HL Deb 15 February 1977 vol 379 cc1492-514

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry to drag the House away from that fascinating quartet about "patent" [with a short "a"] or "patent" [with a long "a"] back to the pilgrim chorus of public lending right, but I hope your Lordships will bear with me. Standing here moving this Second Reading for what appears to be the umpteenth time, I feel rather like Omar Khayam who, your Lordships will remember, said: Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and saint, and heard great Argument About it and about: but ever more Came out by the same Door as in I went. I feel exactly that way about public lending right.

I apologise for bringing this measure once again before your Lordships, but it is not my fault and it is not the fault of authors. The Government got to the brink with their Bill last year, but it fell at the last hurdle. Fell! I think perhaps I put that too kindly. My Lords, it was pushed. It was smothered in words. I find it interesting to reflect that the Lord's Prayer has 56 words, the Ten Commandments have 297, the Declaration of Independence has 300, but one speech in Committee on Public Lending Right had 7,516. I counted them!

I do not intend to give your Lordships many words tonight. You know the arguments. I would just remind the House of a few salient facts. First of all, I must declare an interest: I am the President of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, which includes a great number of novelists, and I am a novelist myself; my next book will be out in May on sale at all bookshops. Now for the facts. The Bill corrects a long-term injustice. When the public library system was inaugurated many years ago, the Government provided for everyone involved except the authors. The buildings were paid for or rented; the librarians were paid; the cleaners and everybody else involved in the free public library service were paid—all except authors. We had to provide our services virtually for nothing. In effect, the rights of authors were taken away from them by the free public library system.

This Bill restores their rights. It does not ask for handouts; it does not ask for charity. It simply establishes the principle that each time a book is borrowed from a public library and gives the customer pleasure, the author is paid for giving that pleasure, as the author is paid in the theatre, as the composer is paid in the opera house or concert hall. All the major political Parties agree with this and have declared in favour of the principle.

What the Bill is not, is anti-public library. It would not, if passed, in any way harm or dilute the public library system, of which we are rightly proud. All we are saying, quite simply—and we have said it, God knows! for the last 25 years over and over again—is that if the nation wants a free library system, just as it wants a free National Health system, it must pay for it, and it must not expect authors to go on and on giving this secret hidden subsidy to the public libraries.

Secondly, we are not asking the public to pay at the library counter, despite the fact that they already do so, quite cheerfully it seems, for cassettes and records and so forth, not a penny of which, of course, finds it way back into the pockets of the authors, composers or musicians who provide those cassettes or records. Money will come from central funds, and this has been agreed. What is more, such is the monumental patience of authors that we have said that we do not want the money immediately; that we recognise that the country is in some kind of financial difficulties. From the passing of this Bill it would take something like a year or 18 months to enshrine this principle, to get the organisation going and begin paying out authors.

The third point is that the operation of public lending right has been the subject of close study both by the Government and the writers' organisations, and we are informed that there are no great technical difficulties to prevent the smooth operation of the scheme. If Parliament enacts this measure, as I say, public lending right could become a reality in about a year to 18 months.

My Lords, those are the basic facts, and I will not weary your Lordships by going into the Bill in any detail clause by clause, because I think we have done that before. Essentially, the Bill the Government support is the Bill which is before your Lordships' House; it is the Bill which went through this House and was amended in the other place. It is not quite the Bill—I must be honest—that the authors would want. We regret the fact that it mentions "books" instead of "works", and that it is not clear on the question of reciprocity for overseas authors. But these are things we are prepared to forgo because we are so anxious to get this principle put on the Statute Book. That is what we want. I hope that the House will give it a quick and clean passage. It would be improper for me to suggest to your Lordships that you should not put down Amendments, but I hope that my friends on all sides will restrain themselves in this matter, and that even tonight we can have short speeches and get this Bill through quickly. There is a slender chance, we are assured, that if time does make itself available in another place, the Bill, if passed here quickly, can go down there and take its normal course.

May I say in conclusion, my Lords, that authors have been enormously patient and it is time they were given consideration, and more than consideration, on a matter of simple justice. I leave your Lordships with one final thought. Some people have said that this is another way of giving money and handouts to authors, to a lot of long-haired, wild-eyed artists and so on. The other day a pamphlet came through my letterbox from the National Coal Board proudly proclaiming that coal helps the balance of payments by £100 million a year—£100 million a year from the mining industry. Fine. But, my Lords, that is more or less what authors bring in to the balance of payments in this country. From our book sales abroad, from royalties and so on, it is very close to £100 million a year contribution to our balance of payments. And what do we need? Our factories run here. We have pencils and pads and typewriters. We do not need expensive machinery or enormous investment. All we need is our rights, and this is what this Bill will provide. I beg to move.

