HL Deb 05 April 1976 vol 369 cc1408-69

2.54 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is a great privilege to introduce this Bill in your Lordships' House, and I am glad that a number of noble Lords who are interested in these matters are intending to speak. I look forward to their speeches, and particularly to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNair.

My Lords, the Bill's purpose is to give effect to the Government's undertaking to establish a public lending right for authors of books. The new right would entitle authors to payment from public funds in recognition of the use made of their books when they are borrowed from public libraries.

The public library system in this country has expanded enormously in modern times, and is envied, rightly, throughout the world. It represents a major service to the community. As a nation, we read more books per household than any other country, and to make this possible we borrow from libraries many more books than we buy. Put another way, we borrow more than 600 million books annually from public libraries in the United Kingdom. We have established more than 6,000 public library outlets to satisfy our massive appetite for reading. Thirteen million books are bought each year to replenish and improve the library stocks.

For his or her unique contribution to this service, the author's reward can be disproportionately small. When a copy of a book is bought by a local authority for one of its public libraries, the author normally receives a royalty of around 10 per cent. of the book price. When dozens or possibly hundreds of people borrow it during the years the copy may live on the library shelf, the return to the author remains the same. By any standards, my Lords, I submit that this sort of return seems less than fair. It has occasioned much resentment among authors, who have long campaigned for a public lending right to redress the present situation.

My Lords, life without books I think for most of us, certainly for myself, would be very bleak indeed, but we tend to take them for granted. I am sure most authors would agree with Alfred de Vigny, who wrote that it is more difficult to put together a small book than a large Government. Certainly the authors' campaign has earned the growing sympathy and support of the public and Members of both Houses of Parliament. In the past few years there have been debates in both Houses and a Bill from my noble friend Lord Willis, who I am glad is going to speak this afternoon, and there have been two similar attempts at Private Members' Bills in another place. That it has taken so long to respond to this sense of grievance might suggest that successive Governments have been dragging their feet. But this ignores the surprising complexity of giving effect to a viable public lending right scheme. It has been the present Government's first task to lay a sound base on which to build.

Some, sceptical of the difficulties, have pointed to schemes in other countries for compensating authors which seemingly have been constructed and implemented without undue difficulty. We have kept closely in touch with those concerned with such schemes, and have learned from their experiences. The main difference is that, with one exception, the other countries' schemes are not based on Statute. That of West Germany confers a statutory public lending right as we understand it, but the scheme is only just now coming into operation. Legislation was enacted three years ago, but failure to settle the practical details first prevented an earlier start from being made. Elsewhere, the schemes are administrative arrangements without the force of law—a factor of which authors in some of these countries are becoming increasingly aware.

The Government believe a duty must be placed on public library authorities to provide the necessary information to ensure a fair and reasonably accurate assessment of the use made of eligible authors' books, and it would not be appropriate to leave this just to administrative arrangements. Moreover, the authors' representatives have made clear that anything less than a statutory right would not be acceptable to them. It is in any case essential to provide for proper control by Parliament of the use of public funds.

In considering the practical aspects the Government have been concerned above all not to encumber libraries with costly and time-consuming new tasks. Along with other local authority services, libraries are facing major problems of resources at present, and we are determined that public lending right shall not add to their problems. So that there may be no uncertainty on this point, I give two assurances on behalf of the Government.

First, these proposals will involve no charge on public libraries or on borrowers. Expenses incurred by libraries in recording loans of the books will be met from the Central Fund to be established for the public lending right, and those expenses will be the first charge on it. When it becomes possible to finance that Fund, it will be established from moneys available for the support of the arts, in which authors hold an honourable place, and not from resources provided for libraries. Secondly, the detailed operational scheme will be worked out after full discussion with local authorities so that it is as consistent as possible with their own procedures, both existing and projected. We attach very considerable importance to these safeguards for libraries and I hope these assurances will remove any doubt there may have been.

My Lords, I turn now to the practical aspects. As I have said, finding a workable way of giving practical effect to the proposed right has not been easy. Put at its simplest, the problem was to find a method of measuring accurately the use of every book borrowed for the purpose of calculating the payment due to its author which would not be so complicated and expensive as to be unacceptable.

My honourable friend the Minister for for the Arts established a Technical Investigation Group of authors, publishers, librarians, public library authorities and the Department of Education and Science, who worked extremely hard for 18 months in analysing the options, detailing the procedures, and setting out the practical and expenditure implications. The main report on the study was published in March 1975 and their final report last month. These reports, the first in blue, the second in red, provide the basis for our legislative proposals and the Government gratefully acknowledge the splendid work of the group.

The group, who have become known as TIG, were asked to examine two schemes. The loans-based scheme which, as I have mentioned, is favoured by the authors, involves the recording of loans of books in a sample of public libraries. Counting all loans from all libraries would be extremely expensive and it was necessary to find a sampling method which could be justified statistically. The other scheme, based on purchases, involves the recording of all purchases of books by public library authorities.

I do not propose to go into the results of the study in detail but a brief summary of some of the findings may assist the House. Both of the schemes investigated were found to be technically feasible and to cost almost the same to run. The group estimated that some 113,000 authors might be eligible initially under the loans scheme but only 87,000 in a purchase scheme, because this could not cover books already in libraries; furthermore, not all authors would necessarily register. If a sample of 72 library service points, as considered by the technical group, is adopted, the annual cost of administering a loans-based scheme is estimated at about £400,000.

This choice between the two schemes for assessing individual entitlements, the loans scheme and the purchase scheme, has been one of the crucial issues in the eyes of the authors. In the last few years the writers' organisations have united in a strong, even passionate, championing of the loans scheme, which they consider best represents actual use of books. The purchase scheme would be simpler to operate but its crucial weaknesses, so far as the authors are concerned, are that it would provide only a very rough indication of book use and that it would exclude books already on library shelves. The loans-based scheme, even allowing for the statistical imperfections implicit in the use of sampling techniques, would relate authors' remuneration more closely to the use made of their books, which is the basic intention of a public lending right.

The Government have given very careful consideration to the choice of scheme. Their conclusion, reflected in the Bill, is that the better measure of actual use of all the books in libraries provided by the loans scheme should be the deciding factor. This conclusion was reinforced by the strong preference of the authors for the loans-based scheme.

My Lords, I come now to reference books. I regret to say that the technical group was not able to find an acceptable method of dealing with books in reference libraries in a loans scheme. Indeed, they found this one of their most intractable problems. The authors of reference books provide an important service to the community and the Government would like to be able to assist them; but we were faced with the following difficulties.

First, the Technical Investigation Group advised that the work of reference libraries could not go ahead if a record of every consultation had to be made—for example, of a railway timetable or an encyclopaedia. Second, problems were encountered in devising a satisfactory sample system at acceptable cost for calculating the stock which would cover the small number of very large reference libraries—19 of these contained more than half of the total stock—and also the large number of smaller ones. Third, only a small proportion of the heavily used books in reference libraries would in any case be eligible. Many are joint works, compilations, or works where the authors have given their services on a fee basis. In addition to all the other problems it would be very expensive to sift out books which would be eligible from the rest. A considerable number of books are to be found in both loan and reference collections of the same library. To this extent, at least, their authors will not lose out completely.

The Government have therefore concluded, though with reluctance, that the Bill must be confined to books lent out by public libraries, at least initially. If, later on, an acceptable and effective scheme for reference books emerges, the Government will consider further legislation to extend the scheme. I can give that assurance.

I come now to the details of the Bill. I have thought it necessary to dwell at some length on the background to it. I now turn to its main provisions. Clause 1 establishes public lending right as a right of authors to be paid out of a Central Fund in respect of their books lent out of public libraries in the United Kingdom. The detailed application of the right and the basis of payments from the Fund will be set out in a scheme to be put before Parliament in due course for approval. An independent Registrar of Public Lending Right will be appointed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. His duties, as defined in the Bill, will be to establish and maintain a register of persons entitled to public lending right and their hooks, to administer the scheme and to make payments from the Central Fund, which will be in his charge. The right will be contingent upon registration of every book by the author or his representative.

Clause 2 establishes the Central Fund out of which the public lending right will be financed. Clause 2(4) provides that the expenses of administering the scheme, including the expenses of the library authorities in the sample, will be refunded as the first charge on the Fund. The very small increase in manpower which library authorities are expected to require will be covered by these arrangements. The balance of the Fund will be available for payments to authors. It is vital therefore that expenses are kept consistently to a minimum and this has been a critical issue in determining the extent of the coverage of the scheme.

Clause 2(2) places an upper limit of £1 million, on the annual liabilities of the Fund. Principles of sound finance require that the scheme shall not be open ended and that Parliament mantains a firm control over the resources devoted to it. Clause 2(3) empowers my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, to increase the limit by order in a Statutory Instrument under the Affirmative Resolution procedure. Clause 2(6) provides for proper accounting procedures. Clause 3 relates to the making of the scheme and its presentation to Parliament. A central point of Clause 3(3) is that the entitlement to public lending right and its size will be dependent on the number of times books are lent by "particular libraries"; that is, by libraries in the designated sample. The entitlement is therefore a contingent entitlement and not an absolute one. It follows that there is no right unless the sample reveals it. We are satisfied that the proposed sample will be the best compromise between costs and coverage, both in its size and in its representation of regional and minority reading interests, such as Welsh-language books.

Clause 3(5) places a duty on public library authorities with libraries in the sample to furnish the Registrar with information on books lent by them. The methods by which this can be done were set out in detail in the reports of the Technical Group. The supply of the necessary equipment, the settling of the detailed procedures and the training of staff will be matters for discussion with public library authorities in the period leading up to implementation of the scheme. As in the case of the preparation of the scheme, there is provision for consultations on proposals to vary it.

Clause 4 makes provision for a register of public lending right, and this will be conclusive as to whether the right subsists in a particular book and to whom payment is due. The onus will be on the applicant to furnish proof of his claim to the satisfaction of the Registrar. The detailed scheme will spell out the full procedure. Clause 5 is interpretative. The Schedule to the Bill sets out in the usual form detailed provision for the Registrar and staff, who will not be civil servants. The Registrar will require up to a dozen staff only at first to build up the register and arrange matters with libraries and around 35 people, mainly clerical staff, when the scheme is in full operation.

My Lords, regarding finance and timing, it is not possible to say when this measure could come into effect. But this is no reason in the Government's view for delaying the introduction of legislation and the detailed working out of a scheme any longer. At least we shall have established the principle, the legal framework and the clear basis which the Bill provides for implementation when resources allow. I am confident that authors will see this as a firm beginning to the process of fair return for which they have striven over the years. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, in quoting De Vigny's remark about the difficulty of putting together small books being greater than that of putting together large governments, maybe he has said something that is relevant at both ends of the corridor in this building today in a special sense. In the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, on 4th July 1975, it became clear that while noble Lords were divided—some of them hotly—on how public lending right should be established and administered, there was universal acceptance that public lending right should be established and administered. The necessity for establishing the right arises because without it there exists both injustice and hardship. The voice of the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, was alone in being raised to dispute that proposition. Noble Lords will forgive me—and the noble Lord, Lord Paget, will, I hope, acquit me of ignoring rather than dissenting from his view if I do not therefore spend time in arguing a case of which the House has already shown itself to be sufficiently persuaded, and in which our good intentions on this side of the House are not in question.

Injustice exists because repeated loans—or repeated use without ownership, as the Committee set up by my noble friend Lord Eccles referred to it in 1972—of an author's work deprive him of the fruits of labours for which he might justly expect to be rewarded. Hardship exists because very few authors can support themselves, even in the meanest circumstances, by pen alone. An author's garret may be a romantic place to talk about—and even perhaps to work in if it is waterproof—but it is not a fit place in which to live. In a day and age when the State are often accused of paying too much to those who can work but will not, it is entirely wrong that it should at the same time countenance a system which pays less than a just reward for those who can work and do so.

