§ ADMINISTRATION OF SCHEME
- (1) For the purposes of administering the scheme, the Secretary of State shall call for tenders, and any person who wishes to contract for the administration of the scheme (including the Registrar) may submit a tender.
- (2) The Secretary of State shall accept the tender which in his opinion gives the best value for money, provided that he shall lay before Parliament a schedule showing the sums of money included in each tender which he receives '.—[Mr. Ridley.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
§ Mr. Speaker
With this we may take the following amendments:
No. 20, in clause 1, page 1, line 20, after ' Registrar ' add' and the responsibility for administering the public lending right shall be exercised through the British Library and through the Bibliographical Services Division's British National Bibliography and computer facilities known as MARC, which already records each new published book as it is deposited in the British Library '.Government amendment No. 63.
Amendment No. 64, in the schedule, page 7, line 40, after ' fit ', insert:
' but not more than 10 in total '.
§ Government amendments Nos. 65 to 68.
§ Mr. Ridley
My first word is to suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that amendment No. 66 is out of order because it makes no sense. It suggests that after the first"the"in paragraph 7(4) of the schedule, the wordsSecretary of State and theshould be inserted. If that amendment were made, the schedule would read:The Secretary of State and the approval of the Minister for the Civil Service ".Clearly, the Government have got the wrong"the ". They should have said the 1440 second"the"instead of the first"the I hope that such sloppy draftsmanship will not occur again.
The Government amendments merely tidy up the part of the schedule which makes clear that responsibility for paying the pensions of the staff will rest with the Registrar, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. The House will not wish to dwell on them except to comment that it ought to be possible for the Government to get their drafting right if they wish to make amendments.
I want to make a plea to the Government that the administration of the public lending right scheme should be handled properly. I repeat a suggestion that I made in Committee which did not receive a proper answer. I believe that we aught to put the administration of the scheme out to tender.
The skills of those working in the computer industry and the developing techniques are such that it is becoming a highly skilled area, and I am sure that many companies have developed the expertise to do this sort of work on a wide scale. Hitherto, the Civil Service has always sought to carry out all administration of such technical matters—there is no policy involved, it is a technical problem. I am convinced that we could find in the administration of the Civil Service a much wider application of the principle that I propose.
My suggestion is that the Secretary of State should be required by law to put out to tender the operation of the scheme. Any company that wished to do so could submit a tender which would be open to inspection by the House so that hon. Members could ascertain that the Government had chosen the lowest tender. The Government have never seen fit to employ that fairly obvious procedure.
We all remember the classic case when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) drew attention to the cost of planting the lime trees in New Palace Yard. He discovered that the cost of the Civil Service supplying and planting the trees was between £4,000 and £5,000 and he submitted a tender for £280. That was an example of the enormous savings that can be made by going out to tender. No ready answer was given by the Department responsible as to why it could not 1441 accept my hon. and learned Friend's tender. It started to cast aspersions on the quality of his lime trees as though there were some difference between public and private lime trees. All sorts of ridiculous criticisms were levelled at him.
There are many more important matters than the planting of lime trees, including the administration of pensions and benefits, that could be put out to tender. I am referring not to the determination of policy but to the physical task of paying pensions and drafts to the recipients of benefits.
The public lending right administration will be a simple task and there is no doubt that we could put it out to tender. In a way, it is our best opportunity for experimenting in this way because there is no question of an existing scheme of administration having to be replaced. If we had a staff of 35 or 40 and a new quango in full flood administering the scheme, there would be strong protests and lobbies to prevent any change. But that is not the case. There is no such lobby. We have a clean sheet and could put the scheme out to tender as a demonstration of what could be done.
In amendment No. 20, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) suggests that the administration should be done through the British Library and the existing computer system known as MARC. His amendment does not go as far as the new clause, but that may be the right answer. The Government suggest that it should be done by the Registrar, and that may be the right answer. What is the harm in putting it to the test? Why do we not get tenders to see which is the cheapest? Let us be open about it. The Government claim that they believe in open government. Let them lay the tenders on the table so that we can see which is the cheapest.
The cost of administering the scheme will be £600,000 a year. I accept that out of that money must come the salaries of the Registrar and his secretary and their office expenses and the cost of the work carried out in the libraries which must be reimbursed to library authorities. However, there will still be several hundred thousand pounds a year which could be the subject of competitive bids. Even if we saved only £10, it would be a worthwhile saving as an example of what could be done elsewhere. My impression is 1442 that we would save very much more than that. We might save as much as half the proposed cost.
There is always someone in the world who has the up-to-date skills and knowledge to do the best job in the cheapest way, and he should be given the opportunity to tender to show that he can do that.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
Might not the arrangement suggested by my hon. Friend be of benefit not only to taxpayers but to authors, who would stand to gain most from the saving in expenses which would result from competitive tendering?
§ Mr. Ridley
That is right. It must be grievious to authors who thought that there would be £2 million available to them to find that 30 per cent. of that is to be swallowed up in administrative costs. Every penny that we can save in the cost of administration will increase the authors' share.
I put it more strongly than that. We have been woefully slow in adopting proper techniques for ensuring value for money in public expenditure. There are many tasks where we cannot get comparisons with the private sector or which could not be put out to private firms to perform, but where they can be put out to firms they should be, if only to get a check price
I remember questioning representatives of the Property Services Agency at a meeting of the General Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee about their policy for checking the cost of the Agency's work on Government buildings —repairs, maintenance, redecoration, provision of tables, chairs and carpets and all the work of maintaining the fabric of the buildings in which the bureaucrats live. The PSA representatives continually stalled when they were asked why they had never had a check price from the private sector. They had no answer. They used words such as"not convenient"and"inappropriate ".
I am certain that we should go through the whole public sector to see which parts of its activities are suitable for putting out to tender. The whole principle of tendering is that it is a way of achieving value for money and it leads to a constant check on whether there is efficiency in the 1443 public administration. Unless we are prepared to test our public administrative procedures wherever we can, we shall find that the growth of the bureaucracy takes place unhindered and unchecked.
The enormous burden of public administration which has grown upon the shoulders of the taxpayers is, I agree, determined to a large extent by policies pursued as a result of decisions of the House, but a large amount of that burden is represented by purely administrative costs. The attention of the House should be directed towards improving the standard of efficiency where necessary and checking efficiency by obtaining check prices from the private sector.
I can think of no better example than this unborn quango. It is conceived but unborn. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) is in the Chamber keeping a watchful eye on the development of this foetus, which I hope will suffer abortion now that birth control is no longer possible.
We are putting into effect another quango. Let us at least try to make sure that there are disciplines upon it. There can be no more salutary discipline than that proposed in the new clause. I grant the Minister that my drafting may be capable of improvement, but, as I pointed out earlier, if there are drafting deficiencies the Minister is in the same boat as I am because his amendment is curiously drafted. I am sure that he will not hold any drafting deficiency against me.
I hope that, contrary to the Minister's attitude in Committee, he will accept the principle behind the new clause and will arrange for outside firms to be allowed the opportunity to put forward schemes of administration that could be tested and priced to see which is the cheapest and most effective. The House should then be informed of the results of that competition.
As I said in Committee, if the Government are not prepared to do that, I most certainly am. When the scheme is published and laid before the House, I shall write to the various software houses and computer companies and seek tenders. I shall then see whether I can get a 1444 cheaper price than the Government, just as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire did in the case of the lime trees over the car park. I shall hold the Minister to account for what he puts in towards the cost of this scheme when we discuss the Estimates. No discipline is as good as the discipline of having to obtain a job in full and fair competition. There is no reason why we should not do that in this case.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
My hon. Friend the Minister of State would be ill-advised to accept the clause which has been so beguilingly proposed by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). His proposition rests on a misunderstanding of the true position.
The technical investigation group made the recommendations which are the technical basis of the Bill. I was responsible in that direction during the accouchement period of the Bill. Neither I nor the group was ever reluctant to acquire the wealth of information that is available from private organisations on the subject. I commissioned a £28,000 study from a firm called Logica Limited, an excellent private organisation, which made an invaluable contribution to the investigation. Without that contribution the proposals that form the basis of the group's unanimous recommendations could not have been made.
Two stages will be involved. There is the first, which begins at the 72 libraries that will be the basis of the whole scheme. The second stage will take place under the aegis of the Registrar.
At the libraries, books will be counted as they are returned. It was realised that if the process were carried out when books were taken out it would cause delays at the libraries. Under these proposals the operator in the library can stack the returned books until it is convenient for him to process them.
The process is carried out by means of a light pen which reads a bar code which transmits information on to a magnetic tape. The tapes are subsequently forwarded once or twice a week to the Registrar's office. At that point the Regisstrar will pass the tapes on to a computer organisation.
1445 The Registrar could if he wished use the MARC computer, which is already owned by the British Library. Alternatively, he might decide to use a private computer organisation, sending the tapes perhaps to my constituency for ICL, which has its headquarters there, to do the computer processing.
The small computers, which are located at 72 points, will do the initial recording work. I found during my examination of the scheme that the libraries were most enthusiastic. They discovered points about their pattern of lending which showed them that they could save considerable sums of money as a result of the knowledge provided by the scheme. The scheme worked well and benificently, and worked to the advantage of the authors and the libraries.
I hope that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury will agree that, just as I and the civil servants used a private organisation that put forward a scheme that made loan-based PLR a practical proposition, the Registrar, too, could use a private organisation, and that therefore the hon. Member will decide against pressing his clause or his amendment.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Member has described one scheme in which he sees great merit. How does he know, however, that there are not other schemes that might be proposed by other companies which might have even greater merit? Is he saying that because he presided over one scheme, that is the last word on the subject?
§ Mr. Jenkins
Of course, there would be a great temptation to do that. However, the technical investigation group was not recommending a particular scheme. Logica Limited is not committed to any one scheme; it sought to create something that was possible out of that which appeared impossible.
The group consisted of representatives of authors—Ms. Maureen Duffy of the Writers' Action Group and Mr. John Coleby of the Society of Authors—a group from the Department of Education and Science, including Mr. Harvey, who acted as chairman, a most distinguished civil servant whose contribution to public lending right has not hitherto been recognised but should be, and a representative from the Central Statistical Office, who made a valuable contribution. In addition, there were representatives from the Library 1446 Association, the British Library, and the local authorities, including the Association of County Councils. In addition, Logica Limited was represented.
The scheme that was produced was a practical one and will be presented in outline to the Registrar. When the time comes he will be able to employ the services of a private organisation if he so chooses.
§ Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins). We wish to do everything that we can in the Bill to ensure that the limited amount of money that is available goes to those whom it is intended to benefit rather than to those necessary evils, if I may so describe them, who have to administer the Bill.
It is true that the scheme could be more cheaply administered, for example, by a computer bureau, but I imagine—although I have no information on this point—that there may be some difficulties with the Civil Service. It may feel that it has an interest in the administration of the scheme.
I should like the Minister to give a number of assurances. Will the computer work be hired out to the cheapest and most efficient firm available? If the answer is in the affirmative, that would go some way to meeting my hon. Friend's point. Will the Minister carefully examine what additional staff will be needed? Will he consider the figure of 35 to 40? Is it necessary to have so many? I am in sympathy with my hon. Friend, who always seeks to cut out unnecessary public expenditure. I hope that my hon. Friend will follow the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Putney and that, having elicited a debate on this topic and having heard the constructive reply of the Minister of State, he will seek leave to withdraw the motion.