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

7.37 p.m.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has implied, there is a slightly depressing air of déjàvu about this third Second Reading of a House of Lords Public Lending Right Bill in less than two years. It may be that a little cynicism about human affairs is a necessary seasoning for literary talent; certainly authors may be justified in feeling both cynical and sceptical about the progress of a Bill designed to redress a grievance which many of them share. We are all permitted to disagree among ourselves as to what may be the best means for redressing the grievance, but I believe that it is generally recognised that authors have had a bad deal from the free lending policy of our public libraries. It really is time, therefore, that something was done about this bad deal; indeed we are long overdue, as witness the almost monotonous frequency with which Bills of this kind are introduced in Parliament with a great flourish and fanfare of good intentions, only to sputter out and die a month or two later. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for his persistence and patience in hammering this cause home yet again, even as I commiserate with him in recognising that the response of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, the Minister for the Arts, will be a more or less coquettish variant of the theme of "Not tonight, Josephine".

My Lords, the Government's record on public lending right is not really very good. It is no use, either, for them to say that there are Conservative reservations about the Bill—most of which I myself share, and some of which I shall come to in a few moments—or that Back-Benchers on the Opposition as well as the Government side in another place did not help the passage of this Bill's predecessor. It is surely the business of Governments to get their business through, or to modify it so that it does get through, or to drop their commitment to any particular piece of business if they do not think it can or should go through.

We on this side are unequivocal about our desire to improve the lot of authors. If we had won the Election of February, 1974, my right honourable friend Mr. Norman St. John Stevas would have introduced a Bill along these lines very rapidly, building on the good work of my friend, the former Member for Ipswich, Mr. Ernie Money, and indeed with the backing of the then Secretary of State for Education, who later, of course, became the Leader of the Opposition. My right honourable friend's successor as Minister for the Arts, Mr. Hugh Jenkins, whatever else we on this side may feel about him, did get a commitment to public lending right into the Queen's Speech. The Conservatives echoed this commitment. They made a commitment to PLR in their policy document The Right Approach, which was published last October. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, as the responsible Minister, is known for his support of PLR and not simply, I am sure, because he happens to be married to a highly successful and, if I may say so, very readable authoress. In short, we are all on the side of light; yet we on this side suspect that this Bill will fail in the House of Commons and that the authors will be left in the dark yet again. Why should this happen, and why should we allow it to happen? There seem to be two answers to that question. One is a matter of personality and politics; the other is a matter of principle.

I do not for one moment blame the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. He is not in the Cabinet; he is a junior Minister in the Department of Education. Indeed, in my opinion there is something to be said for having the Ministry for the Arts moved to the Department of the Environment because junior Ministers there, being responsible for housing, transport and the like, have more clout than is possible in a smaller Department such as Education. The noble Lord is not in the House of Commons, where his powers of persuasion could tell, but in this House, where on this subject at any rate we are all in relatively close agreement.

I do, however, blame Mr. Foot, the Lord President of the Council. Time and again he has told parties interested in PLR -his fellow authors in fact—of his commitment, and time and again he has gone back on it. Some of us may think of him, to put it at its most polite, as an indifferent Minister; but none of us would deny that he is an extremely powerful one. When he was Secretary of State for Employment he initiated very section-ally-interested and sectionally inspired laws. When he became Lord President he had to deal with the consequences of such legislation on his Parliamentary timetable.

My Lords, the Government have re fused to compromise with their minority status and drop contentious legislation. No wonder then that they have lost control of their Parliamentary timetable in another place, let alone business like the PLR Bill, on which there is inter-Party agreement. Perhaps the Lord President is unaware that the TUC Working Party on the Arts-no less, my Lords!—has written: The introduction of legislation to provide authors with a fee for loans of their work from public libraries is very welcomed by the Working Party since it will do much to lessen the effect of commercial pressure on creative writers and give them a more just return on their work. If the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, would draw this positive if somewhat optimistic, approach to the Lord President's attention, I suspect time could be found in another place for the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Willis.

The other problem is more fundamental and I am afraid less ephemeral than the Lord President. It is that the Bill is not a very good one. It is not good through no fault of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, nor through the fault of the Parliamentary draftsmen. In my view it is impossible to reward authors at all appropriately, let alone reward them fairly, for loans of their books, so long as our society clings to the concept of absolutely free libraries. This concept is an honourable one but it is a legacy of Victorian paternalism, wretched low wages and cultural deprivation in a newly industrialised society.

The way to pay authors for the loan of their books is not through a central fund and Government expenditure programmes, which, as we all know, are liable to the vagaries of political and economic weather. It is not through an administrative system which will need to claw back £400,000 of every £1 million designated—and I understand that £1 million is the figure being designated. The cheapest, most effective and most equitable way is by charging, say, 5p per book borrowed and returning 4p to the author or the holders of his copyright. The authors themselves would be only too pleased to form or adapt a guild or society to attend to the problems of distributing the monies so consigned. We all know of the ease with which we can exempt such special groups as students and pensioners from such a scheme. However, as the noble Lord's predecessor, Mr. Hugh Jenkins, has told us, free libraries are a sacred principle; I am afraid I should have to translate that into the phrase "sacred cow".

