HC Deb 25 July 1988 vol 138 cc148-76

Amendments made: No. 53, in page 25, line 12, leave out 'hiring' and insert 'rental'.

No. 54, in page 25, line 14, after 'royalty', insert 'or other payment'.—[Mr. Maude.]

Mr. Fisher

I beg to move amendment No. 315, in page 25, line 14, at end insert— 'to the copyright owner and to owners of the copyright in works included in such recordings, films or computer programs'. This is a simply addition to the Bill. It would protect the copyright of works included in copyright works in hire arrangements. We are not certain whether the Government have inadvertently omitted to mention the copyright of works in existing copyright works or whether they have been omitted deliberately. We believe that they should be included.

Mr. Maude

They are certainly not omitted by inadvertence. We debated this matter at some length in Committee. The recollection of that debate may be warmer with some of us than with others.

The amendment is an attempt to ensure that authors and composers are remunerated when records, films and computer programs are rented out under a statutory licence. We do not believe that the amendment, with which we have some sympathy, as the hon. Gentleman will probably remember from our debate in Committee, will be workable, so I ask the House to resist it.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: No. 55, in page 25, line 22, leave out 'hired' and insert 'rented'.

No. 56, in page 25, line 22, leave out 'hirer' and insert 'renter'.

No. 57, in page 25, line 22, leave out 'hiring' and insert 'rental'.—[Mr. Maude.]

Mr. Maude

I beg to move amendment No. 58, in page 25, line 26, leave out subsections (5) to (7).

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 230, in page 25, line 28, after 'works', insert 'or films'.

No. 231, in page 25, line 35, after 'works', insert 'or films'.

No. 232, in page 25, line 38, at end insert 'or films'.

Mr. Maude

When I spoke in the Committee debate on the blank tape levy, it was at about this time of night. The difference is that that was the closing speech in the debate; the slightly depressing thing is that this is the opening speech in this debate. In deference to the hour and the great familiarity of hon. Members in the Chamber with the arguments, I shall be brisk in describing the Government's stance.

The perceived problem is that thousands of people make copies of music from records and the radio in infringement of copyright. Since these infringements take place in the privacy of the home, the copyright owner cannot enforce his copyright. He cannot get remuneration for the use of his works and so, it is said, the answer is to put a levy on recording tape and/or recording equipment.

Mr. Page

My hon. Friend said that thousands of people make copies. Will he amend that to "millions of people", and get it accurate?

Mr. Maude

I am prepared to admit almost anything. I am prepared to make that trifling correction.

The money from such a levy would be distributed to copyright owners and, in return, the public would be licensed to make recordings for their private and domestic use. As will no doubt be said during the debate, the Government's view has gone first one way and then the other, but we have had to reach final conclusions and tonight the House must do the same. The Government's conclusion is that a levy should not be introduced, and I ask the House to endorse that conclusion.

Amendment No. 58 would remove three subsections which were added in Committee. The intention behind them was, as I understand it, not to require the introduction of a levy but to leave the door open for the Secretary of State to introduce a levy if he saw fit.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his candour in admitting that the Government have moved one way and then the other. However, it is difficult for someone such as myself who is so keen on this issue that I spoke in the House on it at half-past seven in the morning of 18 December 1985, and on three subsequent occasions. Each time I was assured that the levy on blank tapes was being carefully considered and then I was told that it had been accepted through the White Paper.

Therefore, perhaps my hon. Friend can tell us what thought processes occurred to force the Government to change their mind and what consultations were carried out between the general election, when every Tory candidate fought in support of this issue, and when the Secretary of State made his decision. Did the Government consult the British phonographic industry or the music industry before changing their mind?

11.15 pm
Mr. Maude

If I may proceed a little with my speech, the thought processes may become a little clearer. It is clear that the Government did not suddenly wake up one morning and decide to change their mind. If ever any Bill was consulted upon, this is it. The Bill has been subjected to the most enormous consultation and there have been enormous lobbies on both sides. I do not think that anyone could seriously suggest that the blank tape levy is not a matter on which there has been a great deal of consultation because there certainly has been throughout the history of the debate.

Mr. Hanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. I asked him what consultations with the music industry had taken place between the general election and the announcement of the change of policy.

Mr. Maude

I cannot give my hon. Friend a specific answer on that matter at the moment. However, the Department was well aware of the views of all those concerned. We have been consulting all those concerned with this matter over a long period and, as I said at the outset, the arguments are clear and are well understood by all concerned.

The amendments which are grouped with Government amendment No. 58 are, I presume, intended to open up the possibility of a levy on videos as well as one on audio tape. Subsections (5) to (7), which were added in Committee, are technically defective in several respects, not least in that they do not allow the introduction of a licensing scheme in respect of literary works forming the lyrics of songs. If my hon. Friend's amendments were accepted, any video levy would license only the recording of silent movies.

As I said in Committee, we have not the slightest intention of seeking to use the powers with which the Committee endowed us. If, in the distant future, a Secretary of State were minded to use those provisions, he would find them unusable for their intended purpose. The only consequence of failure to accept my amendment No. 58 would be to leave an unwanted and unworkable power in the Bill.

In terms of strict law, it was unnecessary for us to table this amendment. We could have accepted the amendments made in Committee, content in the knowledge that they make no difference, but that would have been disingenuous. We do not want a levy, nor, I believe, do the majority of hon. Members. In the circumstance, we should remove from the Bill any suggestion that this House favours the levy solution.

I have no new arguments to advance tonight. They have all been aired before. It is wrong in principle for the private rights of a few to be enforced by means of a general tax, which hits innocent and guilty alike. That is especially so when the beneficiaries of such a levy would be the relatively well-to-do record companies and pop stars; and those who would pay include the visually handicapped, those with impaired hearing the churches, younger consumers—not a cast list of the rich and famous. It may be that there are poor composers—I hear it said many earn less than £5,000 per year from performances of their work—but let us not delude ourselves. A copyright levy would not benefit them; the money would go to swell the coffers of the composers who already make large sums. It is successful and popular music which is copied most and which would receive the lion's share of any levy. Much would flow overseas, especially to the United States of America, without any corresponding return to United Kingdom composers.

Mr. Wilson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his list of categories containing people that he says would be unfairly penalised under a levy coincides remarkably with groups of people who will lose under the poll tax? It is disingenuous in the extreme to come to the House this week to plead for a few pennies for the blind and disabled when only a week ago the Government bludgeoned out of existence every amendment that favoured the disabled and involved infinitely greater sums of money than this.

Mr. Maude

That is not the best point that the hon. Gentleman could have raised. It was a fairly poor one. The list that I read to the House contained people who are particularly heavy users of blank tape. It seems wrong that they should be asked to pay a special levy on something that they use for perfectly innocent purposes, in order to provide extra money for an industry that is already doing rather well.

All hon. Members who spoke in Committee in favour of a levy said quite properly that their support for this proposal depended on acceptable arrangements being found for innocent users, especially blind people. An acceptable relief scheme for blind people is a pipe dream. After we published the White Paper in 1986, we explored every possibility and could not find a way to satisfy the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Hon. Members cannot say that they favour a levy but that, of course, the blind must be looked after. Those are mutually exclusive propositions. Those who favour a levy must do so in the full recognition that blind people will be prejudiced. I do not want to spend a long time going through all the arguments again.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

My hon. Friend is speaking at some length about the blind. Of course everybody cares about blind people and wants to support them. One person in 300 is registered as visually handicapped and on average, people buy eight blank tapes per year. A levy of 10p per tape would come to 80p a year. If a blind person bought twice as many it would come to £1.60 a year. That is 3p a week. Does my hon. Friend seriously believe that blind people who derive a great deal of enjoyment from listening would resent paying 3p a week to musicians, composers and actors who entertain them? Is my hon. Friend not employing a rather small argument to try to defeat the proposal?

Mr. Maude

The argument is put in perfectly good faith by many organisations that represent blind people. I do not think that the RNIB is filled with any sort of animus against copyright owners. It is an organisation of good will doing charitable work for the good of the blind people that it represents. For my hon. Friend to write this off as a trifling argument and to say that people can perfectly well afford such a levy will not do.

