§ "The Secretary of State shall annually lay before each House of Parliament a report on the workings of the scheme in addition to such other papers as may be required to be laid by the Comptroller and Auditor General under Clause 2 of the Act.".—[Mr. Moate.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Mr. Speaker has decided that it would be appropriate to discuss Government amendment No. 71 together with the new clause, instead of separately as shown on the provisional list of selection.
§ Mr. Moate
By way of introduction, I must say that it is with little sense of pleasure that I speak on this subject today. Personally, I feel that it is singularly inappropriate that Parliament should be discussing business of this kind at all. It contrasts starkly with those matters of much greater importance that are facing the nation. I really believe that Parliament could spend its time better than by discussing a Bill of this kind, or even the new clause, worthy though it be.
It seems that the sense of pleasure that I lack is the same sensation as that experienced by most hon. Members, because the House is virtually empty—emptier than it has been for the whole week. That is an indication of the feelings about this legislation; it has no support in the House. The absence of hon. Members today, except for those one or two stalwarts who have been present throughout the months and years of debate on this subject, is an indication of the total lack of interest by the House of Commons in the Bill.
It is worth emphasising that under the Bill at present there is an obligation on 459 the Registrar to ensure that statements and annual accounts are laid before both Houses of Parliament. That is quite right and proper. But pure financial accounts will be totally inadequate and unsatisfactory. It is important that Parliament should receive from the Secretary of State, who in turn will have received it from the Registrar, an annual report describing the full workings of the scheme. The term "working" is deliberately as broad as possible so that Parliament can receive a greater amount of information about how the scheme might work in practice.
The Minister of State was courteous enough to write to me and tell me about his amendment No. 71, which seeks to achieve the same objective as my new clause. I am grateful to him for that. He told me in advance that he could accept my clause in principle, though he felt it would be better as the subject of a Government amendment. I am not quite sure why a Government amendment should have any greater intrinsic merit than a Back Bencher's amendment. Nevertheless, I shall not quarrel about that.
The Minister also said that the amendment would fit in most appropriately as a new subsection at the end of clause 3, and therefore hoped that I would withdraw my new clause and accept the amendment. I shall, of course, listen to debate on that point. I certainly accept the spirit of what the Minister said and I express my thanks for his courtesy, but I would still argue the case for a new clause because it adds greater emphasis to my point. Perhaps the matter can be decided later when we have heard the Minister's arguments advanced in favour of his amendment as opposed to my new clause.
It seems to me that the case for a new clause or amendment of this kind embodies many of the principal arguments about the Bill itself. What I seek to argue is that the report should enable Parliament each year to judge upon the merits of the many arguments that have been advanced over a long time about the Bill. We should be given a great deal of information on the kind of points that I shall suggest should be covered in an annual report.
In a nutshell, the Bill has been portrayed as an author's dream come true. We have been told that at long last it 460 will give justice to authors, or will compensate them for the sales they have lost—or imagine they have lost—through the workings of our excellent library system. Against this, I and many others have argued that the Bill is something of a confidence trick on authors and the public alike. In my view, the scheme is nonsense. The Bill is nonsensical and is perpetrating something of a trick on Parliament, the public, the taxpayer and authors. An annual report will allow us to judge who is right and who is wrong.
In support of that, I remind the House that we have been told that about 113,000 authors might be eligible for benefit. To provide for them, the Registrar will have about £2 million at his disposal. We are talking about an increase in public expenditure of £2 million, which I regard as singularly inappropriate at present. I should have expected my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to oppose it in principle. It is a matter of regret that on this occasion we are actually supporting a yet further increase in public expenditure.
The sum of £2 million is to be disbursed by the Registrar—or, rather, he can disburse what is left after he has paid his own salary and the salaries of the 40 staff and all the other expenses that will be incurred by this quango—this quasi-autonomous national Government organisation. The Bill sets up a quango at a time when I thought my right hon. and hon. Friends were opposing the creation of such bodies. However, here we are supporting yet another. That in itself is regrettable.
We are told that this body might cost about £600,000 a year to administer, leaving £1,400,000 for 113,000 authors. It does not take much imagination to realise that that means that the average author, if there be such a person, will receive about £12 per annum if he or she is lucky. Therefore, we are setting up this whole bureaucratic machinery so that the average author can receive about £12 per annum, if he is lucky—and he would be lucky to get £12.
We know that a large amount of the pool will be scooped by the very successful authors who do not need the money anyway. Many of them will not be British authors but will be overseas authors. We shall return to that point when we deal 461 with a later amendment. Those overseas authors could receive, we understand—although I do not think that this has been confirmed yet—up to a maximum of £1,000.
Therefore, a large number of authors will receive £1,000 and a large number of very worthy authors who are not particularly successful in the commercial sense will receive perhaps £1, £2 or £3 from this whole mighty, bureaucratic scheme which we shall be setting up by the Bill. Even those who favour public lending rights would concede that that is something of a nonsense, even if there were a fundamental case in favour of hand I would argue against that.
Even if the scheme attracts Government funds of much more than £2 million—if it doubles, trebles or quadruples—that average payment will increase to only £24, £36 or £48.
§ Mr. Moate
Taxable, indeed. Therefore the actual amount received would be much less.
The whole scheme is something of a nonsense. That is my argument, with which the House will have become familiar over the years.
My point is that an annual report will give all the information needed to allow us to judge whether the scheme is working out as I and my hon. Friends have argued, or whether it is an author's dream come true, as the Writers' Action Group and other enthusiastic supporters of the Bill have argued. We should be able to test these arguments, as well as some of those put forward by the Library Association and those advanced against the scheme by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils.
No one should have the idea that just because there is not a great deal of opposition in the House—certainly not in the voting Lobbies, though I hear a great deal of sotto voce opposition—the scheme has universal support. Many authoritative bodies outside the House regard the scheme as a bad one and do not like the Bill.
If we are to test the arguments, it follows that the annual report must be fairly 462 substantial. I want it to be comprehensive, full and helpful so that if necessary we can examine in debate how the scheme is working and amend it or suggest to the Secretary of State that he should get the Registrar to change it, which presumably might be possible without actually amending the legislation.
I should like to suggest some of the items that I believe ought to be in the annual report. I hope that the Minister will tell me whether he agrees with my concept.
First, the House must know about the actual payments made to authors. I am not suggesting that the report would name the authors and tell us precisely how much each individual author had received. That would clearly be private information. But it is fundamentally important that we know just how much individual groups of authors are receiving, how much the average disbursement is, how many authors have received the £1,000 maximum—if there is to be a £1,000 cut-off—and how many authors have received between £1 and £5 and between £5 and £50. I hope that that information will be easily obtainable. It will allow us to judge whether the scheme is the nonsense that I suggest it will be or whether it is being helpful to authors.
That is very important, for more than one reason. One of the arguments in support of the Bill has been that it might help those worthy authors who represent minority groups. One example that has been given is the Welsh language writer. Unfortunately, according to the technical investigation group, the poor Welsh language writer of a non-fiction work might expect to receive £2 a year. He will not get rich on the scheme.
It will be important to know how the minority groups are benefiting, or failing to benefit, from the scheme. I hope that the annual report will tell us exactly how they are benefiting or not benefiting. That is the first area on which I hope the Minister of State will agree we are entitled to a great deal of detailed information from the Registrar.
I then suggest that the annual report should tell us just how much of the money will be paid abroad. There have been extensive debates about the desirability of introducing a scheme which really means that the British taxpayer will be 463 supporting wealthy authors abroad without any reciprocal rights from the countries concerned for the benefit of British authors. There are complex and difficult arguments about whether one should pay overseas authors.