At one stage, authors and their representatives were blandly contemplating a rather larrger sum than has been mentioned this afternoon. I say "blandly" but perhaps their contemplation was less than bland since what they wanted was not a pool at all, but a commitment on the part of Government to payment of a fixed sum per recorded loan. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has already referred to the lessons which were learned about the dangers, in the construction of agricultural support prices, of having an open-ended commitment such as that. In days such as these, purse strings have to be kept tightly rather than loosely drawn. But whatever the state of the authors of the pool, money of the order of £3 million to £4 million is not at present available, and the figure written into the Bill is £1 million. As the noble Lord pointed out, that has to cover administrative expenses amounting, according to the estimate in the Preamble, to £300,000 and which the noble Lord has already said is expected to amount to £400,000 leaving a balance of only £600,000 for distribution among the authors themselves to be distributed between around 600 million loans. There is thus a problem.

We have both an injustice and a hardship. If we remedy the injustice, paying out equally in respect of every loan made, we shall not have enough with which to mitigate the hardship. If, on the other hand, we significantly mitigate the hardship, we shall not have enough to remedy the injustice. One million pounds—less expenses of this order—will not be enough for that. There is not a great deal of point in paying public lending right in large quantities to the authors of world best sellers, who will merely transfer it straight back to the Exchequer in tax, unless wisely but disloyally they have left the country to escape the punishment which these days Her Majesty's Government regard as the just reward for hard work and success. Equally, there is little point in paying sums so small that they are exceeded by the administrative costs of paying them such will he the deserts of a great many authors whatever scheme is devised under the Bill. One solution to such a scheme therefore would be an upper and lower limit to the amounts to be paid, one above which it was not necessary to pay and below which it was not administratively sensible to pay.

In a statement published in the Bookseller on 24th July the principle of the upper limit was at least accepted, though with reluctance, on behalf of the combined front of Writers Action Group, the Society of Authors and the Writers Guild of Great Britain. By such a means, those between the upper and lower limits wherever they are placed—and it is left to the Secretary of State to place them—will we hope get something worth having.

At this stage I have to say that, properly speaking, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has said, none of these considerations is our concern, for unhappily although all those concerned with public lending rights in this House are now duly assembled together, neither now nor at any later stage of the Bill, in either House, will the contents of the scheme, which will be the principal eventual result of this piece of legislation, be our proper concern. That would not be the case unless it were to be substantially amended. As it stands, Parliament will be able to consider the scheme only when the Secretary of State, in his own good and probably protracted time, has concocted what he thinks is a worthwhile scheme and brings it along for Parliamentary imprimatur. What we have before us at the moment is merely a framework for a framework. I cannot help thinking that Her Majesty's Government found that they had yet again made pledges—on this occasion to the noble Lord, Lord Willis—incapable of redemption in the normal way. They promised a Bill. Here is a Bill. They promised a Bill on a public lending right scheme, but it could not be got ready in time. So here is the Bill anyway, without the scheme. It is rather like Winnie the Pooh's birthday present to Eeyore: there is no honey in the honey jar—it is just a useful pot to put things in. I only hope that the authors, who deserve very much better treatment, are as pleased with it as Eeyore was. The danger is that inflation and administrative cost will do to the £1 million what deflation and too much haste did to Piglet's balloon—in which case, it will not make much difference whether they take out their rights or leave them in the pot. I apologise to those noble Lords whose education has been so neglected that they are not familiar with the allusions that I have made.

Here, anyway, is the Bill without the scheme. If we do not like it, I strongly suspect that we either lump it or risk having insufficient time to get a better one into the Commons before their timetable is too full to save it from lapsing at Prorogation. In view of that danger—and it is one which we in this House can with justice resent—and in view of the fact that legislation in this field is much overdue and that the scheme, when finally completed, would have to be agreed by both Houses before it comes into effect, I will not as yet suggest that a Second Reading be withheld until a scheme is incorporated. But the Government must expect amendments laying down closer guidance on the nature of the final scheme. Before leaving the matter, however, I cannot fail to point out a number of the difficulties that will lie ahead for the Secretary of State and the Registrar who presumably will help him to draw it up.

Noble Lords will have noticed that so far I have referred to "authors" and "books". The term "author" is not defined, as one might expect, in Clause 5(2). One wonders whether its use in Clause 1(1) is intended to be exclusive of other possible owners of the original public lending right or whether it is meant to include all authors. Are foreigners included, for instance? Where a foreign author is translated into English, does any right vest in his translator? If so, how much and for how long, and will it still exist if the translation is new even though the author is long defunct? Does the term "author" include or exclude the term "co-author"? How will public lending rights payments be apportioned between co-authors, if they are admitted to the scheme? The noble Lord has given us some guidance on this, but I am not sure that it is guidance that we welcome. Her Majesty's Government may think this is a matter of detail but there are a series of matters which, on their own criteria, will decide the eventual character and workability of the Bill.

Another conspicuous omission from Clause 5 is any definition of the term "book". This may be for the good, if insufficient, reason that the Registrar will presumably have to have a hand in drawing up the scheme since the Secretary of State has for some time not been able to do it on his own. The Registrar and the Secretary of State themselves will have to come pretty close to defining a book when drawing up the new scheme for submission to Parliament. At present, the point at which a paperback becomes a pamphlet is not at all clear, particularly when it is re-bound. Personally, I think that the use of the word "book" is certainly significant and may be regrettable. A lot of authors produce, and a lot of libraries stock, works that are not books at all, but which contain a considerable amount of authorship work in them, whether they be visual aid or audio-visual aid or other material con- taining the work of the author, not bound together in leaves.

If the Government think they can legitimately deny us definitions of what they mean by "author" and "book" in the Bill, on the ground that this will have to be left to the Registrar and the Secretary of State, surely they are not also going to tell us that the Registrar and the Secretary of State, rather than Parliament, are the right people to decide what is to be taken as proof of ownership of public lending right. Will it coincide with proven ownership of copyright? Will the two, in fact, be coincidental? If so, why have we not been told? If not, do they see circumstances in which copyright and public lending right can be assigned to separate and distinct assignees? To keep the public lending right coterminus with copyright would seem to be a sensible solution to the problem in one way, but it would lead to difficulties in another way, because it would then assign a right which existed in books not only lent from libraries, as specified in Clause 5 (2), and very restrictively so described, excluding, as the noble Lord said, for reasons of administration, many kinds of reference and other libraries. I was glad to note that the noble Lord said that this area was susceptible of being extended after the Bill was working as an Act. I think that should be firmly on the Record, though its implication is that other matters already defined in the Bill can also be altered, and it removes one reason for not including the definitions of "author" and "book" in the Bill.

I must now turn to ask Her Majesty's Government what they mean by Clause 3, on which the noble Lord spent some time. At the end of it, I was not clear exactly what process he had in mind. A draft scheme is to be laid before each House of Parliament and, if approved by each House, it shall be brought into force by a Statutory Instrument. That is clear enough, but what is to happen if the draft is approved only in one House, for instance, or if, as I would submit, is verging on the certain rather than the probable, it is amended? Supposing, also, it is amended by each House in a different sense? The noble Lord shakes his head and I look forward to his assurances at the end of the day. But, as I see it, we have to have an arbiter, or a Parliamentary procedure. We should like to know whether it is intended to deal with this draft scheme as a Statutory Instrument not susceptible to amendment, which frankly would not be acceptable to us, or whether there is to be an arbiter or a means of exchange between the Houses on different Amendments as they arise.


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me? I do not follow why the noble Lord says that. This House has just surrendered that over the Bill concerned with Press freedom, and has made it quite clear that in such a situation we just gave in.


My Lords, I am not anxious to be drawn into a controversy on matters of constitutional precedent, but seek merely to establish what will happen when we have a large, detailed and practical scheme put before us, many of the substantial and fundamental issues of which give character to the legislation and which are, as yet, not spelt out in the Bill, thus making this the only occasion on which we can interfere not with the nuts and bolts—which I do not think should concern us—but with the principles on which it is built.

The noble Lord has told us also a good deal of what is intended as the means of sampling. Up to this point, that had been merely a matter of intelligent guesswork, hearsay and reading between the lines of the Technical Group reports. We shall want to consider before Committee stage what the noble Lord has said, and particularly to take note of the complete and, to some of us, unexpected exclusion of any means of giving public lending rights to the authors of reference books.

Finally, there is one point I should like to make absolutely clear. It is not the function of this House to rush through legislation which is inefficient or ill-thought through. I know that Her Majesty's Government are already anxious about the danger of losing legislation which is not of prime political importance if it goes too late to the other place. That is well and good, but, if it is used to deny time to get this very unsatisfactory, vague and weak piece of legislation into shape to do the essential and desirable work which it is designed to do, let them not make the charge against us on this side, if we insist on doing our job thoroughly, that we are attempting to deny yet again to the authors what we have all along said is their just due. That responsibility will remain theirs. They promised this Bill formally as an Election pledge for enactment by July 1974. We have been waiting and ready ever since. This Bill is little and it is late, but it is better than nothing and we shall make the best of it that we can.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, this ought to be a day of rejoicing. I think the most one can say is that it is a day of very mild rejoicing. Nevertheless, I think we should rejoice a little, and it would be wrong if one did not at the outset mention the name of A. P. Herbert, who I think would have had both some welcoming and some rather scathing things to say about what we have heard today on this matter. First, there should be a general declaration to the authors of this country who may have innocently and unwittingly believed that as a result of this Bill there will be something coming to them in the next week or month or even year, with which they can pay their rent, buy a meal and pay their children's school fees, and who may generally consider themselves to be slightly better off, that that is a very hopeful expectation. It should he announced as loudly as possible that any author who is unwise enough to think that he can convert his expectations under this Bill into a loan from his bank manager should seek a very early interview with the bank manager in order to be disillusioned.

Nevertheless, I do not take quite the despairing and pessimistic view of the matter that has been expressed by the Opposition speaker, because I think that the introduction of the Bill has to be considered in association with another extremely important Government decision, which was the grant to the Arts Council last week. We heard that an additional £10 million is being given to the Arts Council, and this is an immensely progressive step. It is known that the Arts Council have a responsibility to administer the situation in regard to authorship as well as other things, and the availability of additional funds to the Arts Council may open up a prospect of greater generosity under this Bill than emerges from the text of the Bill itself.

I would invite your Lordships to consider what might be the hopes of an author under this Bill. The noble Lord who spoke for the Government was kind enough to give us two sets of very valuable statistics. He told us that 600 million books are borrowed each Near and after administrative expenses there is to be a sum of £600,000 a year to be distributed among the 600 million books. It is many years since I did any arithmetic, and I was notably deficient on that subject as a schoolboy, but my rapid calculation tells me that for each book there is one-tenth of a penny per annum: and that one author who has written 10 books, which is not an inconsiderable contribution to the literary stocks of our libraries, will receive a whole penny per annum for his exertions. But the noble Lord gave us the slightly more satisfying statistic that only 113,000 authors would be competing for the £600,000. Therefore, again taking it as an average, there is a hope that an author might get some sum approaching a fiver a year as a result of the benevolence and munificence of this Bill.