Members of the Committee who advanced the argument for a blank tape levy were perfectly straightforward about it. They said that no scheme should be introduced unless a relief scheme for blind people could be introduced. In good faith the Government have explored all the possibilities for devising such a scheme. It cannot be done.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Does my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) know that only one in three of all people with visual handicaps are registered, and a smaller percentage of those people with aural handicaps are registered? The Minister has, perhaps, not spoken about those with handicaps quite as forcefully as he has spoken about the blind. I have here a letter from the chief executive of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and it clearly makes the point on behalf of both problem areas. It says: The RNID fully recognises the rights of copyright owners to protect their interests, but does not believe that a workable levy system including exemptions and rebates for deaf people has been found. Accordingly we are most concerned that should the power in the Bill be used it would penalise deaf people for using a most valuable resource. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) said that blind people bought only eight tapes a year. He completely omitted to mention the talking newspapers, from which many hon. Members have had letters; I have copies of all those letters, of which there were 400 or 500 in the last three weeks. Even the small talking newspapers regularly use about 400 tapes a week.

Mr. Maude

My hon. Friend makes a vivid point. I know that the House will accept the argument that she advances on behalf of aurally handicapped people, and I am grateful to her for making her point so powerfully.

The arguments have been fully exposed. The fashion for a levy solution has now passed. It is worth noting that in its recent Green Paper the European Commission did not build on the levies in France and West Germany to propose a Communitywide system, as some had expected it to; it did quite the reverse.

People are beginning to realise that levies are not the solution. We should perhaps even begin to question whether there is a problem that needs a solution. The countries with the most buoyant music and record industries—the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan—have survived private copying without a levy, and it now seems that Europe, too, is to turn away from a levy. I invite the House to do the same.

Mr. Page

Amendments Nos. 230, 231 and 232, standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), provide a simple solution to the Government's difficulty. The Government have introduced the Bill for a variety of reasons, but one of the major reasons must be related to the advances that have been made in new technology. Without those advances, the Bill would be a considerably slimmer volume than it is and we should almost certainly not be discussing a blank tape levy, as it would be quite difficult to reproduce plastic or bakelite discs.

New technologies have brought advances principally in the handling and dissemination of information—from computers through new printing and reproduction techniques to laser discs, satellites and cables. Those new methods of storing, accessing and spreading information increase its value, but the same technology has made illicit copying that much easier. To take a classic example, educational software never got off the ground because of the ease of making illicit copies. Illicit copies have destroyed the very investment that makes progress possible.

I say that in reply to those who argue, "Home taping does no harm; the record companies are wealthy enough anyway and can afford to forgo whatever revenue might come their way because of the levy." My hon. Friend the Minister made virtually the same point. I have never believed that one strengthens the weak by weakening the strong, and I do not believe that we shall help the music industry by asking it to forgo what rightfully belongs to it.

Our debate tonight is not just about money; it is about principles of right and wrong. The loss of sales to British products through illicit copying and breaches of copyright runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. It is impossible to estimate the exact sum but there are figures to suggest that it is in excess of £500 million. No economy in the world would happily forgo that amount of revenue.

Not only is the overall loss of sales through illicit reproductions virtually incalculable; the creators of original work see their ideas being lost through copying. They also see the sheer difficulties of enforcement. I hope that it is those difficulties that lie at the heart of the levy argument. I hope that that, rather than the question of legalising home taping, is at the front of our minds.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Surely the Government's best argument relates to the proportion of a levy that would go to the artist or the original producer of the work. Can my hon. Friend tell us how much of the levy would go to the artist? My experience of the record industry tells me that the bulk of the levy would go to a record company that had bought the copyright from the artist at a knockdown price when he was a young man.

11.30 pm
Mr. Page

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) did not have the privilege or the opportunity of attending the Committee, but that matter was fully debated then. Whether we like it or not, copyright is invested in whoever has purchased it and in the particular case cited by my hon. Friend it lies with the record company. The strength of the contract between the artist or composer and the record company is another matter. If they become famous enough they may write into their contracts that they should get an advantage from the revenue derived from the levy, but it is up to them.

I do not apologise for my preamble. Tonight the Government have failed to solve the question of copyright on time shift, and they will shortly make exactly the same mistake with audio taping. For some reason the Government, or rather one or two Ministers, have tied themselves to the rails as the express is thundering towards them—just like the "Boys' Own" stories. There is an alternative, but even after the Green and White Papers and the manifestoes, the Government refuse to take that alternative course of action.

I accept what the Minister said about the amendment passed in Committee. I accept that it was not up to strength and that it would not have stood up to scrutiny and the test of operation. In Committee we made that same point. We said that the amendment was being used as an example to test the strength of opinion for blank taping. We accepted that it was not pure milk as regards the introduction of a blank tape levy. However, if the amendment had been cleaned up a little, it would have given enabling power to the Minister, had that power been required at a later date. The Government can still untie themselves from the rails, but I do not believe that the will is there.

Some people may wonder at all the fuss about a "little private copying". One instance of private copying may not be much, but regular home taping is widespread and hits the record, film and video industries. The Minister said that thousands of people are involved, but as he knows from my earlier intervention, we are dealing not with thousands but with millions of people. The problem will get worse as new forms of recording equipment become available.

I know that great store is set by the introduction of spoilers and that it is believed that they will block the reproduction of digital audio tapes when those tapes become more generally available and attractively priced. I have some experience in the security industry, and I know that for every lock there is a key. For spoilers that key is already available: it is called an enhancer. There may be a proposal to make such enhancers illegal, but making things illegal has never stopped them being used. To anyone connected with the production of pre-recorded tapes, the most fair and workable solution is a royalty or levy system. Although such a system would mean revenue to the companies involved, I also believe that it would signify a return to moral standards.

The Government have done a magnificent job in pioneering a return to a revived economy. Most of the economic indicators show that things are on the way up and the economy is looking more promising than it has done for years. Although that economic success is still too short-lived to be taken for granted, it needs to be reinforced by a social and cultural revolution.

I shall resist talking about family values and the reinforcement of traditional values, but I believe that it is wrong for the Government to walk away from introducing and supporting the principle of copyright. Technological changes will constantly require control and the guidance of law. That has happened in medicine, and the law will be changed with regard to embryo experimentation. In the same way, by rejecting the amendment, the Government are abandoning the principle of copyright. I do not want to labour the obvious—

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about what is morally right, will he tell us what is morally right about imposing a levy on people who use blank tapes in a perfectly legal way and never copy material that they should not copy? Surely it is wholly unfair to penalise people who obey the law, as opposed to those who break it?

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman has a point. A degree of rough justice is involved in this. I accept that some will be caught in the trap that he has described. With the exception made for people who are visually handicapped and with the proviso that tapes of under 35 minutes length would be exempt, I suggest that very few—perhaps no—users would be thus caught. If they want to avoid this levy—incidentally, it has been absorbed by every tape producer in the countries in which it has been introduced —all they have to do is make sure that they buy tapes less than 35 minutes long—

Mr. Bennett

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that an oral historian, for instance, would use a large amount of tape? Often such historians are not well funded and the cost of buying tapes of their work is high. They do not want to keep changing tapes for less than 35 minutes length when interviewing people for oral history projects. They want tapes that are as long as possible.

Mr. Page

As I said, there is an element of rough justice. If a vast number of tapes are being bought for educational purposes, I see no difficulty about arranging some sort of exemption for genuine use.

We come back to blank tapes and the principle of copyright. The whole purpose of the Bill is to enshrine in legislation a protection for ingenuity and creativity, which constitute two of the great advantages of this nation. Turning a blind eye to the issue shows a lack of moral leadership.

Mr. Devlin

Would my hon. Friend be in favour of imposing a levy on blank paper for photocopying machines? The principle is the same.

Mr. Page

When my hon. Friend reflects on that intervention, he may wish he had never made it.

The House will not be surprised to hear that I do not accept the permissive argument that home taping should be allowed free, gratis and for nothing. A certain body of opinion advocates that line of action, but it breaches the principle of copyright. It becomes almost impossible to know where to draw the line. Will a home owner be allowed an extra copy for his car? Will the standard family with 2.4 children have one or two more copies for the Walkman? If a relative drops in and likes the music that is on, will he be allowed a copy, too? The only safe position is to adhere to the principle of copyright.

The debate about the legality of home taping in Committee was instructive, if nothing else. My hon. Friend the Minister tackled the matter by saying: If the Committee decide … that it should remain a criminal act to copy copyright audio works, stringent action by the industry could have a salutary effect. He went on to say: there are private rights which are enforceable in the courts. They are not enforced at present, and there is scope for that practice to be enhanced."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 24 May 1988; c. 336.] That was interesting. How did my hon. Friend envisage enforcing the time shift proposal on the 28-day limit?