The House would like to know how much of our money will be paid out to help poor Harold Robbins and other authors abroad. They might be British residents abroad avoiding British taxation or they might be overseas authors who would never pay United Kingdom taxation only. They might be paying a high rate of tax in their own country, which would simply mean that our money was going to United States residents, for example, and the major beneficiary was the United States Treasury. Therefore, we are entitled to be told just how much of the money is paid abroad and how many £1,000 authors are included in that group.
We are also entitled to information about how much is paid to living authors and how much is paid to the estates of dead authors. This is another matter that we have debated before, and we shall return to it later today. The annual report will be one way of telling Parliament whether it has made nonsense or has done a good job in helping authors.
One of the fundamental arguments in favour of the Bill has been that somehow we must assist the poor author starving in a garret, that we must give authors more money. The fact that the money will be only £12 on average is carefully ignored. One Labour hon. Member gave a splendid example of the sort of thing we hear when he said "We must get to the point where every author has a living wage." The mind boggles at the prospect of the State laying down what is a living wage for every author.
The argument has been advanced that we are to help the living author, to give him a bigger income, an income of which he has been deprived by our library system. But the Bill does not simply do that. It allows the benefit of the public lending right to be paid to the estate of a dead author for 50 years after the author's death. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) has often pointed out that the estate of Agatha 464 Christie would benefit handsomely from the Bill.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
No. Agatha Christie's estate would have benefited only if she were still alive when the Bill came into operation—if it ever does.
§ Mr. Sproat
I should be happy if the Minister would confirm my understanding, which is that an author must be alive when his name is first placed upon the public lending right Register. The author might die the next day, and for 50 years thereafter the estate of an Agatha Christie would benefit from public funds.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Moate
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying that. I, too, look forward to hearing the Minister of State when we come to that matter. It seems to me an arbitrary and almost unfair distinction. It means that the widow of an author who dies before there is a chance to register will not benefit, whereas if the author were able to register just in time she would benefit. That is a little unfair. However, we shall return to the matter later. The point is that the House is entitled to know how much money is going to the estates of the dead and not to the living.
§ Mr. Moate
The Bill does not contain a definition of authors, so I do not know whether ghost writers come into that category. I suspect that they do not.
As the scheme remains longer and longer on the statute book, the amounts paid to the estates of the dead will become increasingly great. It would be helpful to be told each year just how much is being paid to help the living author, which I think is really what the Bill is all about, rather than going to help the families of dead authors.
We shall already know from the annual accounts the cost of running the quango. We have been told that it will be £600,000, but that figure has escalated considerably since we started talking about the Bill, and it is likely to be considerably more. I hope that the accounts will be very 465 detailed. That is the only way in which Parliament can expect to keep a grip on the expenditure by such almost irresponsible—in the proper meaning of the word—bodies. I hope that the annual report will tell us a great deal about the number of staff, their functions and how the total expenditure breaks down in detail.
Another matter on which we are entitled to a great deal of information is how the scheme is working in the libraries themselves. I hope that the Minister will agree that the arguments put forward by the Library Association over the years have been very responsible. The libraries' concern is that they should not be burdened, and therefore that the public should not be burdened, with a bureaucratic scheme that imposes a great administrative load upon them. I have had a number of letters from librarians expressing their worries on this score.
Certainly in the initial years, as the scheme is bedding down, the Registrar should give us a clear picture of how the scheme is working. The scheme will be based on a small sample of libraries—I think 72. We must find 72 that have computer installations of one kind or another. The probability is that the Registrar will have to pay for the installation of a computer terminal at those libraries that lack such installations. That could involve considerable disruption of the libraries concerned. Everything will depend on securing the willing and friendly co-operation of the libraries that are to be burdened with all this administrative nonsense. We must know in the report how the scheme is working in practice.
If a librarian fails to co-operate, in the ultimate he can be penalised and pay a fine of £1,000. I am not sure that we want the Registrar to comment on that. We hope that it will not happen, but that sanction exists. I believe that the Registrar will receive great co-operation from the librarians if Parliament is misguided enough to pass the Bill.
Another item of information which we should expect involves complaints. No doubt, with 113,000 authors around, there will be quite a few registering complaints about the amount of money they receive or possibly about their exclusion from the list for one reason or another. As I said earlier, we have no definition of "author". Many people will feel 466 aggrieved because they have been excluded from the scheme. Again we shall return to this subject later, because we were given to understand from our earlier discussions that many people who were engaged in the production of books would be excluded from the scheme. In passing, I refer to joint editors, joint writers, bearing in mind that we were told that multi-author works would not be covered, translators, photographers and so on.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
Fairly recently, I have been involved as a part-producer of a book. There were authors, artists, editors and a whole team of people each dealing with his own speciality, and I was one of those specialists. I was delighted with the modest payment which I received—it seemed a perfectly adequate remuneration for the time that I spent doing the work—and, as far as I know, so were my colleagues. It seems to me that this scheme is nonsense. My lion. Friend is saying that it is bad luck on part-authors, but here is a part-author declaring his interest and saying that he is well content to be left out. I wish that full-time authors were left out, too.
§ Mr. Moate
I agree completely with my hon. Friend's concluding remark. I suspect that in practice a large number of people will waive any payment which might be due to them. Equally, for every person who is as generous and sensible as my hon. Friend, there will be some other person less so or even perhaps a bit difficult about this and asserting his entitlement to have his public lending right, only to find to his chagrin that he is excluded.
§ Mr. Ridley
What would happen if someone claimed to be the sole author of a work and then someone else claimed that he had been a joint author and had helped the first person? In that case, the dispute would involve not only splitting the cake between the two but the first person losing his share of the cake. There is a tremendous amount of room for malicious intervention of this kind. How does my hon. Friend see such a dispute being resolved?
§ Mr. Moate
I think ultimately the Registrar would have to resolve it. It could be that he would have to engage 467 in extensive legal investigation and possibly have the matter go to court before it was resolved. In such an event, a great deal of this £2 million would be taken up in legal expenses. The Registrar might engage the services of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee), and the cost would be very great. But it could be resolved only by the Registrar and by extensive investigation, I suspect.
The point is that a lot of people could complain. I put this forward seriously, because I believe that a great many people have been misled by the publicity surrounding the Bill. A number of people have written to me saying that they thought it was a good Bill because they thought they would benefit from it. I have had to write back saying "I am sorry. You are a photographer. You will not benefit from the Bill" or "You are an editor, or joint editor, and the Bill does not cover your work."
But more often the correction required has related to those writers of what are usually reference works. They are the people whom we should be trying to help. They write books which have little commercial sales potential. They do a great deal of research work and get very little financial reward. Although they do not realise it, the Bill excludes all reference works. All the major reference libraries and all these worthy books which are only seldom referred to and taken out of the libraries are excluded. All those people will feel aggrieved, and I should like the Registrar to tell us in his annual report how many aggrieved authors there are writing to him saying that I was right, that it is a confidence trick, that they thought it was justice, but that it is not. If they get anything, it will be a small amount. But very often they will not get even that.
Another important aspect of the Bill concerns the sample. It has worried me throughout our proceedings on the Bill that the whole exercise will be based on a sample. Out of 6,500 lending institutions in the country, the scheme will be based on 72 sampling points. Although that might work out fairly, it might prove to be grossly unfair. Certainly in the early years I think that the Registrar, has a duty to report to Parliament on just how this is working out in practice.