On amendment No. 20, it would be feasible and possibly cheaper to administer the scheme through the British Library's own computer, but it is not certain that that would help matters, since the Bill as drafted requires authors to register before they can become eligible for public lending right. Therefore, if 1447 the computer were brought into play, it would be necessary to go through the list twice.
There is much to be said for Government amendment No. 63, since it would allow the Secretary of State to control the number of administrative staff and would help to avoid a quangoid burgeoning of bureaucrats—a hideous phrase to describe a hideous possibility.
§ On amendment No. 64, I suggest that although 40 is on the generous side, 10 is perhaps on the mean side. It is a little too optimistic to think that this could be administered by such a small group of people.
§ Government amendments Nos. 65 to 68 are not of great importance, but are tidying-up provisions.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gordon Oakes)
I wish to deal first with the drafting point mentioned by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). New clause No. 1 deals with putting things out to tender. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman will never put drafting of Bills out to tender because the drafting of the Bill is right. Had the matter gone out to tender, we might have been in some difficulty.
The hon. Gentleman, in common with me, sometimes needs glasses. If he examines the amendment paper and the Bill, he will see that the definite article in the amendment paper has a small"t"and not a capital"T ". Therefore, the first"the"with a small"t"in the Bill is the"the"followed by the words on the amendment paper. The hon. Gentleman appears to disagree with me, but that is the way in which it has been done. If there had been a capital"T"for the definite article, the draftsman would have included it. Since the draftsman is right and the hon. Gentleman is wrong, we should let the official draftsman carry on with his work.
I should like now to deal with the effects of the Government amendments which have been tabled for clarification. In Committee we discussed the rights and duties of the Registrar, and in Committee I said that, whenever we could, we would try to make the Bill as clear as possible. 1448 By these amendments we are seeking to carry out that undertaking. This makes the position clearer because, legally, if cases were to arise under the Employment Protection Act or other legislation of that nature, as the matter stands the Secretary of State would be the person answerable. From the point of view of administration, the person in charge of the registry, the Registrar, should be the person answerable. The form of words we have used is exactly the same form of words as we have always used to put the matter legally right. The other amendments, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said, are purely drafting to make grammatical sense.
Let me deal with new clause No. 1 in detail. The hon. Gentleman said in Committee, and repeated the offer today, that he was prepared to put the matter out to tender. That was a bizarre suggestion when made in Committee, but his clause on Report is a little less bizarre because he wants the Secretary of State to put it out to tender. Nevertheless, the implications of the clause are totally unacceptable to this Government or indeed to any Government, for the reasons I shall give.
First, the clause presupposes the existence of the Registrar. The amendment contains the words"including the Registrar ". Therefore, one sets up a body to create the Registrar and, having set him up, one puts the matter out to tender and allows the Registrar, with others, to tender for the job. There would be a needless administrative cost inherent in the clause. One is setting up a body and subsequently putting the matter out to tender. The difficulty in putting it out to tender arises from the fact—and this kind of consideration arises whatever Government are in power—that a private sector company will be operating in an area in which public money is involved.
§ Mr. Ridley
§ Mr. Oakes
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will hear me out. That is an inherent difficulty where a private sector company is responsible for the administration of money provided by the taxpayer. Things could go wrong with a private company which cannot go wrong with the existence of the machinery we are setting up. Let us suppose, for example, that the private concern to which this 1449 work went, went bankrupt. What would happen if through a mistake, maliciously or in error, that concern exceeded the funds provided by the Government? There would then be a direct charge on public expenditure just because that work had gone out to private tender. Surely Conservative Members would not want that.
§ Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)
Is it not a fact that in the United States in the early part of the 1960s the original quangos were not quite the same quangos as we now talk about in the House and elsewhere but private agencies set up to take advantage of Government contracts and existed solely as Government agencies? Does the Minister agree that they were set up privately and were non-governmental organisations as distinct from our national quangos?
§ Mr. Oakes
It seems an extremely dangerous precedent to quote what was happening in the United States and the way in which Government money was being expended in the early years of the century.
§ Mr. Holland
No, the 1960s.
§ Mr. Ridley
Am I right in thinking that the Minister is against putting out to tender the construction of roads to firms in the private sector because that means that public money is being spent by private firms and there is the possibility that they might go bust? Is it now the Government's intention to nationalise all road building firms? That seems to be the logical conclusion.
§ Mr. Oakes
Of course not. The hon. Gentleman is teasing me. Money is being provided by the Government and the recipients will be authors. If things go wrong, authors as well as the Government could suffer. I accept that things can go wrong with public or private tender. There is a real danger—I think that it is appreciated by the hon. Member for Chelmsford—in calling for tenders from those who wish to be responsible for the distribution of taxpayers' money.
I appreciate that the purpose of the new clause is to save administrative costs. Bearing in mind the remarks in Committee of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, I am sure that that is what is behind the new clause. 1450 However, it would not save all that much money. A proportion of the money would go to reimburse local library authorities for their expenditure. The new clause would not save an appreciable part of the £600,000. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) looks amazed. Within the administrative cost is the cost to local authorities of the services that they will provide in supplying information for the register.
§ Mr. Moate
I reacted with amazement because I could not understand how a large proportion of the £600,000 could be reimbursement to local library authorities. The payment of a staff of 35 or 40 and an expensive Registrar will take the lion's share of the £600,000. The one thing that we have not had is a breakdown of the costs. If the Minister is saying that he has figures, that will help us to understand the breakdown. I hope that he will enlighten us.
§ Mr. Oakes
I do not have the figures. The scheme has not yet been fully prepared. It is true that the office of the Registrar—especially when we take into account administrative costs, building costs and the purchase of computer time —will take the lion's share. The new clause would not bear on a significant proportion of the costs. Those costs would still have to be paid.
I envisage that it will be the duty of the Registrar to provide the cheapest and most efficient service. In purchasing computer time it will be the decision of the Registrar, based on considerations of efficiency and cheapness, to go either to a public department or a private company. I assure the hon. Member for Chelmsford that there will be no interference with the Registrar's right to take that approach. It will be the Registrar's duty to keep administrative costs to a minimum. The purpose of the scheme is to provide money for authors and not for administrators.
§ Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)
It appears from the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) that there is a scheme in draft. It would help our consideration of the Bill if my hon. Friend the Minister of State were to enlighten us by telling us what stage the draft has reached.
§ Mr. Oakes
A scheme is being prepared. I am in difficulty because the scheme has to be prepared in consultation with a number of bodies. It is being prepared in consultation with authors, probably with publishers and others linked with authors, most certainly with libraries and library associations and individual libraries and librarians. It is difficult for me to deal with a scheme that has not yet been established. It is no use having consultation if a Minister declares what the scheme will be before it has been discussed with the other parties.
The effect of amendment No. 20 would be to make the Registrar associated in some way with the British Library. I understand what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) is trying to do. His purpose is to try to cut administrative costs by utilising the facilities of MARC, the machine readable catalogue, on which new books are entered into the British Library.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford appreciated the difficulty at once when he said that all books are catalogued on MARC whereas an author has to register. Therefore, the two catalogues do not necessarily coincide. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Registrar, if he sees the need to do so and I feel sure that he will, will use the information available at the British Library. He may obtain copies of the computerised records for his own purposes.
From the point of view of realising a financial saving, we would achieve nothing by giving effect to amendment No. 20. I have explained that the new clause and the amendments would not save any money. I have explained that there would be difficulty in a private company administering taxpayers' money. In the light of my explanation, I hope that hon. Members, having thoroughly explored the position in Committee and in the House, will feel able to withdraw the new clause and the amendments.
§ Mr. Holland
First, I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) for missing his opening remarks. I was delayed by my activities on the Committee of Selection. It may be that the Committee's activities will be a great disappointment to many of my hon. Friends when tomorrow they receive their notifications.
1452 I must advise my hon. Friends that I fear that I am to be a slight disappointment to them. I am not altogether in support of what my hon. Friends are trying to do by means of new clause No. 1. It seems that they are trying to replace a quasi autonomous national Government organisation, with which we are now extremely familiar, with a quasi autonomous non-Government organisation. I know that there would be marginal advantages to the extent that the new clause might remove the potential sin of ministerial patronage. It would, if my hon. Friends are right, be slightly less expensive than the full governmental quango. However, it does not deal with all the other disadvantages of quangos, such as lack of accountability to the House and the inherent disadvantages of a body beyond the reach of Parliament that exercises power beyond the reach of Parliament.
We should closely consider all suggestions leading to the creation of new official bodies. Until a few years ago the appearance of an official body in legislation was a rare event. The idea was"Let us set up an official body to do the job in an impartial and non-political way. What a spendid idea that is." Once or twice a year a new quango would be born, to the plaudits of everybody.
Those preparing and drafting legislation came to the conclusion that the way to achieve popularity, to solve problems and to take some of the responsibility off the backs of Ministers must be to introduce impartial official bodies beyond the reach of Parliament. We have now reached the stage when every new Bill must have at least one more quango. Some Bills have several. It is to be regretted that hon. Members on both sides of the House condone the practice and acquiesce in the quango explosion. The time has come when Back-Bench Members must band together to exert the authority of the House against an Executive that appears to be intent on its destruction.
That is not such nonsense as it may sound. Every new, unrepresentative and unelected quango—and the Registrar organisation proposed in the Bill is one of them—diminishes the power and the authority of Parliament. If the administration of the scheme remains in the 1453 hands of the Secretary of State for Education and Science, the Minister remains answerable to Parliament and the scheme remains broadly within the control of Parliament. There is precedent for this. If it is farmed out to a quango, we lose control. As the Minister said a few minutes ago, the Registrar will be answerable for the administration of the scheme, not the Minister and not Parliament.
I come to the Bill too late to draft amendments on Report, but I see now how necessary they are. As we all know from personal experience, it is not possible for Members to scrutinise every piece of legislation that comes before the House. There is far too much legislation. It is an occupational hazard that from time to time we miss Bills that we really ought to scrutinise.
I therefore appeal to the House to be vigilant, so that each of us, as we subject to scrutiny those Bills which fall within our normal sphere of interest, may be alert to the danger of proliferating quangos. Let us serve notice on this Government and the next Government that this House will not have its authority eroded in this way.
Life continued for many hundreds of years in this country without these bodies —and certainly without all the bodies not yet set up, and without many that have already been set up. Let us be firmly convinced of the need before we set up any more of them. We could start with the quango in this Bill. At this late stage, the only way to achieve our objective of bringing the power back to this House and back to the Minister would be to persuade the Government to redraft or our friends in another place to amend the Bill suitably, or to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill in order to give the Government an opportunity to introduce a new Bill later in the Session. The Government have very little legislation and there will be plenty of time in which to do it.
I regret that I cannot support wholeheartedly the birth of a quasi-autonomous non-Government organisation just to replace a national Government organisation. Unless the Government can offer a suitable alternative method of administering the scheme, within the reach and control of Parliament—that is my main theme— 1454 I may well feel bound to vote for the new clause as a protest, should my hon. Friends decide to press it to a vote.
