but people in the printing and publishing industries and, indeed, those who work in the public libraries. There are many reasons for encouraging writers and giving them some prospect of financial benefit from the establishment of the principle of public lending right on the loan of their books.

I hope that we will shilly-shally no longer but will give the Bill a Second Reading tonight.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)

Like so many of my Conservative colleagues, I support the principle of the Bill. But I wish that it had not been presented to us today when the pound is flat on its face, largely because of our level of public expenditure.

The Bill undoubtedly calls for more public expenditure—namely, £1 million more. Although we are more accustomed these days to dealing with billions rather than with millions, there is much truth in the dictum of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) that if one looks after the millions, the billions will look after themselves. My hon. Friend is eloquent in his absence from this evening's debate.

However, there are others who in the present crisis suggest that we should begin to talk in language of priorities. I am not averse to that, but if we are to talk about priorities we must have all the priorities before us, not just one, such as that put forward by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) in his amendment. Until we have all the priorities before us, we must surely deal with our commitments. Both the Labour and Conservative Parties are committed to this Bill in principle. We are now being asked to stand by our commitment to principle.

The Conservative Party is committed to the Bill by our latest publication "The Right Approach", which states unequivocally: We reaffirm our commitment to the principle of establishing a public lending right for authors. I do not know who put that in. It may have been the author himself.

Mr. Fairbairn

What does my hon. Friend think the principle is—that authors should get a payment when their book is lent or that a bureaucracy should be set up to make the payments to them?

Mr. Roberts

The principle surely is that of a public lending right. I cannot believe that the best way towards "The Right Approach" begins with a denial of any part of that document.

The Minister has relieved us by her statement that no date is fixed for the Bill to come into operation. While that is some relief in regard to the implementation of the principle in connection with public expenditure, I would have thought that that statement by the Minister shows that the Government do not care as much about the principle as they would have the House and the public believe. There are many defects in the Bill, but they can be dealt with in Committee. An assurance from the Minister that the Government are prepared to consider amendments to the Bill would be very welcome.

I now wish to make some comments on the Bill. It seems to me that an inordinately large proportion of the £1 million chargeable to public expenditure is to be devoted to administration. I think that this is wrong. I should like to see it chargeable elsewhere, possibly to those who borrow the books rather than to the taxpayer. That argument can clearly be pursued.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does not my hon. Friend agree that to move from museum charges to library charges would be to go out of the frying pan into the fire?

Mr. Roberts

I am sure that my hon. Friend's assessment of that transition is rather better than mine. Nevertheless, I think that there is a case for the charge being levied on the user rather than on the taxpayer generally.

I am concerned about what I call, for the want of better phraseology, the small authors, such as those in my constituency who wrote to me in these terms: We are not members of the Writers' Guild. We can't afford such luxuries. As freelance authors we are penalised by being regarded as self-employed. Like many other writers we took care of our own pension requirements by investment and here again we are to suffer, having as a reward for our thrift and foresight to pay a surcharge on over £1,000 of unearned income. I am also concerned about the very successful authors. I am not certain that the Bill provides an adequate limit on their receipts under the proposed scheme.

However, these matters can be put right in Committee.

What will be the position of authors who write in the Welsh language? I am particularly anxious to nurture them, as are the Government and as were their predecessors who made significant grants towards Welsh books. I am not sure that the sampling system will be fair to these authors.

I do not know whether Brigid Brophy has helped her cause a great deal. I was struck by the last paragraphs in her article in the Daily Telegraph. She wrote: Today writers will (yet again) lobby the House of Commons. By tomorrow they will probably know whether the House is a Philistine. I cannot understand how we can be Philistines when there are so many filibusterers around.

I regret that the Bill is being pressed on us at this time but I am relieved that no date is set for its implementation. Unfortunately, this itself is an indication of the Government's lack of concern for the principle involved.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 99, Noes 7.

Division No. 323.] AYES [11.18 p.m.
Archer, Peter Foot, Rt Hon Michael Oakes, Gordon
Atkinson, Norman Freeson, Reginald Ogden, Eric
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Gilbert, Dr John Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Golding, John Parker, John
Bates, Alf Graham, Ted Pavitt, Laurie
Beith, A. J. Grant, John (Islington C) Penhaligon, David
Bidwell, Sydney Hardy, Peter Perry, Ernest
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hooley, Frank Richardson, Miss Jo
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Horam, John Roderick, Caerwyn
Cohen, Stanley Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Coleman, Donald Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Corbett, Robin Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Roper, John
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Jessel, Toby Ryman, John
Cryer, Bob Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Silverman, Julius
Davidson, Arthur Leadbitter, Ted Skinner, Dennis
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Snape, Peter
Dormand, J. D. Luard, Evan Stainton, Keith
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Maclennan, Robert Stoddart, David
Duffy, A. E. P. Madden, Max Stott, Roger
Dunnett, Jack Magee, Bryan Strang, Gavin
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Marks, Kenneth Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Faulds, Andrew Marquand, David Thompson, George
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Tinn, James
Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) Newens, Stanley Tuck, Raphael
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Noble, Mike Urwin, T. W.
Ward, Michael Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Wellbeloved, James Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Welsh, Andrew Wise, Mrs Audrey TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Whitehead, Phillip Woodall, Alec Mr. A.W. Stallard and
Whitlock, William Wrigglesworth, Ian Mr. Joseph Harper.
Wiggin, Jerry
Body, Richard Montgomery, Fergus TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fell, Anthony Sproat, Iain Mr. Roger Moate and
Fry, Peter Winterton, Nicholas Mr. Ronald Bell.
Hannam, John

Whereupon Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 31 (Majority for closure).

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not normal for the Tellers in the Division to count as having voted?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

No. The Tellers do not count.

Mr. Corbett


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Is the hon. Member satisfied with that reply?

Mr. Corbett

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was seeking to catch your eye to speak in the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call the hon. Member to speak.

Mr. Corbett

May I, through you Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank the House for the judgment it has made on the speech that I am about to make.

I think that it would be as well if, during the rest of this debate, we try to remember that this is not a debate on a measure that is designed to help struggling authors—that is, new and unpublished authors. If it were, I should have to declare an interest on behalf of my brother, who is both.

I say to the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) that by his remarks and his behaviour a few moments ago he has demonstrated the eternal truth of what is said to fob people off: "I shall render all sorts of assistance, short of actually doing anything to help".

We are here tonight faced with trying, after 25 years—and nobody can say that we have hurried over this matter—to establish and settle a principle—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Will right hon. and hon. Members who desire to leave the Chamber kindly do so quietly.

Mr. Corbett

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We are here tonight trying, I hope, to establish a principle. It is a principle over which the House has not hurried. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) said, this matter has been before the public for 25 years at least, and we had the statement from the Minister that this measure will not—unfortunately, I should say—commit us to putting hard cash into authors' pockets. The purpose of the measure is to establish a principle, namely, that when an author has a book in a public library that is used quite properly—because nobody is attacking the library system—when the book is taken out on loan he should have some financial recognition for the act of borrowing.

If we were to rely upon the people of this country buying the books they wanted to read, we should have far fewer authors and far fewer titles published. What is more, that would have an effect only upon jobs in the printing and publishing industry but upon the standing of literature in this country—which I believes is important—and the money that is earned overseas from the sales of those books.

We make a contribution to the English-speaking world which is second to none, and we should be proud of it. But we are telling our authors that once they have settled negotiations with the publishers, that is the end of the matter. The publisher says he will give the author £X in advance and £Y on delivery of the manuscript.

Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Corbett

It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head.

Mr. Walder

I speak as an author, not a publisher. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) must be aware of the fact that by convention every contract between an author and publisher includes a percentage of royalties to the author.

Mr. Corbett

I would not go along with the statement that that happens in every case. I have some slight experience, and I know that some do not. But that leaves aside the fundamental question that there should be an equal relationship between the author and publisher. Publishers cannot cope with the number of people who want their manuscripts turned into books. An author has to find a publisher willing to publish his book. I am not saying that all publishers are villains, but merely that the relationship is unequal because of the pressure on the author to get his manuscript accepted and into print.

In an ideal world there should be better contracts between publishers and authors on a royalty basis. It is what is known in the film and record industries as "a slice of the action". A fee is paid for writing or singing, but the writer or performer wants a slice of the profits. If the authors were in a stronger position, we could look to the publishers to enter into this kind of arrangement. But that is not the real world.

We are trying to establish the principle that authors have the right to expect financial recognition of the loan of their books through public libraries. I am delighted that the Government have accepted an amendment made in another place and have substituted "works" for "books". It is right and logical to recognise those whose works appear on gramophone records and cassettes or as a painting. These works are being borrowed increasingly through libraries.

We want to see the development of the use of our libraries. We want them to do more than simply lend books. There is an increasing demand for cassettes and records, and for the visual arts as well. If it is right to have this principle for authors, it must be right for those whose works are in associated media.

I accept the comments from the Opposition about the operating costs of administering the scheme, but I hope it will be accepted that these are precisely the points which could and should be raised in Committee. We are faced with a principle tonight: whether it is right to seek through some system, to reward authors and other artists for their works which are borrowed by the public. If the answer is "Yes", the House should give the Bill a Second Reading and settle the dots and commas in Committee upstairs.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I am not sure whether we are speaking on the Second, Third, Fourth or Fifth Reading of the Bill. It would have been disgraceful if the Government had succeeded in their attempt to curtail the debate once again while a few hon. Members still wished to speak. It is a case of the biter being bitten, because in the attempt to curtail this debate and so save time for the following debate the Government have added 20 minutes or so to the proceedings.

I support the Bill. I accept that the present could not be a worse time to introduce a new spending commitment, but I feel very strongly as a matter of principle that this small Bill, a measure which has had the support of both parties for many years, should not be abandoned. One thing that is certain is that if my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) had still been Minister for the arts after February 1974 the Bill would have been on the statute book a long time ago.

Although I welcome the Bill, I have serious reservations about the effectiveness of the proposed system of financing and administration. The low figure of £1 million for finance means that if in Committee we do not come up with a better and cheaper system of administration for the registrar and his office, or an alternative system, the net amount available to authors will be negligible. These, however, are matters for Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) has made a suggestion, which he explained to a meeting of authors and hon. Members yesterday, for administering the system through the Performing Right Society. In the light of my experience of the society, through the musical world, I consider that to be a very good idea which is well worth considering.

Hon. Members who declare themselves against the Bill are basically opposing the principle of the right of authors to be paid for the use of their work in a State library scheme, or are calling into question the sense of using public funds at this time of financial stringency. That bothers all of us on both sides of the House. If it were not for the fact that I strongly believe in the principle, and that the amount in national expenditure terms is so small, I should not be speaking in support of the Bill.

Our financial support for the arts is appallingly vulnerable in these days of crisis, yet if we allow the arts to deteriorate and contract our social fabric will also deteriorate. At a time of similar financial crisis in 1940, the Government of the day created a support fund for the arts in CEMA, the father of our present Arts Council.

I stand by the principle that, if our State library system uses the creative work of authors for its free loans, those authors should be paid. The method chosen—the loan sample system—is probably right. From my experience of the musical world and the performing rights system which applies to the use of songs and records, I am confident that our libraries will be able to operate a loans list satisfactorily.

I also welcome the Lords amendments extending the payments to cover works, which should include reference hooks. I accept that with such a limited sum available the Government will probably want to introduce these categories in stages We heard tonight that no date is set for the introduction of the scheme, but if it is introduced in two years' time—the estimated date—it should probably start with books and gradually extend to cover works and records.

I also accept their Lordships' contention that PLR should be payable to foreign authors only if their countries make reciprocal payments to British writers. I hope that in Committee the Government will not try to reverse the amendments which have been made. They have quite enough on their plate in tackling all the other amendments which have come from another place without adding to their problems by trying to alter this measure. In so doing they would help to prevent its getting on to the statute book within the remaining four weeks of the Session.

My main concern lies in the sheer inefficiency and inadequacy of the proposed administration. Surely £1 million is not such a great deal of money to cover a library service that is making about 600 million book loans each year, especially after deducting the estimated nearly £½ million that will be expended on administrative costs.

In these rather worrying days of substantial overspending by the Government, I could not press for a larger amount to be allocated, but it is the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West that copyright should be extended for 10 years and that the funds received become the funds for the public lending right, which could be administered by the Performing Right Society. That would help to wipe out the taxpayer's liability and would please those of us who want to take the burden away from the taxpayer, putting it upon the users of books and the buyers of books. The principle of rewarding creative artists for their labour should apply to authors as well as to song writers and composers.

I turn to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). In the United States and in Germany, one book is bought for every one that is borrowed. In France, 10 books are bought for every one that is borrowed. In Britain, only one book is bought for every nine and a half books that are borrowed. The figures confirm that the present arrangements reward only partially the very successful writers and do not reward at all the younger and up-and-coming authors, those who achieve only few sales but whose popular romantic novels are read by thousands of housewives and pensioners and are borrowed free from the public libraries—

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

My hon. Friend has compared the ratios of France. Germany and this country, but will he tell us the number of books per head in those countries that are either sold or borrowed? Without that information, his figures do not have a tremendous amount of meaning.

Mr. Hannam

Unfortunately I do not have those figures.

There are comparisons between Britain and Canada which highlight the difference once again. In Canada about 1,400 novels are bought per 1,000 population, whereas in Britain only 140 novels or books are bought per 1,000 population. That is not an identical comparison with the countries I quoted earlier but it gives an indication of the decline in book sales which has taken place in Britain and which is obvious when we consider the number of bookshops that have disappeared from our high streets and towns over recent years.

We have an effective free public library service but we have an appallingly low level of sales and, therefore, of financial returns to the less successful authors. The damage being done to authors by the increasing and extensive borrowing habit of the British is illustrated by the figures I have quoted from Canada and Britain. It is no good turning up our noses at the sort of novel those figures represent—namely, romantic and historical novels, Westerns and thrillers that the libraries find so popular. The evidence shows that in most cases those books are in great demand.

I believe I am right in saying that those authors receive an advance of possibly £150 for a Western, a thriller or a romantic novel. In an effort to help that type of author, I welcome the selective loans sample scheme.

I hope that we shall get a definite date for the scheme to start. I hope that it will be given tonight or in Committee. If that is not done, we shall be introducing a measure which will not be brought into effect for many years to come. It will take two years to start up the system. We are talking about the 1980s before it will begin to get under way and before any payments are made.

It seems right and sensible that reference books and other works should be included and that foreign authors from non-reciprocal countries should be excluded, given the inadequacy of the fund. I hope that my hon. Friend's suggestion for an extended copyright fund, possibly operating through the Performing Right Society, will be considered carefully in Committee. Certainly the Bill needs improvement, and that would offer a substantial and, I hope, successful method of doing it.