The Government's decision to alter that proposal because it was unenforceable provides the answer to my hon. Friend's question. He almost admitted it later in Committee, when he prayed in aid the judgment of Lord Templeman in the Amstrad case—a judgment which most Committee members quoted at one time or another in support of their arguments. The judgment said: A law which is treated with such contempt should be amended or repealed. That point was also made in the 1986 White Paper.

My hon. Friend the Minister tried to justify the Government's changed stance on the levy, at which point the debate became interesting. He said: We have seriously considered such a scheme. I did not simply study it for a few minutes before I began my speech or talked to a couple of people."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E; 24 May 1988, c. 340.] That was a Freudian slip, because I reckon that a couple of people spoke to him, and those two people had decided that it would not work.

The blank tape levy has created more confusion than any other subject. The Conservative manifesto stated: As part of a major reform in the law of copyright home taping will be legalised in exchange for a 10 per cent. levy on blank audio tapes. Organisations and their members who use tapes without breaching copyright, ie blind people, will be able to claim a full rebate. Is my hon. Friend saying, as he seems to be implying tonight, that the Government went into the election knowing that they did not have a proper agreed rebate system for blind people? The briefing notes sent out by Conservative Central Office said that special provision would be made for the blind, as well as organisations and individuals who do not infringe copyright. Perhaps that answers the question asked by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). I was asked two similar questions, one at the public meeting. Safe with the manifesto and the speaking notes in front of me, I replied, "Yes, we shall introduce a blank tape levy."

I can only assume that, until election day, the blank tape levy was policy—with the provisos to help the visually handicapped, and exemptions for tapes with a short running time. But within a few weeks of the election, in a puff of smoke and a flash of light, the proposal disappeared. I want to know from my hon. Friend what happened. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who asked what had happened since the election to reverse the policy contained in the Green Paper, the White Paper and the manifesto.

The temptation to run through the history of the matter and to list all the committees that have been formed is almost irresistable, but in deference to those who wish to speak I shall resist it. It is a few years since I felt moved enough to vote against the Government. The previous occasion was in 1980, when I voted against them on the employment legislation, and the next year, under a three-line whip, the Government exhorted me to vote for the very proposal that they had tried to block the year before.

The amendment in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) and for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) provides a solution to the video and audio tape problem. It reinforces copyright. I do not understand why the Government do not embrace the ideas in the Green Paper, the White Paper and the manifesto. Even at this last moment, I urge my hon. Friend to think again.

11.45 pm
Mr. Blair

The blank tape levy, or royalty, was discussed fully in Committee. I do not pretend, and I have never pretended, that this is an easy judgment to make. It is not. But in an imperfect world we should adopt not the perfect solution, because there is rarely one, but the best solution that can be found.

No hon. Member has suggested either on Second Reading, or in Committee or today that home taping is not practised on a considerable scale and that in the main it is illegal. At the very least, the House has a duty either to make it legal or to provide a proper means of enforcing the remedies against illegality.

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) referred to the Amstrad judgment. What was remarkable about that judgment was its unanimity about the desirability of removing an unenforceable law. In his speech Lord Templeman said: From the point of view of society the present position is lamentable. Millions of breaches of the law must be committed by home copiers every year. He ended the paragraph by saying: A law which is treated with such contempt should be amended or repealed. The Government have introduced proposals not to amend or repeal the law but to leave it in an inherently unsatisfactory state.

The solution to home taping in other countries is a royalty on blank tapes. That solution has been adopted all over Europe, most recently in Spain. It is being operated in West Germany and France. While the Bill was being debated in Committee the Australian Government announced that they intended to introduce a blank tape levy. It could not therefore be said that it would be odd for this country to adopt such a solution. A royalty on blank tapes has been introduced elsewhere, even though the record industries in those countries are far less important than our own.

Mr. Devlin

How much of the levy in West Germany goes to the composers?

Mr. Blair

About 60 per cent. I shall turn in a moment to the question of how much of the levy goes to the rich composers and how much of it goes to poorer composers.

The rest of Europe is moving sensibly towards the introduction of a blank tape levy while the scale of the problem in this country is growing. Many more blank tapes are sold every year than pre-recorded cassettes. Probably two thirds of those tapes, or even more, are used to make illicit copies. Unlawfulness on that scale puts into the context the arguments against the blank tape levy.

Another argument is that all the money will go to the very rich, to the Michael Jacksons of this world, not to poorer composrs and song writers. The best judges of the interests of poorer composers and song writers are the bodies that represent those people. Their view is unanimous: that the poorer composers and song writers will secure a significant part of that levy. A limit is placed in West Germany on the amount that any song writer can receive. That is a means of distributing the money raised by the levy. It would be bizarre if we were to say that poorer composers and song writers in this country are in a different position.

The second objection that is made to the blank tape levy concerns the blind, the disabled and other groups. All hon. Members quite rightly take seriously any representations made on behalf of blind, deaf or otherwise disabled people. However, my view is that for the Government, this has become something of a shroud behind which they hide what has been essentially a political and tactical decision, taken for other reasons. I say that because we have made it absolutely clear throughout that we believe that proper exemption schemes should and could be found for such groups. That is why the amendment we tabled in Committee gave the Government a power to introduce the levy scheme. It did not even go as far as some wanted, and impose an immediate obligation on them to do so. That is because the problems of the blind, the disabled, and indeed the oral historians to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) referred, require proper schemes to be found.

At present, a scheme to the satisfaction of the blind, the deaf and the disabled has not yet been found. However, copyright Bills come before the House once every 30 years. Surely it is not unreasonable, given the trend of events elsewhere, to say that at least a power should be on the statute book so that negotiations can be held, hopefully leading to a satisfactory conclusion.

Miss Emma Nicholson

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Perhaps he can explain why two years of solid negotiations with the blind and deaf organisations, with the Government heavily committed in print to a blank tape levy, have wholly failed to come up with anything that will satisfy those organisations. Will he also explain how on earth he expects a blind person to become other than more dependent, given that any exemption scheme will rely on paperwork, and a blind person will have to find a sighted person to help fill in the form?

Mr. Blair

I do not think that all exemptions schemes necessarily depend on that. Indeed, West Germany provides an interesting analogy. In West Germany, the royalty has been subsumed into the cost of the tape so the price of a blank tape has not risen at all. In any event, paperwork is not the only way of providing an exemption scheme. It could be provided through the allowances paid to blind and disabled people.

I appreciate that the blind, the disabled and the lobbies associated with those groups will oppose any notion of a blank tape royalty or levy, but ultimately, we have to weigh that objection and consider how serious it is—given the commitment to finding a decent exemption scheme—against the interests of those who are having their copyright transgressed and who, if we leave the law as it is, will continue to have it transgressed without any comeback whatsoever. I find that wholly unsatisfactory.

Miss Emma Nicholson

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I shall not ask him to give way again. I recognise his genuine concern and commitment to making a blank tape levy work for the blind and the deaf, as well as for composers. But can I not get it over to him and to other hon. Members that the majority of those who are blind or deaf are not known as such to society? They are not registered, and they are not members of voluntary organisations. They are invisible because they prefer to be treated as normal and we shall not be able to find them.

Mr. Blair

Those problems are exactly the problems that have been addressed by other legal systems and other Administrations in other countries and they have been overcome.

It is also important to stress that we must be careful not to exaggerate just how much difference the levy or royalty will make. Listening to some of the comments made outside, it seems as if blind people will be prevented from buying tapes following the passage of a royalty levy. That is simply not the case.

It is important to retain a sense of perspective. I do not believe that we could not find a workable exemption that would be acceptable to all parties. If a proper exemption scheme cannot be found, a levy should not be introduced. We have made that clear throughout. That is why we have said that a power should be given to the Government rather than an obligation.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be an exemption, not just for the blind and disabled, but for at least all educational users so that the oral historian I mentioned earlier as well as anthropologists, folklorists and others who use tapes in large quantities should not have to pay the levy? Will my hon. Friend also look at the problems for schools? In the new GCSE examination a large amount of work from pupils has to be recorded for moderation purposes. Those are all cases for exemption. However, if there are exemptions will there not be two prices for tapes? If one is not careful, there will be as many infringements by people moving from a legitimate exemption to an illegitimate exemption.

Mr. Blair

Obviously we have to be careful. It would be absurd to have two different prices for tapes. The Australian Government, who a few weeks ago introduced their own proposals for a blank tape royalty, included specific exemptions for educational institutions.

If one put all the exemptions together, they would make up a fraction of the problem of illicit home taping. About 50 million to 60 million blank tapes every year are used for illicit home taping. Therefore, it is important to retain a. sense of perspective when talking about the necessary exemptions.