468 I am worried, for example, that if there are only 72 sampling points, they may exclude totally a given area and possibly a whole county. Any writer who specialises in the history of that county or who is writing worthy books which have required a great deal of time and research will have his books in libraries which will not be referred to in the sample. He, too, could be aggrieved. I think that we should have explained in this annual report exactly how the sample is working and whether it is suggested that the sample be changed frequently so that it becomes a little fairer in its operation.
That, too, is a matter on which the Registrar should report. But, equally, I hope that the Minister of State will have an opportunity on a later amendment or on Third Reading to tell us a little more about the sampling method. It seems to be an unsatisfactory way of trying to give justice in respect of the many millions of books which are lent and to the 113,000 authors who are expecting to receive some payment.
That is my essential case for having an annual report, and I argue that it should contain all those pieces of information and perhaps many others which other hon. Members may suggest. When the Minister of State argues in favour of his own amendment, I hope that he will agree with me about the importance of this report and its usefulness to Parliament.
One further advantage might be gained from such a report which perhaps could not be secured as the Bill stands at present. I am concerned about the answerability of Ministers to this House on this matter. When we appoint a Registrar and create a new quango to run away with the taxpayers' money, I am not clear whether we shall be allowed by the Table Office to put down questions to Ministers in respect of all the matters that I have raised. If a constituent has a complaint that he is not on the register, or that the amount is not enough, or that he does not like what the Registrar is doing, shall hon. Members be allowed to table questions about it? By setting up a quango, has the Secretary of State removed these matters from the area of Ministers' responsibility to this House?
I suggest that by having an annual report and the obligation on the Secretary of State to lay it before Parliament each 469 year so that hon. Members may know the workings of the scheme, the Secretary of State accepts that he is answerable for the workings of the scheme and hon. Members will be allowed to ask whether in considering the annual report or the workings of the scheme he is satisfied with this or that aspect of the operation of the Bill. This is not an argument for or against public lending right. It is an argument about the responsibility of Ministers to this House when quangos are created.
As my new clause and the amendment are couched in the same phraseology, I hope that, whatever the House decides to accept, we are making it clear that Ministers are directly answerable to Parliament. On that score, because of the emphasis which I have given to the importance of this report, I should prefer to see the new clause in the Bill. However, if the Minister agrees with my emphasis, no doubt he will ensure that his amendment is regarded by his Department and the Registrar as being of equal significance.
In earlier years we are talking about the non-working rather than the working of the scheme. It will take two or three years to set up this whole operation. We are talking not about an immediate benefit to authors but a benefit which will not start until perhaps 1982, 1983 or 1984. It will take a long time to set up this complicated scheme, even on the basis of statements by Ministers. That is not an assumption on my part.
In the two or three years before the scheme comes into operation there will be no benefit to authors, no payments out—simply an expenditure on bureaucracy. In that time we shall probably spend getting on for £1 million—£200,000 in the first year, £300,000 in the second year and £400,000 in the third year. That amount is likely to be wasted in the next three years on merely setting up the scheme.
In those years we shall still want an annual report. I hope that the Minister agrees that the Registrar will have to make an annual report for each year from the time that he is appointed, not after the scheme has come into operation. I shall be interested to know how much of our money is being wasted in the first, second and third years when not a penny 470 will be going out to any author by way of benefit. Therefore, I hope that an annual report will be required from the Registrar from the day of his appointment, even though in those first few years—we do not know how long—we shall be dealing with the non-working rather than the working of the scheme.
As I have asserted, the benefit will be pitiful in any event. Many militant authors will no doubt he glad that this measure is on the statute book, merely for the sake of principle, but I suspect that the vast majority of authors will not notice the difference because the whole thing is something of a confidence trick and the benefit will be totally negligible.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gordon Oakes)
I am delighted with the grouping which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, suggested at the commencement of our proceedings—namely, that with new clause 4 we may discuss Government amendment No. 71, in clause 3, page 4, line 27, at the end to insert:'(8) The Secretary of State shall in each year prepare and lay before each House of Parliament a report on the working of the scheme.'.I believe that it seeks to do precisely what the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is seeking to do in his new clause.
I think that the hon. Gentleman's opposition to the Bill is well known to the House and to the world. He feels that the House should be debating matters other than the Public Lending Right Bill. I believe that this House has a duty not only to debate great matters of state but to look after sections of the public that the House, by a large majority, has decided should have legislation in their favour.
The hon. Gentleman talked about time. I have risen early in the debate to try to save the time of the House. There are many amendments to be dealt with during this evening and tonight, tomorrow morning and afternoon and tomorrow night, or as long as they may take. The Conservative Opposition have a Supply day tomorrow. I imagine they consider it important because of the nature of the business which has been put down. It is a matter for the House, but it must get on with its business. Therefore, it will depend on the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends whether we 471 debate those important and weighty considerations which have been put down on the Order Paper for consideration to-morrow. Let us see how we get on.
The Government accept the spirit of the new clause in the form of amendment No. 71 to which I have referred.
§ Mr. Wells
Is the Minister solemnly and seriously saying to his hon. Friends that, from this mess of pottage, he would deliberately talk out tomorrow's business on the great affairs of state and what really matters in place of this load of codswallop? If so, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should, with the Prime Minister, resign now.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
It is not only Opposition Members, but Government supporters, who have strong views about the Bill and who have indicated their intention of coming into the Chamber later this evening. I suggest that, on reflection, the Minister might think that it would have been better had he not made some of his recent comments. We all recognise that this is an important Bill, that a decision has been made in principle that authors should be helped, and that the House wants to come to a conclusion on it. But it would be out of the question to allow this measure to get in the way of tomorrow's debate. The Government would have to find another day if we got to the stage where tomorrow's business was in any way in danger.
§ Mr. Oakes
I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition Whips will act on the advice that has just been given to the House. It is a matter for them.
As I said, amendment No. 71 will do precisely what the hon. Member for Faversham is seeking in the new clause—namely, the provision of an annual report to the House. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be an annual report. It is not limited in time. It will go on each year.
I accept the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Faversham and his hon. 472 Friends about the working of the measure in the initial years. Having listened to their arguments, I decided that on balance they were right and that the House should have the opportunity of debating how the Act was working, particularly in view of the controversy over this measure.
The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to know that I agree with what he said about the broad bandings of information that he said he would require. Clearly we would not want a huge, bulky annual report listing the names and addresses of all authors and the amounts they had each received. However, the hon. Gentleman is asking not for that but for the banding of receipts. He wants the House to be aware of the amounts received by authors in bandings of £5, £5 to £50 and £100 to £200, or whatever they may be. I think that kind of information could be accommodated in the kind of report which would be presented to the House.
The hon. Gentleman asked how much would be going to overseas authors. Again, that is a fairly reasonable request. However, when we come to discuss the series of amendments relating to overseas authors I may say something to the House that I cannot say at the moment because of the rules of order. I shall seek to meet some of the objections which have been made regarding overseas authors outside the EEC. I shall deal with that matter when we come to it. It may be that an amendment will have to be made in another place.
As the new Minister, as it were, in charge of this Bill, I am seeking to be as flexible as possible and to meet some of the points which have been made. I hope that, in a spirit of co-operation, we can get on and make the Bill work successfully, as is our duty.
The hon. Member for Faversham asked why the Government would not accept the new clause and why they should have put down their own amendment. Ministers of all Governments usually say We agree with and accept in principle what the hon. Gentleman is saying. "We shall look into the matter and at a later stage, on Report or in another place, we shall amend the Bill."I have sought to go much further than that by putting down an amendment to be debated with the new clause so that there can be no doubt 473 about the Government's intent on the matter.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to the Government's amendment, because I do not know of any Act of Parliament which has a separate section dealing with the presentation of an annual report to the House. Where this can be done conveniently, as proposed in the Government amendment, I believe that that is the way it should be done by the draftsmen. I am not criticising the hon. Gentleman's drafting, but draftsmen are paid to do a job that he and I are not paid to do. Therefore, they can do it much more satisfactorily.