In the meantime, I hope that the Bill will get a fair wind. It has been becalmed on several nights hitherto, and I hope that it will have a fair wind from the House now. Let it go to Committee, and let us hope that it will pass through the House before the Session ends. I am not sure that that is possible, but I support the Bill and look forward to its having a Second Reading fairly shortly.

11.50 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

I must begin by declaring a variety of interests as an author and producer of works which may be borrowed or, I hope, sold and then lent.

It seems to me that the Bill introduces not one principle but two, and this has been a source of confusion. In the first place, I think it most unfortunate that the Government, a political body, attempted to close discussion on a matter which has nothing to do with party-political issues at all. I wish to register that protest. It would not have taken long for other Members to speak, and the attempt at closure was, I thought, a piece of spite and pettiness, which I greatly regret.

The simple question of principle is whether those who produce works should be deprived of the benefit of their efforts because people can pass them around one to another or borrow them free instead of buying or paying for them. In other words, if I hire a taxi, should someone else be entitled to take it on free from wherever I stop? That is what happens to the author, and it is wrong. The author benefits from the public library but, essentially, one book is enough for everybody to read it.

That principle has never applied in this country or in any other, so far as I know, to any other form of production. Anyone who goes to a public library to borrow "Tit-willow" will have to pay for the score, but one does not pay to borrow the written word. It is an absurd distinction. It is wrong that those who happen to write words should be penalised whereas those who write, sing or record music should have the benefit of copyright. Admittedly, the system is abused. Perhaps there are hon. Members—some even on the Government Benches, though I do not know who they are—who record on tape from discs, which in law they should not do. I do not for a moment suggest that any hon. Member below the Gangway opposite would break the law, but there is a measure of protection for those who write or record sound. There is no such measure of protection for those who produce the written word, and it is absurd that that should be so, especially when a book is something which can always be handed on to someone else without benefit to the author. The author should have that benefit.

However, although as an author I should like the benefit, I quarrel with the Bill on the manner in which it is sought to ensure that the right obtains. The hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State has in mind the sum of £1 million. Where did she get that sum from? Did she count up the number of books lent and the number of authors and say that that was the right and sensible sum, or was it the upshot of the usual asinine idea that six figures are nice and useful at the beginning and £1 million would do? Is it related to anything? The answer is that it is not.

That asininity is my first ground of objection, but I find even more ridiculous the idea that there is to be a bureaucracy to administer the scheme but we are promised that that bureaucracy will not do it yet.

Let us consider this matter. We are going to set up another bureaucracy. We should be clear about that on both sides of the House. I defy anybody on the Opposition side to support the extension of bureaucracy to obtain a liberty and right for the British people. It is not necessary to extend the bureaucracy. It does not happen in order to obtain these rights for musicians, choreographers, singers, footballers or anybody else, and it is not necessary to do it for authors.

It is right that authors should get the benefit of the fruits of their copyright when a book is lent, but it is not right that we should extend the bureaucracy to ensure it.

We have had the absurd appointment to the chairmanship of Cable & Wireless this week. Are we to have a similar post for this purpose, no doubt at £12,000 a year? The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) may get it. I do not know whether he wants it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I do not.

Mr. Fairbairn

I do not think that he would corrupt himself by taking such a ridiculous sinecure. But someone—some bureaucrat—will be made the chief of this idiotic commission. In a year, hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on the Government side will be writing and screaming at us "Do you realise that they are going to cut down the numbers on the Public Lending Right Commission? There are only 5,000 of us now, and they are to cut us down to 4,900. They are going to sack 100 of us."

That is what it is all about. It is absolutely mad to have all this for a few authors. There are not many, and there are certainly not many good ones. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) said, it will be the Alistair Macleans who will be able to buy the next shipful of gin out of the bit they get, whereas my hon. Friend, out of what he gets, will be able to afford only the stamps on the postal orders, which he cannot afford, to pay his bills.

This is not some majestic situation in which the Labour Party or the Government can claim "We are the party of culture. We are going to give this great beneficent excellence to authors." It is a situation in which in year No. 1, whenever that is—we do not know when it will be—we shall spend £400,000 merely in handing it out. That is £15 for every person in my constituency. That is just to pay, not to be given it. It is not going to authors. It is coming from them.

Part of the craziness of this country is that, when we see a freedom or a purpose, we believe that the way to obtain it is to extend the bureaucracy to create it. It has never had to happen for music, and nobody has complained. It has never had to happen for the stage, and nobody has complained. It has never had to happen for actors, choreographers, ballet dancers, people who play in brass bands or anybody else. So why must we have a bureucracy to create a sensible extension of the law of copyright to authors?

The awful thing is that the Bill is about what this wretched bureaucracy will do. I should like to know when it will start. It will be £1 million when it starts and it will cost £400,000 to run it. I should like some details about it. Who will be the chairman? What will he be paid? Can he be sacked? What staff will he need? Will there be a separate commission in Scotland and in Wales? I am sure that the devolution Bill would be hideously offended if there were not a separate Scottish Public Lending Right Commission with a separate Scottish chairman, and a Welsh one as well—and an Irish one if necessary, an English one and a few others, and an overall commission. I do not know how many other Labour Members certain Labour Members want to get rid of, but surely we can think of other people for whom jobs could be made in the matter of public lending right.

It is utterly hideous in principle to set up a bureaucracy in order to establish a simple common law right for authors. That is what I find offensive. That is what I hope the Opposition Front Bench will oppose tonight. We are establishing a principle for authors which has nothing whatever to do with the setting up of another extension of the bureaucracy—and at whose expense? It will be at the expense of authors who are so hard up that they cannot buy bread, butter and Nescafe, who live in garrets desperately trying to write, and whose book goes to the public library. They will have to pay the tax that supports it, and so will all the pensioners, the unemployed and everyone else.

We must remember that every time we add one penny to the public burden we are adding it to human beings who have great difficulty in paying for their way of life. Therefore, let us not be fancy or stupid in imagining that if we merely throw out a word such as "million", with £400,000 to run the scheme that is all it will be. Five years after it has started, there will be new Government offices in every town in the land, even at Weem and Dull in my constituency. There will be plenty of people furnishing the offices and running about ensuring the accuracy of the great register and deciding who is accepted and who is not.

Mr. Temple-Morris

My hon. and learned Friend is talking about some vast bureaucracy of 35,000 to 40,000 people under the stern command of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). However, at the same time, he is trying to have his cake and eat it. He is saying that he agrees with the principle of the Bill. If he does, how would he implement it without employing at least someone?

Mr. Fairbairn

I am most obliged to my hon. Friend for not listening. Just let him write a work of music. He will discover that if I want to borrow it I will have to pay to borrow it, and I do not have to have a bureaucracy to do that.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

Oh, yes, you do.

Mr. Fairbairn

Not at all.

Miss Margaret Jackson

I have several times resisted the temptation to intervene, but I can no longer do so. Do I understand from the hon. and learned Gentleman that those who run the Performing Right Society and collect the money he so gladly pays are some kind of incorporate bodies, which the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) will be able to explain to us but which I find incomprehensible?

Mr. Fairbairn

I am much obliged to the Minister for asking that question. The taxpayer does not have to pay for the Performing Right Society. That comes out of the funds of those who receive the right. That is where it should come from. It should not be an outside bureaucracy. That is the difference and the distinction.