§ Mr. Buchanan
On Second Reading I indicated my association with libraries, and I hope that that will be borne in mind in relation to any intervention that I make today.
I stressed on Second Reading that librarians were falsely accused of trying to torpedo the public lending right. Librarians, like everyone else, want justice for authors. My right hon. and hon. Friends have repeated that objective from the Front Bench. They have said that they want justice for authors. In concluding my speech on Second Reading I said:I repeat that 1 am in agreement with the principle that authors should be properly paid, but the proposals in the Bill are unsoundly based and, if passed unamended, would not represent a proper remedy to the authors' problem."—[Official Report, 10th November 1978; Vol. 957, col. 1382.]That still remains the case, and the whirlwind passage of the Bill through the Committee has left some of us breathless. I can understand the point made by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), in that he is trying to reduce the cost of administration. This aspect is troubling all of us. The cost of administration, running up to £600,000 out of £2 million, is quite preposterous.
Although I cannot support new clause No. 1, I have great sympathy with amendment No. 20, which seems to introduce a principle of national co-ordination. I doubt whether the British Library could undertake the administration of it, but the proposal in that amendment runs very close to the proposal of the metropolitan associations, which indicated that by far the best way of doing this would be to pay on the books purchased, thus saving all the administration that will be necessary through the Registrar and his 45 assistants and the administration that will have to go on through the 70 recording points.
The machine readable catalogue could be used to facilitate the proposal indicated in amendment No. 20. It would be much more economical and would, in the long run, leave much more of the money available for payment to authors. Much will he said about authors here, there and 1455 everywhere, but if we are serious about helping authors we ought to try to cut down the tremendous cost of the administration that is vested in the Bill. For that reason, I am very much attuned to supporting amendment No. 20.
§ Mr. Ian Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), because he speaks from a very deep knowledge of the library world, and the knowledge of librarians—of the Library Association—has been ignored so far.
If one had to suggest the categories into which those connected with books outside of this House fall, one might say that most authors and most publishers ate in favour of public lending right and that most librarians and most booksellets are against. I may be wrong in supporting the concluding words of the hon. Member for Springburn in his Second Reading speech and in thinking that the Bill is"unsoundly based ", but I do not think that I am wrong. The other side is very powerfully represented in numbers outside this House, certainly to the same extent as the proponents of the Bill in this House, and yet so far the views of the other side have received very little expression in this place.
I believe that there were 19 speeches on Second Reading, of which five were against and 14 in favour of the Bill. In spite of that, we had only one Member out of 16 on the Committee, for reasons that I quite accept. But it is a fact that the attitude expressed by the hon. Member for Springburn has not been expressed forcefully enough in this House. It has not been expressed forcefully enough to the Minister.
I recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and I sat through the Committee proceedings in 1976. At that time we were struck by the fact that the hon. Lady who was then in charge of the Bill, the Under-Secretary of State, started completely in favour of the Bill—as I presume the Minister of State still is—but by the end of it she was no longer advancing the same argument. She even admitted that she no longer maintained her first arguments in Committee—for example, the argument that high borrowing meant low sales, which underpin the Writers' Action Group case. She said that she accepted, 1456 after all the argument, that this was no longer true. That was a classic librarians' argument, if I may put it in that way. Therefore, I am particularly glad that the hon. Member for Springburn has come into the debate at this stage. I very much hope that we shall have his very important voice raised continually throughout the debate on the subject.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
My recollection differs slightly from that of the hon. Member. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Minister reversed her position quite in the way that he suggests. What she said—and I think it is entirely true—is that at the moment libraries are very large purchasers of books. I think that she agreed, when the point was put to her, that at the moment libraries are perhaps the largest purchasers of books.
§ Mr. Sproat
No doubt we can all refresh our memories by looking back at the Hansard reports of the previous Committees, but I seem to recall the Under-Secretary of State saying, in effect,"It is not my contention that high borrowings mean low sales to authors ".
In short, she accepted what would be called in shorthand the"showcase argument, namely, that libraries would show people who might otherwise not have thought of borrowing books the excellence of those books. This meant that people then went out and bought books for themselves. It is a well-known argument. I have read the many words spoken in the two sittings in Committee and I do not recall any advance in this argument. It is, however, a classic component of this long argument that where there are excellent libraries we find high book sales precisely because the excellence of the libraries promotes sales. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) will confirm that Cambridge is a good example of this, as might be Oxford, Southampton or Aberdeen.
§ Mr. Holland
It is common sense.
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) rightly says, and I am happy to believe it, that it is common sense. There is a mutual stimulus between borrowing and buying, just as the playing of records on radio does not stop people buying records. That is the way it works.
1457 To save time, I will merely deal with three of the seven amendments. I want to speak about new clause No. 1. I should like to make some remarks in amplification of amendment No. 20, for which the hon. Member for Springburn has indicated some qualifying support, and I should like to say a few words on amendment No. 64, which deals with the number of civil servants to be employed in this new quango. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Carlton is present because he is the man, above all, who has alerted the House to the dangers inherent in the quango explosion. His presence here shows that he recognises, as I hope we all do, that another quango is precisely what we are setting up here. All the virtues, but also all the vices, which attach to quangos attach to this new commission or authority, or whatever it is to be called.
§ Mr. Holland
My hon. Friend seems to be making the point that there is something strange in a new quango being set up by this legislation. I remind him that in practically every Bill that has come before the House this year at least one new body has been set up.
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I wish it were not so, but the fact that it is is a greater cause for sadness. If we can now do something to diminish the power of the quango—we may not abolish it entirely, though that would be my hope—we will draw some of the teeth of this new body.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) wants the computer facilities which will be necessary put out to tender. As a principle, that is right. I disagree completely with the Minister of State, who says that by putting it to tender we will bring in private business and that will be Intolerable. I will deal with that argument later. My hon. Friend believes that one of the most offensive principles of this Bill—not the most offensive, but what might be called one of the second division offensive principles—is the cost: not just the fact that it will cost £2 million, but the way in which this money is to be spent.
When I say that the cost is wrong, I defy anybody, including the Minister of State, to justify the spending of £2 million 1458 to give the average author £12. The ratio between £2 million and £12 is absurd, however much one agrees with PLR. The Minister of State showed a proper regard for the expenditure of public funds when he said that if we gave it to a private company this money might be misused or lost. If he felt that so sharply—it was the only argument he advanced, so he must have felt it—surely he feels the more sharply the fact that £2 million of public money is to be spent in order to give authors £12.
It will not even give them £12 because, as was said during the Second Reading debate, tax has to come off that £12. What my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham also forgot is the fact that literary agents will be getting their claws into this money. We will be helping not just authors but publishers who will then not have to give their authors so much money because it will be coming from the Treasury. So, for £n we shall probably pay authors under £10 a year.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
As my hon. Friend is surely aware, authors do not on the whole write books that are equally popular. What happens is that a few authors write books which sell in tens of thousands and many authors write books which sell very few copies. These are taken out of libraries very infrequently. So under the scheme a comparatively small number of authors will draw substantial sums, whereas the average author will get far less than £12 He will be lucky to get 50p.
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend's opening hypothesis cannot be faulted. Many authors make much money and many make little. One of the objections is the fact that we are giving rich authors more money. That is a principal objection of mine to the way in which this £2 million is to be spent.
We are talking about the cost of 400 kidney machines. We are always told that we cannot have more kidney machines because there is not enough money. Yet along comes an articulate and elitist body of rich authors and they get £2 million out of the Government just like that. I do not know why it should be so much easier for rich and healthy authors to get money like this from the Government than for sick persons in need of kidney machines, but the authors have 1459 managed it so far. One of our duties is to see that a proper sense of social priority is established. I do not believe that authors, rich or poor, rank at the top of the list of those who need Government help.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury is back again, as he will appreciate this point. We are to spend £2 million to give the average author £12, though it may be less. We know that one of the points of this Bill in the eyes of its progenitors—I think the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) likes to be known as the father of the Bill—
§ Mr. Ridley
Who is the mother?
§ Mr. Sproat
Perhaps my hon. Friend may care to speculate about that when he replies to the debate.
If the aim of the Bill is to make an appreciable difference in the standard of living of authors—which £12 will not, but a greater sum might—what kind of sum are we talking about? At the minimum, we are talking about £1,000 a year. If the infinite expansion of this quango is to be such as to provide authors with £1,000 a year, we are multiplying by 100 the amount which must be put in. We are talking about a kind of British Leyland of the literary world. We shall have to provide about £200 million to give the average author £1,000—and £1,000 today is not all that much
The distribution of cash as set out in this scheme—viz, £2 million of public expenditure for £10 to the average author per year—is crazy. But if we are to improve it along the lines suggested by the progenitors of the Bill—viz, a direct and substantial improvement in their standard of living—we are talking about a sum so gigantic, £200 million, that surely not even the most rabid supporter of the principle of the Bill could agree with it at a time of financial stringency or, indeed, at a time of financial lavishment. I suggest that even this Government might be able to find better ways of spending £200 million than on a lot of authors, many of whom are extremely rich and part-time anyway. That is one of the prime objections to the way in which the financial structure is organised.
Another point concerns the £600,000 to be spent on administration. That is about 1460 30 per cent. of the total sum available. It is absolutely crazy. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) is not present. During the course of the last Bill one of the most valuable services which he performed in Committee was to tell us what happened in the Performing Right Society. I think that my hon. Friend is a musician and used to lead a band. Every time he played a particular melody, he would get in touch with the Performing Right Society and it would ensure that a certain amount of money for the performance of that melody went to the composer. I understand that is the principle upon which the Performing Right Society works. Yet the Performing Right Society, which I understand is not a Government body, has administrative costs—I am open to correction—which are less than half of what the Government are proposing here.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton rightly talked about quangos. He has vast knowledge of the whole miserable area of quangos. I suggest that to set up a new body to deal with authors' rights which takes up 30 per cent. of the money available when the Performing Right Society can do a similar job for less than half that amount is ludicrous. Surely that should start bells ringing in Whitehall.
§ Mr. Ridley
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend indicates that it does not set bells ringing in Whitehall.
§ Mr. Ridley
They do not care.
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend may be right. At least, it is our job and duty to make them care. We must din into the heads of Ministers that, if they have so much money to spare for this area, they might spare a little more for other areas. I have already mentioned kidney machines.
§ Mr. Holland
Is my hon. Friend sure that he has made the point clear enough to the House? There is a distinction to be drawn between the total amounts spent on administration by each type of body. In some instances it is public money and in others it is money provided by the industry or industries concerned. Is not that an important point?
§ Mr. Sproat
It is a very important point. It relates to what my hon. Friend 1461 the Member for Carlton mentioned earlier, which the Minister of State did not seem to take on board. The original quangos in the United States, of which this is a kind of bastard offshoot, were private bodies. Presumably they were under stricter financial control than this PLR authority. That is the whole point. People ask"What are quangos?"I am open to correction, but I understand that originally quangos were non-governmental bodies, whereas they are now national Government bodies. My hon. Friend was entirely right to draw that distinction.