The hon. Gentleman places emphasis in his new clause on the words:in addition to such other reports as may be required to be laid by the Comptroller and Auditor General under Clause 2 of the Act.I believe that those words are redundant. There is a duty to lay a report before the House, and that is in addition to anything sent to the Comptroller and Auditor General. Therefore, it is not necessary to include those words.
When the report is provided to the House, it will allow an hon. Member who may have an aggrieved constituent—an aggrieved author who is not on the list or who believes that he is not receiving his full share of the money available—to raise the matter in the House. It is a good democratic privilege and the Secretary of State would have to reply.
Therefore, I ask the hon. Gentleman to seek leave to withdraw his new clause in favour of the Government amendment, which will have precisely the same effect.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
I do not believe that I am likely to be the subject of the Registrar's report as envisaged in the new clause. I cannot ever see myself writing a book and, if I did, I would, in all decency, have to covenant any payment due to me under this scheme to the Reference Room of the Commons Library or some such organisation.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that the simple arithmetic to be covered by the annual report-12 million, less £600,000, divided by more than 100,000 people—does not make much sense. It provides only £11 to £14 per person. As my hon. Friend said, that will not make any difference 474 to any author, however penniless, by tradition, authors usually are.
I believe that, well before the first annual report is made, there will be major agitation for more money to be put into the scheme so that more realistic payments can be made. I expect that the first annual report will contain a plea that the Bill should be brought back to Parliament in order that the payments can be inflation-proofed. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) will be here to oppose such a move. However, without such a move the payments will become derisory as time goes by.
In his able opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham did not deal with the point that the Minister should instruct the Registrar in his report to include a section on taxation of authors. Not every author will be so well advised as some hon. Members have been in adjusting their affairs in order to mitigate the impact of taxation on any royalties and profits they make from their works.
I entirely support any author who devises a way of legally beating the tax system. After all, just about the most honourable profession that any of us can follow is to mitigate legally the impact of taxation on our efforts. I believe that a section of the report should be devoted to dealing with the problem of the effect of taxation on authors.
I suggest that, as well as showing the groups into which authors fall for receiving payments under the scheme, there should be another column in the report showing, within bands of about £1,000, the taxation brackets into which authors fall. That will help us to judge whether the scheme is assisting poor authors or, as has been surmised, topping up the already successful authors.
I hope that the annual report will deal with the problem of the author who first has his story published as a 12-part serial in one of the quality magazines, such as "Blackwood's Magazine". What will happen if the magazines are bound by libraries and, instead of borrowing the book in one of the sampling libraries, people continue to borrow the beautifully bound copies? Will the computer system 475 differentiate between the borrowing of a book and the borrowing of a story contained in a bound volume of 12 issues of a quality magazine? I hope that the computer will be able to digest that and that it will be covered in the annual report.
As I understand the scheme, no difference will be made between children's books and adult books. The more I think about the problem, the more I hope that we shall see in the annual report a list of the 72 sampling centres. I am concerned about the problem of children's books that have local appeal. I should have thought that every child in the countryside of Northumberland—the home county of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury and Cirencester—would want to be brought up on the lovely story "The Shadow on the Moor". Unless there is a sampling centre covering Northumberland, how are we to know how much borrowing there is of a particular book? Equally, many children in the West Country are brought up on the story of "The Red Deer". Will there be a sampling centre to cover the borrowings of that marvellous local children's story?
I should like an assurance that the sampling centres will cover such famous local books and that this aspect will also appear in the annual report of the Registrar.
What will be done in the annual report about the position of the Ombudsman? I am proud of the fact that on behalf of the Gainsborough constituency I have not broken my duck with the Ombudsman. Therefore, I view the Bill with suspicion because it will probably cause many of my literary constituents to feel that they have been badly treated. That will be a point of maladministration of an Act. I fear that we shall be forced to refer to the Ombudsman the complaints of authors excluded under the scheme. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the report will list the number of complaints of maladministration which have been referred to the Ombudsman.
I view the scheme with great disappointment. So much could be done in so many other sensible and practical ways without achieving such a bad buy for the taxpayers' money. I hope that the annual report will place a duty on the person making the report to show the 476 percentage of expenditure on administration as against the percentage of expenditure on productive effort.
The statistic that we have at present is a pretty shaming one. More than one-quarter of the taxpayers' money is going towards administration. If any of us was running a voluntary society and appeared at the end of the year before the subscribers to that society to tell them that we had spent more than one-quarter of their subscriptions on administration and created no benefit for subscribers, we would probably be sacked at the first annual general meeting. No voluntary society would dare to present the sort of report that the Bill envisages. It is an extremely disappointing operation. I hope that we shall spend many hours on it and succeed in getting the Bill into a better form and a more useful shape so that it will have a constructive benefit.
I should hate to have to write the first annual report. It will be a most dismal document and I do not know whether we shall get anyone who is prepared to put his name to it.
§ Mr. Kimball
The Registrar could always hire one of the aggrieved authors to write the report for him. There would be nothing to stop the Registrar from helping a penniless and aggrieved author, and thereby getting him off his back, by giving him some of his own large salary to write the difficult annual report. That would bring some benefit to at least one aggrieved author.
§ Mr. Sproat
Would such an author qualify for PLR if the annual report were borrowed from public libraries?
§ Mr. Kimball
I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend will develop that theme later. He poses an interesting problem. It is important that we should look at the ways of reducing the unhappiness that the Bill will create. The new clause would at least provide that we must have someone to prepare the report and we may also find that someone else is employed to write the report. I do not 477 like the Bill as a whole, but I support the inclusion of the new clause.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) used considerable ingenuity to spin out his speech to some length. It is obvious that some of his hon. Friends intend to keep us here for quite a while. I do not propose to assist them, unless the discussion goes on to such an extent that there is a hope of endangering the Opposition's Supply day tomorrow.
I was one of those who assisted in wrecking a Supply day before Christmas over the mere matter of £2 billion of extra expenditure which the guardians of the public purse on the Conservative Benches did not think merited debate. It included £284 million of extra expenditure on what is comically called defence, and I was not in the least sorry to have engaged in that escapade.
§ Mr. Ridley
This Bill involves expenditure of £2 million. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the old maxim should be updated to say "Look after the millions, and the billions will look after themselves"?
§ Mr. Lee
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on that matter any more than I agree with almost anything else he says.
Many spurious points have been raised by Conservative Members, but they have also raised some matters that command attention. The Minister has told us that he is in favour of the scheme proposed in the new clause. He put forward the Government amendment not for tactical reasons but because he believes in it and wants to improve the Bill.
The narrowness of the proposed sampling troubles me. Whether or not too much of an argument can be built on the importance of authors with a limited regional appeal, the proposed sample seems extraordinarily small for us to be able to glean accurate data. I am concerned that there has not been much comment about that fact.
When the Secretary of State spoke on Second Reading, she said that the orginal scheme involved administration expenses of £400,000 out of a total sum of £1 million. Under the present scheme, my right hon. Friend expects the maximum 478 cost of administration to be £600,000 out of a total of £2 million. That is, without question, an extraordinarily large amount to be spent on administration.