We believe that the rights of copyright owners are important and it is virtually beyond doubt that they are being infringed on a large scale. We do not say that the levy solution is a perfect one but we do say that it is the best one available. If workable exemptions can be found to take account of the needs of those who deserve exemption, we shall be in a much better position than we are now. Legalising home taping, plus the introduction of a levy system to compensate, must be preferable to the present position. That is the real choice we have to make and we are sure that our judgment is correct.

Mr. Wigley

The Government have got themselves into an almighty tangle. That became clear in Committee and has become clear again tonight. Day after day we hear from the television advertisements that we are moving towards 1992. Surely we should be taking account of what has been happening in continental countries in recent years and we should be arranging our affairs in a way that gives fair play to the composers and musicians in the countries of Britain.

The Government are guilty of bad faith on this issue. That has been pointed out to Ministers by Conservative Back Benchers. The Conservatives fought an election only a little over 12 months ago on a policy of introducing charges on blank tapes and then did an immediate somersault. Government Back Benchers and voters outside the House, let alone Opposition Members, are entitled to some explanation of why the change was made. We have not had an explanation. It would seem that some of the big battalions, possibly geared to Japanese interests and so on, have been lobbying hard and that the Government have succumbed to the lobbying. The way in which blind people and other disabled people have been used as part of that lobby is distasteful. I am not willing to accept, from either side of the House, any accusation that we are not interested in the rights and well-being of disabled people.

Only last week in the debate on the poll tax we heard that there are other ways of looking after disabled people, who will suffer considerably greater increases in the costs imposed on them from the poll tax than from the few pence involved in this issue. We were told that they could be helped through income support and other methods. That argument appealed to Conservative Members at that time. If the argument was valid then, it is valid now.

The argument put by the Royal National Institute for the Blind to those who have been campaigning on behalf of musicians about why it has not come forward with a scheme is that it is not run in a way that facilitiates the drawing up of a scheme. It is a fragmented organisation, and that makes it difficult. If those who campaign on behalf of blind people were to perceive a real difficulty, they would find a way around it, as has been done in other countries.

12 midnight

Doing a wrong to one group does not justify not finding a formula for another group. Pitting one deserving group against another is not a reasonable way forward. Hon. Members from the Opposition parties, at least, are aware of the interests of music unions. Many composers and others have to do on a small income. There could be a scheme similar to that in Germany, where there is a mechanism for spreading out the benefits that come from a charge on blank tapes. Goodness only knows that such groups deserve it. There are mechanisms for safeguarding the interests of disabled and blind people. I am convinced of that. People who are involved with disablement believe that that can be done.

It is not a lucid argument to say that, because of an effect on another group, we shall do an injustice and that we shall not apply the laws of copyright to musicians and composers. There is a way round it. It may be by exemption, it may be by passing over a fund en bloc to the RNIB or other organisations, or it may be by other schemes. I am convinced that it can be achieved.

We are doing the arts in general a disservice by not moving in the direction in which other groups have been moving on the issue. I do not know whether the Government really believe in what they are doing. We have heard from the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs, in his last few hours in his present post. I do not know whether he really believes in the change of course that the Government are taking. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher), who has done such a great job for the Government on the Bill, really believes, as a Minister with a considerable interest in music and composition, in what the Government are doing as he moves on to a post in the Department of Education and Science.

The arguments of justice are on the side of making sure that there is a mechanism for recompensing composers, musicians and others. There are other mechanisms for making sure that, in doing so, we shall not do down groups such as disabled people. I should have thought that the Government, with the abilities that they have in other directions, could surely find a way around the problem, even at this late stage.

Mr. Bowis

A little earlier, with great grace and panache, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs stepped down from a previous policy held during the consideration of the Bill. He reminded us of Oscar Wilde's cry that what the world needs is more geniuses with humility; there are so few of us. My hon. Friend was a genius. He showed great humility, and down he stepped with the 28-day shift, and quite rightly, too. Otherwise, we would have condemned our fellow citizens, every month for the rest of their lives, to going back to the tape machine to put on another video to fulfil the terms of the law. We have come up with another solution. He acknowledged that he had left the matter open and had left copyright rather bare and undefended. He suggested that our amendments might cover silent movies only. At least it is a way forward that he can pick up, take away and run with.

I have some sympathy with the Government. I understand their dilemma. They support the principle of copyright and acknowledge that the present law is unenforceable. They accept the principle of finding an alternative, but they do not think that a viable alternative is the tape levy scheme. I am not one who thinks that the levy is the perfect solution for all problems. The best solution is to find a way of enforcing copyright. The trouble is that copyright is difficult to enforce, yet the House was the authority that decided that performers, composers and producers of music and films should have copyright.

The purpose of such a decision was, and can only have been, to provide a right to income for one's work and the right not to have one's work tampered with. But Parliament did not provide the realistic means or the method for the performers, composers and producers to enforce that right. In theory, little Johnny, who takes a cassette to his room and records the tape that his friend has lent him, could be taken to court by the record producer. That is clearly absurd. Such a case would not stand up in court and the public would not accept the "catch-you-out" society that sent tape-detector vans out to establish whether little Johnny was recording in his back bedroom. The tape-copying detector van is not with us yet, and I suspect that it never will be.

We have a law that is unenforceable, and unenforceable laws are bad laws. I do not say that we should abandon copyright law and remove it from the statute book. I say that an alternative form of compensation must be found for those whom we sought to protect originally. The Government have rightly rejected the first option as unfair to the music and films industries, and to composers and performers especially. They rightly proposed a modest tape levy in the past. That was the policy of the Conservative party at the general election and that was the policy on which the Government were elected.

During the general election, my hon. Friend the Minister talked about not wanting to have a tax, but there was a campaign to portray the levy as a tax. The Conservative party explained that none of the revenue would go to the Government. It was said that the funds raised would go to the performers and copyright owners as a royalty payment by the consumer for recording copyright material. Although composers, lyricists and artists assigned their rights to the recording companies, they would be entitled to a proportion of the levy revenue in their own right. That was the policy on which we were elected, and it was a policy which made sense.

Everyone was agreed on the principle and the question was how to implement the scheme. Since then, the Government have said that the scheme cannot be implemented. The industry has said that it could and that it would implement it. France has said that it has been implementing such a scheme since 1985. Germany says that it has been doing it for the past 20 years. Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy are saying, "We are about to do it." When the Bill was being considered in Committee, Australia said, "We shall do it too."

The issue was debated in Committee, and it is right that it should be discussed again this evening. We are conscious of the needs of the visually and aurally handicapped and we understand their concern. We insist that any levy should not impose hardship on such people. In other countries, such levies are absorbed by the industry. That means that no cost is passed on to the consumer. The British industry went further than that. The music industry offered a special deal for the blind and the deaf, with free tapes to be provided for such people until and unless it was clear that there would be no increase in price. Instead of having an imposition on such people, a new deal is on offer for those who suffer from sight or hearing problems.

The Government have said that it would be difficult to work out a scheme. In Committee, they said, "It will be difficult to work it out and we do not like the sound of what is being proposed." Surely we had a right to expect that between Committee and Report the Government would be consulting—"You, the industry, say that you could do it. How would you do it? You, the members of the Committee, said that it could be done. How could it be done?" I, as a member of the Committee, have not been asked for my views. I think that, similarly, my colleagues in Committee have not been asked. I do not know whether Opposition Members have been asked for their views, but I doubt it. The industry has not been asked to come forward with a scheme. The Music Copyright Reform Group has not been asked. The same goes for British Phonographic Industry Ltd. the Composers Guild of Great Britain and the British Copyright Council. Since the Committee reported, these bodies have not been asked by the Government how they would put the will of the Committee into practice.

It seems that a decision has been taken behind closed doors to oppose enabling legislation that would enable a scheme to be implemented of the sort that the members of the Committee had in mind.

The Government and hon. Members must remember that we are talking about 100 million blank tapes being imported and sold every year in this country. If we deduct 10 per cent. for those who use tapes for oral history studies—I think that was the phrase used by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett)—for little Johnny or for recording little Joanna's first squeaks on the recorder, we are still talking about 90 million tapes. Not one penny of the proceeds of those tapes is given to those whose music is being recorded. That is what we are trying to put right. The Government's first thoughts were right. The election policy on which we stood and were elected was right, and I tell those composers, performers and companies to whom I gave my word at the election, "This is not the moment to let you down."