Miss Margaret Jackson

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will further enlighten me by explaining what distinction he sees in the fact that the salaries of those people come from the funds of the Performing Right Society whereas the administrative cost of his scheme will come from the fund. That distinction is not clear to me.

Mr. Fairbairn

There is a complete distinction. I am sorry that the hon. Lady cannot see it, but I hope she will see it. Who pays into the Performing Right Society? It is those who borrow. According to what they borrow, they pay. That is how it is paid. It is funded, and the amount that it pays is funded and regulated. In order to ensure that, it has to be paid. However, the hon. Lady is proposing to set up an organisation regardless of whether anyone ever borrows a book tomorrow or ever again.

Regardless of that, these wretched people will be there. They would not be there in the Performing Right Society. That is the difference. The hon. Lady will be spending her £400,000 regardless of whether 100,000 million books are borrowed or none. That is the distinction between an organisation that is self-supporting and a bureaucracy. If the hon. Lady does not understand that, I shall say it again and again, all night if necessary, until she does. I hope that die hon. Lady will give her assent, because I hope I have explained it sufficiently. It is a completely different situation.

The Performing Right Society employs as many people as are required by its whole borrowing. If one wants to borrow "Tit-Willow" or Handel's "Messiah", it depends upon the price one pays and the number of people who borrow it. But this organisation will simply be a vast bureaucracy. It does not matter whether book borrowing stops tomorrow or doubles. The organisation will justify its existence. It will insist on its position and it will enlarge its empire. Who will pay? It will be not those who borrow but every citizen of the country, whether he is literate or illiterate, whether he reads, buys or begs. All of us will pay for yet another extension of unnecessary inefficiency.

I am entirely in favour of the fact that an author should get the benefit of a borrowing. Of course he should, just as the painter gets a right for the reproduction of his painting and the musician gets the right for the performance of his work. But to set up yet another Department of State in order to do it is merely another extension down the road to lunacy, which is what has wrecked this country hitherto.

12.7 a.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

Those of us who believe in the liberty of the pen and the freedom of speech were glad tonight to be witness to the guillotine of the Chief Whip being so clogged by the dried blood of last July that, even with the weight of that payroll vote behind it, it was unable to fall tonight and stop speeches which have been made since and which, to my mind, have so far been the best in this debate. I am proud to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) in the argument they so lucidly and excellently adduced.

I would not be within the proper protocol if I did not declare an interest as an author. I was one of six who wrote a Conservative Party Centre pamphlet in 1964 which, though it was sold in smaller numbers than it deserved, was on the most important subject of cutting Government spending. It was called "Change or Decay", and, by God, we have seen the decay which has happened since 1964 because the Government machine has not been changed.

One of the most dangerous things for an MP is to visit the Chamber and listen to a debate, because it upsets his previously-held prejudices. Before this evening, I was completely and confidently of the view that the Public Lending Right Bill was a good thing, that it was fair and right for authors to receive more cash and that this was probably the most sensible way of doing it. I regret to say, however, that having listened to this debate I have become sadly disillusioned and rather unhappy, and I am now a floating writer who believes in public lending right.

Another fascinating and important discovery this evening was when we found that the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and some of his hon. Friends nodded when it was said that the kind of person who would get most of the £1 million would be the Alistair Macleans. "Quite right", they said, "let the rich have more money and let them pay more taxes, but it is fair that they should have more".

The Labour Party is the party of inequality and also, thinking of Winnie the Pooh, it is the party which would wish to enshrine the heredity wealth of passed-down copyrights. That is something we should remember when equality of incomes is discussed again.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) has left the Chamber. His was the most schizophrenic contribution of all. He voted for the closure, tried to get the Tellers counted in to make it effective, and then rose to speak. That did not show a dynamic urge to let his voice be heard.

On a turnover of 6 million borrowed books, the sum of £1 million works out at one-sixth of a penny per book. I believe that the sum of £1 million was chosen because anything less would have been derisory and anything more would have been impossible. As the Bill stands, however, that sum will be increased from £1 million to £2 million to £5 million and possibly more. Even my hon. Friends, possibly, when we are the Government, will not want to be considered Philistines by authors who write letters to the Guardian saying that PLR is too low. [HON. MEMBERS: "It will not worry us."] It might. Even my hon. Friends might say "Let us have the author's vote next time: let us double the public lending right."

I am also worried about the £400,000 which is quoted as the direct cost of the scheme. It will be impossible for existing library staffs to cope with the documentation. If the name of the author and the name of the books have to be recorded, the whole business will take twice as long as it does now. There is also the PLR computer bureau to deal with the data of public borrowings. There will also be a high cost to libraries in increased staff and paper work.

Miss Margaret Jackson

There are two things that I think the hon. Gentleman has not taken on board. First, one of the reasons why the scheme has taken so long to work out is that the intention is to operate through a sample set of libraries, not every one. Second, it is intended that the libraries involved will be reimbursed. That is why this sum was fixed.

Mr. Page

I am grateful for that explanation, the second part of which is totally satisfactory.

I believe that this should not be a charge on the State. If it is required by the authors, they should in some way pay for this benefit for themselves. Alternatively, if every borrower of a book were to pay a penny for each six borrowings, that would raise £1,000, and I do not feel that that would be unreasonable. However, it is unreasonable at public expense to set up yet another bureaucracy that will grow and grow. Therefore, although I embrace the virtues of a public lending right, I find the system set out in the Bill unacceptable.

12.16 a.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

Although it is a correct principle that one should have royalties on the sale of books, and it is right to encourage an author to be able to obtain the benefit of a public lending right of this kind, the amount of money is so negligible as to be of little benefit.

I understand that 113,000 authors are between them to receive a sum of £600,000, which is less than twice as much as we lose on our catering in the House of Commons. If the figure works out at £5 for an average author, it is hardly worth collecting. The fact that one would have to spend nearly half as much on collecting the money as one would give to the author surely undermines the whole essense of the principle.

What is to be the test? The test put forward by the authors based on the number of times a book is borrowed is the correct one. On the other hand, there is an automatic inbuilt difficulty in that test, because if it is judged on the number of times a book is borrowed, certainly in the case of a novel, it will mean that the popular author will obtain money while the lean author who is not doing so well will be unable to obtain any money.

Furthermore, I understand that school works, the books pupils read to obtain their A-levels, will not qualify because, presumably, they are educational works which may not qualify their authors for the benefit of their authorship. It is absurd to exclude reference books. I am thinking not of the Encyclopaedia Britannica—but of the ordinary run of reference books. They should be included.

We have a dichotomy in the essence of the Bill. It was designed originally to try to give royalties on the sale of books that found their way into libraries. That was an admirable principle, but I am not sure that we should subsidise it. I favour the idea of trying to assist authors who have a fairly lean life and who work hard to try to produce a great many works of educational reference and other valuable books and who will get little or nothing from this measure.

The man who will get most out of this measure will be the registrar, because he will be paid a salary and he will have an inbuilt pension. He will have a salary, a pension and emoluments far in excess of the figure any author will receive under the scheme.

I wonder whether it would not have been better to try to find a system whereby one paid a small sum on books borrowed in relation to the ordinary run and yet further sums if one wanted to make up somebody's income. Perhaps we should also consider whether there is a way in which we can help the authors of reference books and intellectual works.

This matter has been going on for the past 20 years. Some of my hon. Friends started it with A. P. Herbert. A.P.H. was basically concerned because authors who produced a good turnout of books were worried about income tax. If we improved the tax position of authors so that they could spread their tax payments over a number of years, the successful authors would be much happier and we could then consider ways in which the scheme we are now discussing could provide advantages for the authors of intellectual works and others who suffer lean years with their work.