Those of us who support the Bill will not be content until the sum set aside to filter through to the authors is a great deal more than is proposed. I support the Bill because it establishes in principle the right to remuneration in relation to lending, but it is pock-marked with shortcomings. I make no bones about that. I do not want to hold up its progress, but we are entitled to know why such an extra-ordinarily large proportion of the total amount provided for in the Bill is to be set aside for administration.
We shall be discussing later the amendment of the hon. Member for Aberdeen. South (Mr. Sproat) to exclude the estates of dead authors from the scope of the Bill and I shall support that, not because I want to damage the Bill or to assist the hon. Gentleman in his exercise of ridiculing aspects of it but because, with so little money to go round, the amendment will at least ensure that those who are alive to enjoy the money will get a little more.
I know that the projection of estimates is always difficult, but if the sums proposed in the Bill should increase, say, ten-fold in the next few years, I hope that the administration costs will not rise at the same alarming rate as has been indicated by the last two estimates.
I know that, to some extent, I am being a little inconsistent with my strictures about the limited amount of sampling and the data that will be forthcoming, but I do not know why so much needs to be spent on administration. I suppose that administration is bound to take a disproportionate amount of money at the start of any scheme, but there must come a time when the proportion of administrative expenditure will diminish drastically.
§ Mr. Moate
The situation is rather worse than the hon. Gentleman thinks. The expenses could be even more disproportionate because the figure of £600,000 is an estimate based on current figures while the total provision of £2 million is fixed. The scheme will not come into operation for perhaps another four years and, at the present rate of inflation, 479 that £600,000 could be more than £1 million and that would have to come out of the fixed figure of £2 million.
§ Mr. Lee
I hope that the hon. Gentleman's prognostications are wrong, but he is quite correct in saying that we are setting a statutory upper limit on the total amount available for the scheme but no statutory limit on the amount to be spent on administration. That is bound to lead to fears that the amount spent on administration will grow and that the amount available to authors will be diminished still further to derisory amounts.
I have every good will towards the Bill and the intentions behind it. But it is not surprising that some opponents are able to make points against a measure dealing with such modest sums. The Bill exposes itself to a certain amount of ridicule. I hope the Minister agrees that, when the report is forthcoming, many hon. Members will be anxious to see that the amount spent on administration is worth while, even allowing for the fact that a great deal of money of a non-recurrent kind has been spent initially. Otherwise, a lot of people will feel disappointed.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) came to give help and aid in our debate, claiming that he was one of the custodians and guardians of public spending. He witnessed his actions just before Christmas, which led to the abandonment of a Supply day, when £2 billion was being voted. Whether that is a contribution to curtailing public expenditure is less clear. But it is important to get into perspective the figures which will be the subject of these reports.
It might help the House if I put it in a semi-fictional way. I am not an author 480 and have no interest to declare. I had not intended ever to write a book, but, suddenly, I have thought of a marvellous scenario for a novel. There could be a nation in crisis, gripped by industrial strikes, with a dwindling standard of living and exacerbated industrial relations, caused by some rigid, doctrinaire incomes policy, resulting in large numbers of people going on strike. There could be a shortage of food supplies and lack of transport, with freight held up, the docks clogged, and, if I may take a little artistic licence, snowfall following suowfall, ice building up, railway points frozen, and a population gripped in fear of death and starvation. Into this appalling—
§ Mr. Ridley
Can I just finish my book? I will give way at the end of the first chapter. Into this appalling situation one would inject the action-gripped drama of the Parliament, which, on a crucial day—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am afraid that, like many prefaces to many books, that is rather wide of what we are discussing.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am coming to the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the crucial day, we would find ourselves discussing the allocation of £2 million of Government money and reports on how that is doled out to authors. Anything so trivial would be hard to justify even in fiction. Although we are talking about an average figure of £12 per author per year, the lorry drivers are demanding £12 per lorry driver per week. That puts the futility of the whole exercise into some sort of perspective.
The hon. Member for Handsworth shares the alarm over the lack of profligacy contained in the Bill and the futility of reports which can deal only with £2 million. His conclusion—the opposite to mine—is that there should be much more money in it. The claim upon which he entered our debate, as the custodian of public money, looked torn and tattered by the end of his speech.
The way to improve the ratio of expenditure on the bureaucracy and quangos to expenditure on authors has never been considered in terms of reducing the share of the quango. Hon. Members on the Government Benches see only a means of 481 increasing the total and providing a big form of leverage for higher public spending. All the difficulties which my hon. Friends have suggested are involved in the report are accentuated in terms of the sum of money we are talking about. I would like to mention some of the difficulties and put them in context.
The question of taxation was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). Is it yet generally known that the public lending right will be treated as earned income for those living authors who receive it but that, if they die, their inheritors or heirs will have it treated as investment income with investment income surcharge chargeable upon it? It seems very strange that a form of income can start off as earned and end up unearned without the form of income changing in any way. Only the recipient has changed. It would be like a dividend or a rent, earned until the person died and unearned when it went to his heirs, which brings it perilously close to the ghost workers' syndrome—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must remind the House that we are discussing the annual report proposed in new clause 4 and Government amendment No. 71.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back to the report. It should state how much of public lending right has been subject to investment income surcharge. This could and should be in the report. The last thing that we want to do is to pay the money to rich authors. I understand that the purpose of the scheme is to help poor authors. If we find that they are paying investment income surcharge on their public lending rights, we are doing the reverse of what we set out to do. A strange parallel is the Arts Council, which pays much larger amounts than £2 million. On the whole, the Arts Council pays its grants to people who cannot earn their living by selling their artistic products. They are the failures.
482 In this case, we will be paying public lending right to those who are most able to earn their living by selling their books—the most successful authors—in greater measure than to the least successful. If this Bill was a true measure to help impoverished authors, the scheme and the report should contain the proposals for paying authors in inverse proportion to the number of books which they sell or which are borrowed from libraries. The man who never has books borrowed at all should receive the maximum of £1,000 and Agatha Christie, or her like, whose books are continually sold and borrowed should get nothing. It would be easy to turn each figure of borrowing upside down and put a figure one on top of it. By that device, one would achieve the social objective which this Bill seeks to bring about. I hope that the Registrar, in his first annual report, will be encouraged to consider that scheme.
One comes back to the question of why we are discussing this Bill in the middle of an acute crisis. The only reason is that it has to be rushed on to the statute book in case there should be an early election without this particular piece of electoral bribery having become law.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am trying to help the Minister. He would find it a much more effective piece of electoral bribery if he accepted my solution of giving nothing to successful authors, whose books are often borrowed, and a great deal to those whose books are never borrowed. That would bring many more people within the scope of the Bill and perform a much greater measure of social justice. If social justice is the order of the day, this is the way to do it.
There is one other matter that I should like to see dealt with in the annual report, and that is the question of sampling. I am worried about what will happen in Wales. If there is to be one sample library there, those who write only in Welsh will find it difficult to get their proper recognition under the sampling techniques. On the other hand, if there are to be six sample libraries in Wales, those who write books only in Welsh will be over-represented in the sample.
483 Without having much more information about the libraries, the populations they serve and the reading habits of the whole of the country, it will be difficult for us to eradicate the unfairnesses. The Minister, however, will say that it does not flatter very much if there are unfairnesses because, since we are discussing payments of only about £12 or £14 a year on average, the fact that someone may get £1 or £2 too much or too little is not worth bothering about.