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

I found the Minister's explanation puzzling. Part of the argument is that if it is difficult to enforce copyright, we should not legislate to protect it. Having not been a member of the Committee, I am left wondering why large tracts of the Bill have been enacted if that is the Government's sentiment.

We are discussing a disabling amendment. The Committee included in the Bill—the legislation will be in force for 20 or 30 years—the power to consider a scheme. The Government have said, "We do not want even to consider the possibility of introducing the scheme for the foreseeable future." That is an inexplicable stance for the Government to take, especially as they fought the election on precisely this issue. We are being asked to remove something from the Bill which does not require the Government to do anything; it simply allows them to consider a possibility in the future.

The arguments that have been advanced about the problems of disabled people are out of proportion and perspective. I have not heard any pleas or squeals from those who are opposed to the levy about the VAT that disabled people must pay on blank tapes, which is a far more substantial burden than any levy. I would be in favour of a scheme that reduced or eliminated the impact of the levy on disabled people, but that does not justify removing from the Bill the possibility of considering a scheme in the future without primary legislation.

None of the arguments that have been advanced as special pleading from disabled people are convincing. From certain quarters, that pleading is only crocodile tears. Disabled people could do with many more radical reforms and more assistance from the Government than they have received. To hear Ministers pleading the cause of disabled people is, in some cases, a little distasteful.

There are many ingenious ways in which a levy could be introduced so that the concerns of interested groups could be accommodated. We heard the arguments about distribution and who would receive the money, but we are talking only about the principle of setting up a scheme and discussing in detail how that could be done. Limits could be set, and part of the levy could be specifically earmarked for promotional purposes. It would be possible to allocate some of the money to the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and make them agencies for the distribution and sale of exempt tapes.

The arguments that have been advanced are not convincing; they are cosmetic and are designed to cover up the nakedness of the Government, who have done a volte-face that has embarrassed their supporters, many of whom have gone out on a limb to support the party line only to be asked to deny what they said after such a short period. It is not often that I speak on behalf of the Government's supporters, but many of them have been given a shabby deal.

I have been involved in one or two meetings where I have heard the vigorous and enthusiastic support of Conservative Members of Parliament for the principle of the levy, and I have seen their satisfaction when they have presented that as the Government's official policy. It is somewhat embarrassing from their point of view that they should be left to defend a volte-face for which they have had no adequate explanation.—[Interruption.] The protests suggest that they are deserving of sympathy.

12.15 am

We have failed to receive any explanation for this change, and I believe that the Minister will do himself a great disservice if he does not come up with a more convincing explanation at the end of this debate than he did at the outset. The issue has been thoroughly discussed, had all-party support and had the majority of the House behind it, but has reached the stage where we are now being asked to reverse that policy.

The Minister should explain to us why he cannot leave in the Bill enabling clauses, why the prospect of ever having a levy should be excluded from the legislation and why we will have to come back to the House and introduce new legislation if there is to be such a levy. We should resist the Government amendment. I hope that the Conservative Members, who have made clear how strongly they feel about it will stay behind and join us in the Lobby. I believe that they should defend their manifesto in a way that the Government are incapable of doing.

Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)

On 24 May, my hon. Friend the Minister said: I will look again to see whether we can find a way to meet the mischief that we have identified."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E; 24 May 1988, c. 343–4.] I listened carefully to my hon. Friend's speech, but I did not hear any new way to meet the mischief that he admitted. There was no remedy for the injustice that the White Paper recognised in 1986, when it said: the law should be amended to ensure that the owners of rights are able to derive benefit from them. My hon. Friend has dismissed the blank tape levy as rough justice. That is so, but the present situation that the Government support trades rough justice for no justice. At the moment, the record industry is getting the rough end of the Government's judgment.

Large amounts of money are involved. It is estimated that two and a half times as much music is privately copied as is bought in the shops. The record industry has not been greedy. It said that it would settle for the tape levy, which would raise £6 million or £7 million a year. I believe that that is remarkedly reserved. The record industry is healthy, but many composers and song writers earn less than £5,000 a year from performing royalties—in fact, some 94 per cent. fall into that category. Their loss would be proportionately more significant, and it is they who will suffer most if this illegality is not clamped down.

I wonder whether there is a parallel with the public lending right, which gives compensation to authors for loss of sales because their books are being lent from public libraries. I wonder whether a similar scheme could be devised for records, perhaps costing £3 million to £4 million. I am sure that that would cost less to administer and be easier to collect than the blank tape levy.

If the majority of adults now tape illegally, if they are not to be penalised in any way, and if no payment is to be collected by this admittedly cumbersome levy, at least I believe that we, the collectivity of taxpayers, can right the most glaring injustices caused by those infringements. After all, the formula or any public listening right could be weighted in favour of the song writers and composers, which may be a way to meet the mischief that the Minister has admitted.

Mr. Buchan

I shall be brief, but I thought it right that a voice which was not heard in Committee should be heard on this issue, especially as my only other contribution was to release certain aspects of copyright in relation to music.

I am impressed by the power, force, scale and nature of the people who have been advocating in Britain the need for such a levy to secure not rough justice, but an element of justice. The Musicians Union is one. I remember a campaign with which I have been associated with the Musicians Union over the years—the campaign for live music. It is interesting that even at this late stage the Musicians Union has again reminded us of the importance and value to it of such a levy.

The problems facing professional musicians in this country are exacerbated by the increasing access to recording and broadcasting, which has meant that live music is under threat because we have been getting a kind of diminution of the base from which our leading musicians come. At one time, when music was heard live, there was a broader base of practising musicians from which the top players emerged. As soon as there is mass recording and broadcasting, as we have now, the base begins to wither because the concentration is on those at the top of the apex who are heard and broadcast. We see that not only in pop and rock, but in classical music.

I was recently reading some of Bernard Shaw's music critiques and realised that the majority of people in this country could hear any of the Beethoven quartets far more frequently than Bernard Shaw could have heard them in his lifetime. If he heard one of the quartets three or four times, he was lucky, yet any of us can hear any of them any number of times. That makes me all the more aware of the perception of his criticism. We never take such facts on board.

I believe that we should have such a levy precisely because I believe that we could feed it back into the music world in general. One problem is that because of the absence of a levy—however small—the concentration is on only a few elite musicians. I mean elite in the sense of the best known because although I do not think that some of them, are good musicians, they are at the top of the pop scale, for a period. Music then becomes specialised, and advanced recording of that elite militates against the advanced recording and sales of cassettes of others who are not quite at the level of Michael Jackson in terms of the public's boosted and and hyped eye.

Therefore, the second, middle or young stage of musicians are militated against. When other music is bought, there is a limitation on the recording of that which those groups want to record. All that helps to militate against what we are seeking to do, which is to extend the base and productivity of the live musicians from whom we will get growth for the apex and the top players of the future.

It is for that reason—among many others—that there is a musical argument about the blank tape levy. Hon. Members have referred to the difficulties that will arise from such a levy and have asked how it will be applied and dealt with, and whether we will put it back into the industry in the form of lending rights as we do with libraries, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler).

I think that we can go one better than that. The problem of library lending rights is that those who are already well paid also receive the best royalties from the libraries. The single serious writer may end up with virtually nothing. Jeffrey Archer, for example, would receive more than, say, G. M. Trevelyan at present. G. M. Trevelyan said that it was a disaster for him when his "History of England" became a best-seller, because he had all his taxation problems in one period. If it had been spread over 10 years, as he had expected of an academic work, he would have been a good deal better off.

The problem of lending rights is that those who have, get again. I do not know what Jeffrey Archer pays—but come to think of it, never mind what he pays. As I have said, there is a problem. There is a better solution which was advocated in Labour's "Charter for the Arts", which I fear has suffered a sad demise. We argued that the levy should be used to develop the industry. I have argued for a public domain copyright for traditional music, and I think that we should seriously consider a dead writer copyright to assist theatres and to encourage new writers for the theatre. Such a levy could be an encouragement for new musicians and composers.

I believe that the Musicians Union is saying the same as me, except that it cannot say it so directly. We should invest in the base, for the musical development and education of new musicians, new compositions and their inspiration. The modern classical composer has great difficulties. They are not all Maxwell-Davies. A serious composer has difficulty making any money. They teach or perform. Edward McGuire is one of our leading Scottish composers but he lives by, among other things, teaching and playing in a folk group.

We could assist the levy to help new composers. All political parties have been pledged to a levy. The Conservative party has not made a convincing case for reneging on its pledge. The Government have talked about difficulties. Every Government, including the one I was in, talked about difficulties when they were afraid to face up to a principle. Difficulties become a substitute for tackling the principle.