§ Mr. Moate
My hon. Friend referred earlier to the Performing Right Society and compared it favourably, as I understand it, with the proposed Registrar on the question of the cost of administration. If we are to consider quangos, I suggest that the Performing Right Society is not a classic example which we would wish to emulate. Does my hon. Friend agree that that body, which was set up with statutory backing, has been virtually unanswerable on many aspects of its affairs? Considerable efforts have been made by individuals to try to change the voting rights in the PRS and many questions have been asked about loans to its executives. It has been difficult for individual members to produce the changes that they wanted. Indeed, it has been virtually impossible for Members of Parliament to question Ministers on those matters. Is not that a classic example of a quango at work?
§ Mr. Sproat
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham has raised that matter. I should not like the House to be under any misapprehension regarding what I said about the Performing Right Society and its relationship to the proposed public lending right authority, or whatever it is to be called, which we are to set up. I do not—and I hope I did not—set myself up as a great defender of the Performing Right Society, because frankly I know nothing about it. I do not know anything more about it than—I did not stop speaking, so my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge should not laugh too quickly—what my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter told us in the Committee, which was the percentage that was spent on administration, and what I have read in various publications about the problems that it is having re- 1462 garding loans, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham reminded us.
I am not defending the Performing Right Society other than to say that if it can keep its expenses down to 12½ per cent., or whatever it is, I fail to see why the Government should set off by saying that administrative expenses for this authority could be 30 per cent. or slightly more. That was the point that I was making. Perhaps we may come back to other aspects of the Performing Right Society and its extremely illuminating parallel later. I do not know how illuminating it is, but at least it provides us with some parallel or comparison to put against this body which the Government are proposing to set up here.
The hon. Member for Putney, the father of the Bill, in his few interpolations in Committee, was rather offensive to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury. If I remember rightly, he called them barmy. I do not know whether that is a parliamentary expression, but it certainly sheds a new light on parental responsibility. I think that we all take with a considerable pinch of salt the knowledge and wisdom of the hon. Member for Putney on this subject.
My hon. Friends may remember that the father of the Bill was the man who delivered himself of the immortal maxim in a Government circular that any work of 800 pages must be worth more than a mere essay. As far as I am concerned, that is almost the ultimate philistinism. Yet there sits the father of the Bill. Again, today, out of the bonded warehouse of his knowledge, he regaled us of the time when he was the Minister who put public lending right on the road down which we are still walking.
The hon. Member for Putney made a rather more moderate intervention today. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, he suggested that the Registrar could put out to public tender if he wished. But the Minister of State contradicted his hon. Friend and said that that would be blasphemous in Civil Service terms because of the public money aspect.
Where I disagree with the hon. Member for Putney on this occasion is that it is not just a case of the Registrar being 1463 able to put out to public tender the administration of the scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury wants a guarantee that he must put it out to public tender so that there will not be any suspicion of the Government perhaps not liking this company or another. The hon. Member for Putney mentioned International Computers Limited, in his own constituency, as being a company which might get the contract. Let us suppose that just before the Registrar was about to put out the tender, International Computers Limited were to pay its employees a 17 per cent. wage rise. Would the Minister of State then jump up and say"Ah, we all know that ICL has submitted the lowest tender, which means that we could save the taxpayer another £10,000 or give another £10,000 to the authors, but it is breaching Government policy and it will not get this contract any more than Ford will supply Government cars "? That is exactly a parallel situation. Therefore, in those circumstances, 1CL will not have its tender accepted.
That is the sort of muddy road down which we are walking. That is why I back completely my hon. Friend's new clause, because he said that the administration of the system must go out to tender. If this is taken in conjunction with the second part of the new clause—that it has to be laid before Parliament—we will know exactly what is going on. I believe that in a later amendment my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham requires all these sorts of details to be laid before the House of Commons so that we know exactly what the Registrar gets up to if this Bill comes into being.
I shall not go into all the general arguments against quangos which my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton so rightly, by implication, put before the House. There is the"jobs for the boys"aspect. Who would be the Registrar? Perhaps some aesthetic trade unionist reaching the age of 65, with an assistant to help him because he does not know very much about books. Or it might be the hon. Member for Putney. Perhaps he thinks himself extremely suitable not only to be the father but also to bring up the child. What could be more suitable in some ways? I do not know how much the hon. 1464 Gentleman knows about books, especially when one thinks of his famous maxim that a work of 800 pages—one thinks of"Forever Amber "—is almost worth more than any much shorter work—one thinks of"Torrents of Spring by Turgenev. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman still attaches himself to that maxim, but I shall not labour the point at this stage. Perhaps we can return to it later.
§ Mr. Ridley
I tried to facilitate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) having an opportunity to become Registrar by removing the disqualification clause in the schedule which prevented hon. Members from accepting the post, but the hon. Gentleman did not support me. I wonder whether my hon. Friend thinks that that is because the hon. Gentleman does not want to be Registrar or whether he thinks that Putney is such a rocky seat that disqualification will not worry him anyway?
§ Mr. Sproat
I am informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge that the hon. Member for Putney is not standing again in any case. Therefore, the second of my hon. Friend's options falls.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I shall not bother to correct many of the other massive inaccuracies in which the hon. Gentleman has indulged, except to deny them in a totally blanket fashion, but I must specifically deny the suggestion that I do not intend to stand again for Putney. I most certainly do.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order. May I suggest to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) that he confines himself more specifically to the contents of the new clause?
§ Mr. Sproat
Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge tells me that he was guilty of wishful thinking. The only reason why I mention the hon. Member for Putney was his interesting suggestion, for which I give him credit because it went further than the Minister, that the Registrar would be able to put this out to tender. That was the point of bringing in the father of the Bill.
Another point on which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury will elaborate further relates to the extraordinary doctrine propounded by the Minister that one cannot 1465 give public money to private companies. I thought that that was what section 7 of the Industry Act was all about. Perhaps it is about to be repealed. As my hon. Friend said, every road which has ever rolled over the acres of this green country has been built by private enterprise. Is there now to be set up a nationalised body, or is every council house to be built by corporation workers in future?
This sounds ridiculous, but that is what was said—that one cannot give public money to private companies. The Minister does not seem to worry about giving public money to public companies. The shining example of British Leyland hovers over all our minds on this occasion. That does not seem to worry the hon. Gentleman. But the idea that one should not seek for the lowest tender because it might be a private company and that money given to the private company might go astray seems to me to hypothecate the most extraordinary and unlikely series of coincidences. It is certainly far more likely that the money would go astray if it was given to nationalised companies.
Another point I should like to emphasise with regard to the offering of competitive tenders is that we are trying, and will continue to try, to save money. If £2 million is to be given to literary people, let it at least go to the people who write books. I have already indicated that publishers will no doubt get their sticky fingers on it. I know that literary agents will get their fingers on it, because the agent has not been born who never took less than 10 per cent. of any money which went to one of his authors —or, if he has, perhaps someone would introduce me to him.
Therefore, for a start, we are subsidising publishers, agents and rich authors. That is another amendment to which we shall come. It is just as well that hon. Members see this in perspective.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
§ Mr. Sproat
Printers might be a worthier cause. I think that amendment No. 4 deals with this matter and with book illustrators and so on. The point is that we should save what money we can. If £10,000 or whatever is to be saved, let us at least give it to the writers of the books. I do not think that they receive 1466 injustice, but, if injustice there be, at least let the money go to them. Let it not go to the administration and its £600,000 a year.
§ Mr. Ridley
Is my hon. Friend aware that it would pay every author to give up writing books in order to try to get on to the staff of the quango, because under the Bill all 40 members will be paid more than any author?
§ Mr. Sproat
That is true. If I were a poor author as opposed to being a poor Member of Parliament, I might say that this public lending right gives me £10 a year whereas it will give the Registrar £10,000 a year, which no doubt will be his salary, which will go up, index-linked, year after year.
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend says"much more ". I was putting it modestly. But that it just another example of the injustice which the Bill enshrines.
However, I want to pass on to other parts of this interesting series of amendments. I turn my attention to amendment No. 20 which relates to the British Library. The hon. Member for Putney gave an interesting, if all too brief, dissertation on the technical manner in which magnetic pens, bar codes and all the rest worked. Since I have put down this amendment in relation to the British Library and the British National Bibliography, or BNB as it is known, in somewhat technical terms, perhaps I had better say exactly what I mean.
I should like to quote from the little leaflet which goes together with the subscription rates of the British Library so that the House may know exactly what this means:British National Bibliography (BNB). Started in 1950, it is a weekly list of new British books arranged according to the Dewey Decimal Classification, with full author title and subject indexes. Now listing over 36,000 items a year, BNB is also published in two interim cumulations and an annual cumulation. Multi-annual Indexes and Subject Catalogues are available for three and five year periods from 1950. BNB is used for book selection, reference work and as a guide to cataloguing and classifications.Reference books"is the key in relation to the Bill.In short, that is exactly what will be required. minus all the books that do 1467 not fall within the remit of the Bill. It includes reference books. The Bill does not include them, but that does not invalidate it, as the Minister of State seemed to suggest. He said that because the list contained more books than we shall be dealing with, the total list was invalidated. That is not so. If the list did not contain more books it would be invalidated because it could not then contain all the books that might be necessary.
The list contains 99 per cent. of the new titles which are published in the country each year, including new editions of old works. For instance, a new edition of a book by Jane Austen published by the Oxford University Press would be included in the BNB list.
The MARC service which is offered by the British Library uses magnetic tapes comprising all BNB MARC records which are sent weekly to subscribing libraries.
My suggestion is not that this amendment is necessarily the right way to calculate the way that public lending right should be carried out but that it is a better and a cheaper way. It is a way which I understand the technical investigation group did not examine. I stand to be corrected.
Will the Minister say specifically whether the TIG investigated that method? If the Minister does not answer, he will find that we are inclined to be a little less co-operative than we are at present. I remind the Minister that we are on the Report stage of the Bill. The Minister has a duty to the House to answer the questions. For various reasons, the Bill had a Committee stage the like of which no Bill has had for a long time. Only one hon. Member opposed the Bill throughout the Committee. The Minister had an easy time. He should now bend his mind to answering the questions that arise out of the Bill. I want the answer to a simple question. Later we might ask more difficult questions. Did the TIG consider this matter; if not, why not?
The British Library has an excellent computer storage of all book titles. We know that the 72 libraries, by whatever method, will check the books that are taken out. Surely matching those selected library tapes with the British Library tapes and its computer service would be 1468 simpler than the method described by the hon. Member for Putney. He said that tapes would move from the British Library to the Registrar and the Registrar would then send them elsewhere.
If we used the British Library, there would be no need to set up a new operation. We could have a Registrar, but he could be located in the British Library rather than in expensive premises in Grosvenor Place, London, SW1, where office space is £20 a sq. ft. The Registrar could be located in a building which is owned by the State. Why should we not use the British Library register and computers? The Minister of State's explanation was not satisfactory. He should have waited to see what other hon. Members had to say.
The advantages involved in such a scheme should have been mentioned in Committee. The Committee would have been a better place to argue these matters. Unfortunately, I was not on the Committee and only one hon. Member out of 16 was opposed to the Bill. Therefore, we have no choice but to argue these points at this stage of the Bill.
If the Minister were to avail himself of this solution, or a solution along these lines, there would be several advantages. First, there would be no need for new premises. Perhaps that is a small consideration. But I remember how the nationalised shipbuilding industry set itself up within a couple of miles of the House of Commons. The British Steel Corporation has expensive premises in London. The British National Oil Corporation has expensive and extensive premises in Glasgow and Aberdeen as well as in London. There would be a saving by using the excellent British Library.