We welcome the Bill, we welcome the framework and we welcome the principle. I should particularly like to congratulate the present Minister for the Arts, who has brought this matter to at least the conclusion of a whisper of a suggestion of a nuance that something may one day happen. I think he can congratulate himself on this, because he has been very severely criticised under a number of heads, and in many respects unfairly criticised. He has produced this massive addition for the Arts Council. He has produced the Bill and he has done a number of very good things. He has also earned some criticism for his very eccentric notions about what "democracy" is, and his idea that you can elect an Arts Council, and several other notions too horrible even to be mentioned at large in an informed assembly. But it would be wrong not to praise him for this activity and for many other activities, and when the story comes to be told he will emerge as one of the better Ministers for the Arts, who has worked zealously and conscientiously to improve the lot of artists and writers.

Nevertheless, this Bill must be recognised for what is it. It is an introduction to something that may happen, and it ought to happen with great speed. Authors have been waiting anxiously for some redress for what is a simple act of pillage. It is not a question of charity. It is not a question of redressing a want of benevolence. It is a question of giving people what is an unarguable legal right. An author writes a book, it is placed on a library shelf and a great many people come to borrow it, but he receives exactly the same reward as if that book had been purchased by one person for the use of himself and his family. That is intolerable. Authors have been clamouring for redress for years and at this stage they do not have the redress, but they have the promise that something could happen. I urge the Government to see that something happens quickly.

I also urge—and I may move an Amendment during the Committee stage—that the derisory sum of £1 million be removed altogether from the contents of the Bill. It cannot provide anything in the way of compensation for authors, and it is better not to promise anything than to make this pitiful and rather offensive suggestion that they will be paid in pennies for their life's work. Also, there is no sense in putting in a sum of £1 million if there is no date for the Bill's introduction. What is the sense in indicating a sum, if you do not know what that sum will be worth, what inflationary features will work upon it or what we can afford at the time when it is introduced? Why not leave out the sum altogether?

If I may make a practical suggestion, why not use the services of some expert body like the Performing Rights Tribunal, which I believe is still in existence, to determine each year what is to be paid for this purpose? They determine what is to be paid for the copyright of music in relation to usage on television and in other places. Why should not the Performing Rights Tribunal be asked to determine each year what is a proper amount to be paid to authors for the use and exploitation of their work in libraries? They are experts in these matters. They could assess the amount with very little or no difficulty. I believe that the Tribunal is in existence—it is some time since I had dealings with it—but if it is not I am sure there is another suitable tribunal that could adjudicate on this matter.

But it is wrong to suggest a certain sum which will be rapidly eroded by increasing administrative costs, because each time Mr. Jones decides that it should be £10 instead of £6, and that the annual addition should be made to people's wages, the £400,000 will become £500,000 and the amount left for the authors will be appropriately reduced. I venture to suggest that any sum of money should be removed from this Bill. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, this is a framework, and there should be a construction around the framework of a solid realistic structure, giving appropriate rewards to authorship.

Both of the speeches introducing this Bill were admirable in the sense that they took due regard of the difficulties, but were a little niggardly in their appreciation of the contribution that the author makes to society. He deserves to be treated with much greater generosity than he has been treated up till now. He is, if not the most important, certainly one of the most important of the citizens of any civilised society and his contribution cannot be assessed in financial terms. The idea that we tell him that for all the work that he puts into libraries he is to receive one-tenth of a penny per book is not worthy of this Legislature and it is not worthy of us. That is one change that I would invite the Government to make with speed and with generosity, and with a recognition that this amount of money has no relationship whatever to the importance or value of the subject that is being rewarded.

Having said that, there is little more that I should like to add, except that there are a great many difficulties that need to be resolved. Should reference books be included or not? Plainly, they should be included, but I do not think it matters a lot if they are not included at the first try. We can leave that for later legislation or amendments. There are many things that we cannot hope to achieve in the first blush of a new and complex code of legislation. We cannot, perhaps, include reference books, although I should have thought it would not require a genius to determine some way of compensating for them. I have a feeling that if all these matters were left to an independent tribunal, and a case was presented by both sides, they would emerge with a judgment in a matter of weeks that has taken the officials working on this matter years and years.

We may be told that with so complete a matter it is quite right that it should have taken 20 years to evolve this simple Bill. I think it would be doing a great disservice to human resource and human intelligence, and to the imagination and efficiency of government, to believe that that statement has a vestige of truth. Why it has taken 20 years is one of the unexplained mysteries of our time, but certainly it could have been done in 20 weeks. People with efficiency and determination could have produced a code more quickly. I had the opportunity of observing in my seven years at the Arts Council, when we were urging that this reward should at last be achieved, the difficulties that were produced—and they were not technical difficulties; they were human difficulties.

There was a collection of human beings in positions of authority, not in positions of power. In the governmental machine, the man who has authority is not the man who wears the finest uniform; it is the man who happens to be sitting next to the tap and who has the duty to turn it on or to turn it off. He is the man who has to make the recommendation. He remains an anonymous character and we are told by the Radcliffe Committee that he should remain so. Whether that is right or wrong is not a matter for discussion today. But what is certain is that if you have a body of people who are determined that something shall not be achieved because quite honestly they believe it to be wrong, the difficulties that the Minister has in achieving it take 20 years to overcome. It is on that account that this has taken 20 years.

It should be said that a great number of conscientious, misguided, unfortunate wretches in positions of influence but not of power have been able to prevent this legislation for 20 years. It should not be said that there are inherent difficulties which have baffled the greatest brains in the country for 20 years. To use a word which is quite unsuitable for the House of Lords, this is unmitigated piffle. The simple fact is that a number of people set their faces against it and have been able to achieve the blockage. It is no use the Minister wagging his head because I saw it happen. I was present at one meeting with the present Minister of the Arts when his civil servants blandly denied that agreement had been reached with his predecessor. Also it would be quite wrong not to say a word of praise to Norman St. John-Stevas who within a few weeks had tackled this matter with great determination and resource and had produced a scheme. It was not a scheme which wholly satisfied the authors but it was an immense advance on anything else. When we had a subsequent meeting with the new Minister his civil servants declared that no such scheme had been agreed, although in everyone's possession there were memoranda recording it. From the Parliamentary and constitutional point of view I feel it is useful that occasionally we should not befog the issue with suggestions that the realities of life are not, in fact, realities—that it takes 20 years for a Government as equipped, as resolute and as rich as this to produce a Bill of this minnow-like quality. It does not take 20 years. It could have been done in 20 weeks.

Having said this, I return to the note of rejoicing upon which I started. We have a Bill, a structure, a framework, upon which to build and which opens up a vestige of hope to authors that at long last this hideous wrong will be redressed. Hence we should welcome the Bill. To pay another little tribute, it is not wholly inappropriate that this Bill should emerge in the last hours of the present Prime Minister's régime. From the outset the present Prime Minister has been a very good friend to the arts. When I became the Chairman of the Arts Council and occasionally had discussions with him on the matter, although he had not the time for a detailed investigation of artistic matters—his own inclinations lay far more towards political history and matters of that kind—he was enthusiastic that the arts in this country should be supported. The one certainty is that whatever else has happened to our economy, to our defence, to a multitude of things of which he used to be proud, we can continue to be extremely proud of the artistic quality of what goes on in this country. We still have authors, orchestras, operas and composers of quality. It is in order that that quality may be preserved, perpetuated and improved that it is important that we should get on with this Bill.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I am indeed hoping that your Lordships will not deny me the lenience which habitually is shown to "first offenders". I must make it clear at once that although I have no previous convictions—no form in this House, at any rate—I have a motive. In the technical sense of the word, I have an interest in the public lending right that is so microscopically small that after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, I can hardly see it at all. But no matter how small that interest is, it must be declared and, like most authors, I live in hope that it may get bigger. It did not seem to me to be right that in a maiden speech I should take this Bill to pieces and criticise it clause by clause. Of course it is not perfect but it is so much better than nothing that I should like to give it a warm, if guarded, welcome on behalf of my noble friends.

I said that I was living in hope. Hope is the only thing that most authors are not short of. Unfortunately, I do not know how the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, earns his living but I am quite sure that it was not by writing that he built up that enviable collection of empties. From this store of hope we have drawn very heavily in waiting for this Bill. If the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will lend to me that most apt and useful Spoonerism which escaped his lips some weeks ago, going back over 40 years we have had an endless succession of od hac bodies, Working Parties and study groups. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, to whom all writers are lastingly and deeply in debt, has described some of his sessions with these officials as "purgatorial torment". As we have seen this afternoon, the noble Lord is not a man who is given to hyperbole. Let us hope that after his long suspension in purgatory he will soon be leading us, if not straight into Paradise at any rate several steps further away from that inferno of disappointment and injustice from which it seemed we were never to escape.

Why is a public lending right for authors so urgently necessary? At this point in the preparation of these few impromptu, extempore remarks, the delivery of which seems to have brought on a direct attack of dyslexia, I wondered for a moment whether I might find the courage to tell your Lordships the oldest book joke known to man. Needless to say, I do not have that courage, but for an ulterior reason I must remind your Lordships what it is about. It is about the college boat club which could not possibly give to its president a book for his birthday because, as one of his friends happened to know, he had got a book! My excuse for resurrecting that poor old joke is that I want to make the perfectly serious point that, alas, great numbers of our fellow citizens, possibly a majority, have not got a book. Among those countries where education is universal and where literacy is the rule rather than the exception, we are the worst book buyers of the lot. We are bottom of the league, and this is a fairly recent development.

I have noticed that in controlling those outbreaks of insomnia which occasionally sweep this House nothing works faster than figures, so I will confine myself to one stark statistic. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, nearly gave this statistic, but I think not quite. In 1920, for every book that we borrowed from a public library we bought 10 from a bookshop. Today it is safe to say that that ratio has been reversed and that for every book we buy we borrow 10. The reason for this is that we have the finest public library service in the world. This is one piece of chauvinism which I will permit myself any day of the week, for our public library service is one of our enduring and remaining glories. Stocking over 100 million volumes, lending them to people through over 6,000 outlets and making over 600 million separate loans a year, surely this adds up to a magnificent social service of which we can all be proud—or, rather, of which we could all be proud if it did not also add up to a lot of "free reads" and a blank denial which is perfectly legal at present but ethically indefensible; a denial of the author's right to some reward for service given. In that sentence I suggest that your Lordships will find at least part of the definition of the word "slavery".

I also used the words, "social service". They remind me of the long running argument about our railway system: should it pay its way like a commercial undertaking or should it be, at least in part, a social service paid for out of taxation? I have a third suggestion. Why do we not run the railways in the way in which we run the public libraries, by simply not paying the railwaymen? I should perhaps warn the House that I have not yet had comments on this idea from Mr. Weighell or Mr. Buckton. I am trying to make the point, perhaps in a rather fanciful or satirical way, that authors are physically unable to prise their rights out of the community by their own power. They might claim—I hope no one would dispute it—that they have done the State some service. But they are economically defenceless and that is why they ask Parliament to defend them. Where else should they turn?

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNair, on that very interesting maiden speech and to thank him above all—and I am sure all noble Lords will join me in this—for salting his remarks with a little humour. That is something that perhaps we do not have often enough in this House. I hope we shall hear a great deal more from the noble Lord; certainly I do not think he could have chosen a better subject on which to speak and to support.

This afternoon we have had a lot of nostalgia about how memorable an occassion this is in certain respects. In some ways it is quite memorable for me personally, because for upwards of 25 to 30 years I have been giving different Governments advice on various matters, none of which they have taken. However, on the occasion last July when I introduced a Bill on public lending rights, I suggested that such a Bill should come to the Lords. The Government have agreed. I hope they have laid down a precedent and that any future Government will listen to me a little more often!

To be serious, my Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is absolutely right when he says that the principle enshrined in this Bill is a welcome one, and among all the tributes that have been paid I should like to add to his tribute to Sir Alan Herbert for the great fight he put up for authors, and equally to the late John Brophy, who really began it, and finally to two noble ladies—not noble in the sense of your Lordships' House but noble in every sense, of soul, spirit and purpose—Brigid Brophy, the daughter of John Brophy, and Maureen Duffy. They have fought unselfishly for this measure and have made great sacrifices to bring it at least to this stage.