That brings me back to my opening remarks, which are that it is nonsense to proceed with this scheme now. It does not hold water. As the hon. Member for Handsworth said, the sum involved will either have to be £20 million, in which case the House would condemn it as too expensive, or it has to be nothing. To have all these problems, anomalies and contentious points, plus a quango costing £600,000 a year, plus the need to go through the procedure of the report and to send for the Registrar to appear before Select Committees, and to have the creation of this administrative bureaucratic burden for the sake of £12 a year for each author, would be to get the priorities wrong.
§ Mr. Wells
I prefer the Government amendment to the new clause. I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has the disadvantage of being unable to call on Government draftsmen, but I like the succinct way in which the Minister has phrased his suggestion. I am not clear on a couple of the Minister's points, how-ever. He assured the House that there would be greater parliamentary control and the opportunity to table questions. In the outline of the novel of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) the frozen state of the railways was referred to. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham represent commuter constituencies. However, we are unable to put questions about the day-to-day problems of our commuter constituents, and that leads me to ask whether we shall be able to put questions about the day-to-day problems of our author constituents. The Minister seemed to indicate that we would be able to.
§ Mr. Oakes
I said that I did not envisage that questions of that sort could 484 be put to the Secretary of State. The advantage of the proposals we are discussing, however, is that complaints of individual constituents could be raised in the context of that report, and the Secretary of State would have to answer them.
§ Mr. Wells
That will occur on a half day or in the middle of the night. It is almost impossible to raise the problems that trouble our constituents when nationalised industry annual reports are debated. The House is fond of the Minister of State. He is a nice chap and he means well, but I am not sure that he is not putting forward honeyed words rather than just looking at the beastly practicalities.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wells
That reply is much more satisfactory. We know that the debate on the annual report will be as useless as all debates on all annual reports. If this matter conies to a vote, I shall support the Minister rather than my hon. Friend, because I prefer the Minister's words.
The point that has worried so many of us is the proportion of expenditure that will be incurred in building up the quango that is at the basis of this scheme. It seems that the whole of this pyramid is just waiting for the £2 million to be topped up. I therefore deplore the fact that on page 2 the Bill ties the figure down to £2 million. We all know that we are being tied to nothing like £2 million, and that it is humbug to put that figure in. It would have been much better to have inserted the words "in the first year" or something like them. The Minister, like the rest of us, knows that this sum will escalate and represent a burden on the taxpayer, while providing very little advantage to the author.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury made great play of the need for social justice, of helping the authors of bad books and of not rewarding the authors of good books, which is the sort of thing that the Labour 485 Party's social justice is so much concerned with. This Bill is totally inadequate for its real purpose and is a bit of sloppy electoral bribery.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
I offer my respectful congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). We would never have seen amendment No. 71 had it not been for my hon. Friend's suggestion in new clause 4. It is perfectly clear that but for my hon. Friend's assiduity and his dedication to the whole concept of the sovereignty of this House and to the scrutiny of public expenditure, and had the policies of the former IMF hero Johannes Witteveen not carried so much weight with my hon. Friend, the Minister of State would not have proposed amendment No. 71.
If I have to choose between my hon. Friend's new clause and the Minister of State's amendment, it will come as no great surprise to the House to find that the lot falls upon Faversham. If I have one criticism, it is that I do not like the location of the word "annually" in line 1 of the new clause. I do not like a word appearing between "shall" and "lay". My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham was a scholar of English. Perhaps he obtained a first-class honours degree, but I think that the words should read "shall lay annually" rather than "shall annually lay".
The new clause will go a long way to establishing something which I believe we have lost increasingly in the last 15 years. That is a convenient period at which to look, because 15 years ago was the start of what I consider to be 11 years of Socialism.
One of the consequences of that is that we have handed over more and more power to those outside the House. The principle behind my hon. Friend's amendment is that the House should receive each year a report on the workings of the scheme.
There is a strong case for saying that the House should receive an annual report upon the expenditure of £2 million of public money. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) was right to point out to the Minister of State that the £2 million is capable of being increased. All hon. Members know that when a figure of £2 million is given the sum will be increased. Everybody 486 knows that we shall have to increase that figure. We all know that we shall not spend £2 million in the first or second year. It is estimated that when the Bill becomes law—and I hope that it never does—the sum will be increased. The reason why the Government have not proposed a sum of more than £2 million is that they know full well that the indignation of the House, which is sufficiently great against the Bill anyway, would be even greater.
The case for an annual report is even stronger because we know that before many years are out the House will be invited to agree to the limit being raised above £2 million.
Annual reports on public expenditure should be debated not less frequently but more frequently than they are. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and the Minister of State on another achievement. Both the new clause and the amendment would provide that the report must be made to each House. I welcome that, particularly since it is proposed by one of Her Majesty's Ministers.
The Lord President of the Council, who is not in his place, and the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedge-more), who, as always, is in his place, are not enthuseasts for another place. I shall gladly give way to the hon. Member for Luton, West if he feels that I am misrepresenting his view. It is fair to say that the reverence which is felt for another place by my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is shared neither by the hon. Member for Luton, West nor the Lord President. For the Government to move an amendment which actually proposes that a report should be laid before another place annually gives great satisfaction to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South. I have no doubt that it creates rather less happy reactions in the mind of the hon. Member for Luton, West.
Page 8 of the Bill shows that it is supported by the Lord President. When the Bill was published, amendment No. 71 and new clause 4 were not included. One might have expected to see amendment No. 71 in the names of not only the Minister of State but of the Leader 487 of the House. But that is not so. As the learned Clerk will confirm, it would be in order for the name of the Lord President and, indeed, of the hon. Member for Luton, West to appear in support of the amendment. However, those names are missing.
§ Mr. Gow
I agree that the Leader of the House is a most distinguished author. I have read with great admiration—not once but several times—his massive, two-volume biography of his predecessor as Member of Parliament for Ebbw Vale. I commend the book to my hon. Friend. The Leader of the House is also the literary executor of the late Mr. Richard Crossman, against whom my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) contested an election in 1959. It was a great loss to the House that my hon. Friend was not successful in Coventry, South-West in 1959 because he would have come to the House a little earlier. If he had come here, the right hon. Gentleman who used to represent Coventry, South-West—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is straying a long way from the question of the report on the workings of the scheme, as proposed in new clause 4 and amendment No. 71.
§ Mr. Gow
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Let us consider what might be in the annual report which is to be laid before each House. We can see the intrinsic merit of the joint proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and the Minister of State. I intend to discourtesy to my hon. Friend when I say that only infrequently does he find himself in happy accord with the Minister of State. My hon. Friend has said that he is worried about his own new clause because it seems to reflect at least the same purpose as the Minister of State's amendment. The Bill is also supported by the Leader of the House.
488 I notice that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has entered the Chamber. I find it a particular pleasure to look at the right hon. Lady from this side of the House. She might turn out to be a distinguished author.
New clause 4 includes the phrasethe workings of the scheme in addition to such other papers as may be required".That is a very broad definition, and that is why we could have included in this report a list of the most popular authors. That would be a very interesting item of information indeed, because I believe that the report would bear out what I said a moment ago, that the works of the Leader of the House, who will shortly have more time to be a little more prolific in his literary activities, would prove very popular since he is a very fine author. Perhaps the Secretary of State might be able to spend more time as an author. I do not think that she has many works to her credit so far, but perhaps she will have more time for literary activity. These are matters which might be included in the report, though we need not stop there.
One of the most extraordinary features of this Bill is that the scheme does not appear in it. I hope that when the Minister of State replies he will tell us why it was not possible to include the scheme. It is not too late to submit to the learned Clerk a manuscript amendment incorporating the entire scheme, and, if that were done, the House could have a much fuller debate on the scheme than is likely to be held otherwise. One of the reasons why there ought to be an annual report laid before this House, and before another place, is that we cannot make any judgment now as to how the scheme will operate
New clause 4 refers specifically to the workings of the scheme. It is directed precisely at this point and I think that it is wrong that the whole of the guts of this Bill, which will be provided in the scheme, are not published at the same time as Parliament is debating the scheme.