Of course there are problems with various organisations, but we should involve them more, saying, "Here is money. How can you best use it?" I do not accept that there is a basic problem. It is a matter of will. The new clause does not say how we should proceed. It says that it will be 30 or 40 years before we consider the matter again, so we should at least write in the power to act. It does not suggest that we should act. Such a provision will sharpen thinking enormously.

I hope that Conservative Members will stick to their pledges. Whatever may be their cowardice in the face of pressures such as we have witnessed, they should say to those who say, "Think of the deaf, the poor, the blind, the lame and the halt": "You did not give a damn for the deaf, the poor, the blind, the lame and the halt when the poll tax was being passed." Such an argument will not wash. Conservative Members who want to stick by their policies had better stick by their courage, their convictions and their party programme, and vote with us.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

My role in life in this Parliament seems to be speaking late and briefly about matters on which we feel strongly.

I support my hon. Friends the Members for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) and for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who toiled long on the Committee, as have all who have spoken in this debate. I declare an interest in that I am concerned about intellectual property and have been since I came to the House. I welcome this, the first Bill to begin to deal with that issue.

It is not possible to divide the concept of intellectual property between deserving authors, computer programmers and designers and the undeserving performers of music, and expect to carry any weight in international circles. We have a Bill with 294 clauses, and we are leaving a damned great loophole in it. Some 90 million tapes are bought each year. They exceed the number of tapes of original works. If the Bill is left as it is, it will contain a massive loophole on the most essential element of intellectual property. I have listened to all the arguments I have rehearsed all the arguments with every Secretary of State in the Department of Trade and Industry since 1982. At the beginning many of them were reluctant to listen to the arguments but in the end everyone accepted the justice of a blank tape levy.

12.30 am

As has been said, we have been through the procedures of a Green Paper, a White Paper, the Queen's Speech and the Bill. The only two Ministers I got my hands on were the two who arbitrarily reversed the decision without consulting anybody. If the Government think that they can gain respect in the House by passing such legislation, they should think again. There is the matter of rough justice. I have taken part in phone-in programmes. Young people have phoned in and when they understand that they are being asked to pay 10p for the privilege of legally copying anything that they wish, they have said that that is nothing. They say that compact discs cost £9 or £12 and that they would welcome being put on the right side of the law.

Many hon. Members do not understand what young people do. I invite those hon. Members to go into record shops and have a look around them. On the same side of the shop as the compact discs and tapes they will find blank tapes. Most young people that I know, and certainly my nephews, rush home with a new record and copy it for all their friends and dish it out generally. Of course they do not necessarily charge, but such recording is common practice using the equipment that is now available. They might even copy records for my hon. Friend the Minister so that he can play it in his car when he drives down from his constituency. Perhaps he does not realise that he is breaking the law when he puts such a tape in his machine.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the people he is seeking to protect, small composers and people who are struggling, would not benefit from the levy? The large record producers who do not seem to be in financial difficulties would benefit.

Mr. Lester

Does my hon. Friend seek to defend the interests of successful authors such as Jeffrey Archer? I see no point in protecting his rights because he sells many books and makes much money from copyright. Under this levy contracts would change dramatically. With the levy in place new contracts in the music industry would contain clauses that would be different from those that were in place before the levy.

People who would not use blank tape to copy copyright are a tiny minority. The argument of rough justice is turned on its head. It is rough justice that satisfies 90 per cent. of the people who use tape to break copyright as opposed to the tiny percentage who do not. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry defended his decision in the Lords. The only argument that he could think to advance was about the blank tape in his answerphone. He perhaps did not realise that that tape was excluded from the legislation because it would be very unlikely to run for more than 35 minutes. Even if it was not excluded, how many times does one buy a blank tape for an answerphone? I suggest that it comes free with the kit and probably lasts 10 years. On that basis it probably costs a penny a year and I hardly think that that would cause hardship to my right hon. Friend.

This is a shabby move and we will regret it. It makes the legislation that we seek to pass very arbitrary. It will be difficult for my hon. Friends to defend in the courts of Europe and in Singapore and Taiwan, where we choose to reinforce the principle of the copyright of intellectual property. I hope that, even at this stage, the Government will consider thinking again.

Mr. Simon Coombs

There is no more intractable problem in the whole Bill than that which exercises us in this clause. Deliberations by many Governments and, most recently, by the European Commission, have failed to find a good solution to the problem of home taping. Where the rights of the owners of copyright are enshrined in law, as in the United Kingdom, Eire, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg and Italy—all countries within the European Community—copying is simply theft.

Normally and naturally, society's response to theft is to condemn it and to demand action to stop it. But what happens when the theft is perpetrated by a substantial proportion of the population? It has been estimated that more than 50 per cent. of the population indulges in home taping. When my hon. Friend the Minister said that we were talking about thousands of people, he was rightly corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page). We could be talking about 28 million people or more; it is certainly not thousands.

It is the development of the technology involving a major improvement in the quality of copying equipment and a reduction in its price which has made this practice possible, and the steady reduction in the cost of the equipment has made it increasingly widespread.

The members of the Standing Committee were annoyed that they had been unable to obtain a copy of the European Commission's Green Paper. That document has now become more widely available, and it would be worth while for the House to consider what happens in a number of other European countries. In six countries of the European Community—the United Kingdom, Eire, Greece, Luxembourg, Belgium and Italy—copying is not permitted. In one country, the Netherlands, it is permitted, and in the remainder—Denmark, Germany, Spain, France and Portugal—it is permitted but with the understanding that there should be recompense for the owners of the copyright.

In other words, nearly half the countries of Europe allow for a levy or royalty on blank tapes and the trend in Europe and elsewhere in the world is in that direction, yet in this country the Government choose to buck the trend and deny copyright owners what is rightfully theirs.

The 1986 White Paper "Intellectual Property and Innovation" put forward proposals for a blank tape levy in considerable detail. The Government concluded that copyright owners and performers should be remunerated for the use of their material. The White Paper said: there is no realistic alternative to a compulsory levy on blank recording tape as a means of providing such remuneration". The Government were right.

It was proposed that the royalty should be payable by manufacturers and importers who were the first traders in the United Kingdom and that the Secretary of State should specify by order the categories and performers entitled to benefit from the royalty proceeds. At that stage it was suggested that the rate of the royalty should be fixed at 10 per cent. of the manufacturer's price for the blank tape.

The Government said that in reaching their conclusions they had had particular regard to the need to put the law on a sensible and—as far as possible—enforceable basis, as well as the need to balance the interests of copyright owners and performers with those of the public at large. I make no apology for putting those words on record once again. They represent the views of the Government in 1986 and even in 1987 at the general election. Those of us who fought the election on that clear understanding of the Government's intention feel aggrieved. We feel let down by what happened subsequently. A new Government took office and new Ministers were appointed to the Department of Trade and Industry. Suddenly, and without any warning, the weathercock swung and the policy changed. None of the facts had changed and none of the background arguments had changed—only the Ministers. It could go down on record as the fastest U-turn of all time.

What are the arguments that the Government now advance in support of their rejection of the levy, given that they argued comprehensively and satisfactorily for such a levy prior to the election? The Minister has said that there is no acceptable scheme for organisations representing the blind. That is not a great surprise to me. If those organisations were asked, "Is there a scheme that you would accept?", the answer would naturally be no. If the Government had said, "We intend to introduce the levy; will you tell us how you would like to see your members helped?", the answer would have been yes. If one asks the wrong question, one gets the wrong answer.

Many blind people do not want to be treated differently from the rest of the community. Many are keen to have their disability set aside and to be treated as ordinary people, as they are in every other respect. Therefore, why should the Government lean over backwards to help a small proportion of the population who do not want to be treated differently? That would be unsatisfactory, especially as the vast majority of the population would be allowed to abuse copyright and break the law.

Perfectly adequate proposals have been put forward for exempting tapes of less than 35 minutes as well as proposals to make other exemptions that would have satisfied blind organisations had they been put on the spot and asked to discuss them seriously.

The idea that the levy is a tax is constantly raised as a reason for its rejection. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) has already quoted what the Government, prior to 1987, said about that. It is not a tax but a royalty or a levy. A tax can only be an impost of Government on people for the benefit of raising funds for that Government. The levy does not fall into that category and every time a Minister uses the word "tax", he is wrong and it is right that we should correct him.