I am sure your Lordships will not want me to go over all the arguments and discussions that we had when I introduced my Private Bill last year, as well as some of the arguments with which we are all familiar. But I want to stress once again the point that it is really a matter of simple justice that is being set out in this Bill—the payment to authors; it is nothing more and nothing less. Particularly I welcome the fact that it pushes aside, I hope for all time, the idea that authorship is an effete, part-time occupation to be indulged in by gentlemen, and not at all a profession. There were echoes—in fact more than echoes—of this in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, in the last debate. I looked it up the other day. He actually said that there is no harm in authors being authors part-time, and he went on to say that it would not do authors any harm if they did normal work besides writing, or some phrase of that description. I am sure he did not mean it in that sense, but I find it deeply offensive. In my view, professional authorship is a dignified and honourable profession, and nobody in this House or anywhere else can tell me that it is less arduous to be a writer than it is to be a miner or a solicitor or a Member of Parliament, to none of whom is it suggested that they should get a "normal job" in addition.

Authors have to put up with all kinds of things. For example, last Wednesday I worked all night. I stopped for a cup of coffee at about 9 o'clock in the morning and took the dog into the woods, and I had not been to bed then for 24 hours. In the woods I met a friend of mine going off to work, and he said: "Oh, you fellows have a good time—out walking your dog". That is the kind of attitude one meets. People ask: "What do you do for a living, though?" Can we once and for all abolish this attitude and, as the Bill suggests, agree that authors are a profession like any other profession; that they make their contribution to society as other professions do? This nonsense about part-time authorship should be abolished.

I want to qualify the welcome that one can give to the Bill. To me it seems a little like an operation carried out by a rather bad surgeon who leaves out more than he puts back. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said, it is incomprehensible that we were told, 18 months ago, that a Technical Investigation Group would be set up to work out the details of a public lending right scheme and for that reason legislation could not be introduced. We have had the report of the Technical Investigation Group which has discussed and dealt with a great number of problems and cleared the ground from which could have developed a scheme, but we have no such scheme.

We are further told, in association with the Bill, that it may take one, two or three years to draw up a scheme. I find that incomprehensible and disappointing, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that if we were to put our minds to it we could get out a scheme in 20 weeks. I do not know about the tribunal mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, but I think it is a good suggestion as a body to which to appeal in terms of the money, and it certainly still exists and is in operation.

I hope that we are not being given here a Bill which enshrines the right for there to be a public lending right for authors, yet we are to be fobbed off year after year, as previously we have been fobbed off, with promises that a scheme is being prepared, that it is going to take time or that the money is not available. As an author—and I should have declared my interest; I have books on library shelves—I am in a difficult position this afternoon. I feel that if I attack the Bill too strongly people will say: "We can't please these fellows. They have been arguing for three, four, five, 20 years for a Bill. We have given them a Bill. Now what do they do? They get on their feet and attack it". That is the dilemma in which I find myself.

I am pleased that the Government have introduced this Bill, but it is really rather a dismal and shabby Bill to bring forward after all the discussions we have been having. Let me give just one or two examples. We have already mentioned reference books and I was a little puzzled by the reference made by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi with regard to them. I was under the impression that the Technical Investigation Group had covered the question of reference books and had worked out that it would cost only another £12,000 per annum to cover reference books, and that there was a perfectly adequate method of stock sampling plus loan sampling of reference books which would give some measure of justice to the authors of such books.

There is another vital omission from the Bill which I think we shall have to put right at the Committee stage. There is no protection for the weaker author on the question of assignment of rights. Under this Bill it would be perfectly possible for a publisher to take all the public lending rights in the contract that he gives to an author and leave the author nothing. What is much more likely is that many publishers will seek to put their teeth into this very small apple and take 25 per cent. or even a larger proportion of the author's earnings under public lending right. It will not be much under this Bill and with this sum of money, but they will certainly try to lay down the principle. I think the Bill must lay it down that the money must be paid direct to authors and not to publishers, and that there can be no assignment rights in this respect.

Then again, the Technical Investigation Group proposed the setting up of an advisory council which would advise the Registrar and the Minister on how the scheme should be operated. I find it extraordinary that there is no allowance for this in the Bill. Clearly, the Registrar and the Minister will have to consult with authors and organisations to ensure that we get a workable scheme going. I should have thought that it would have been simple and reasonable to have an advisory committee on which there are librarians, authors and publishers and everybody else concerned so that they may advise the Registrar and the Minister. This seemed to be agreed, and I find it odd that it has been missed out.

The time-scale, of course, worries me enormously, as I know it worries my novelist friends. It could go on for ever. We could have a Bill lying on the Table waiting for legislation to come before both Houses of Parliament before it can be implemented. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, was right when he said that all kinds of amendments to the scheme may be needed when it comes before Parliament. We may not be able to reach agreement; there may be long arguments. We may again be sufferers from lack of Parliamentary time. This could drag on not for one or two years but even longer before the necessary Statutory Instruments are passed and the authors start drawing money. So I beg the Government and the Minister to look again at the question of the time-scale to see whether something cannot be done.

There was a great deal in what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said about missing out the money clause altogether. At the moment, it is rather ludicrous. In another year it will be not £400,000, but £500,000, and the year after that it will probably be more. This amount left to distribute to authors will become less and less. I would be prepared to take a gamble and leave the figure out, and merely say that there should be a reasonable figure paid from the Central Fund. I am sure that the Government of the day, whatever their complexion, and the Minister of the day, whatever his complexion, would take a reasonable attitude towards this and that we could certainly persuade them to give a little more than the £1 million, in the light of inflation, increased costs and so on.

There are a number of other items we shall have to come back to in Committee; for example, the question of overseas and foreign authors. We must have reciprocity in these matters. The Australian scheme, for example, pays only Australian authors. Are we proposing here to pay Australian and all the other authors? There is the question, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, of the English translator of a foreign language work. How do we work that out? It may be arguable whether this kind of question comes in under the scheme, but many of them in fact hinge on points of principle and therefore have to be discussed. That is why I think the Bill is a little untidy and a little disappointing. I am like a boy who has been waiting for months for his birthday to come round, and has opened up a beautifully covered parcel only to find an empty box and a note of good will. I accept with gratitude the empty box, and I accept with gratitude, on behalf of authors, the note of good will. I only hope that there is more meaning to it than we have had in the past.

4.4 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Willis, because I agree with a very great deal of what he has just said. When some time ago the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, told me that a Bill had been drafted and was going to be introduced to set up a public lending right, I hardly believed it could be true. After all these years of meetings and committees and investigations, were we really going to see this elephant's child in the light of day? The noble Baroness, Lady Lee, will remember, and so do I, that for years we tried to bring forth a Bill, but we could not find a way to do it.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Viscount, I know how very hard he tried and we all tried. But I never liked to be put in the position where I was told what to do by civil servants. There was a scheme. It was rejected, but not by the civil servants, who cannot speak for themselves. It just happened that I could not persuade the Chancellor at that moment to give me the £5 million I was asking for. I put that point just to keep the record straight.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for putting the record straight. I was saying that it is maddeningly difficult to do this, and therefore one approaches this Bill knowing that, but at the same time feeling that at least we ought to be in a position to consider whether it gives the authors enough of what they claim as a right, a right with which the great majority of your Lordships agree, and then, if it does, what really is the cost to the rest of the community. If we let the Bill go from here to the other place we must be satisfied that the costs of administration neither put an unreasonable burden on the taxpayer nor swallow up an indecent proportion of the £1 million Fund, and, as several noble Lords have already indi- cated, this is, unfortunately, likely to be the case.

Secondly, we must be sure that publishers are not asked to implement a marking or coding system that will interfere with their business. Thirdly, and most important, we must see that the service to the public given by the local authority libraries is in no way reduced or impoverished by the working of the scheme. I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Elton that the Bill as it stands—I refer to Clause 3(6)—is not satisfactory, and we shall have to put into the Bill a specific assurance that every penny of cost that falls upon the public libraries will be fact be reimbursed. Those are the kind of tests which this Bill must pass. Otherwise we shall be putting on the Statute Book a measure which achieved a victory for the authors but did more harm than good to society as a whole. Even so, the authors' victory could turn out to be a defeat, for the co-operation of taxpayers, publishers and librarians, without which the scheme would never work, would be seriously at risk. Then the Bill would become a dead letter and this we must prevent if we can.

We are in acute difficulty because we are only discussing an enabling Bill, which cannot at this stage pass the tests which would secure the essential cooperation of those who must work the scheme. All the details of the loan-based scheme are left for the Secretary of State to decide. We cannot know, except within very wide margins of error, whether the estimates of cost are worth the paper they are written on; and every day, as noble Lords have already pointed out, costs are rising. The local authorities cannot know until they see the details of the scheme how much extra work will fall upon the public libraries. As drafted, the Bill seems to go out of its way to damage the good will of the local authorities, for it tells them that a scheme is coming which will require them to do a number of things, but until the scheme does come they can only imagine the worst. That is the situation described by Shakespeare: How easy is a bush supposed a bear". Within the Bill as drafted there are many unsatisfactory features. My noble friend Lord Elton has already drawn attention to the fact that there is no definition of either "author" or "book". I am not a lawyer, but I have been in Parliament a long time, and it seems to me highly improper, in a Bill which is essentially about authors and books, to give no definition of either. The Bill's Title, for example, reads: An Act to provide public lending right for authors,… I wish the noble and learned Lord was on the Woolsack because I am sure that the House would be greatly interested, as I know the Library Association would be interested, in the Lord Chancellor's opinion on this matter, because we have a Bill which, in its Title, is about authors yet the body of the Bill does not tell you what an author is. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to wind up could enlighten us on the opinion of his legal advisers.

This is not only a question of the proper method of legislation. In any public lending right scheme the definition of book is vital. We have already heard that it is going to exclude reference books. What about books by several authors? Books which are translations of works by foreign authors? Pamphlets of less than how many pages? Single issues of journals devoted to an article by one author? Then you have all the other media through which other information is now conveyed in which the copyright is just as good as in the printed book. There is no definition in the Bill. It is left to the Secretary of State to do what he likes.

The definition of "author" is equally tricky and equally essential. What about the Commonwealth and foreign authors? Will they be eligible for a cut out of the Fund? If so, the costs of administration will be considerably increased and British authors will get even less. On the other hand, if overseas authors are not eligible what about our obligations through international conventions? Are these going to be cast aside? As the Bill stands the Secretary of State could, if he chose, define an author as a writer who must belong to a closed shop, or even be a member of his own political Party, and your Lordships would have no opportunity of amending any definition that the Secretary of State might care to make. It is no good reminding us that the Minister in charge of this Bill in another place, Mr. Hugh Jenkins, is famous for his profound knowledge of literature and his non-partisan impartiality. He will not be there forever. Whatever happens to Ministers, an author and a book must be defined in the Bill, and the definition approved by Parliament.

Again without the details of the scheme we cannot know how unsatisfactory the outcome of Clause 3(3) may be. This reads as follows: The scheme shall be so framed as to make entitlement to public lending right dependent on, and its extent ascertainable by reference to, the number of occasions on which books are lent out from particular libraries, to be specified by the scheme or identified in accordance with provision made by it. I ask your Lordships to take note of that word "particular". Why do the Government want this power to pick out certain libraries from among all the local authority libraries and leave out others? Unless the sample of how many times an author's books are borrowed is small the cost of calculating the entitlement will kill the scheme. If the sample can cover only a small proportion of all public libraries, it must be unfair. There can hardly be a dozen authors out of the 100,000 we have heard of whose books are evenly spread throughout the libraries of the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, told us that the Government intended the sample to cover 72 libraries out of 6,000. I think that the Government will be hard put to it on Committee stage to justify the unfairness of a sample which is kept down to a size that can be paid for out of the £1 million, and even then is calculated at present prices to cost £400,000. Your Lordships may not be aware that the instructions to the investigating committee were to work only on books by a single author. That alone means that if the definition of a book is enlarged in the way in which it ought to be enlarged that figure of £400,000 will go shooting up.