Whatever is done in this matter seems to be filled with every kind of problem. I hope that a solution will be found, but the present proposal does not seem to be very satisfactory.

12.22 a.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

I have been very hesitant in my view of this scheme and have been inclined sometimes one way and sometimes the other. Much has depended on to whom I have been listening. When listening to supporters of the scheme, I can see that it is not desirable and when listening to opponents, I see that there is something to be said for it. The difficulty about making a speech while balanced in such a way is that one cannot avoid listening to one's own speech and one tends to vacillate from side to side according to the tenor of one's remarks. It can be rather embarrassing.

It seems rather odd to be passing a Bill which provides for a whole lot of machinery on the clear understanding that none of it is to be activated. It is described as a decision of principle, yet the Bill does not say that there may be a right conferred upon authors, but that there shall be such a right. If we are talking about principle, there is a certain objection in principle to passing a Bill which, if not explicitly mandatory, is certainly implicitly so, with the intention of letting it lie as a dead letter on the statute book.

Will the Secretary of State do as the Bill proposes and prepare a scheme and push it into force to see how it looks—though without any money? One is reminded of the story of the custodians of a mental hospital who constructed a swimming pool and said that if the inmates made good use of it, they would fill it with water.

The scheme provides for payments to be made on the basis of the number of borrowings from specified libraries. Why only specified libraries? The scheme will apply only to books held by publicly maintained libraries. Why not the lot? The answer is to keep down the cost of administration, which is recognised as being absurd.

What about the London Library? Consider the case of someone who writes a worthwhile book—not a "whodunit" but something serious. The borrowings of that book from the public library will not be as high as they would be, for example, from the London Library or from the Bodleian or the university libraries. But the person who has written that work would get nothing, or very little indeed, under the scheme. What is the advantage of that?

Everyone has been declaring an interest, or in some cases an absence of interest. I wrote a legal textbook many years ago. It is out of print now. I have always felt the publishers did not make a sufficiently large print at the time. I would never do it again, even with public lending rights, because there is no profit in writing such books in comparison with the amount of work.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page), before the War I joined in writing with some other undergraduates a book called "Tory Oxford", which I have always felt was virtually remaindered before it was published. I do not think I have a particularly strong financial interest in the Bill, nor, until some money is poured into the system, would I feel enticed into writing any books in the hope of deriving some profit.

I have referred to the definition of "library" and to the fact that it is only certain selected libraries which are picked out for the operation of the scheme. But, in addition to that, the Bill says that it shall he based on the number of borrowings. If I were to write a book I could boost my income quite substantially. I could take the book out of the library one day, return it the next day, and then borrow it again. Nothing is said about the length of time for which a book is borrowed. One could get one's friends to borrow it, send it back and borrow it again, and each time one would get something. On the other hand, in the unfortunate circumstance of somebody borrowing the book and not taking it back, it would go out of circulation in that library. One knows only too many people who do not so much borrow books as take them. In that sort of case, the wretched author would lose entirely that source of revenue from the scheme.

I do not know whether the Minister has exhausted her right to speak on this Bill but she has not exhausted the interest of the House. If she seeks the leave of the House to speak again, I am sure it will be granted not once but several times. We look forward to hearing from the Minister on many future occasions on this Bill.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Would my hon. and learned Friend try to talk a little mare loudly? He is so quiet that he is almost inaudible, and some hon. Members have dropped off because of it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I thought the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) wished to make an intervention. The softer the delivery of the speech, the easier it is for those who occupy the Chair.

Mr. Bell

I am sorry. I did not realise that anyone was listening. I shall try to speak more loudly now that I know of the depth and extent of the interest in the views that I was putting before the House.

I return to the point that, if it is not to happen, what is the point of passing the Bill? I do not know whether the hon. Lady has explained that. I have not heard a satisfactory explanation. Perhaps I might put it to her in this way: "If you do not want the scheme, how can you want it? On the other hand, if you want it, why not have it?" But the idea of approving the principle could be done with a motion. It is not necessary to have a Bill to establish a scheme like this. We decided by a resolution that we thought it a good idea for the proceedings of the House to be broadcast. We could have a resolution saying that a public lending right was a good idea. But if an Act is passed, there should always be the intention to put it into force.

If we are to bring the scheme into force, the idea that we fund it with £1 million is ludicrous. It is too absurd for words. It would be a little like the parking meter system where the operation of the system costs as much as the revenue. The whole of the revenue goes in administration. The administration of this scheme will be very expensive. Every time anyone goes into a public library, the attendant has to make an entry to the effect that a book has been borrowed. I do not know whether the name of the borrower will have to go in, but certainly the fact that it has been borrowed will have to be recorded.

It is all very well to talk about computers. First, they never save money or anything else. One has only to think of the one at Swansea. We all know about that one. It is the best way of losing any sort of documents or particulars that anyone ever devised. As for economy, it costs millions of pounds and employs 6,000 people.

The reason for this is fairly simple. It is not the actual operation of the gadget that is expensive. It is the punching of the cards. Every card which goes back will have to be punched from a record from a library. Bearing in mind that each punching costs one-sixth of a penny, it is obvious that the amount of money which represents the significance of the record will be far less than the cost of making the record. It will be like VAT, which costs so much to collect. What is the point of a scheme which will cost far more to administer than it distributes by way of reward to authors?

Another basic defect in the concept of this scheme is that libraries and all the methods of reproduction have in some way diminished the rewards of writers. Historically, that is not true. It used to be thought, for example, that if football matches were shown on television, the promoters would be deprived of the money paid by spectators. Exactly the opposite happens. People want to go to see events which have the cachet of being broadcast.

A book which is serialised on sound broadcasting or on television does not experience a slump in its sales but the very opposite. There is a great boost to its sales. How many people, for example, will have bought "Oliver Twist" because it was the book of the film? This is what happens.

The library system is not only a magnificent way of disseminating knowledge. I remember the words written above the entrance to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, Plurimi pertransibunt et multiplex erit scientia. I have no doubt that that thought was passing through the hon. Lady's mind as I was speaking.

It is the multiplication of knowledge that is the great contribution that libraries make to our society, but as they multiply knowledge, so they multiply the taste and appetite for books. The book-buying public now—which is the real thing—is many times larger than it has ever been. The hon. Lady must have the figures—I do not—but who can doubt that the number of books bought increases every year? And the figure increases every year because people acquire the habit of reading books—people who never read books before. It is libraries such as those set up by the Carnegie bequest in many parts of the Kingdom, and particularly in Scotland, which spread the taste not just for reading but for owning books.

We take it for granted that every class of the community in this country should read books and should buy them, but that is not something to be taken so lightly for granted. I think the hon. Lady might be surprised if she were to conduct an investigation into how common that is in various parts of the world. Even in the English-speaking world, I think she would find that the United Kingdom, and perhaps—though I am not sure of this—the United States are unique in the extent of book owning.

The proposition that I put to the hon. Lady is that that is due to the extent to which libraries are widespread through those countries and the fact that the habit of borrowing books has become a normal part of life. If that be so—and I am sure that it is—the truth is that the lending of books from public or private libraries is the greatest boon and advantage that can possibly be conferred upon those who write books and wish to make a living from them.

Has the hon. Lady considered the separate but relevant fact that one of the greatest rewards that an author can have financially is that his book should become so well know and well thought of that somebody wishes to make a film of it? He makes a lot of money that way.