Secondly, we should not need so many extra staff. If we used the computer and staff facilities of the British Library, there would be a saving in staff and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said, that is one of our main purposes, in trying to hone the Bill down.
There could also be a saving because the BNB already has a list of the 36,000 new titles which are published each year. My suggestion would also spread out the cost of the computers used by the British Library. If they were given more work. 1469 there would be a saving and an amortisation of the cost for the library.
Who can tell the exact amount of the possible saving? One librarian has told me that £250,000 could be saved if we used the British Library's facilities. That is a substantial slice of £600,000. I am not in the position to justify that amount, but the president of the Library Association suggested that sum.
I hope that before these proceedings are through the Minister of State will be able to justify more sharply the £600,000 which is what he says is the likely administrative cost. I understood that when he responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham the Minister said that the lion's share would go to the libraries because of the extra expense to which they were put.
§ Mr. Oakes
The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said it was the"lion's share ". I agreed and said that a significant amount would go to the libraries.
§ Mr. Sproat
I have always understood that lions get over half an amount. That means that we are talking about £300,000 which will go to the libraries.
In Committee it was said that a fully panoplied civil servant, with his office space, salary and indexed-linked pension and the rest, costs the taxpayer about £10,000 a year. If there are 35 civil servants—there could be 40 according to the Government—at £10,000 a year that makes nonsense of the mathematics. The lion's cubs' share, or the minimum amount involved, is £300,000. The Government suggest that the minimum number of civil servants is 35 at £10,000 a year. That grosses out at more than the Government have calculated, and it is before we even start on the other expenses.
The Minister mentioned another expense, that of paying the computer companies. That does not even come into the calculation. We are discussing only the first group of amendments, and we find that the Government cannot even do their mathematics properly. I hope that we shall hear more about that as the Bill proceeds.
1470 I turn now, very briefly, to the other amendment which I tabled which is included in this group of amendments, namely, the one on the number of civil servants. The Government, as I have already pointed out, say that the number of civil servants necessary to carry this Bill into effect will be between 35 and 40. I suppose that 35 to 40 is not a very great percentage discrepancy. I should be interested to know what the Minister envisages those 35 to 40 civil servants doing.
What I am suggesting in the amendment is that the number of civil servants should not be 35, or any number between that and 40, but 10. I shall attempt to justify why. I think that 10 is a more reasonable number, both in terms of the general British taxpayer who will have to foot the bill for this public lending right authority and even for authors.
Given that the principle is right—which I do not grant—and that the money should go to authors, I am, in my amendment, advancing the case of the authors by suggesting that less money should be spent on civil servants, thus freeing more money for the authors.
Why do we need 35 to 40 civil servants? It cannot be because of the work that is done in the libraries. It cannot be because of what the hon. Member for Putney regaled us with, namely, the interesting electronic way in which all this recording will be done, the ticking off of the books, the transferring on to tapes, and the posting of the tapes. None of that will be done by these 35 to 40 civil servants. That will all be done by the library staff.
What exactly are these 35 to 40 civil servants supposed to do? What is the basis on which the Government say"We want 35 people, each costing the taxpayer £10,000 a year "? That is a lot of money. What do we know that we have got? We know that there will be a Registrar. Exactly what he will do, apart from oversee the whole, we are not sure. No doubt he will be a kind of figurehead. When we have to entertain cultural delegations from Bulgaria and the junior Minister at the Foreign Office does not know who on earth he can call upon to sit next to the non-English-speaking poet who is the pride of Bulgaria, no doubt he will call up the Registrar and say"You are a literary man. Come along ". So that will 1471 be something for him to do. That will be a figurehead function for the Registrar.
Of course, the Registrar will have one important and specific duty to perform which springs out of the Bill. There will no doubt be others about which the Minister can tell us, but one that springs out of the Bill is that it will be up to the Registrar to take responsibility regarding which authors are allowed to go on the list. This vital area concerns the question of authors living abroad, foreign authors, British authors living in tax havens, and so on, and authors of reference works, joint authors, compilers, editors or illustrators of books, 90 per cent. of which consist of illustrations. These are the sorts of people we shall consider in a further amendment.
It will be up to the Registrar to decide whether they can go on the list and their heirs thereafter can have 50 years of benefit. So it is a very important job. The Registrar will be deciding a high standard of living or a rather less high standard of living for many people for many years. That will be his job.
In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury —I am sorry that I heard only a few of the many words of wisdom which dropped from his lips in Committee—made some interesting points about censorship. I think that we became involved in the question of pornography or racially discriminatory books. Perhaps the hon. Member for Springburn, with his knowledge of libraries, will care to comment on this.
As I understand it,"Biggles ", a creation of Captain W. E. Johns, is no longer allowed on the shelves of certain libraries in the state of South Australia. I have nothing against"Biggles ". He was one of my heroes of my boyhood. I loved the"Biggles"books. But will librarians now be able to say"We will not allow this author on our shelves "? The answer is"Yes ", because under the present system local authorities can decide the books that will be allowed to rest on their shelves.
Let us suppose that a local authority decides that it will not allow on its library shelves the works of Captain W. E. Johns. Perhaps I should think of another example, because the good captain is, alas, dead. There will be other live authors 1472 whose books will be removed from the shelves. Suppose an outhor was removed from the shelves of one of the 72 libraries selected for deciding how the public lending right should be distributed. This is a serious point.
Let us suppose that W. E. Johns, for the sake of argument, were still alive. I select him because his books have been banned. This is not a hypothesis; it is a reality. He has been banned from library shelves. I believe that the"Just William"books have been banned from certain libraries in this country.
If librarians or local authorities ban from the shelves of certain libraries the works of certain authors, what will the Registrar do about it? How will he then be able to compute how much money should go to a particular author? I do not know the answer. Nobody mentioned it in Committee; the Committee stage was so short. I expect that my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, had he not been so breathless, would have done so.
Here is a very important practical point. Local authorities have the right to ban certain authors, and if they do so in only selected libraries how do we then judge how much of the public lending right should go to such particular authors? There is another injustice.
I do not suppose that many authors would be banned. I would not ban any of them, but none the less some are banned. If they are banned, that detracts from their ability to benefit under the Bill. This is, perhaps, a matter which we can clear up later, but certainly deciding which author will be allowed on the list is a very important power for the Registrar.
Therefore, that is the first person out of the 40. We have accounted for one so far. Presumably there will be a secretary, so that is two. The secretary will write letters to the libraries saying"Thank you for sending us your magnetic tapes. We have now despatched them to the computer company." The secretary will no doubt be sending the computer tapes on to the computer company, or to the British Library if my amendment No. 20 were to be accepted.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
If the hon. Gentleman is to embark upon speculation about the duties of the Registrar, he need go no 1473 further and take up any more time of the House because they are all set out in some detail on page 4 of the first report of the technical investigation group. If he had read those before he came into the Chamber, he could have saved himself and the rest of us a good deal of time.
§ Mr. Sproat
This is a very interesting gathering. We all know that the Government like to impose upon people sanctions to which Parliament has not given approval. We know that many things go on underneath the counter. That is the way the Labour Government work. But the idea that one has to read every paragraph of some report produced by the hon. Member when he was temporarily a Minister at the Department of Education and Science a few years ago it absolute nonsense. What we are discussing is this Bill.
The point I raised was that the books of certain authors are taken off the shelves in certain libraries because certain public authorities care to exercise censorship. I asked a specific question:"How would such an author get his just deserts?" In the case of"Just William"or"Biggles ", were Richmal Crompton and W. E. Johns still alive, how would they benefit? It is no use pointing to some report by the technical investigation group and saying that that is how it would happen. We are not discussing the report of the TIG here; we are discussing the Bill. In the Bill it does not say what would be done, and this House has a right to know.
In my search for some 40 people—I will not go on speculating about who they might be—the Registrar is certainly the only person of whom we know. Presumably there will be an accountant to send out cheques, to work out exactly how much is owed and to get the information back from the computer tapes.
I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends have read"Vote for Love"by Barbara Cartland. It is a very interesting study of the suffragette movement and how a woman fell in love with a Member of Parliament and how it changed her views on the subject of votes for women. That is perhaps a book that hon. Members might like to read. I have not read a great gamut of Barbara Cartland's works, but she is a very popular author, and no doubt somebody will have to work out how often her books 1474 have been taken out and how much she is owed. Therefore, we shall have an accountant to decide all that.
So far, I have accounted for three people—the Registrar, his secretary and an accountant, or somebody who sends out the cheques.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
My hon. Friend is surely making rather heavy weather of this matter. There will be a careers officer for a start, to make sure that there is an adequate promotion structure within the quango. Then there will be a training officer. Then there will be a training college, probably somewhere up the Thames valley, I would think, where the staff will go for six-month training courses on a specially agreed programme. By the time that they have all, first, been promoted and, secondly, been trained, the number concerned in that will reach fairly near 40 before anyone is left to do any work.
§ Mr. Sproat
I thank my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Holland
Probably the busiest executive of all will be the recruitment officer.
§ Mr. Sproat
I bow to the superior wisdom, foresight and prescience of my hon. Friends. I have managed to find four people—not 40, which is what the Government are saying. So we still lack about 36 people. But perhaps, as my hon. Friend suggests, that is how the number will be made up.
This is a serious question: how on earth will this group employ 40 civil servants? I have suggested five. Generously, I shall double it and make it 10. Ten is the number I have in my memory.
I close these few brief remarks. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury on new clause No. 1. I hope that he will return to the argument. I must say that one abuses language to call the remarks uttered by the Minister of State an argument, but I hope that my hon. Friend will return to that, such as it was.
I believe that the British Library has a much larger function to exercise in this matter than the Government appear even to have considered, let alone to have considered and rejected. I think that the 1475 number of civil servants, 40, even by the methods which the Government themselves propose in the Bill, is grotesquely high. I very much hope that my hon. Friend will feel called upon to press this matter to a Division later tonight.
§ Mr. Moate
Perhaps I may say how much I enjoyed listening to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). He expressed very comprehensive arguments with his usual succinctness and brevity.
I am also pleased to see the presence of the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Miss Jackson), who led us so well through the earlier long Committee stage. I hope that her presence here is a sign of how this Bill will also proceed and that it will not finally reach the statute book this Session.
I regret that at the moment my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), the Shadow Leader of the House, has temporarily had to leave us. He explained why that was so. There was only one point about which I had some doubts in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South. He gave credit—if that is the right word—for the paternity of this scheme to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins). My hon. Friend suggested that the hon. Member for Putney was the father of the Bill. But, had my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford been present, I think that he, too, in accordance with his past remarks, would have claimed paternity. There is a dispute.
In this case I suggest that we need to exercise the wisdom of Solomon. We have two persons claiming the same infant. I suggest that we tear the wretched document in half and give half to the hon. Member for Putney and half to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford. Perhaps that would satisfy honour all round and we need have no more of the argument about parentage.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
The judgment of Solomon on the disputed child resulted in the true parent being found, and the child was not torn in half. Whilst I am on my feet, perhaps I may make it absolutely clear that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), a most distinguished 1476 Member, has had a lifelong interest in this matter. I would certainly assign to him the parentage of it.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Perhaps I can clarify this point. I regard my role in this matter as accoucheur, and the person whom I delivered was certainly not the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas).