The noble Lord did not tell us what Clause 3(4)(a) means. It looks to me as though this subsection means that books lent by public libraries to school libraries are included. I think that that is how it reads. That, your Lordships will realise, will create enormous difficulties. Is it the intention under that subsection to exclude from the scheme books which are read in the library and not taken away by borrowers? If I followed the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that is the intention. I wonder whether the authors of all the reference books which are not commonly taken home have been asked to agree to their exclusion in a Bill which is entitled "Public Lending Right".

Clause 3(5)(a) alarms the libraries, and it alarms me. It reads as follows: The scheme may provide for requiring local library authorities— (a) to give information as and when, and in the form in which, the Registrar may call for it or the Secretary of State may direct, as to loans made by them to the public of books in respect of which public lending right subsists, or of other books;". What is meant by "or of other books"—that is, books which are not within the public lending right scheme but in respect of which libraries are to be compelled to give information? How much time is that going to take up of the staff of public libraries? This is just the kind of threat to the libraries that should be cleared up before the Bill leaves your Lordships' House.

I would think that paragraph (b) of subsection (4), as it stands, is unacceptable. All hooks which fall within the scheme must be specially marked or coded: that is obvious. No scheme for loans could work otherwise. But who have to do the marking or coding, and who have to use the mark or code when it is inserted in every book?—the publishers and the public libraries. But in this subsection there is no provision for consulting either the publishers or the libraries about the manner in which the coding is to be done. Their only protection is in Clause 1(2) where the Secretary of State undertakes to consult as and when he thinks proper. This will not do. The Bill, as it stands, would allow him to impose on publishers and libraries a system of marking or coding which they considered unworkable; and to do this without consulting them. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, told us that of course there will be consultations, but that is not good enough. This must be put in the Bill if the good will of libraries and publishers is to be obtained.

Noble Lords opposite are, of course, inclined to cry "nonsense" when we point out how dictatorial the Labour Government are becoming. Here in this Bill is a classic example. Under the Bill local authorities could be made to do things which would certainly impair the public library service. Libraries could be made to accept these new duties without the right to be consulted and without Parliament having had an opportunity to amend the scheme.

That brings me to the heart of the matter, which is enshrined in Clause 3(1): As soon as may be after this Act comes into force, the Secretary of State shall prepare the draft of a scheme for its purposes and lay a copy of the draft before each House of Parliament. That means that the Bill allows for the approval or rejection of the draft scheme by Resolution of each House of Parliament. But your Lordships would not be able to table Amendments. We could outline the general nature of the Amendments we had in mind, but if the Government refused to take the scheme away and bring it back amended, we would have to choose between accepting it and throwing it out. In either case, an effective public lending right might be delayed for years. It may be that Mesdames Brophy and Duffy are saying that anything on the Statute Book is better than nothing. It may be that the tough tail that wags the authors' dog cannot see how thin the ice is on which this Bill stands. But we in this House have to tell them that anything is not better than nothing if it will not work, and that is no debating point; it is a very real danger because it is not only an enabling Bill but in its text is full of serious ambiguity.

What, therefore, can we do? I want this Bill to succeed so I have taken all the trouble I can to look up the precedents for dealing with the kind of delegated legislation which is coming forward in the scheme. Precedents exist for amending a draft scheme. The last I can find is the Government of Burma Act 1935. If we followed that precedent we would have to amend Clause 3(1) to read something like this: "If the draft scheme is approved by a Resolution of each House or is so approved with an Amendment or Amendments to which both Houses have agreed, the Secretary of State shall bring the scheme into force in the form of the draft or the amended draft, as the case may be."

This form of words does not ensure that Amendments made by one House are considered by the other, though it might be possible, as was done in the case of the India and Burma Orders, by informal agreement to provide for this to be done. I have not had time to discuss this Amendment with my noble friend on the Front Bench; I am putting it forward now because I see no other way to get the Government out of a position which, if they maintain it, is likely to forfeit the good will of the libraries and prove highly disappointing to many authors. This would be avoided if Parliament—which, after all, is full of authors—could discuss and amend the scheme. I therefore press the Government to tell us this afternoon whether they will accept an Amendment on the lines I have suggested. We could then all vote for the Second Reading with a good conscience. But if no such Amendment is acceptable, then we are left with a Bill which does not grant a public lending right but sets up a Fund to be distributed to certain authors in any way the Secretary of State may determine. I can hardly believe that your Lordships would think this a satisfactory way to do justice to so many authors who have waited so long.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself, like most noble Lords, poised somewhere between the satisfaction expressed by the Government spokesman, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and the dissatisfaction and despair expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I am a little nearer to satisfaction, because I think that, coming back to Eeyore, the pot with nothing in it is better than no pot at all, though having listened with great attention to what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has just told us, it is as clear to me as I think it will be to many noble Lords that the pot itself needs considerable alteration. There is, of course, nothing in it. We do not need to go again into the statistics which have been mentioned by several noble Lords, but the fact is that even to get a halfpenny a read, the sum would have to be £3 million, and I agree with those noble Lords who have suggested that it would be much better to leave the money out.

I take this view especially because in the last few days the Government have shown that they are responsive to the demands of the Arts. Speaking as Chairman of the Arts Council, I take this opportunity of saying that if Parliament grants the money requested in the Supply Estimates for the Arts Council, our task will be very much easier than I had feared it would be. I hope that this will not be taken as a general indication of benevolence to all kinds of applicants who are not on our books at present because, goodness knows! with inflation running at its present rate it will make it possible for us only to keep going in broad terms with the things we are already doing. But at least if we are able to do that, we will see the great achievements of the last 25 years carried on through these very difficult and stormy times—and the Government deserve great credit for the way in which they have responded to this financial crisis. I wish to add my tribute to the Minister for the Arts who has secured this grant.

Literature is a field which, in any case, gets very little money from the Arts Council, but it is important, in spite of having referred to the Government's grant for the Arts Council, not to confuse State subsidy for the Arts with what is being proposed through a Public Lending Right Bill. They are quite different things, and it seems to me that the purpose of the Bill is simply to bring, or to go some way towards bringing, the remuneration of a profession more into relation with the extent to which the books written by the members of that profession are read by the public in this country—where, it has been said, the proportion of people who borrow books from libraries rather than buy them is far higher than in any other country, certainly in the Western World.

That is the purpose of the public lending right and it is quite distinct from the State subsidy for literature. Therefore, the Bill is not brought forward in any sense as an act of charity, and if it does not provide an adequate sum for the purpose for which it is being produced, then it simply gives the form of the remedy without the substance and this is a very severe disappointment. I must say, however, that in spite of that, I think we should give a resounding welcome to the fact that the Government have found legislative time for a measure which is of so much importance to literature. But let us leave out the money, and then perhaps we can make our case for more money in the months and years to come.

My Lords, I should declare an interest as a publisher, or as the chairman of a group which controls publishing interests. In response to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, I should say that I agree with his suggestion that the right should be made non-assignable. It would be a great pity if publishers were put in a position of being able to negotiate with authors to take part of this right from them. I hope that this point will be attended to in Committee.

However, the most worrying thing about this Bill is that we are discussing an enabling Bill, and I thought that the interjection by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, was very relevant, because we are being asked nowadays to give Secretaries of State substantial powers through delegated legislation and the preparation of schemes, which seems to me inherently undesirable. Does not this Bill leave much too much to the Secretary of State? It states that the classes, descriptions and categories of books, and the scales of payment shall be determined by a scheme prepared by the Secretary of State after such consultations as he thinks fit with those who represent authors, local library authorities and others.

Would not it be wiser to specify in the Bill, much more closely, the form of the consultations which should be required of him? Would not it be better to set up under the Bill an advisory council, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, suggested, consisting of representatives of the groups mentioned in Clause 1(2)—namely, the authors, local library authorities, and other people concerned—and give that advisory council some kind of a formal relationship with the Secretary of State? Thus something which those most affected have agreed upon can come back to Parliament in the form of a scheme which the Secretary of State is to lay before us?

I say that without prejudice to the argument that the Bill in its present form is greatly amended before it leaves Parliament to go to the Secretary of State for the preparation of a scheme. Moreover, I venture to think that the Secretary of State will need a continuing contact with authors and libraries as time goes on, in the sense that the scheme will need adjustment in the light of experience. A formal advisory council would be of help to him and would be a safeguard, because we shall hear publicly what the views of that council are.

That seems to me to be a point of great importance. For that reason I should like this council to be set up under the Bill. The acceptance of this point would give much more confidence to writers and librarians that there is a voice which speaks for them and which can interpret their needs to the Secretary of State in a manner to which he must give heed. It might conceivably be appropriate for the Arts Council to be represented on such a council.

Like other speakers, I notice that reference books are omitted from the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, told us. He told us the difficulties which the Technical Investigation Group had encountered. Perhaps these books can be left out for the time being, but it is a further injustice and one which I hope the means can be found to remedy at a later stage. If the money is anything like as low as is now proposed, it is really quite irrelevant; they will not get anything, anyway.

My last point concerns the definition of the word, "authors", which apart from its other lack of clarity, as referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, does not specify whether the Bill relates to authors of British nationality, or to authors from any part of the world. I recall that last July a Government spokesman told us that to seek to narrow the geographical ambit of this right for this purpose would put this country in breach of its obligations under the Berne and Universal Copyright Conventions. But the fact remains that if popular American authors—Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow—and the estate of John Steinbeck—started to put in claims, they could take a quarter of the funds before we see anything at all for British authors. I appreciate the technical difficulty, but this is a point to which we must pay some attention in the Bill before it goes to the scheme. We ought to give some indication of our wishes in the matter, and whether or not we are to ask for reciprocity.

These are the blemishes in the Bill as I see hem. I know that at least some of the criticisms and suggestions I have made echo the views of many people in the world of literature and writers generally, especially among those representative of writers who have fought so hard and so long to gain acceptance of the principle of the public lending right. I hope that these suggestions will be considered by the Government. I and others will certainly be ready to give any assistance we can in discussions which may lead to Amendments, to secure for this Bill the enthusiastic and general acceptance which one wishes one could have given it in the first instance.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Elton, spoke early in this debate from the other side of the Chamber he made, in general terms, the statement that all were agreed as to the principle of the Bill, with the possible exception of myself. I should give him the warning that where, on the one side, there is a highly articulate pressure group with a vested interest and, on the other side, a general public, whose indifference to the whole matter is fairly profound, it is probably an error to mistake silence for general consent. I believe that on this subject very much the larger proportion of talking will certainly be on the side of those who are putting on the pressure.

For myself, I believe that the whole basis of this is a quite bogus principle. There is no such thing as a moral right to being paid because one's work is lent by a public library. If a man sells something, he does not normally have any right whatever to decide what the buyer does with what he has bought. If authors do not want to sell to public libraries, they do not have to do so. When I said that in a previous debate, on the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, interrupted me and said, in effect, that if authors did not want to sell to a public library they would not get a publisher. I believe that that completely gives the whole show away. They would not get a publisher because the publisher knows how profitable it is to sell to public libraries. He sells to public libraries because it is profitable; profitable to him, and profitable to the author. If there were not public libraries to buy these books, a very great number of them would never be published at all. Those who answer—


My Lords, would the noble Lord elucidate the very fundamental principle which I think is involved by his argument: what is his attitude to the right of copyright?