I hope that if this Bill should ever reach another place it will be possible for one of the noble Lords on the Government Benches—possibly the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 489 and now Lord Privy Seal, Lord Peart—to pilot this scheme. The noble Lord might be the right person to draft the scheme since he has very few responsibilities. He would be the ideal person to introduce it in another place. I hope that this suggestion will be listened to with very great care by the Minister of State.
As I look at clause 1(2) I find it very difficult to understand. I do not know whether the Minister of State or the Secretary of State was responsible for the drafting, but for the benefit of the Minister I ought to read a part of it. It reads:The classes, descriptions and categories of books in respect of which public lending right subsists".That passage describes the matters in the scheme. Yet we are not told, on the Floor of the House of Commons, what is to be the central feature of the Bill. That is all the more reason why we should have an annual report. I look forward very much, as I know the Minister of State does, to debating these annual reports should this Bill ever reach the statute book.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) would make a series of glittering speeches on the annual reports. The hon. Member for Luton, West would, I am sure, make a number of worthwhile contributions. I shall come to the more important reasons later on, but one of the most attractive reasons for voting in favour of new clause 4 or for voting in favour of amendment No. 71 is the pleasure we shall derive from listening to the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend. It may seem a vicarious reason for voting for a new clause or an amendment, but I do not think that it is without its importance.
Subsection (3) gives further powers of patronage to the Secretary of State. We are constantly seeing further powers conferred on Ministers. The Registrar of Public Lending Right will not work for nothing, although I believe that there are two Ministers in the Administration who work for nothing. It would be perfectly possible to appoint either the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster or the Minister of Agriculture—he might do it very nicely—to this post as the Registrar of Public Lending Right. But, if either was appointed to that important office, I think 490 that he would not be able to remain a member of the Administration. It is possible that he might not even be able to remain a Member of this House. The report which will be presented to Parliament each year could and should refer to the way in which the person who has been appointed Registrar carries out his duties. It should also say whether it is a part-time or full-time appointment and deal with the staff of the Registrar.
All those matters ought to be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. That is why my hon. Friend should be congratulated on his new clause. Very surprisingly, the Opposition—and I see the look of consternation upon the face of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South—offer our incredulous congratulations to her Majesty's Ministers. For the first time since the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) formed his Administration in March 1974, we have the Treasury Bench proposing an increase in parliamentary scrutiny over what it is doing with public expenditure. That is a very unusual event—so unusual that it calls for praise from the Opposition.
I move from subsection (3) of clause I to subsection (4). This is another matter which could be included in the report to which my hon. Friend has referred in his new clause. What are the burdens of the Registrar? I do not think that it would be in order to speculate on whether the Registrar should be the Minister of Agriculture or the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. We could all think of other candidates, and, I suppose, depending upon what happens, there may be a number of applicants for the post, if, as I predict, it has not been filled by the time the Prime Minister has his own appointment with an election.
Let us look at the duties laid upon the Registrar in subsection (4). He is charged with the duty of:establishing and maintaining … a register showing the books in respect of which public lending right subsists".If we are to say that all the guts of the Bill are to be contained in the scheme but that we are not to debate the scheme now, the case for an annual report is overwhelming. I do not know whether my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have spoken against new clause 4. I do not know whether there are any Government 491 supporters who have opposed amendment No. 71.
§ Mr. Gow
The Minister of State is right to rebuke me for not being present earlier. I am a member of a Select Committee which has been sitting, and the Minister of State knows that it is not possible to be in two places at once.
Seated behind the Minister is his distinguished hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson)—another hon. Member from Luton. We have had the two hon. Members representing Luton present in the Chamber tonight. The hon. Member for Luton, East and I are on the same Select Committee. The Minister must not rebuke me for not being here earlier without rebuking his hon. Friend. What is sauce for Eastbourne is also sauce for Luton, East. The House should be grateful in that it has had both hon. Members representing Luton in the Chamber. It may be that those two hon. Members who now represent Luton could be considered for the post of Registrar or deputy Registrar. When they are not in the House we shall have the pleasure, through these annual reports—not only here but in another place—of considering how they are discharging the duties laid upon them by the House. I do not think that it was quite fair of the Minister of State to rebuke me. He ought to be glad that we came down as soon as we could rather than be complaining that we were not here earlier.
I turn now to subsection (5). This is a strange subsection. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone found some difficulty in understanding it. It provides that the Registrar shall determinethe sums … due by way of public lending right".Consequently this Registrar—this was certainly the point in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton)—will have great power. That is all the more reason why these wide powers conferred upon him should be subject to annual scrutiny in this House.
It would not have been out of order to have said that Parliament should debate the report. I notice that the new 492 clause does not say that. New clause 4 does not say that the report will be debated in Parliament. It says that the report shall be laid before each House of Parliament. I suppose that it would be difficult to say, in an Act of Parliament, that Parliament shall debate something each year. That might be thought to be fettering the discretion of the Leader of the House. I suppose that that was why my hon. Friend did not include such a provision. He has done the next best thing. Although my hon. Friend has concluded that it would not be possible to provide that there shall be a debate upon the report, he has said that a report must be laid before each House.
We were considering clause 1(5), before I was interrupted. I was pointing out the considerable powers which the Registrar will have. I suppose that there are hon. Members who can be found to advance almost any proposition. I suppose that there will be some who will be uneasy about the annual report containing a comment upon the activities of the Registrar, as laid down in subsection (5). I have no such doubts. I see that we have the presence in the Chamber of the deputy Patronage Secretary. We do not often hear from the right hon. Gentleman. At least he has joined us, and it would be agreeable if we could have a contribution from him about new clause 4.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Moate
We have just had an interesting contribution from one of the Government Whips. We do not often get such contributions. When my hon. Friend suggested that we might hear from the deputy Patronage Secretary, the other Government Whip on the Government Front Bench, the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates), suggested "You will." That is a most significant suggestion. I am not sure whether it was a threat or a promise. We would be interested to know.
§ Mr. Gow
My hon. Friend has slightly diverted me from the main thrust of my argument. I hope that I shall not be too 493 long before I get back into my stride again.
I direct the attention of the Minister of State to subsection (7) of clause 1. All of these matters could and should be included in the annual report. The subsection speaks of details of the "assignment or assignation". What do those words mean? What is the difference? I see the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) entering the Chamber. Perhaps he can help us. I do not understand the difference between those words. That could be something which could be dealt with in this annual report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said that included in the annual report could be details of those who had died. My hon. Friend is a prolific author of extremely erudite articles upon almost every topic. If I have one regret about not being a keen supporter of this Bill, it is that I shall deprive my hon. Friend of any revenue which he may gain as an author from its provisions.
I come now to the central fund. The words "central fund" could have been devised only by a Labour Government. We should certainly have an annual report made to Parliament upon the operation of this fund. Words such as "central fund" are the sort of words which fall readily from the lips of commissars. We should certainly have the opportunity of a report being made to us dealing with what has happened to the central fund.
The central fund is central to the workings of the scheme laid down in new clause 4. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury about the investment income surcharge and the incidence of taxation upon moneys paid out of this fund is immensely relevant. The doubts of my hon. Friend, which I share, about the wisdom of increasing the public expenditure borrowing requirement this year—when in my view it will work out at more than £8,000 million for the year ending 5 April 1979—are justified. It must be remembered that we are without the benefit of the good will of Dr. Johannes Witteveen, who is no longer managing director of the International Monetary Fund. His departure adds to the case for having an annual report.