§ Mr. Moate
There we see how right I was to question the credit that my hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Putney. It is a matter of some dispute.
However, be that as it may, it seems that there has been a greater argument about parentage than about what this infant will grow into. Perhaps we as a House of Commons ought to consider far more what the infant will grow up to become rather than who actually gave birth to it.
The Bill and particularly the matter that we are discussing in this group of amendments do a grave injustice to authors. Far from giving justice to authors, as many of the Bill's supporters have claimed, it is a cause of injustice to authors. It is something of a confidence trick on the authors of this country. It does a disservice to the British library system and to all the libraries throughout the United Kingdom. It is perpetrating something of a nonsense on the British taxpayer that he should be asked to pay an amount of £2 million to set up a scheme, of which one-third will go on administration.
It does not make sense for the House to set up a scheme that would involve the payment of, at most, an average of £12 to an individual author but at the same time might involve the payment of at least £12,000 for a Registrar, heaven knows what to the assistant registrars, who are actually mentioned in the Bill, and heaven knows how much to the personal assistants to the Registrar and the inevitable secretaries to the personal assistants of the assistant registrars. We are in danger of putting a nonsense on the statute book.
It is because I believe that the Bill is doing an injustice to authors, to libraries and to taxpayers alike that I have opposed it, will continue to do so, and support the new clause. The new clause at least goes some way towards remedying 1477 the situation. It could help authors. In that sense, therefore, I hope that the Government will think again about the way that they have reacted so far to this proposition.
In a way, it is rather regrettable that the the Minister of State chose to speak so early in the debate. I know that sometimes it is suggested that this is done to help the House, but on this occasion it would have been better for him to have listened to the many arguments that have been advanced from both sides of the House so that he could then deal with those and, perhaps, even change his mind. I submit to the Minister of State that the argument that he put forward was not very strong and that there has been a very strong case instead put by the supporters of the scheme. However, I shall return to those points. I want first to deal with a number of the points made by the hon. Member for Putney. He brought to the debate the considerable experience that he gained from his work in setting up the technical investigation group and so on. In many ways we have been deprived of a constructive and detailed debate on much of this legislation. I shall not go into the reasons for that, but very often the supporters of the Bill have sat mute and have not given us the benefit of their experience and opinions. On this occasion, the hon. Member for Putney has been quite helpful.
§ Mr. Moate
Indeed. Perhaps he is the Bill's only supporter. It is extraordinary that he seems to be the only supporter of the Bill present today. This Bill is supposed to have overwhelming support, apparently, from the Government —indeed, from both Front Benches—but only one person has spoken in support of it. What about the Liberal Party, too? The Liberals are supposed to be in favour of it. Where are the Liberals? However, I shall not be diverted into that matter now.
I want to deal with a number of the specific points mentioned by the hon. Member for Putney. First, he referred to the way in which the scheme would work in a library itself. He rather surprised me, because I had got the impression that the administrative burden on a library would be very little and that the use of light 1478 pens and bar codes would enable the recording of the loan to be done with the minimum of interference with the lending system. However, the way that the hon. Member described it implied that there could be a considerable burden and something of a delay in the handling of the books.
I am only paraphrasing what the hon. Member said. What he implied was that a librarian would be able to pile up the books until a quiet moment arose later when he or she could then make the necessary entries. That presents a picture of piles of books waiting to be entered into the system. If that is to happen at a busy moment, it is understandable that many librarians would feel that this was a considerable interference in their administration. Therefore, this matter is certainly not as simple or as swift as we are given to understand.
If the hon. Member for Putney wishes to correct that impression, I shall gladly give way to him. It seems to me that, if there are to be these delays, the cost of administration could be correspondingly greater.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
There is a great problem here. One is torn between a desire not to allow statements which are inaccurate to stand on the record uncorrected and an equal desire not to feed the hon. Gentleman's desire to talk the Bill out. It is a dilemma. But on this occasion I shall help him on one point. It was the estimate of those who were looking into what would happen in libraries, if my memory is correct, that the counting of the books could be done in slack times and that it would not involve a large number of extra staff. There would be a certain number of extra staff, but it was thought that in a small library the work of an additional half-person would be involved and that in a larger library the use would be greater. It was estimated that some additional staff would be involved, but the number would not be enormous.
§ Mr. Moate
I can only express the hope that the pile of books will not be allowed to rise so high that half a person will have difficultly in reaching the top. I suspect that there will be severe recruitment problems for small libraries when they approach the local jobcentre and say"We would like some half-librarians " 1479 Half-librarians are going to be rather difficult to acquire. Even if the hon. Gentleman is talking about averages, that still represents rather a difficulty, because I think he will find that today one can get only complete persons, even with high unemployment, which will mean a rather larger recruitment than he envisages.
If extra people are to be needed in these libraries, again we have to examine the costings put forward by the Government. They are already in need of detailed examination. If extra staff are to be needed in the libraries, with the additional cost that that will mean, I suggest that the figure of £600,000 that we have been given will need considerable uprating. I suspect that it is totally inadequate.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the number of mini-computers that will be needed in the majority of the 72 libraries. Here again, we have not had as much information as we would have liked. I do not think that in our previous proceedings on this subject we went into whether a computer or terminal of some kind would be needed at every library. The impression is now being given that the Registrar would have to make arrangements for the installation of small computers at each sampling point. If that is so, it would be a considerable expense, and the House is entitled to know how much is involved.
We have been told on previous occasions that more and more libraries are getting computers and that that will facilitate this whole system. It was put forward as a strong argument in favour of the scheme. But the impression that I have been given is that very few libraries have computer systems. One would like to see more—I am sure that such systems are desirable in themselves—but if very few libraries have them so far, that represents either a major impediment to the scheme or a considerable increase in expenditure. Again, the hon. Gentleman tended to play down the cost of the extra computers.
The hon. Gentleman raised a point which I had not realised. It is that the registering of the loan would be made when the book was returned rather than when it was loaned out. It is an interesting point, and I am sure that he is right when he says that if a book is not returned it will not make a significant im- 1480 pact on the sample. On the other hand, one of the causes of the existence of the Bill has been the anger—quite unreasoning, I suggest—that a minority of authors have felt when their books have been loaned out and they have gained nothing for them. I think that they might feel more anger when they find that the person who fails to return a book does so in a way which means that the author will get no payment whatever for the lending out of that book. It seems an injustice that if a book is taken from the library the author gets no money for the loan of it.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Sproat
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) does not agree with the point that the author gets nothing. It is worth pointing out that at every stage the author has benefited from the fact that his book is in a public library. He may not get further benefit from the fact that it is borrowed, but he has already benefited, first, by the fact that he has received 10 per cent. of the price that the library paid for his book—if the book sells 5,000 copies or more it may be 12½ per cent. or more; secondly, he receives the advantage which accrues to many authors, particularly of first novels, that his book might never have been published at all for sale in the retail outlets—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The intervention by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) is going very wide indeed of the new clause.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am attempting to explain how authors benefit when their books go into the libraries. My hon. Friend said that authors did not benefit from borrowings. I shall give just one more reason from the royalties and economics of publishing. The third benefit is that the libraries provide a showcase which acts as a spur to the sale of books in the shops. Therefore, authors do benefit from borrowings from the libraries.
§ Mr. Moate
I am grateful for that emphasis on a point that has been made on a number of occasions but which does not seem to have registered with the supporters of the Bill. Perhaps I can link it with the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), who rightly emphasised that 1481 libraries want authors to be properly paid. We all want them to be properly paid. One has to examine what we mean by"properly paid ", but presumably it means their being paid an adequate amount in relation to the merits of the works which they are having published.
I suspect that there is a strong case for saying that at present many authors are not properly paid. Many are immensely successful and receive great sums of money, but there are many who, although extremely worthy, do not get very much, or enough on which to survive. If we are arguing that case, it is a grotesque travesty of justice to publish a Bill that excludes reference writers who probably do more work for less return than the average novelist.
There is no justice in a Bill that sets up a scheme whereby the major beneficiaries are the Registrar and his staff, whereas the people who will benefit least are the authors most in need. It is equally an injustice to place this burden —particularly the cost of administration —on the taxpayer when the people who are really responsible for seeing that there is a fair return to the authors do not pay anything. I am referring to the publishers.
I do not seek to heap coals on the heads of the publishers and to say that they are exploiting authors, but it seems to me that a situation has developed whereby the author is getting less from the publication than he should be, whereas the retailer, the publisher and the printer are probably doing quite well out of it. Perhaps the situation has got out of hand, and the Government should be concentrating on trying to find some way whereby authors get a better return from the market via the publishers rather than producing a puny pathetic scheme like this, which does not help but only pretends to help authors. Where is the justice of a Bill that pays only £12, on average, to authors, if they are lucky, but provides £600,000 at least in expenditure and is to pay handsome salaries to the Registrar and a large staff? Is that what the Bill is about?
My main concern at the moment is with new clause No. 4 because I believe that it makes a genuine attempt to deal with this major problem. Much of the criticism of 1482 the Bill, inside and outside the House, has stemmed from the fact that there is a very high expense ratio, and the only way the Government can reduce that ratio is by increasing the amount of the central fund to an unacceptable level. That is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. I think that it was the present Secretary of State for Trade who said on Second Reading that if I thought that that £2 million would be increased dramatically and quickly I did not understand the Treasury. I take that to mean that we must expect the £2 million level to persist for some years. If it does, this expense ratio will be unacceptable.
It disappoints me that the Minister of State and other Ministers are so obdurate in refusing any suggestions for improving the workings of the scheme. They seem to think that what they have is perfect. They seem to suggest that the Bill is perfect. Hardly an amendment is accepted, and the Government amendments are of a minor, drafting nature. No significant amendment is to be accepted. The Government believe that they have perfection. I do not believe that.
The hon. Member for Putney argued that the technical investigation group had many experts, who had produced a scheme, and that that scheme must be right. That argument does not make sense. This is exactly the point at which Parliament should say"Stop. We do not want another quango. We must not let it go further." The hon. Gentleman said that the technical investigation group had gone to an independent firm and secured information in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) suggests.
That is to misunderstand the point. Of course one can secure the services of experts and obtain independent advice at this point. But that is just the fertiliser that is spread around the land to encourage the quango to grow. Once it has taken root the plant will grow, and after that there is no control over it. My hon. Friend is saying that it is at the point of growth, or even before, that we should step in and insist on new disciplines being imposed upon such a body. Yet the Minister of State is totally obdurate, and no concessions are being made on this matter.
If no changes are made, we shall see the growth of a large body. It will not 1483 be the biggest quango in the land by any means. There are many bigger. But it is another, coming into existence at a time when quangos are being condemned right, left and centre. Yet in a virtually empty House Parliament is allowing another quango to be born. No doubt another will be born tomorrow and another on Monday.
§ Mr. Holland
My hon. Friend should add that quangos never wither and die. Therefore, the new ones are added to the total all the time and do not replace others.