My Lords, the right of copyright is a right like any other that can be sold. If the author reserves his right of copyright, he reserves it; if he sells it, he sells it. When an author sells to a public library he sells the right to have his book lent; he knows what the public library is buying it for, and he sells it to the public library for that purpose. Equally, if I sell my book to somebody to copy, knowing that he wants to copy, I am not protected by any copyright; I have given it to the man who bought it.

So far as I know, there is no type of a right here. In so far as one comes into it at all, it is merely an interference with the ordinary free trade of buying and selling. What seems to happen—and I find this a quite deplorable act—is that under pressure of this very articulate group, Government at some point says, "We will do something about this." They had a look at the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and said, "That won't do." Then they asked themselves what will do? Then they said, "We can't think of anything"; so, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, put it, they say, "We'll put an empty pot and see if somebody else can fill it with a scheme." To my mind, that is something of an insult to Parliament. I do not believe that we should allow our Governments to say, as it were, "We had a pledge to legislate and we can't think what to legislate about so we are handing over to somebody else." I do not feel that that will do.

The Bill does not tell us what authors or books will benefit. It will not be the books which the public would select. If it were, the subsidy would go to the pornographers and crime writers, because the public's first choice every time is sex and crime, followed perhaps by the sort of romances which Miss Barbara Cartland serves up. Those are the selling lines. No, it is apparently to be the books which are selected for purchase for public libraries by library committees. I suppose upon the basis of what that library committee think is good for the reader. In other words, the money will go to books which are to be selected on the basis of a private unofficial censorship. We are to subsidise the benefits of this somewhat odd system.

I find that very hard indeed to support. I should like to know who is going to have a right and how. It is to be a sample selection of library committees which will decide who are to be the happy beneficiaries at one-tenth of a penny a book or £5 an author. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, in his speech on his own Bill, and to some extent today, appeared to feel that the authors of books should be endowed with a living wage and that it was monstrous that they should not be. That is a proposition from which I totally dissent.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene for a moment, I never at any time said that an author should be "endowed" with a living wage. I said that an author should be able to "earn" a living wage. Nobody wants to be endowed.


My Lords, if the author does not earn a living wage and still received it, I should have thought that "endowed" was not a bad word. So far as this is concerned, I would say that, in this age as in most ages, probably a majority, and certainly a great deal, of the best and most valuable writing has come from those whose first profession is not authorship. Great examples are people like Sir Winston Churchill, people who have taken their past experience and who have had the kind of life which introduced something as a result of which they felt they must express the ideas they had acquired. This has been the case in all ages and I believe that the corollary is also certainly true. It is that the worst writing in this and every age comes from professional writers—that is, professional writers who have a formula or a trick. "Find the formula what sells," as my old friend Ian Fleming put it. What one needs is to provide an intellectual narcotic to put the mind to sleep together with a stimulus to arouse the senses. That seems to be the really selling formula which inspires the books which pile highest on the bookstalls.


My Lords, is the noble Lord prepared to apply this extremely severe condemnation to Shakespeare, Pope and Dr. Johnson?


My Lords, I am not saying for a moment that in every generation the majority of the best work has been by amateurs, or the other way round. There has been great work by professionals and great work by amateurs and I should think it extremely doubtful as to whether Shakespeare was a professional author. His first engagement was with his theatre company and he was busy with its development and work, it was certainly not from a narrow concentration on the writing that his great general sense of drama came. My point is that in almost any age, the worst writing comes from the professionals who have found a formula which they can turn out again and again, and which sells.

To my mind, if one had £1 million to spend one could hardly find a worse way of doing so. Forty per cent. will be spent on administration and what remains will be spread so thinly as to be worthless. What I should like to see if I were happy enough to be on the Arts Council or to be the Minister is a fund to provide research facilities for authors who submit synopses of work which they want to do and which seems valuable but which requires research. I believe that if there were £1 million available for that purpose, it could be very well spent.


My Lords, I was very interested in what the noble Lord had to say about 40 per cent. of the £1 million being lost in administration costs. Is he not forgetting that as a result of the Government setting up circulation in regard to libraries up and down the country, even in areas like mine which never had a public library and which now has a public library, all people in such places have been given the privilege and the opportunity of participating in reading the classics and everything else which comprises a library?


My Lords, I am sorry to say that I did not entirely follow the noble Lord's point.

What is suggested here is that £1 million should be set aside to help authors. I feel that, instead of using that sum as an incredibly thinly spread subsidy and one that is exceedingly expensive to administer—to the extent of 40 per cent. of the total amount—it would be far better spent by setting up a fund which could finance research when valuable synopses which required such research were put forward. I would much rather see it used in that way, and I have no doubt that other noble Lords can think of many other valuable schemes which could be carried out with that £1 million instead of, as I see it, wasting it.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNair, on his maiden speech. He said he had no convictions, but I think he spoke with conviction, and spoke to us amusingly. Even if we do not hear him again during the later stages of this Bill, I hope we shall hear him again in the future. First, my Lords, I think it is worth mentioning that this Bill establishes a new right for the citizen, which is an unusual event nowadays when citizen rights are fast disappearing. The public lending right is one which has been long sought after by authors, and personally I hope that this Bill will reach the Statute Book without hindrance—although, having listened to what my noble friend Lord Eccles has said, we may not see it turn out this way; we may see it more as legislating for an administrative scheme or a licensing system.

As the history of copyright and universal copyright convention is spread over a century, I think the advances made on the concept of lending right in such a comparatively short time—some noble Lords think that, even so, it has been rather a long time, but by comparison with copyright it has been a very short time—must indicate the close relationship in principle of the one right with the other. That public lending right is an extension of copyright is a logical progression of authors' rights. I should like to pay personal tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who is not in the Chamber at this moment but who introduced his own Bill, putting in a great deal of effort and thereby allowing us to debate many of the basic principles of such a right.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? If, as he has said, this were to be treated as an extension of copyright, certainly it would have no effect at all, because the public libraries which bought a book would simply buy the lending right.


My Lords, I was drawing attention to the fact that there are certain similarities in principle between this right and copyright, but I do not really want to be drawn into the sort of detail into which the noble Lord, Lord Paget, is trying to draw me. The Government have published their Bill, I think after considerable thought as to the views of this House, professional bodies, local authorities and the public at large. There seem to me to be very many good points contained in the Bill, but, nevertheless, this does not mean that I agree entirely with all the clauses; and I should think that there are many technical problems to be overcome during the next few years and during the initial period of operation of the scheme. The main point is that under these circumstances a Secretary of State must not close his mind to developments, and we must not freeze our minds on the subject. We must consider legislation that is adequate and flexible, so that improvements can be introduced without recourse to new legislation.

I am not certain whether this debate is really a debate on the scheme or a debate on the Bill (although, having listened to many noble Lords I feel that it is more a debate on the scheme) but I believe that it is extremely important to make absolutely certain that this House has a full understanding of the principles of the scheme which is being first proposed via the medium of the report and from what the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench said when he introduced the Bill. The final report stops short of making any recommendations, but only draws attention to the options which would be open to any Secretary of State. Clause 1 refers to "books", and I would draw attention to the same point that other speakers have drawn attention to, which is that there is no definition here. This immediately raises doubts in my mind as to what is meant by this term. No definition is given in Clause 5. I believe that the definition should match the definitions already given in the Copyright Act 1956, and it is my understanding that if such definitions were used then the extent of the material which this Bill covers—and is intended to cover, I am sure—would be very precisely defined.

One point here, my Lords, which I believe to be important is that the public lending right is intended to help those authors who are writing the original material in the English language; and I think here one might almost say that the Welsh language would be included as well, and any other languages indigenous to the British Isles. Therefore, should a foreign author originate work in the English language I believe he would be as eligible for the right as any citizen author of this country. Quite clearly, the right is not here to benefit authors writing originally in a foreign language or a foreign language which has been translated into English; but, of course, this raises the question of the use of the English language as the mother tongue in other foreign countries. So where do we draw the lines? I mention this point because no doubt some time in the future we shall be faced, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has said, with an international public lending right convention when English authors would like to benefit from loans in other English-speaking countries, such as the United States, Australia and many others. Is there to be another 100 years' battle on this subject, as we had with copyright? Will there be another Dickens to fight this case for us? For the time being, my Lords, we must look after our own authors, and I think we can only do this in this present Bill.

In Clause 1(5) it is provided that the sum of money due to an author, shall be recoverable from the Registrar as a debt due to the person for the time being entitled to that right in respect of the book". I presume that this wording is being used in order to give a legal status to the sum of money involved so that it can be seen for what it is, but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will explain that point to the House when he winds up. I am particularly pleased to see from Clause 1 that the right is transmissible, that there are successors in title and that it will persist for an elapsed time of 50 years following the author's death. I think Lord Willis has made an important point here about making sure that the publisher is not able to intervene and make an arrangement with the author as to assigning the right. This of course follows exactly the principles of the Copyright Act 1956, and I am sure most people will agree that the Government have taken a very wise course in doing this. However, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, what the Government's intentions are as to the establishment of the right by registration. For instance, will it be possible for people other than the assumed holder to apply on his behalf? Will it be possible to de-register? And what about the position of those authors who are domiciled in other parts of the world? I think there are a number of details which the House should like to know about these aspects of the scheme, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us in his reply.

Going on to Clause 3 of the Bill, I notice that allowance is made for books to be numbered or otherwise marked with a view to facilitating the maintenance of the register. I hope the Government have it in mind here to use the international book numbering system, and will not try to invent their own notations, which I think would be a very retrograde step in the library field at the present time. It is to my mind most important that the Registrar's catalogue should conform to other standard library catalogues.

In Clause 4, the scheme provides that the register is to be conclusive evidence as to entitlement of the right. I am not a lawyer, but I am wondering here whether in fact this is the case at law. That is why I mentioned earlier that we need to know a great deal more about the details of registration which the Government are proposing in the initial scheme—and, of course, I include deregistration here. Also, I notice that under Clause 4(6) the Registrar can produce certified copies of an entry which shall be deemed to be admissible in evidence in a court of law. Under these circumstances, it would seem that registration carries with it legal ownership in the broadest sense, but I think we should be very careful indeed here about details of registration, as it might well be possible for the Registrar to make an entry to which there could be an objection. Admittedly, there is a remedy for false entry, but how is the Registrar to know quite precisely and definitely who has the legal title in the first place to a lending right? There is an analogy here, I think, my Lords, on the question of legal ownership, comparing this with the ownership of a house. Unless a property is registered it means that a solicitor has to carry out a search in order to establish satisfactory title to ownership. I therefore ask the Government whether they consider that Clause 4 and the provisions in Clause 1 are sufficient to take care of this situation.

In Clause 5, I have taken a look at the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 and in a way the noble Lord, Lord Paget, referred to this when he referred to the ability of committees to say what books are held in their libraries and what books are held for the purposes of sampling. One must remember here that the reader can always go to the library and ask for a particular book. This is what the readers do. Therefore the library committee will in a way be guided by its own readers, so that the situation he mentioned may not arise. The other Act mentioned in Clause 5 the Public Libraries Act (Scotland) 1955, and I notice that there is a difference between the Act in England and the Act in Scotland from the point of view of coverage. In Scotland, the Act includes both statutory and non-statutory library authorities. In England, such a definition does not arise. All that I am saying is that there appears to be a difference. I should like to ask the Government whether they intend to introduce similar legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland as an extension of the Bill which is now before the House.