Let us suppose that there were no libraries and that an author was hoping to make a living from writing books. The first thing that he would lose would be the assured purchase of books for all the libraries now in existence. Hundreds of copies—probably the first print—are taken up by all the libraries in the United Kingdom—county libraries, borough libraries, and so on. Those purchases are the author's bread and butter, and if there are no libraries, that will go. That is a matter of considerable importance. If there were no libraries, who would buy books? Only a few rather well-off people, because books would be very much more expensive than they are now.

We are being asked to pass this Bill, not as a matter of practical application, but as a matter of principle. Therefore, would it not be a good thing to establish the principle? This should be done in the form of a sound and full argument. The Under-Secretary has not yet established the principle. I do not want her to start from the point of view "I think, therefore I am". That is a dangerous argument in politics. She might disappear in the middle of it, like the Cheshire cat.

Mr. Sproat

Was it not the smile that disappeared rather than the cat itself?

Mr. Bell

No. It was the cat that disappeared and the smile that endured. I do not wish that fate on the hon. Lady. Obviously, it happened to someone in the Government Lobby earlier in this debate, and one smile is not as good as one vote.

The hon. Lady has not discharged the burden of propounding the principle which she wants asserted and established in this Bill. She must set out to establish that principle, she must define it and prove it by strict and syllogistic logic. I do not want to hear a lot of stuff about A equalling B, and C equalling D, and "verily I say unto you that B equals C". I want it strictly proven.

This Bill is not a practical proposition but a matter of principle and the hon. Lady must show a medieval rigour in putting her case, which we await eagerly. I realise that I am coming between the House and her performance, or rather between the House and the performance of my hon. Friend for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) who will wind up the debate for the Opposition. That is a more acceptable situation to be in. I know that hon. Members are waiting to savour the delights from the Front Beinches when I resume my seat, so I shall not stand for very much longer.

Hon Members

It is good stuff.

Mr. Bell

My hon. Friends will note that I said "Not very much longer". I want to help the hon. Lady, but I do no think there is much more assistance which I can give, except to ask her why the Act should not extend to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Rees-Davies

There are one or two aspects which my hon. and learned Friend has not yet touched on. I do not know whether this applies in Buckinghamshire, but at present we are having trouble in Kent because we are being deprived of newspapers in our libraries. This is because of stringency in the library service. Some of us have suggested that libraries should cut back on novels in order to secure newspapers and better magazines.

If we took novels out of the terms of this Bill, we could secure an increased amount for everything else in it. Novels could be sold very much more in paper back form, and if they were not included in libraries, they would sell very well. The result would be that more serious books would get more substantial sum of money and novels could look elsewhere for remuneration. I had gathered that my hon. and learned Friend's general advocacy—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman has already taken part in the debate. He is now, by way of an intervention, making another speech.

Mr. Rees-Davies

My hon. and learned Friend was on the whole opposed to the general tenor of the Bill, but he was not altogether against the general principle. I was inviting him to find a way in which he could join the fold and be with us in favour of the Bill.

Mr. Bell

I think that I should come as rather a wolf to that fold. Buckinghamshire has gone beyond the position that my hon. and learned Friend's county has reached. We have already cut back on the novels, and I hope that we shall cut back on the newspapers and magazines as well, because we must do something to economise. However, if I went into the sort of detail into which I might be tempted to go on the public sector borrowing requirement, you might feel that I was trespassing outside the bounds of the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My hon. and learned Friend is right in this, that we have the economy as the context in which we are debating the Bill. If we are having to cut back on the purchase of books for libraries, for which we are coming under a certain amount of criticism, it seems preposterous to spend £1 million on a half-baked scheme like this. If the hon. Lady has £1 million to spare, I can suggest much better things to do with it—and I do not mean seat belts.

Mr. Jessel

Seat belts could save £60 million.

Mr. Bell

My hon. Friend must save that speech for another occasion.

The hon. Lady could use the money to buy books. We could even have a paperback Encyclopaedia Britannica or something like that, which I am sure would have increased sales and increase the knowledge of the general body of the public, and therefore increase the purchasing of books by them.

The whole idea of this public subvention in a mixed economy is to prime the pump or have a sort of trigger action, if the hon. Lady wants a trigger action—I have not noticed much of that from her tonight. Rather than having a sort of planning agreement, it would be much better to use the money to buy books, which would help the authors directly.

Alternatively, why not have a list of authors, rather like a party list, and distribute the money to those on it? A small committee could distribute it.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With a pin?

Mr. Bell

The Departments have lists of people to go on public bodies. If there were a small remuneration, there would be plenty of ex-Labour politicians—or why not current ones?—who could go in for this patronage, which is already quite widespread.

Although there is no money, there is a Financial Resolution. That is very odd. Are we to understand that the penal clauses would come into operation and that people could be fined for not complying with the Bill, even though there was no money available to them?

I am glad that the result of my eloquence, if I may presume to call it that, has been to bring the Deputy Chief Whip over to my side of the argument in that he now sits on the Opposition Front Bench. I welcome the hon. Gentleman. He is an outstanding example of the spread of culture and the appetite for reading among all sections of the population. We are grateful that the hon. Gentleman is taking such an interest in the progress of the Bill. I should be out of order if I were to repeat the advice that I gave earlier.

Mr Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman would certainly be out of order, as he is at the moment.

Mr. Bell

I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should not dream of doing that. I hope that the Deputy Chief Whip will seek to persuade the Minister—I am glad that he is moving to his own Front Bench in order to do so—to make a full reply to this debate—

Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)

My hon. and learned Friend has referred to the penal aspect of the Bill. Has he considered the position of the libraries in prisons? Will they be making their full contribution to the fund? Are they covered by the Bill?

Mr. Bell

I refer my hon. Friend to the definition of a library in Clause 3. The clause provides that a library. means any one of a local library authority's collections of works held by them for the purpose of being borrowed by the public". I do not think that the Prison Commissioners are a library authority.

Mr. Drayson

They should be.

Mr. Bell

The works that they hold are held only for borrowing by what in the Race Relations Act would be called a section of the public.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Be careful.

Mr. Bell

I do not think I shall be prosecuted by referring to a section of the public, but one never knows these days. My considered answer to my hon. Friend is that the prison library is not a library within the definition of the Bill.

If we passed the Bill and did not put any money into it, there would be a considerable danger of people finishing up in prison libraries because they had broken the provisions of the Bill. That is because penal clauses would come into force even though there was no money in it.

I leave the matter to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West and the Minister, but before doing so I make that additional point for the hon. Lady's consideration. Perhaps she will deal with the matter in outline. In any event, the matter can be dealt with in detail on the Financial Resolution. That is a separate debate into which we have not entered. The hon. Lady can tell us in outline at this stage without any breach of order. Is she to set up an organisation and pay it before she pays the authors? If that is the idea, that is not a matter of principle—nor is it a dry scheme, it is an extremely wet scheme. It would merely increase administration costs and not benefit anyone except the administrators.

I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West is poised, as is the Deputy Chief Whip. I see no reason for them not being called together, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as they are both very slow speakers, but—

12.54. a.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

It was obviously in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) that the immortal phrase was born— Do not vote, it only encourages them. This is a historic occasion. It all began three days before my last birthday on 26th May. I feel a great deal older and wiser now we have reached this historic point.

Mr. Ronald Bell


Mr. Cooke

Perhaps it would be easier if I did not give way.