§ Mr. Moate
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am very pleased that he is present, because I should like to refer to the excellent publication that he produced—we are all indebted to him for it—called"The Quango Explosion ", which contains very helpful information. It has an ISBN number, so presumably it will qualify for public lending right if my hon. Friend lodges it in a library.
§ Mr. Ridley
My hon. Friend must appreciate that the Registrar will certainly not accept that book, because it questions quangos. There is no doubt that it will be outlawed from library shelves by every library, because it attacks the quango system.
§ Mr. Moate
I am fascinated by the thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) may join the distinguished ranks of those whose books have been banned from library shelves. We have heard of the banning of the"Biggles"books by W. E. Johns. I believe that Enid Blyton books were once banned in my constituency, presumably because Noddy would have an evil influence on the people who live there. I do not know whether the Registrar would have that power. Nevertheless, if my hon. Friend's book reached the library it would qualify for public lending right.
My hon. Friend gave some very helpful information in his book, and I use that information to question some of the figures that we have been given. We have been told that 35 to 40 staff will cost the lion's share of £600,000. I wonder whether that is a true figure. I suspect that the amount could be much higher. We have not been given a breakdown of 1484 costs, so if we are to analyse whether the Bill proposes the right way to proceed or whether we should adopt the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, of going out to public tender, all that we can do is to look at other quangos—
§ Mr. Holland
Quasi-autonomous national governmental organisations.
§ Mr. Moate
When we look at other quangos we find figures that give different results. I think that much of my hon. Friend's information comes from press reports—
§ Mr. Holland
Very little of the material came from press reports. The bulk of the information came from answers by Ministers and from annual reports of the bodies concerned and other official sources.
§ Mr. Moate
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. It adds greater weight to what I am about to say.
I take first the figures for the Commission for Racial Equality. We are told that the projected cost for 197–9 is £4,747,000, for 200 staff. If we try to work out from that what the Registrar of Public Lending Right would cost, with 40 staff—roughly one-fifth—we arrive at a figure of £900,000 not £400,000 or £500,000.
The figures for the Equal Opportunities Commission are rather different. There the staff number 400 and the cost is only £2 million. For some odd reason, the Equal Opportunities Commission does not seem to have equal opportunities with the Commission for Racial Equality to secure the same salaries and pay for its staff. Nevertheless, we arrive at some very high figures.
Figures for other quangos indicate that the cost of running an organisation with 35 to 40 staff would be much higher than we have been given so far. If we take a figure of about £10,000 a head simply for the bureaucratic costs, we are probably on the low side. That gives £400,000 at 1978 figures. If it comes into operation at all, the Bill will not do so until three years from the commencement date, which is likely to be 1979. We are talking about a 1982 figure. We must expect the £2 million to persist, because statements to that effect have 1485 been made for some time. What will be the cost in 1982 of running an organisation with 35 to 40 staff?
The figures do not end with the matter of staff. There will be the cost of providing computer connections to 72 outlets throughout the country, which will be considerable. There will also be the expense of reimbursing the libraries for considerable staff costs. The hon. Member for Putney has now told us that in some libraries it could be one person and in smaller libraries it could be half a person.
Therefore, the £600,000, the 30 per cent. ratio, could be much higher by the time we come to the operation of the scheme. The Minister of State should be able to give us the figures. The House is entitled to know exactly how the £600,000 is calculated. I should like to know what base year has been taken for the calculation of those costs. Is it 1978, 1979 or 1982? We must know how it relates to the £2 million that will be the starting point for the fund. We have not yet had the sort of information to which we are entitled.
I should now like to explain how I believe the system suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury would be so helpful. The clause suggests that the whole matter should be put out to private tender, that we should ask outside organisations for their bids to administer the scheme. I suppose that that is something of a novelty, but it is about time we had a novel approach to the rising costs of bureaucracy.
The Minister's arguments against the suggestion were very thin. I found preposterous his idea that things could go wrong with a private sector company and that therefore the Government could not possibly allow such a company to enter this area of administration. Do not things go wrong with public administration, day after day?
The Minister then said something interesting, namely, that a private sector company might go bankrupt. That is exactly the point. If something goes wrong with a public sector organisation it does not go bankrupt. We never find out what goes wrong, because all that happens is that it spends more money and then asks the House for more. In this 1486 case, it might take it from the authors. If the Registrar spent more than £600,000 on administration, what would happen? The money would simply come out of the authors' fund. If the expenditure on administration went up to £1 million or £2 million, either there would be nothing left for the authors or the Registrar would come back to the House seeking more money from the taxpayer.
If a private company put in a tender of £500,000 to administer the scheme and then spent too much money, the net result possibly would be bankruptcy. At least it would have to go to its shareholders to ask for more money. Would that be so bad for the authors? I suggest that it would be good for the authors. Would it be bad for the country? I submit that it would be excellent for the country. There would be a discipline which we do not have on a quango and which we do not have on public sector administration. One can find numerous examples. A good one is the direct labour organisations, where costs have soared time and time again. With private companies, had they put in fixed price tenders they would have gone bust.
Then we have the Minister's argument that it is wrong for a private sector company to handle public money. I do not know how many billions of pounds are paid by the Government to private sector companies. The whole economy would grind to a halt if the Minister's principle were adopted. I have been striving to think of examples. I suspect that there are Government bodies using private security organisations. I believe that many such organisations are used at our airports. Presumably they are being employed to protect public money or the wages going to public servants. We do not hesitate to use them, and I suspect that they are an invaluable and essential part of our security arrangements. There must be many more examples where private sector firms are being used increasingly to handle public sector responsibilities, and it sounds to me an excellent idea.
Not only is there a greater discipline on such a body to try to keep down costs, which will not exist with the quango operator, but there is a greater incentive on the organisation to try to administer 1487 the scheme efficiently. If the private operator has put in a tender of £500,000, it might be rather a competitive tender and might not make much of a profit for him. It is up to him constantly to search for ways whereby new schemes can be introduced, innovations can be encouraged, new computer techniques applied, ways of cutting costs found and methods devised to speed up payments to authors. All that would be encouraged because there would be profit at the end of the day for the man managing the system.
It would not work that way with a quango. Once the scheme was set up, it would be regarded as perfection, in the way that the hon. Member for Putney has indicated already. There would be no incentive to change the scheme. If the costs rise further than expected, that will be sad and the quango operator will turn to the Government saying"I am afraid it is costing £1 million out of the £2 million to administer the scheme. The total sum will have to be increased to £4 million if we are to pay the authors." That is what will happen. That is where the growth comes in. That is where the civil servants start to generate more and more staff.
I suggest that there is every encouragement to have a private tendering system and outside contractors to undertake this work. The hon. Member for Putney suggested that this could be done already, just as was done with the technical investigation group. The Registrar could go to an outside organisation and use its services. However, that is hardly realistic. I suppose it is possible that the Registrar might say that he needed only 10 staff and that all the other work could be put out to an outside organisation. With most of the work being done by outside firms, the Registrar's staffing requirements would be few. But can anyone imagine the Registrar, with authority to have 35 or 40 staff, deciding instead to opt for only 10 or 15 and to put out the work to tender? He might do both, but certainly he would not cut down on the size of his empire.
The reality is that once a quango of this kind is established, we have no control over it. We have no control over its efficiency or over its costs. Above all, as 1488 I understand it, we in Parliament have virtually no control over or right to question its day-to-day running.
§ Mr. Holland
I have made many attempts to ascertain details of the activities and expenditures of quangos. When I attempt to put parliamentary Questions to Ministers, I am always limited to asking who has been appointed and how much they are being paid. Beyond that, usually it is not the responsibility of Ministers to answer.
§ Mr. Moate
My hon. Friend has made a powerful intervention. Every hon. Member knows how frustrating it is to attempt to put down a parliamentary Question asking about the activities of this or that Government organisation or quasi-Government organisation. Here we are setting up another one.
Even though the Minister of State has spoken already, I am sure that he will be given the leave of the House to answer these important questions. Would hon. Members have the right to table parliamentary Questions about the day-to-day activities of the Registrar? It is not clear from the Bill whether he will be a civil servant. In the schedule he is described as being not a civil servant but very much under the thumb of the Secretary of State. That is the worst of both worlds. Because he is not under the thumb of Parliament, it is probable that we do not have the right to scrutinise his activities. That is quite unsatisfactory from the point of view of Parliament.
If we do not have the right, does the Ombudsman have the right to challenge the activities of a person of this kind? If the organisation was not a quango but was part of the Ministry, a dissatisfied author or a dissatisfied librarian would have the right to take any grievance to the Ombudsman. When an organisation is set up in the way proposed by the Minister, there is no such right.
It is not difficult to think of other areas of administration in which the Secretary of State is directly involved and where aggrieved individuals have been able to go to the Ombudsman and obtain redress. I refer especially to the Insurance Companies Act. Under that, the Secretary of State has considerable powers to disqualify certain persons from being principals of insurance companies. In such cases, because a quango has not been 1489 involved, the individuals have been able to gain satisfaction. Here, by setting up the Registrar as a quasi-civil servant, I suspect that he or she has been removed from the ambit of parliamentary scrutiny. I submit that that is fundamentally wrong.
I deal now with the limitation of staff suggested in the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South. Earlier, I suggested that the Registrar could decide to put out to contract some of the activities of his registration bureau or whatever it is to be called. I submitted that, given the Bill, the probability was that he would do that and still increase his staff to 35 or 40.
The suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South makes a great deal of sense if one understands the possibility of putting out work to tender. The idea of limiting the staff to 10 is very attractive. There is then a greater encouragement for the Registrar to put out the work to tender. It is a constructive suggestion, and the Minister should think about it. In one sweep, he will remove the possibility of empire building by the Registrar, he will remove a continuing source of irritation to authors and he will encourage the Registrar to use the most efficient systems available to him for carrying out his duties. In that sense, he will be encouraged to use the latest techniques, to go out to computer firms and to put out the work to tender in that way. It would set an interesting example to many other organisations throughout the country.
If the Government will not accept that suggestion, I turn to the other proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South. It is contained in amendment No. 20, which suggests that the responsibility for administering the public lending right shall be exercised through the British Library and the computer facilities known as MARC. The Minister of State was less than forthcoming in his reply, yet this is a constructive suggestion. I do not suggest that the amendment is correctly drafted or posed in the right way. But it would have made a lot more sense if the whole scheme had been based on a desire to use the existing library services rather than set up this new bureaucracy.
We have a British National Bibliography, which is a comprehensive indexing 1490 service of all books published every year in this country. We have the MARC system, which covers all books in copyright on a computer system. Therefore it makes sense to build on that rather than set up a totally new bureau with new computer requirements.
The Minister of State said that one could not build the public lending right on to the existing programme. That may be so, but I am sure that the programmers would be capable of adjusting it so that the returns by the 72 libraries could be recorded accurately by the British Library. I do not know whether the British Library would welcome that. It might throw up its hands in horror at the idea. However, I have a feeling that that would he very much cheaper than spending £600,000 in this way.
The Minister of State knows that over the years this Bill has caused some ill will among librarians. They do not like the scheme. So perhaps he should start again with a new scheme allowing for further consultation and based on the existing arrangements with the British Library. That would increase good will considerably and encourage libraries to co-operate in producing the most efficient and effective scheme possible. I am not suggesting that they will not co-operate anyway. I am sure they will, they are that sort of people, but the introduction of the British library and the existing computer techniques might be a great encouragement to them.