We have been told that the bureaucracy involved is too complicated. The collecting societies already exist and have already said that they are prepared to take on that extra responsibility; after all, what is the responsibility? It means collecting one cheque per annum from each importer of blank tapes, most of which come from the far east. There would not be a great deal of bureaucracy. The cost would lie in the distribution of the revenue from the levy to those who are entitled to receive it. It is up to those receiving it to reach a solution as quickly as possible about how to distribute the levy proceeds to reduce their loss of income. West Germany and France have embraced the levy and it seems to work well for them. I find it impossible to understand the argument that it could not work well here.

Even at this late hour, a number of factors relating to the problem have not been discussed. Six times more music comes from taping than from the original records and tapes. That recording is made from the radio or from records borrowed from others. The basic product of composers, musicians and record companies—irrespective of which of them is the copyright owner—is exploited and the reward of that owner is drastically reduced. The Government would want us to believe that the amount involved is small, but more than 50 per cent. of the population copy music. Already 50 per cent. of the owners of compact disc players use them in conjunction with tapes to record improved quality music. Eighty per cent. of those between the ages of 8 and 14 are already copying music. More and more younger people are copying music and therefore, in the future, a higher proportion of the population will copy music.

Ninety million blank tapes were imported in 1986. The figure for 1987 will be nearer 100 million. Ninety per cent. of them are used for copying music. The only weapon that the Government offer the aggrieved owners of a copyright is a civil action for damages or compensation, which is virtually unsustainable in the courts. The Government are failing in their duty to these people.

12.45 am

In Committee my hon. Friends proposed that the Government should be enabled to introduce a licensing scheme. The Government do not want it. Why not? Are they particularly anxious to support the importers of Japanese tapes? Are they anxious to deny support to a highly successful indigenous industry, which brings in foreign earnings and is being robbed? Are they anxious to avoid following the lead of their partners in the European Community? Surely not. Are they anxious to resist the sensible arguments of my hon. Friends? Are they anxious to do a U-turn away from their policies of the previous Parliament? Surely not. I do not know why the Government persist with this crazy policy. They will not tell us why—

Mr. Butterfill

Does my hon. Friend agree that it might be something to do with the fact that the general public might conceivably not understand why we would be taking money from the blind to give to the Beastie Boys?

Mr. Coombs

My hon. Friend attempts to drag me back to the arguments about the blind. If he has been listening to my speech he must know the answer to his question. I shall deal with his point about the Beastie Boys, by which I assume he means the pop group and, perhaps, the record industry. It is not the job of the House or the Government to play Robin Hood and decide that the rich are rich enough. The law is the law, and the House should consider that. If, as a result of upholding the law, those who are wealthy become more wealthy, so be it. We cannot pick and choose and tell wealthy people to give up some of their wealth because someone else has found a way of stealing it from them. If we adopt that view, we are all wasting our time here. I do not want to do that.

In fairness, we should note the Government's willingness to take action on the rental right and on the protection of anti-spoiler devices. Both of those are potentially greater threats to the record industry than home taping. We thank the Government for the action that they propose to take. But it amounts to a policeman telling someone that he would take action to stop him being murdered but that he was too busy to stop him being robbed. I do not see the logic or justice of that. We are entitled to demand that the law be upheld. The idea that action on future problems obviates the need to deal with the present one is not tenable.

Finally, I declare my interest. I am a customer of the record industry. I want it to prosper. Without its success, there will be no money for the non-commercial classical music which I love, and no money for the experimental new groups of tomorrow. Had we adopted this policy 25 years ago, when there was little home taping because the technology was not available, we might not have enjoyed the music of groups such as the Beatles, because the money for contracts to record them would not have been forthcoming.

The Government have failed to deal with the problem of home taping. They have rejected a sensible solution that has been accepted by other Governments. I cannot be like the Vicar of Bray and agree with everything the Government say. If the Government want to stand on their heads from time to time, that is fine; but I shall not join them in what must, for all of us, be an uncomfortable and undignified attitude. If I must be disloyal, I choose to be disloyal to the current policy. Two years ago, I should have been loyal, because the policy then was the opposite of what it is today. I may prove to be loyal again in the future.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Perhaps I may make a point that has not been covered tonight or in Committee. There has been a change since the general election; indeed, there has been a change since the White Paper. If right hon. and hon. Members have a moment to listen—it is not late, but early—they may see the reasoning behind the Government's change in stance.

I speak about technological advance and about further consultation with the computer software industry. Since the White Paper was issued, there has been a shift in the way in which sound recordings are made. Traditionally, music has been recorded in analogue form and computer software has been recorded digitally. That is now changing, and music is being recorded digitally. That means that there is no difference between what one chooses to record and what one chooses to copy. Some of the machines that are coming over from Japan—far more worrying than the market being flooded by blank tapes from Japan—will have exactly the same effect on recording computer software as they will have on recording material produced by the Rolling Stones, if they still exist, or by J. S. Bach. It is the same equipment, and it will make the same recording.

The problem is that, if we legalise the home taping of sound recordings, which we would do by imposing a 10p levy on the price of a blank tape, we shall also legalise—perhaps without meaning to—the home taping of computer software. That represents a very different amount of money. The imposition of a 10p levy on a blank tape may lead one to believe that the composer has been properly recompensed. Perhaps the tape on which one is recording costs £1, so 10p is a nice sum. But computer software may have £2 million-worth of human intellectual endeavour within it. How could we price the levy on that blank tape? I suggest that £100,000 would not be too much.

The technology has shifted in the past 18 months or year. Perhaps that is why the Government have shifted their stance. The computer industry is a £2 billion industry and is growing at the rate of 25 per cent. a year. Of course, people who want home taping to be legalised will answer that the 10p is not meant to pay for computer software, and that people will be authorised to copy only sound recordings. But there will be a problem in that industry, because in today's world sound recordings also include video recordings. The general practice is that when a pop group makes a sound recording, it makes a video, too. The music is recorded not just for the ear, but for the eye. What fun we shall have if it becomes legal to re-record a video at home, but it is legal to record the audio tape only if one has paid the levy. Yet with an optical disk one uses the same machinery to record both. Perhaps we should leave the proponents of the 10p levy to sort out that red herring for themselves. My problem is how to explain to the House why it is impossible to go ahead with a blank tape levy, given the advances in modern technology.

The computer industry has adopted a completely different stance from that adopted by the sound recording industry. It has put its house in order. I have already referred to the fact that it is growing at the rate of 25 per cent. a year. In the last three years it has managed to contain the growth of theft. Theft has not increased by 25 per cent., in line with the growth of the computer industry. It has remained static.

The industry has saved itself £50 million a year in each of the last three years. It has done that by mounting prosecutions in the civil and criminal courts against those who illegally take computer software. I ask myself whether that might be a possible way forward for the sound recording industry. It has not mounted a single prosecution during the last 10 years against illegal theft. I wonder whether the sound recording industry has dragged its feet because it expected the Government to do its work for it.

Mr. Lester

Is there not a considerable difference in scale between copying computer software and those who are likely to do it for gain and prosecuting every young person between 16 and 18 who makes copies of compact discs? It is difficult to accept my hon. Friend's comparison, because of the gains that those who copy computer software make when they resell the item.

Miss Nicholson

My hon. Friend asks three questions in one. He may not realise the relevance of personal computers. Their sale has increased markedly in recent times. Young people often have in their bedroom a small machine, relatively modest in price, whose disks contain several million pounds-worth of research. Young people like to copy the hard disks of personal computers, thereby creating another floppy disk or hard disk, and to pass them on to brothers, sisters, cousins and school friends. That is why I referred not just to criminal prosecutions but also to civil prosecutions.

I failed to refer to the third leg of the computer software industry's tripod: the education campaign. It has been shaming people into not copying. It has conducted a good educational campaign, including the distribution of pamphlets. There has been education, as well as civil and criminal prosecutions.

My hon. Friend also referred to compact discs and, by implication, to the quality of the recordings. I believe that compact discs will be out of date fairly soon. They will be overtaken by digital recordings that produce excellent, perfect copies which will be sold all over the world. Digital recording has changed the picture. The quality of digital recording means that the copy is as perfect as the original recording.

Much has been made in the debate of the European Community's Green Paper. Chapter 3 deals with home taping. My hon. Friends have quoted selectively from it, but the Green Paper does not recommend the harmonisation by member countries of their approach to the levy. It proposes a multi-faceted approach. In other words, it suggests that there are a number of ways in which member countries of the European Community can tackle the problem of home copying. The blank tape levy is only one solution, and because of its difficulties the Green Paper does not recommend that all member countries should be harmonised and should follow that route.