When the debate is eventually printed and when the public lending right scheme, which we all hope will one day be a reality, gets under way, no doubt it will be the most borrowed volume from the shelves of the sample public libraries. My only regret is that I shall have to share my reward, I suppose, with fellow contributors to the debate, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). Perhaps I might add a more serious point here, though I might have made it later. I do not believe that the question of composite authorship is covered by the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that.

To turn now to the vital detail of the Bill. It provides in Clause 1 that In accordance with a scheme to be prepared and brought into force by the Secretary of State, there shall be conferred on authors a right, known as 'public lending right '"— and so on. We must be clear about this. The scheme, which is yet to be prepared, will have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before any money can be spent. Exactly how do the Government intend to administer the Bill, which, we hope, will reach the statute book? The scheme, the guts of the whole thing which will put public lending right into action, has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. That is provided for in Clause 3.

Before taking matters further, I wish to put on record that the debate has been twice adjourned, despite the protests of the Opposition. On the last occasion, we voted against the adjournment of the debate, and the Government had only 30 Members here in support of their Bill —less than a House. Tonight, the Government attempted to apply the closure, without any consultation with our Front Bench and before we had had a chance to lend our assistance to this measure. That resulted in yet another fiasco.

One is bound to wonder how keen the Government are to get the Bill to the statute book. It would certainly have stood a much better chance if they had managed their affairs with more skill and if they had introduced the Bill with proper notice and reasonable time to discuss it on Second Reading on the first occasion.

Nothing that I shall say tonight is in any way designed to frustrate the progress of the Bill now that we have brought it thus far. Here we are again, with my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) sitting beside me, and the House will recall that he was eloquent in support of the Bill on the first occasion. He is, after all, a pioneer in what we seek to put upon the statute book. Indeed, one hon. Member has already paid tribute to him, observing that if he had been longer in office as Minister with responsibility for the arts, the Bill would have been on the statute book long ago. Now, I am speaking from the Opposition Front Bench alongside him, reaffirming our support for public lending right.

I shall not read the sentence from "The Right Approach" because it has been quoted already, but it is there in absolutely clear terms in a small section on the arts, and I think it significant that it is included. We are anxious to get the Bill into Committee and give it a chance of Royal Assent before the Session ends, but I must ask the Government a few questions at this stage, and the answers may help us before we reach Committee.

It is rumoured that there are to be Government amendments in Committee, particularly on the subject of the Lords amendment which altered "books" to "works". It would help the House if the Government declared their intentions on that matter tonight. Is it not a fact anyway that "works" could be limited to books by the scheme which has yet to be produced by the Government? Would it be necessary, in the light of that, for the Government to seek to amend the Bill in Committee and thus to reduce its chances of getting on the statute book?

There may be other things that the Government, or other Members for that matter, want to do. But, having had this desperately difficult, tortuous passage so far, with a substantial number of Members wishing to see the Bill—after all, it establishes the principle and the framework—on the statute book, perhaps the Government will think again about anything that they might do to impede its progress.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have complained about being asked to agree to the Bill before seeing the scheme. They have a very good point. Authors and many other people are anxious to get the Bill on the statute book, because they feel that, if they do not get it there, framework though it is, this will be another setback, and perhaps a long lasting setback. People know what Parliament can be when it comes to getting round to matters of this kind when there are so many other important matters to be dealt with every day.

In another place grave doubts were expressed about letting the Bill pass without knowing more about the scheme. Many noble Lords were doubtful about the other place and, indeed, also this House having to say yea or nay to the scheme without the chance of amending it. Noble Lords from the Opposition Front Bench and from the Back Benches generally pressed the Minister of State, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, to give an undertaking that he would produce a discussion document in advance of the draft scheme. The noble Lord gave an undertaking: The Consultative Document will be available to anybody who wishes to make comments; and if political Parties wished to make comments, of course they could. Then comes the important sentence: It would be in the form of a Green Paper, or something of that kind. The noble Lord Carrington said: But presumably there would be no objection to debating the Consultative Document if it was put down in the House."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27th April 1976; Vol. 370, c. 89.] We have more difficult procedures here. Their Lordships seem to manage to talk about what they want fairly easily. It is not so easy here.

The Minister must tell us whether we are to have a Green Paper in advance of the scheme. It must be something of that kind. The Minister of State gave a pledge in the other place, and the Under-Secretary is acting for her noble Friend here. I do not expect the hon. Lady to say that she will get the business managers to agree that time would be given for a debate, but I suggest that she could give us the usual formula about using her best endeavours. I fear that if the scheme is not in quite the right form and does not suit hon. Members, it might be thrown out and we should not get very far.

I have said a lot about that aspect, but I felt that it was important and that I should do so. We are anxious to get the Bill into Committee. We are also concerned that authors and the taxpayer should get value for money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) was kind enough to inform the House that I had floated certain ideas at a meeting upstairs. I did not quite say what he said I said, though it is no secret that I have from time to time suggested that there were simpler ways of administering a public lending right and other ways of raising the money than from the Exchequer. What I said upstairs to a large gathering of authors was that there might be a wish to explore that kind of thing in Committee.

I am not advocating officially from the Opposition Dispatch Box any particular alternative. However, I put it to the House that perhaps a great number of hon. Members who have grave doubts about letting the Bill through at all might be much happier if they found, as a result of discussions in Committee, that its scope was widened so that it would be possible to raise the money from other sources and that perhaps it would also be possible to simplify the administration. However, that is a matter for the Committee stage.

That brings me to my conclusion. That is to say to my hon. Friends, some of whom have been most critical about the Bill—and rightly so because we must recognise that it is simply a framework—that perhaps they will, after all, even though severe critics, be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading here. Who knows? Some of them may find themselves members of the Committee and able to propose amendments along the lines that they have suggested.

Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House and I hope that my hon. Friends will support us in the Lobby.

1.6 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Margaret Jackson)

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to speak again in reply to the debate.

I shall not seek to detain the House for any longer than is necessary to deal with the many points raised, as I take the point made by so many Opposition Members that they are anxious to reach a conclusion on the Bill. I am sure, however, that at this stage it is not out of place to say that many hon. Members, as they have revealed in their contributions, are not as aware of the purpose of the Bill as they would like to be.

The Government and, indeed, the official Opposition, believe that authors have a right to revenue from the use of their books—from their books being available to readers. When a book is purchased this right is recognised and revenue accrues to the author, even though it is at a small sum per book. But at present, if the book is purchased for a lending library, the right is acknowledged only on the purchase, even though the book may be available to thousands of users, and this deprives the author of revenue which might otherwise be his or hers. This Bill seeks quite simply to establish the principle that an author has a right to revenue related to the use of his book, even though that use may be through a lending library.

My second main point is that although the principle of the Bill may be simple, it is beyond question that the practical details of how such a scheme may be operated are not. It is for this reason that a group of specialists was set up to work on the scheme and to work out a possible framework. It is also for this reason that the group concluded that the scheme would need some considerable work after the Bill comes into force.

The group concluded that it was impractical to include reference books or other works within the scope of the Bill. I must point out to the several hon. Members who have announced that they are quite sure that some method can be found of including reference books or other works that the working group of experts, which has spent a considerable amount of time on this scheme, did not find a practical basis for extending it in this way. It is for that reason that I am afraid that, despite the pleas of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), the Government will be seeking to remove this amendment to the Bill applying to such works when we reach the Committee stage.