I ask the Minister of State to look at this again and not to be so dogmatic and assertive about the scheme. There must be scope for thinking again throughout the remaining stages of the Bill. In fact, there is scope for second thoughts until the Registrar is set up and his staff recruited. Until then the Minister can look for new and better techniques. But until he finds them I fear that we are stuck with this wretched quango, and it will grow and grow. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford described it as an"evil necessity ". It is evil, but it is not a necessity.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I was referring not to that but to the necessary evil of all administration that applies to all our activities. One must have administration, but I agree that it should be cut to a minimum.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Moate
I am glad that my hon. Friend corrected me, and I am glad that he agrees that this administrative exercise is excessive and should be reduced.
It may be that the Government amendments are minor tidying-up ones, but I am not clear about their effect. I do not understand whether they mean that the Registrar's employees are civil servants. In fact, it is less than clear who is responsible for their conditions of service. These amendments suggest that the Secretary of State can dictate the numbers of staff and that the Registrar cannot increase his establishment without the approval of the Secretary of State. If he wants an extra secretary who will make his numbers more than, for example, 35, he must ask the Secretary of State. Do the amendments mean that thereafter the Registrar can decide on the pay, conditions, pensions and allowances of the staff?
But as a result of the amendments we are also told that the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Civil Service will have power over these decisions of the Registrar. This implies that they will have overall responsibility for the pay and conditions of the staff. Will they, or will they not?
This is an important question in terms of the Government's pay policy. We have the present situation in the nationalised industries where there is a dispute about whether they are applying Government pay policy. What is the position with this organisation? Will the Minister have power to say to the Registrar that he cannot give more than a 5 per cent. pay increase? If the Secretary of State has that power, it is ludicrous to suggest that these employees are not civil servants. If that is so, surely these individuals have the right to demand all the advantages of being civil servants. Are they entitled to index-linked pensions, for example? I am not clear how this schedule is supposed to operate and I hope the Minister will answer these questions if he gets the leave of the House to speak again—
§ Mr. Oakes
The hon. Member should know that this is the Report stage and that I do not need the leave of the House to speak again. I shall speak again when he sits down.
§ Mr. Moate
I look forward to hearing the Minister again, and with that expectation I conclude my remarks.
§ Mr. Oakes
It has been a long debate, because we are talking about one new clause and two Opposition amendments. It was generally agreed that the Government amendments being considered were acceptable to the Opposition Front Bench, and Conservative Members did not object when I introduced them.
I rose when I did because no one on the Opposition Benches rose to speak. and also because I thought it right to follow what was said by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). I forgot the trio of Conservative Back Bench Members who are as opposed to their Front Bench policy on this Bill as as they are to the Government. In future, I shall delay my interventions until later.
Let us deal with the amendments before us. I shall concentrate on amendment No. 64 because I did not deal with it to any great extent earlier. That was because it had not been moved or discussed at that time. That amendment relates to the number of staff of the Registrar. We can only estimate the number of staff required. Hon. Members will accept that in the early years of the scheme there will probably be more need and demand for staff than in the later years. First, the scheme has to be established. Contact has to be made with the 72 library authorities. The authors will be registered and their applications for registration will have to be considered by the Registrar. All the administrative matters come at the beginning.
I agree with hon. Members that it fewer staff need to be employed when the scheme is in operation, it will be part of the Registrar's duty to cut his administrative expenditure as much as possible. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) spoke of a tremendous growth in microprocessors. If some information can go directly on to a computer so that less human intervention is needed, it will be part of the duty of the Registrar to introduce modem technology, provided it is cheaper and just as efficient.
1493 It is important that the maximum amount of money should not be spent on administration but should be channelled to the authors who are entitled to the remuneration.
Hon. Members asked whether I could provide a better breakdown of the lion's share of the finance. The technical investigation group in its final report in 1975 gave percentages, and there is no reason to believe that the same percentages would not apply today. The report included some detailed estimates of the cost of the scheme. It showed that roughly 55 per cent. would be spent on the Registrar and his office and 45 per cent. on the libraries involved in the sampling.
The report estimated that the total cost, at that time, would be just over £400,000. There has been an updating of the figure to the total cost of about £600,000, but the breakdown between the libraries and the Registrar's costs will be about the same. There is no reason to believe that the proportions will alter.
That figure of £400,000 was based on an expenditure of £1 million. The sum of £600,000 is based on a proposed expenditure of £2 million. That is a significant improvement in administrative costs.
§ Mr. Moate
On what year is the £600,000 based? Is it current cost or the cost that will apply when the scheme comes into operation?
§ Mr. Oakes
The figure is on current cost. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South took me to task about the scheme being administered by a private contractor, as envisaged in new clause No. 1. The parallel is not the sort that he was giving, that of roads being laid and the construction company being paid for services rendered. A relevant parallel—I am certain that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) will agree because he nodded vigorously at the time, and I think that the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) will also concur—would be social security benefits being alloted to a private contractor.
§ Mr. Ridley
They should be.
§ Mr. Ridley
§ Mr. Oakes
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that they should be allotted to a private contractor? The hon. Gentleman is going back to the seventeenth century. Certainly, this country has not seen such a system since then. I am sure that no official party in this House would ever want to see it. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has enlightened me on that. I was merely trying to make what I thought was a fair and reasonable point, namely, that it is wrong for private contractors to administer taxpayers' money for this scheme. The hon. Gentleman clearly has a different view. He and his hon. Friends clearly have a different view from their party and from every other party in the House if they want pensioners to be paid by private contractors.
§ Mr. Sproat
Who said that?
§ Mr. Oakes
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). I cannot pursue the matter further, because we are so wide apart, but I do not think that it is proper for a private contractor to administer a fund in that way.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South raised the question of discussions by the technical investigation group when considering the British Library facilities. I am informed that it was discussed a great deal. In fact, a member of the group, Mr.D.T.Rogers, is on the British Library staff. Not only were the facilities discussed, but a member of the staff was sitting on the group to advise it.
The hon. Gentleman seemed to assume that all members of the Registrar's staff—35 was the figure he quoted—would receive £10,000 a year, which would take up £350,000 of the administrative costs.
§ Mr. Sproat
I said that in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) had stated that the cost to public funds of the average civil servant, taking account of salary, index-linked pension, car and accommodation, was £10,000 a year. That cost to the taxpayer was not denied. I do not think that the Minister can deny it. I merely multiplied 40 by 10,000. That is how £400,000 would be eaten up.
§ Mr. Oakes
I do not think that the cost of the registry, taking account of the work done and the salary of the Registrar, would average anything like that sum, for 1495 the reasons that I gave. There is a sort of exchange under which work comes in from the libraries and payments are made. Considerable use will be made of private or Civil Service computers. It is not a fair assessment for the hon. Gentleman to do his multiplication sum in that way. He has no grounds for arriving at that kind of sum.
§ Although a large part of the hon. Gentleman's speech did not seem to relate to the new clause or to the amendments, he asked me, at considerable length, what would happen if a librarian banned a book. Let me emphasise that the 72 libraries are only a sample. In those circumstances, the book would not be counted in the sample. If the Registrar found that a number of the libraries directly feeding into him were being told by their councillors that a particular author should be banned, he would look into the matter. That would be part of his duty. He would look into why that was happening, but he could not stop the library authority, which is a power unto itself, from doing that. If the councillors of an authority said that an author should be banned, he would be banned. If a number of libraries were banning an author, the Registrar would obviously look into the matter.1496
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) asked whether registration of a borrowing should take place when the borrower takes the book out or when he returns it. The TIG report suggested that the compilation of the record should be done when the borrower returned a book. The hon. Member for Faversham put a fairly cogent argument in favour of the compilation taking place when the book was borrowed. That is a matter which could be discussed within the scheme by librarians, authors and publishers, and, as a result of those discussions, a workable scheme will be brought into operation.
§ We have had a long debate and I have tried to assist the House with the factual information which was required to answer the points made by the hon. Members who have taken part. I hope that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury will not press his new clause to a Division.
§ Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer 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 183, Noes 13.1497
|Division No. 10]||AYES||[7.02 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Alison, Michael||Crawshaw, Richard||Hannam, John|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Hardy, Peter|
|Ashton, Joe||Cryer, Bob||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Davies, lfor (Gower)||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Home Robertson, John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Doig, Peter||Hooson, Emlyn|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Dormand, J. D.||Horam, John|
|Bates, Alt||Duffy, A. E. P.||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)|
|Beith, A. J.||Dunlop, John||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Dunnet, Jack||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Durant, Tony||Hunter, Adam|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Eadie, Alex||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Edge, Geoff||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Boardman, H.||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Jeger, Mrs Lena|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Evans, Gwyntor carmarthen)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Evans, loan (Aberdare)||John, Brynmor|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Evans, John (Newton)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Brown. Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Faulds, Andrew||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Buchan, Norman||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Judd, Frank|
|Buchanan, Richard||Flannery, Martin||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Kerr, Russell|
|Callaghan, Jim (Mlddleton & P)||Forrester, John||Kilfedder, James|
|Carmichael, Neil||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekln)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Kinnock, Neil|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Lamborn, Harry|
|Cohen, Stanley||Freud, Clement||Lamond, James|
|Coleman, Donald||George Bruce||Lee, John|
|Concannon, Rt Hon John||Gould, Bryan||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Graham, Ted||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Corbett, Robin||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Cowans, Harry||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Litterick, Tom|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Grocott, Bruce||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Loyden, Eddie|
|McCusker, H.||Richardson, Miss Jo||Thompson, George|
|McElhone, Frank||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Thome, Stan (Preston South)|
|McKay, Alan (Penlstone)||Robertson, George (Hamilton)||Tllley, John|
|Maclennan, Robert||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Madden, Max||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)||Wainwrlght, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Magee, Bryan||Rooker, J. W.||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Roper, John||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Walker, Terry (Klngswood)|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||St. John-Stevas, Norman||Ward, Michael|
|Mikardo, Ian||Sedgemore, Brian||Watkins, David|
|Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Selby, Harry||Weetch, Ken|
|Molyneaux, James||Short, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE)||Welsh, Andrew|
|More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Sllkln, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.||Silverman, Julius||White, James (Pollok)|
|Morton, George||Sinclair, Sir George||Whltlock, William|
|Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Skinner, Dennis||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Newens, Stanley||Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Noble, Mike||Snape, Peter||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Oakes, Gordon||Spearing, Nigel||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Ogden, Eric||Speed, Keith||Woodall, Alec|
|Orbach, Maurlce||Sprigs, Leslle||Woof, Robert|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Steel, Rt Hon David||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Pardoe, John||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Park, George||Stoddart, David||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Parker, John||Strang, Gavin||Mr. A. W. Stallard and|
|Penhaligon, David||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Mr.James Tinn.|
|Perry, Ernest||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Radice, Giles||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Spence, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Knight, Mrs Jill||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Nott, John||Mr. Roger Moate and|
|Goodhart, Philip||Rhodes James, R.||Mr. Ian Sproat.|
|Holland, Philip||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House proceeded to a Division; but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Ayes, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it.1498
§ Further consideration of the Bill adjourned.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]
§ Bill, not amended in the Standing Committee, to be further considered Tomorrow.