Coming to the report, I think that great steps forward have been made technically in the intervening period between the first and the final reports. I think that we can now see more clearly what sort of scheme will be suited to this country. It seems to me that the loans scheme is, after all, shown to be the best and that the purchase scheme suffers from many defects which cannot be easily overcome. I think that it would be true to say that technical developments are making a loans scheme more possible than a purchase scheme. The disadvantage of the purchase scheme, to my mind, must be, in the main, that publishers are free to come and go and carry on their business without the regulation of a statutory Act of Parliament except that of the Companies Act; whereas public libraries fall under specific statutory control. As we have seen over the years, technical developments in the field of libraries are advancing rapidly to the point where the public lending right scheme should become relatively easy to implement.

In the final Report I want to draw attention to two things. One is the reference libraries and the other the fairness of distribution of what I call the Shelf Fund or the Central Fund. As I said earlier, I think that at all times we want to keep an open mind about methods, because a technological change will considerably influence our thinking in future years. First, the question of reference. Undoubtedly, greater use will be made of reference libraries and, even if the Government cannot think of a satisfactory scheme to cover loans from reference libraries, we must make certain that this present legislation will allow the Secretary of State to cover this aspect of lending without recourse to legislation—with any safeguards that may be appropriate. The noble Lord has already given us assurances that the Secretary of State will keep an open mind on this subject.

On the sharing out of monies which become available for distribution, I think that most people will be inclined to say: "Let us assess the degree of lending for the author; and, having done so, let us pay him his due on the Shelf Fund after deduction of administrative costs"—which, to my mind, are very alarming at the rate of 47 per cent. or thereabouts. However, we may find a certain degree of unfairness, but how are we to assess what is fair and unfair in this field? I listened with interest to the views of other Members of your Lordships' House and I have not come to any firm conclusion at the present time; but I think it worth drawing the attention of the House to the fact that in any scheme there are going to be a very large number of authors who are going to get little recompense from this scheme—certainly in the way it stands at the moment—whichever way one looks at the matter.

On the other hand, some authors may benefit greatly from the scheme. In these circumstances, we should perhaps pay more attention to the latter aspect. I venture to suggest, as did the noble Lord, Lord Paget, earlier, that the highest paid authors may not find it worth while to claim their due from the Shelf Fund and may assign their rights. I realise that it is a difficult point and certainly on this side of the House we would like to encourage the "high-flyer" but, on the other hand, apart from being a just return for authors, one of the purposes of the public lending right, as in other countries, is to encourage creative authors in the development of the written word in their mother tongue. It is not always the highflying authors as the noble Lord, Lord Paget, said—and I apologise for what I said before—or the novelists who write the best English. It is very often the underpaid author who creates the high quality language for us to enjoy.

To conclude, I would say that the Government have made a good start and I hope that when the Bill leaves this House it will be in a very much improved state. The final report of the investigators clearly lays out the options and I hope that the Government will produce a positive scheme and give assurances before the Bill leaves this House.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, it is a pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord Lord McNair, on an excellent and witty maiden speech and I hope we shall heat from him again in this House. I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for a very lucid and helpful explanation of this Bill. I am glad to find myself 90 per cent. in agreement with what he has said. I have noted with pleasure that it contains a number of points which I raised in objections to the last Public Lending Right Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, which was before the House. As I did last time I spoke, I must declare an interest as the wife of an author. I think that our gratitude should be expressed to the members of the technical investigation group, both civil servants and other members of the Steering Committee, for the research which produced the final report on the public lending right. I found it helpful and illuminating. There are a number of points that I think will need to be looked at to make this a satisfactory Bill. I find no definition of "book". Does it mean a single volume or a work which may be in one or more volumes? I cannot find a definition of "author". If I understood correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, multiple authorship will not be considered; but I can think of highly successful works of joint authorship and edited works of multiple authorship. In the case of joint authorship, if it is considered in the future, can authors join together in registering? Then there is the question of edited works of multiple authorship, by which I mean that there are more than two authors. In such cases, it is common practice for individual writers to cede all their rights to the editor or editors or to the publisher for a single down payment which extinguishes the individual copyright. In such cases, do the editors or publishers count as authors?

There is no reference to anonymous works. What machinery should there be for an anonymous author to identify himself? There is no mention of works published posthumously. Can the heirs of the copyright register? There is also no mention of second or subsequent editions which may differ so substantially from the first edition as to constitute a new work under the same title? Would such editions be a new starting point for the PLR period? I do not find any suggestion of maximum limits for payment nor yet for minimum limits to prevent minute payments of an uneconomic kind. These are all points of detail which should not prevent a successful Second Reading for this Bill. We can surely deal with them in Committee.

I agree wholeheartedly with the report when it says that, an initial PLR scheme would not be immutable and could be refined in the light of experience, and there should be further consideration of the problem of eligible reference authors. Looking at the meticulous way in which research has so far been carried out, I am sure that this problem will be tackled just as well; but I was very much surprised in Part IV, paragraph 34, of the report where it says: The starting point for our further studies was our conclusion that any system which provided for the counting of consultations of books in reference libraries would disrupt the work of libraries to an unacceptable degree. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said it is not possible at present to consider reference books. On this point of reference books, I consulted a university librarian of many years' standing who not only has created two university libraries from scratch, but who has also been a public librarian. His knowledge and experience is of a kind which cannot be lightly brushed aside. Plainly, the loan-based PLR scheme depends upon librarians, or a proportion of them, counting loans in a number of selected libraries. In the reference sections of libraries there is no control, nor is it desirable to control the consultation of reference books. It would be inconvenient to control their consultation in the way that a work must pass a given point, when it is loaned.

But, at the same time, it is the general practice in reference libraries that readers do not replace on the book stacks the works they have consulted. Not only is this a rule in the majority of reference sections of libraries, but, so I am told, the majority of readers prefer it this way. It ensure that at the hands of the librarians reference books get back into their correct places. If, as they pass a given check point, loaned books can be recorded by mechanical means, I see no reason why the same mechanical means cannot be applied to reference books when they are collected, and before they are replaced on the shelves: this would not, in the view of my librarian friend, entail very much extra work. I think such a scheme requires serious experiment. The only objection that I have heard made to such a scheme is that once a work has been removed from the shelves for consultation, it might be consulted by two or more persons before being replaced. I do not find this objection very substantial because it is similar to what happens to loaned books which are frequently read, as we all know, by several members of a family.

There are also two other systems available for this purpose known to me at the moment—there may be others. One was the Swedish system which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, kindly explained when he was answering questions that I raised on his Bill. It seems to me that this system also should receive careful con- sideration. The other system was mentioned in a brief letter to The Times some weeks ago which described Australian practice. It depended upon the amount of shelf space taken up by given reference works. I do not find that this scheme has much merit, as books vary greatly in size and width. I think that by excluding the reference sections of public libraries from the Bill a certain injustice would be done to reference authors and, at the same time, a certain injustice to the Government and to the Secretary of State in restricting his powers exclusively to authors whose works are loaned.

As to reference books, they are just as much used by the public as those books which are loaned. The Bill restricts the Secretary of State from introducing a scheme to include reference works without introducing fresh legislation. Legislation is always expensive in time as well as in money. Surely, my Lords, it is better to deal with the whole question now. It may be, since there are a number of courses of action open, that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, might care to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. This could have the advantage of bringing some fresh minds to bear upon what is certainly an exceedingly difficult point. There is, however, a somewhat easier alternative, and one which perhaps could be more helpful to the Government, which would be to insert into the Bill in Clause 1 and in certain other clauses such words as would enable the Secretary of State to prepare a draft scheme which would apply to reference authors in the same manner that the Bill empowers him to draw up a scheme for loan authors: and, having regard to the intentions of Clause 3(2), to bring the different schemes into effect, should he choose, at different dates.

My Lords, I realise that the noble Lord. Lord Strabolgi, has given very careful consideration to this Bill. I realise that I have raised a number of questions that do not permit of any simple answers. When the noble Lord comes to reply to this debate, I shall not expect him to give me any immediate answers.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I have only one point to add to those which have already been raised. I hope it will not be considered to be too irrelevant. Before doing so, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, on an interesting and most entertaining speech. Anybody who can be entertaining in their maiden speech is worthy of great congratulation. I must first declare my interest as Chairman of the National Listening Library, which makes talking books for the handicapped. This is a parallel, much smaller and much younger organisation to the RNIB, which provides a similar service to the blind. I have gathered that it is possible that further legislation may occur in the future to extend the public lending right to libraries other than public lending libraries, and the Government have already been urged by my noble friend Lord Eccles and other noble Lords to define what is meant by a book. If, in the course of time, it is decided by Government that a book which has been recorded on a cassette is a book for the purposes of this legislation, and that libraries who supply such talking books are to be included in this scheme, the National Listening Library would be in no position to shoulder any financial burden at all in providing the information required by the Secretary of State.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that I must also enter a note of dissent on this subject. But first I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord who made his maiden speech and who bears the name which is very much respected by all of us. I am sure we shall hear from him again.

This Bill is at any rate a triumph for a pressure group, a very successful piece of manipulation of public opinion. But surely a great deal of the argument is completely misconceived. This is not a Bill for encouraging literary talents; it is to provide some kind of revenue to the owners of the copyright of books of all kinds, many of which have no literary merit whatsoever. Many of them are possibly textbooks and items of that kind, all of which, apparently, are to participate in whatever benefits may come out of this.

Do not let us think that the Bill will encourage struggling authors. We are told that the amount available will be perhaps one-tenth of a penny for every book which is lent, or perhaps £6 a year on average for each author. But the basis of this, as we understand it, is that the distribution will depend in some way upon the number of times that the book is lent. The successful authors, the Agatha Christies and people of that kind, will get most of the money which is available. What will be left to the man who has published his first book and which has at that time had very little success? He is not going to be appreciably any better off. I think this is a delusion, and this scheme has little to do with art or literary merit. Moreover, every author automatically is endowed with copyright in his book. That is the law of this country. Nor only that, but under the international copyright conventions he is endowed with copyright in his book in every country which is a party to these conventions. He does not, however, have to lift a finger in order to have that right vested in him.

An inventor who discovers some new process or article of manufacture has to establish his right in the Patent Office by proving that he was the inventor. He runs up against all kinds of difficulties in doing so, because if by chance anybody has published the idea before in some obscure publication but has never thought of patenting it, he cannot get a patent for his invention. In any case, if he does, it lasts for only 16 years. Copyright in a book lasts for the author's life and for 50 years afterwards. I would ask your Lordships to remember that it also extends to every form in which that book may be reproduced. If it is turned into a play or a film, the author still enjoys copyright in them and may sometimes reap an enormous revenue from them. But he will still get an additional sum out of this so-called lending right. This does not bear investigation, and the fact that it does not is clear from the form of the Bill, which itself is not thought out, which is quite inchoate and which in effect acknowledges that the matter bristles with inequalities and difficulties.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I have no wish to prolong this debate, which may seem strange to some of your Lordships, but I should like to mention one matter. A few minutes before this debate began, I had a letter delivered to me from the Association of County Councils. I am in fairly close touch with that body because I was a county council member for 25 years. However, in that letter were set out a number of points on which they differ from what is contained in the Bill. They do not want to see the Bill killed but they would like to see it administered in a different manner. One of their main objections is that it would put further administrative burdens on county councils. They spend £60 million each year on the upkeep of libraries in their areas, and this is therefore an important matter for them. They are disturbed because a great deal of additional administrative expense may well be incurred. Even if that were not to be the case, it may well be that a great deal of manpower and womanpower would have to be employed in order to provide the library service.