Moreover, it has not escaped my attention that many of those hon. Members who sought to argue that the Bill should be extended to include both reference books and other works arc also the same hon. Members who have bewailed the administrative costs of even the scheme we are putting forward. It seems to me that there is a certain illogicality—dare I say, unreasonableness?—in at one and the same time criticising the administrative costs of what we are proposing and suggesting extensions to the scheme.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We are late in the Session. Does the hon. Lady agree that the important thing is to get the Bill on to the statute book? If the Government propose amendments in Committee, they are reducing the chances of the Bill becoming law this Session.

Miss Jackson

As the hon. Gentleman knows, whether the Bill becomes law this Session, in these circumstances, depends as much on himself and his hon. Friends as it does on the Government side of the House. If Opposition Members are sincere in their wish to get the Bill on the statute book, as are we, I am sure that we shall be able to manage it, nevertheless.

The other main argument about the scope of the scheme was raised by both my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell), who both queried the omission of commercial and private libraries from this proposal. Here again it was thought impractical to include them if only because we know little about their detailed operation. What we do know leads us to the conclusion that they differ so much even from one another, that no single scheme could properly be devised to cover them all.

The Bill provides for what is within the range of technical practicability and reasonable expenditure. The Government view is that if it later becomes practicable and viable to contemplate extensions, the right course would be further specific legislation at that time.

I turn now to some further points about the Bill as it stands. Many hon. Members have regretted the smallness of the fund and the smallness of the likely payment to authors. But, again, what is important is the establishment of the principle. We expect that the amount taken up by administration will fall after the inevitably high expense of first starting the scheme. We are attempting to keep the scheme as simple as possible. I do not, however, believe that to exclude these costs from the central fund, as suggested by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), is the right way to keep them under control.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham West also suggested that the registrar's salary would be additional to the cited costs. That is incorrect. The registrar will not be paid directly from the fund, but the amount of his salary is included in the total amount of the scheme and will be deducted from the money available to be put into the fund, as shown in the last four lines of Clause 2(2). When the matter of the scale of payments to authors was discussed, several hon. Members suggested a tapering scale for payments so that the most popular authors did not scoop the pool. That is really a matter for detailed consideration of the scheme but I would say to those hon. Members that if, say, the first 500 loans of a book attracted payments at a certain level, and the next 500 also attracted a payment, but at a lower level, the principle of some reimbursement per loan would be preserved while still protecting the rights of less popular authors.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is there not a distinction between the extent of the right and the way the right is exercised? The vast majority of authors would be very happy to see their right exercised in this particular way in order that the less well off authors should benefit.

Miss Jackson

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct in his argument.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) queried whether the right should be capable of being assigned and argued that it should not be assigned. I see no compelling reason for departing from the example of copyright in these circumstances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) and the hon. Member for Chelmsford suggested that there ought to be a fixed time limit for the scheme's introduction. All the clause does is to require that the scheme is presented as soon as may be after the Act comes into force. But, as I made clear in my opening speech several months ago, and indeed tonight, the scheme is dependent on resources becoming available for implementation and on the technical problems which will be involved in working out the scheme. There will have to be consultation with library authorities and other interests, and my noble Friend Lord Donaldson has promised that a consultative document will be published, and we stand by that promise. All these things will take place in the future when it is likely a date is set for the implementation of the scheme.

Mr. Robert Cooke

We are to get a Green Paper in advance of the draft scheme? It is clear that the draft scheme will have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before any money can be spent. Is that clear?

Miss Jackson

If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I was just coming to that point. A consultative document will be issued before the draft scheme is put before Parliament, and the scheme will have to be put before Parliament. Some money will have to be expended. Once it is known that there is the possibility of bringing the scheme into operation, the registrar will have to be appointed and work will have to go forward to prepare the draft scheme before the consultative document is produced and put before Parliament. What the hon. Gentleman is asking is that we should have the draft scheme before we have the means of preparing the draft scheme. The answer to him is that only sufficient moneys to appoint the registrar and prepare the draft scheme to be put before Parliament will be expended.

Mr. Robert Cooke

The registrar's duty is concerned with registration. All the work in connection with the scheme is being carried out in the Department. Why cannot the scheme be produced by the Department without touching the money in the Bill at all?

Miss Jackson

We hope to do as much of the work as possible in the Department before the registrar is appointed, but we do not think it would be wise to say that there will be no work to be done after that and therefore to give the total assurance the hon. Member seeks.

Nor do we believe, to return to my point about the time scale, that it will assist the success of this scheme to be forced to present it to Parliament before it can be properly worked out, as might be the case if we were to do as the hon. Member for Chelmsford suggested and present it after a fixed time.

The Hon. Member for Bristol, West also asked about composite authorship. That is not covered specifically in the Bill and is a point to be dealt with in discussion of the scheme. That perhaps

is something that we can take up in Committee.

The question of reimbursement of the costs of libraries and other decisions taken by the registrar was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West, who said that there was no mechanism for appeals against decisions of the registrar, either on the right or on the costs of the scheme. There is no specific provision for appeals to the courts, but since the Bill imposes specific duties on the registrar, an aggrieved party will have the ordinary remedies in the courts for failure of such persons to perform a duty.

I have said that the position of resources is uncertain and we do not yet know when the resources will be made available. But we believe that establishing this right is an important step forward in itself, and whatever work can be done on preparation, within the constraints of resources, will continue.

This has been a long debate, on all the evenings on which we have discussed the Bill and down the years. I hope that we can conclude it tonight and give the Bill a Second Reading and accept the principle of the scheme for which the fight has been long and hard, not only in this House but elsewhere.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 99, Noes 0.

Division No. 324.] AYES [1.17 a.m.
Aitken, Jonathan Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Miscampbell, Norman
Atkinson, Norman Faulds, Andrew Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Baker, Kenneth Fell, Anthony Montgomery, Fergus
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Foot, Rt Hon Michael Morris, Alfred (Wythenehawe)
Bates, Alf Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Beith, A. J. Fry, Peter Oakes, Gordon
Berry, Hon Anthony Gilbert, Dr John Ogden, Eric
Bidwell, Sydney Golding, John Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Goodhart, Philip Palmer, Arthur
Bottomley, Peter Graham, Ted Pavitt, Laurie
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hannam, John Perry, Ernest
Budgen, Nick Harper, Joseph Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Carlisle, Mark Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Raison, Timothy
Channon, Paul Hayhoe, Barney Rathbone, Tim
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Horam, John Rees-Davies, W. R.
Cohen, Stanley Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Richardson, Miss Jo
Coleman, Donald Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Janner, Greville Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Corbett, Robin Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Roper, John
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jessel, Toby Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Ryman, John
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Lawrence, Ivan St. John-Stevas, Norman
Cryer, Bob Leadbitter, Ted Shepherd, Colin
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Luard, Evan Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Davidson, Arthur Madden, Max Sinclair, Sir George
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Magee, Bryan Skinner, Dennis
Dormand, J. D. Mallalieu, J. P. W. Snape, Peter
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Marks, Kenneth Stradling, Thomas, J.
Dunnelt, Jack Mayhew, Patrick Strang, Gavin
Temple-Morris, Peter Whitehead, Phillip Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) Wiggin, Jerry
Thompson, George Winterton, Nicholas TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Tinn, James Woodall, Alec Mr. David Stoddart and
Walder, David (Clitheroe) Wrigglesworth, Ian Mr. A. W. Stallard.
Ward, Michael
Mr. Iain Sproat and
Mr. Roger Moate.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).