494 My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), who is a prolific author, may wish to reinforce my point. Subsection (1) says that the central fund—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. I have no doubt that the report should be comprehensive, but it seems that the hon. Gentleman is making a good Second Reading speech. It is not necessary for him to make a tour of the whole horizon.
§ Mr. Ridley
I wish to try to get my hon. Friend back to the point that he was making so admirably earlier. Will he consider whether the details of the liability of authors to capital transfer tax on public lending right should be included in the report? I gather that the right will be grossed up and that it will have to be included as a capital asset on transfer on death, which could embarrass the heirs. The heirs will also have to pay investment income surcharge on the income. The crippling burden of taxation on the heirs could make the position worse. Surely the Registrar should consider these matters with a view to ensuring that no hardship falls on the heirs.
§ Mr. Gow
My hon. Friend has made an extremely helpful suggestion. The answer is not entirely clear. It would be useful to have the benefit of the guidance of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who will be familiar with capital transfer tax.
It is right that the report envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham could and should deal with the incidence of taxation. If Her Majesty's present Ministers are in office for much longer, the levels of taxation will be so hight that no author will want to receive any public lending right.
If taxation is more than 100 per cent.—it is 98 per cent. now—no author will want to get anything out of the scheme. That will be a legitimate matter to be recorded in the report that is laid before each House of Parliament.
Nor do we need only to deal with taxation. My hon. Friend the Member 495 for Faversham has wisely referred to the Comptroller and Auditor General. The difference in substance between my hon. Friend's clause and the Government's amendment is that the Government make no reference to the Comptroller and Auditor General.
What sort of matters are envisaged by my hon. Friend ina report on the workings of the scheme in addition to such other papers as may be required to be laid by the Comptroller and Auditor General"?He has envisaged a report upon a completely new area of public expenditure. The Government recognise that we are embarking upon something that is entirely new. As it is entirely new to us—we are having a new central fund, a new Registrar and an entirely new scheme that is not even included in the Bill—my hon. Friend is saying that we need an annual report.
Nor has any restriction been imposed upon the contents of the annual report. That is why it is legitimate for my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury to say that the report could and should deal with matters of taxation, which are of greatly increasing concern to the British people. There will be involved capital transfer tax, income tax and the capital transfer tax that arises upon death.
The sidenote to clause 3 isThe scheme and its administration".In a way, I find the clause insulting to the House. We are told that the Secretary of State will prepare a draft of the scheme and that the draft will be laid before the House. The Secretary of State will adopt the affirmative resolution procedure. What will happen? I assume that each House of Parliament will have only one and a half hours to debate the scheme. The scheme should be included in the Bill. That is one of the reasons why my hon. Friends and I say that we need to have an annual report on a scheme that the House will never have an opportunity of debating fully. We shall be allowed one and a half hours in this place and there shall be allowed one and a half hours in another place.
I suggested that Lord Peart should be in charge of the Bill in another place. If 496 the noble Lord were to introduce the scheme under the affirmative resolution procedure, it could be that their Lordships would not be very much the wiser. That could be the position in this place, but that depends on who introduces the scheme.
If my hon. Friend's clause is accepted, we shall have the opportunity of reading a report. It is to be hoped that we shall have an opportunity of debating that report. If you study clause 3(1), Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will ask yourself the question that my hon. Friend asked himself—namely, "Why can we not have the scheme in the Bill?" If the scheme had been in the Bill, part of my hon. Friend's case would have been destroyed. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) agrees with that.
We are to have only one and a half hours to debate the scheme. There is no limit to the amount of time that we could spend each year debating the annual report so wisely proposed both by the Minister of State and by my hon. Friend. However, I hope that we shall have a clear explanation from the Minister of State why the Comptroller and Auditor General has been omitted from amendment No. 71.
§ Mr. Gow
Yes, but has the Minister understood fully the wording that was chosen after prolonged and anxious thought by my hon. Friend?
Throughout the lifetime of the Government, the Executive has taken power from the House. If there is one supreme duty of hon. Members, it is to scrutinise the expenditure of public money. That is the purpose of the new clause. As that purpose is one that commends itself so warmly to our constituents, I hope that the House will agree to accept the new clause or, if we cannot have that, amendment No. 71.
§ 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:
|Division No. 49]||AYES||[6.59 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Graham, Ted||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Adley, Robert||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Newens, Stanley|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Grant, John (Islington C)||Noble, Mike|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Gray, Hamish||Oakes, Gordon|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Griffiths, Eldon||Orbach, Maurice|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Grocott, Bruce||Ovenden, John|
|Bates, Alf||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Palmar, Arthur|
|Beith, A. J.||Hampson, Dr Keith||Pardoe, John|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Hannam, John||Park, George|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hardy, Peter||Parker, John|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Parry, Robert|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Hayhoe, Barney||Penhaligon, David|
|Boardman, H.||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Perry, Ernest|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Home Robertson, John||Radice, Giles|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hooson, Emlyn||Raison, Timothy|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Rees-Davles, W. R.|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Hunter, Adam||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Buchanan, Richard||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Callagham, Jim (Middleton & P)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Cant, R. B.||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Carmichael, Neil||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Cartwright, John||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Roper, John|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||John, Brynmor||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Cohen, Stanley||Johnson, James (Hull West)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Coleman, Donald||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Selby, Harry|
|Conlan, Bernard||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Judd, Frank||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Corbett, Robin||Kerr, Russell||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cowans, Harry||Lambie, David||Snape, Peter|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Lamborn, Harry||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Lamond, James||Stallard, A. W.|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Crouch, David||Lawrence, Ivan||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Lee, John||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Cryer, Bob||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Stott, Roger|
|Davidson, Arthur||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Litterick, Tom||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Loyden, Eddie||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Luard, Evan||Tilley, John|
|Deakins, Eric||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Tomilnson, John|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||McCartney, Hugh||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Dempsey, James||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Doig, Peter||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Mckay, Allen (Penistone)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Ward, Michael|
|Dunn, James A.||Maclennan, Robert||Warren, Kenneth|
|Dunnett, Jack||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Watkins, David|
|Dykes, Hugh||McNamara, Kevin||Watkinson, John|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Madden, Max||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Magee, Bryan||Weetch, Ken|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Mahon, Simon||White, James (Pollok)|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Marks, Kenneth||Whitlock, William|
|Farr, John||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Faulds, Andrew||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Mather, Carol||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Flannery, Martin||Mayhew, Patrick||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Maynard, Miss Joan||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mikardo, Ian||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Forrester, John||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbridge)||Woodall, Alec|
|Fox, Marcus||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Woof, Robert|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchem)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|George, Bruce||Molloy, William||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham)||Morton, George|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Moyle, Rt Hon Roland||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Golding, John||Mudd, David||Mr. John Evans and|
|Gould, Bryan||Mr. James Tinn.|
|Body, Richard||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)|
|Brotherton, Michael||English, Mchael||Grimond, Rt Hon J.|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Goodhew, Victor||Holland, Philip|
§ The House divided: Ayes 214, Noes 19.
|Jessel, Toby||Mackay, Andrew (Stechford)|
|Kilfedder, James||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Monro, Hector||Mr. Ian Sproat and|
|Kinght, Mrs Jill||Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Mr. Roger Moate.|
|Lloyd, Ian||Viggers, Peter|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Question, That the clause be read a Second time, put accordingly and negatived.