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The Green Paper recommends a hardware solution which it highlights as the method which would solve the problem completely. That is the solution whereby, burnt into the core of the recording machine, is material which stops home copying. Encoded on the tape machine and burnt into the hardware is a piece of equipment which will stop copying of that tape if the particular encoding is not present. That is the route which the European Green Paper overwhelmingly recommends to member states.

Finally, if I may look back for a moment, I extend to the Government thanks for their sensitivity in dealing with the practical problems of the disabled, and for listening to the concerns of the computer software industry about information technology. In this clause, as in new clause 5, clauses 17(2) and 24 in particular, the Government have reached conclusions which will provide the proper framework for the continuing creativity and growth of that immensely valuable industry. The Minister and his civil servants in the Department of Trade and Industry have all our thanks.

Mr. Maude

When I introduced the amendment I said that I had no new arguments to offer. This subject has been well aired over many years and the arguments are all familiar. I hope that my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who have spoken in the debate will not take it amiss when I say that no new arguments have been offered by them either. We are all very familiar with this well-worn ground and I hope that the House will agree that we now need to reach a decision.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said earlier that these were not matters on which any of us could be certain that we had a monopoly of the truth or of wisdom. He ended his speech with a ringing declaration that he was certain that his judgment was right. Nonetheless, clearly we are not dealing with the eternal verities, but with a practical matter on which a practical judgment has to be made. The practical judgment which the Government have made is that a scheme to introduce a blank tape levy cannot be formulated in such a way to do justice to the interests of disabled people.

I have to say to hon. Members who have blithely and glibly said that it can be done if people of good will put their heads together in a practical way and resolve it, that, at a time when the Government were fully committed to introducing such a scheme, we worked hour after hour with the relevant bodies to try to formulate such a scheme, and I have to say, in all honesty, that it cannot be done. It has been suggested that we keep the power on the statute book just in case it becomes possible later on. I honestly do not think that it would be an act of good faith to do that and to hold out the hope to those who set store by it that at some stage such a levy will be introduced. It cannot be done, so it would not be right to retain the power.

It has been pointed out that West Germany has had such a scheme for 20 years. However, that scheme makes no provision for exempting or providing relief for innocent users of blank tapes. To say that that provides a model for us is to ignore the remarks of those who have been propounding the scheme. As has been made clear tonight as well as in Committee, a precondition of having a levy was that a scheme for providing relief for innocent users should be incorporated. In view of the Government's practical conclusion that no such scheme can be formulated, I have no alternative but to invite the House to agree with my amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 134, Noes 37.

Division No. 444] [1.5 am
Alexander, Richard Hunt, David(Wirral W)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Hunt, John(Ravensbourne)
Amess, David Hunter, Andrew
Amos, Alan Irvine, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Jack, Michael
Arnold, Jacques(Gravesham) Janman, Tim
Arnold, Tom(Hazel Grove) Jones, Gwilym(Cardifl N)
Ashby, David Jones, Robert B(Herts W)
Atkinson, David King, Roger(B'ham N'thfield)
Baker, Nicholas(Dorset N) Knapman, Roger
Baldry, Tony Knight, Greg(Derby North)
Batiste, Spencer Knight, Dame Jill(Edgbaston)
Bellingham, Henry Lang, Ian
Bennett, Nicholas(Pembroke) Lawrence, Ivan
Bevan, David Gilroy Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Blackburn, Dr John G. Lightbown, David
Boswell, Tim Lilley, Peter
Bowden, Gerald(Dulwich) Lloyd, Peter(Fareham)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Lord, Michael
Brazier, Julian Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Bright, Graham McLoughlin, Patrick
Burt, Alistair Major, Rt Hon John
Butcher, John Mans, Keith
Butterfill, John Marshall, John(Hendon S)
Carlisle, Kenneth(Lincoln) Marshall, Michael(Arundel)
Carrington, Matthew Martin, David(Portsmouth S)
Carttiss, Michael Maude, Hon Francis
Chope, Christopher Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Clarke, Rt Hon K.(Rushcliffe) Miller, Sir Hal
Colvin, Michael Mills, Iain
Coombs, Anthony(Wyre F'rest) Mitchell, Andrew(Gedling)
Couchman, James Monro, Sir Hector
Cran, James Morris, M(N'hampton S)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Morrison, Rt Hon P(Chester)
Curry, David Moss, Malcolm
Devlin, Tim Moynihan, Hon Colin
Dorrell, Stephen Neale, Gerrard
Dover, Den Neubert, Michael
Durant, Tony Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Fallon, Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Favell, Tony Nicholson, David(Taunton)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Nicholson, Emma(Devon West)
Fishburn, Dudley Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Forman, Nigel Paice, James
Forth, Eric Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Franks, Cecil Patnick, Irvine
Freeman, Roger Porter, David(Waveney)
French, Douglas Portillo, Michael
Garel-Jones, Tristan Powell, William(Corby)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Rathbone, Tim
Gow, Ian Redwood, John
Gregory, Conal Ryder, Richard
Griffiths, Peter(Portsmouth N) Sackville, Hon Tom
Ground, Patrick Shaw, David(Dover)
Hamilton, Neil(Tatton) Shaw, Sir Michael(Scarb')
Hargreaves, A.(B'ham H'll Gr') Shelton, William(Streatham)
Hargreaves, Ken(Hyndburn) Shepherd, Colin(Hereford)
Harris, David Speller, Tony
Hawkins, Christopher Spicer, Sir Jim(Dorset W)
Hayes, Jerry Stern, Michael
Hayward, Robert Stewart, Allan(Eastwood)
Heddle, John Stewart, Andy(Sherwood)
Hind, Kenneth Sumberg, David
Howard, Michael Thompson, Patrick(Norwich N)
Howarth, G.(Cannock & B'wd) Thurnham, Peter
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Watts, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Widdecombe, Ann Mr. Alan Howarth and Mr. David Maclean.
Yeo, Tim
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Blair, Tony Loyden, Eddie
Bowis, John McAvoy, Thomas
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Martlew, Eric
Buchan, Norman Meyer, Sir Anthony
Clay, Bob Michie, Bill(Sheffield Heeley)
Coombs, Simon(Swindon) Nellist, Dave
Cousins, Jim Page, Richard
Cryer, Bob Rowlands, Ted
Cunliffe, Lawrence Skinner, Dennis
Dewar, Donald Steel, Rt Hon David
Dixon, Don Taylor, Matthew(Truro)
Doran, Frank Wallace, James
Fisher, Mark Welsh, Michael(Doncaster N)
Foster, Derek Wigley, Dafydd
Golding, Mrs Llin Wilson, Brian
Greenway, John(Ryedale)
Haynes, Frank Tellers for the Noes:
Hughes, Simon(Southwark) Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Alun Michael.
Jones, Ieuan(Ynys Môn)
Kirkwood, Archy

Amendment accordingly agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 59, in page 25, line 39, leave out 'hiring' and insert 'rental'.

No. 60, in page 25, line 41, at end insert 'in electronic form'.

No. 61, in page 25, line 42, leave out subsection (9).

No. 62, in page 26, line 2, leave out 'hiring' and insert 'rental'.—[Mr. Maude.]

1.15 am
Mr. Doran

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 26, line 2, at end insert— '(11) No order made under this section shall apply to a public library and such libraries shall be treated as licensed by the copyright owner to hire to the public copies of sound recordings, films or computer programs without payment of royalty.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 156, 158 and 160.

Mr. Doran

As clause 65 stands, it provides for an automatic licence of right for the payment of royalties in certain instances. This applies to the hiring to the public of copies of sound recordings, films or computer programs". The amendment seeks to exclude public libraries from the operation of the royalty clauses. Libraries are public bodies carrying out public duties. They tend to hire tapes and videos that are not in demand and thus are not easily obtainable from commercial lending sources.

Mr. Maude

Public libraries in the United Kingdom spend about £4 million a year on purchasing sound and video recordings for lending. The interests of copyright owners would be adversely affected if public libraries were exempt from the rental right.

Making public libraries subject to the right will not necessarily add to public expenditure. Library authorities have power, if they wish, to pass the rental fee on to the people who borrow sound and video recordings and computer programs from them.

The Bill as it stands would allow public libraries to avoid the rental right by lending sound and video recordings and computer software without charge.

It is Government policy to encourage public libraries to generate new income for growth by providing a wider range of charged services. The Government therefore intend to make public libraries subject to the rental right whether they lend free or for a charge. Amendments 156, 158 and 160 will achieve that.

Mr. Doran

I am not satisfied with the Minister's response, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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