That is all I wish to say, except that I hope the Minister will not accept the suggestion put forward by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, to refer the matter to a Select Committee. That can only be a delaying process, and a Bill such as this has already been delayed for 20 years since the idea was originally introduced by the late Sir Alan Herbert. Therefore, I hope that we shall deal with the Bill in the normal Parliamentary way. We shall have the usual Committee stage, during which I hope not too many Amendments will be moved; otherwise the Bill could be delayed here and there would not be time in the other place for it to pass into law this year.

With regard to the scheme to be drawn up, I think it would be of assistance to us if, when we are considering the Bill on Committee stage or, at the latest, on Report stage, we had before us the text of this scheme. Undoubtedly there are a few minor defects in the Bill as it stands at present. As the noble Lady said, it contains nothing about reference books and there is no mention of translators or illustrators, who have a great deal to do with some published books. Also, nothing at all is said about "ghost" writers. These people belong to an ever-expanding profession, and I think that some regard should be given to them when payments are made to authors. That is all I wish to say, my Lords, but I wonder whether I might transmit to my noble friend the letter from the Association of County Councils. I think it would then be only a matter of courtesy for him to communicate with them.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a moment, other than to say that I was not able to listen to the first part of the debate but from what I have heard it appears that the Bill received a very grudging welcome, even from those who have been wanting such a Bill for a long time. I should merely like to say that I have watched the noble Lord the Minister who is now dealing with the Bill when he was on the Back-Benches during the term of office of a previous Labour Govment and also when in Opposition, and he has worked very hard for this particular principle. I think it would be ungenerous if we did not pay him a tribute at this stage when he is now dealing with the Bill. However small or inadequate it may appear to be, he has established the principle.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I think we have had a very interesting and full debate. I am most grateful that so many of your Lordships from all parts of the House have taken part. Before replying to the points in detail. I should like to add my congratulations to the others which have been offered to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, on his excellent maiden speech. The noble Lord's father was a distinguished international lawyer, well known to your Lordships, and indeed well known all over the world. The noble Lord himself is now carving out a career in writing: he has already written several books. I am very glad that he took part today and hope that we shall hear from him on many other occasions. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lady Phillips for her very kind personal remarks, which I greatly appreciate. I also greatly appreciated the kind remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Goodman and Lord Gibson, in their references to the additional grant to the Arts Council and to my honourable friend Mr. Hugh Jenkins. I shall pass those observations on to him because, having now worked closely with him for over two years, I know how much he has the arts at heart and how much he has striven to get money out of the Treasury at a time when this is not always easy. I very much appreciate what has been said this afternoon.

I am glad that the Bill has received a welcome, although, as my noble friend Lady Phillips said, it has been somewhat qualified. Indeed, there has been some hostility from noble friends behind me: the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, and the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch. Nevertheless, I am very glad that they took part, because I think their contributions have led to a more lively debate. Many of the points that have been raised can be gone into later, but there is one point on which I absolutely refuse to be drawn; and that is over the difference between amateur and professional authors and which of them is the better—which was a hare started by my noble friend Lord Paget. With regard to professional authors, when my noble friend was speaking of the past there immediately passed through my mind the names of Dickens and Balzac.

As I said, we shall have an interesting Committee stage and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Elton, whose constructive attitude to the Bill I much appreciated, that this will not be in any way restricted. I agree with my noble friend Lord Leatherland that it would be much better to deal with this Bill on the Floor of the House rather than upstairs in Committee. A Select Committee on the Hare Coursing Bill is already sitting, and there is probably quite enough to do already without setting up another Select Committee.

I shall now try to answer various points which have been raised by noble Lords. The term "books" in the Bill, which was referred to first by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and then by most other noble Lords, is used in the sense in which it will be generally understood. I agree that the Bill does not include a definition, but the Government intend that the scheme for which provision is made in Clause 1(2) shall specify precisely what is included, and that such items as magazines, pamphlets, music and tapes shall not be covered. I am aware that the Copyright Act refers to "works", as I think the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, said, but of course in the Copyright Act this description includes many iterms other than books.

With regard to the classes, descriptions and categories of books, there is nothing untoward in our leaving to the scheme such details as these in respect of which the right may subsist. It is appropriate that they should be left to the subordinate instrument, which would allow for variation from time to time if desired. Our minds are, however, quite clear on what we should attempt initially. Our intention is that the scheme will apply initially only to books by single authors. Joint and multi-author books will be excluded initially, and so will people such as compilers, revisers and translators where they are dealing with the works of others. As I said in my speech, there is a clear limit to what can be covered all at once. There is also, as has been said, no definition of "author" in the Bill, but then there is no definition of the word in the Copyright Act. But this is a Committee point, and it is one to which we can perhaps return.

Several noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, my noble friend Lord Willis and the noble Lord, Lord Gibson—have suggested that there should be an advisory council or an independent tribunal. I am aware that the authors would like this—indeed, they have made it perfectly clear to my honourable friend—but the fact is that the scope and operation of the right will be controlled in very considerable detail by this legislation and its subordinate instructions, and the Registrar's activities will be almost entirely executive. Once a scheme is established, there will be little on which the Government will require advice from a standing body, and the expense of keeping it going, which would have to be met from the Central Fund, would not be justified. Of course, this does not mean that there will he no consultation—far from it. It is the Government's intention to consult the interested parties very fully in the preparation of the scheme, and thereafter my honourable friend will, as always, be ready to discuss issues as they arise.

I was asked about transmission or assignation of the right. Clause 1(7) provides for transmission or assignation of the right, but that which does not exist cannot be established, transmitted, assigned or otherwise dealt in. We can do no more than create a new right, enable an author to register it so far as his or her books are concerned and then let them do with it what they will. The author who dies before the right comes into force, or who omits to establish his right before he dies, or allows somebody through law to establish it on his behalf cannot transmit this property. I sympathise with those who think this is hard on those whose books have been used in public libraries for years, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. In other words, this is a new right. It is a different right from copyright, although of course it will exist during the copyright period provided that the author, during his lifetime, has registered his right to it.

With regard to the point which my noble friend Lord Leatherland raised about local authorities, it will be a cardinal point in the scheme that the costs incurred by public library authorities will be refunded in full from the Central Fund. Estimates of these costs are included in the estimate of running costs for the scheme as a whole. I can give my noble friend the assurance that the libraries will not be penalised one jot by the introduction of this measure.

The noble Lord, Lord Ironside, and other noble Lords asked me about the technical side of the scheme. There will be two main tasks. The books in the sample libraries will have to be labelled with machine readable codes, and the code of each book borrowed will have to be read electronically for reporting to the Registrar. The detailed arrangements will be settled with the Registrar and, as I have said, the costs will be reimbursed. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, that we shall use the ISBN coding for the identification of books, but of course this code will have to be set out in machine readable code form and this is one of the matters on which we are working at present. Numbers will also have to be created in consultation with the International Standard Book Numbering Agency, and assigned to books which have no TSB numbers allocated to them. I do not know whether I made it clear in my speech that "public library authorities" do not cover educational, industrial, research or specialised libraries, or the national libraries. There was also the question of copyright. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who spoke about attempts being made in the past to do this through copyright, but there were great difficulties. Naturally, I am not in a position to know exactly the details of my predecessor's investigations, but I know that there would have been great difficuties and it is not practicable. The essence of copyright is that the owner is free to fix the price at which his works are used, and this is not compatible with the proper financial control essential for any scheme that is to be financed from public funds. In any case, the Whitford Committee on Copyright is reviewing copyright questions in detail, and any such proposal, on which we still have an open mind, would have to await the outcome of that study.

I was asked about overseas authors. It it correct that the proposed right will be available to authors from overseas if their books are borrowed from public libraries and are revealed in the sample and if they register their right. The international copyright conventions, which the United Kingdom has signed, require that such rights are not denied to citizens of other signatory countries. I understand that the West German scheme, which is also based on legislation, recognises this obligation.

I was asked about the size of individual payments, which authors will naturally want to know about. There are a number of variables, however, which will affect the size of the payments in any one year—the sum of money allocated to the Central Fund, the total registrations by authors, the number of loans recorded of individual books and in total, the administrative expenses to be deducted for the year and the effects of the tapering scale designed to prevent a very few popular authors scooping most of the pool which will be set out in the scheme—which I think takes care of the point raised by one noble Lord about the estates of Agatha Christie and other very successful authors. Allowing for all these factors, if £600,000 were available for distribution, a small proportion of authors could receive annually sums of over £100, a large proportion modest payments of £10 or more and another large group, whose books rarely leave the shelves, very little. But as the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, was kind enough to say, the Government have made a good start—and this is a start—and once we can establish the right and set up the mechanics of the scheme, then we shall have to see where we can go in future as more finance becomes available.

I do not want to go on too long, but I must deal with the question of reference books. I have noted very carefully what has been said by my noble friend Lady Kinloss. The problem is that it is not practicable to measure the use of reference books directly without completely disrupting the work of libraries. Furthermore, although the cost of collecting data regarding the stocks of reference libraries might be reduced by sampling, difficulties arise in the case of the 19 largest reference libraries which together house over half the country's public library reference stocks.

There is an additional consideration. The limitation of the scheme to books by single authors will exclude the great majority of the very heavily used reference books. We would therefore be collecting considerable quantities of data only to discard it. There are other difficulties with encyclopaedias. I cannot think what the Registrar would do in the case of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in which almost every article is written by a different author. However, I repeat the assurance given in my opening speech; that is, that if an acceptable and effective scheme for reference books emerges the Government will consider further legislation to extend the scheme.

Turning to finance, as I have said we are making an important start in establishing the right. I am certain that authors will not expect to be exempted from the economic constraints which the rest of the country has had to accept. The Government will provide funds for the full implementation of the scheme when resources allow. We would not be bringing in legislation now—I say this to noble Lords who have criticised the Bill in this respect—if we did not have this further objective in mind. The fact has to be faced that it will be some time yet before public lending right is in operation. With the overriding need to reduce expenditure, the Government are unable at present to earmark resources for full operation. I cannot say, there- fore, when it will be possible to bring the Act into force or to lay the detailed scheme before Parliament for approval, but these and other matters are ones that we can deal with in Committee—and also the question of the publishers. I can give an assurance that the publishers will not be asked to put in the machine readable codes as part of their ISBNs. They will be put in by the sample libraries.

Before I conclude, I must reply to one point which was made on Clause 3(5) by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I hasten to assure the noble Viscount that there is nothing sinister about the words "other books". This is to save libraries time in finding out whether books lent out are registered, and it means that the Registrar will then sift them. The "other books" are the ones which will not accrue to public lending right.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that information, but may I ask him two questions. First, given that there are 6,000 libraries and 100,000 authors, is the noble Lord satisfied that a sample of 72 libraries will give a fair result? Secondly, will the noble Lord consider making an Amendment to Clause 3(1) which will allow your Lordships' House to table Amendments to the scheme when it is brought before us?


My Lords, all I can say about the sample of the libraries is that this question was gone into very fully by the Technical Investigation Group and that they were confident that a sample of this kind, particularly if it were a rotating sample and not necessarily always the same libraries, would be sufficiently accurate for these purposes. With regard to the suggestion of the noble Lord, I will go into it and let him know. En principe, of course, I am always glad to consider Amendments put down by the noble Viscount. I think that we shall have a very interesting Committee stage. I hope that answers all of the main points. There are very many other points that I could answer, but probably it would be best if we were to leave those until the Committee stage.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, the noble Lord will realise that if it is a rotating sample it is not just 72 libraries which will have to insert the code; it is any library which might be chosen next time. This will mean a great deal of work.


My Lords, this will all be set out in the scheme. However, the libraries will be reimbursed for their work; they are not going to be asked to do it as a kind of voluntary chore. As I say, this will all be spelled out in considerable detail in the scheme which this Bill enables. My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.