Few things have depressed me more in recent years than the opposition of the museum establishment to the Heath Government's introduction of museum charges—charges which, as my noble friend Lord Eccles knows, were worth many times their weight in increased block grant. Until we in this country shake off our rather elitist and paternalist hangover, learn to trust the consumer and allow him to earn and retain more money, all our public institutions, let alone our museums and libraries, will crumble through the effects of high taxation and high inflation. And speaking of taxation: if we want to help authors, why do we not also do so through the fiscal system, as the Irish do?

In spite of these reflections and reservations, I give a modified welcome to the Bill. It will not in my view get on to the Statute Book. There is the rather sinister phrase in Clause 3: As soon as may be after this Act comes into force, the Secretary of State shall prepare the draft of a scheme… I have never read a Statute which contains the phrase "as soon as may be ". If the Bill does get on to the Statute Book, in my view it will not put much money into the average author's pocket. Average annual sums ranging from 5p to £10 have been calculated. Nevertheless, as my noble friend Lord Elton said from this Box during the Second Reading debate last time round—or was it the time before that?—this Bill is at least a framework for a framework—that is to say, for the scheme—for something which authors want and which both political Parties are in honour bound to provide. Perhaps not until such legislation reaches the Statute Book and we are able to see its limitations in action shall we on all sides see a better way to allow authors to claim some of the money we owe them.

7.47 p.m.


My Lords, it was in the Second Reading debate on the Public Lending Rights Bill last year that I addressed your Lordships for the very first time. Therefore I, too, this evening have a strong feeling that this is where I came in. I appreciate that for some noble Lords this déjà vu sensation must be even stronger as they will have taken part in the debate when the noble Lord, Lord Willis, introduced yet another Private Member's Bill two years ago.

I must admit that I do not find this familiarity particularly helpful. One does not want to repeat oneself and yet the case must not be allowed to go by default. Every year that passes with no PLR only increases the need for it and the injustice of denying it. I must, again, declare my personal interest, however small, in the measure. I must also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willis, on his persistent and eloquent advocacy of this cause. We are so polite in this place that, when one wishes to congratulate someone, it is rather difficult to make it clear that one means it. I hope that the noble Lord will believe that I greatly admire the way in which he has stuck to his guns. However, I am sure he would agree that it would have been even more an occasion for congratulations if his perseverance had been no longer needed. We could have had a Public Lending Right last year if one or two people—not in this place—had been able to resist the temptation to show off. That was not to be. So we have to start all over again, and once more it is my welcome duty to assure the House that I and my colleagues on these Benches support this Bill all the way, and I think I should say with a little more enthusiasm than I detected in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie.

We have not changed our minds since the days when we used to throw all the weight we had behind the never to be forgotten efforts of A. P. Herbert. We still believe that a public lending right in some form or other is a right too long denied, and that it could eventually do something to improve the lot of authors and thereby bolster the defences of the written word, perhaps even of literacy itself, against all the forces which are threatening it in this electronic age. Another thing I must not fail to say is how much I am looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. I can assure him that in only a few minutes I shall sit down and leave the floor to him.

I said that a public lending right in some form or other had been too long denied. It has not always been seen in the form in which we see it in this Bill, which is, of course, apart from a notable improvement in the wording of the opening subsection, the same Bill that we discussed last year. I have a feeling that this may be the last chance for PLR in this form. I hope that if we can send it to that other place at least two months earlier in the Session than we were able to last year, then it may be on the Statute Book by Christmas. But if that does not happen, I shall be surprised to see this form of public lending right before your Lordships again.

If I sense the changing climate correctly, I think we would more likely find ourselves back with the "penny on the counter" idea which, in some ways, makes more sense but also arouses much fiercer opposition. I think that that is the direction in which things are moving. I prepared these remarks with no idea that the noble Earl was going to say what he did; but that seems to me to confirm my belief. The conclusion that I draw from this is that if we want to avoid a complete waste of all the work that has been done by the Technical Investigation Group, the Writers Action Group, the Society of Authors, and by many individuals, some of them in this House, then there is absolutely no time to be lost and we must pass this Bill with the maximum despatch.

Before I sit down, I should like to ask two questions. First, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Willis, whether he is sure that it is wise to name the sum of £1 million in Clause 2(2), as we all know it to be both inadequate and unobtainable. Is it included in the Bill in an attempt to disarm our opponents? Is he quite sure that it would not be better to leave the sum unspecified? Perhaps when he is winding up he could give me his thoughts.

My second question is addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, the Minister who will be replying for Her Majesty's Government. I was not able to give the noble Lord any warning, and if he regards this as "a fast one" I apologise and withdraw it at once and will wait for an answer on some other occasion. He probably will be able to take it in his stride. When I was rereading our debates of last year I thought I detected a certain confusion in our thinking. It may only have been in my thinking, but I should be grateful to know what other noble Lords think. We were all most insistent that PLR was not a subsidy, not a charitable handout; it was a payment of a wage for work well done, and so on.

At the same time we were assured that at a time of such economic stringency the £1 million could not possibly be found. Yet in that same debate many speakers were congratulating the noble Lord's predecessor—I think I have this right—on having found an additional £10 million to add to the £22 million which the Arts Council had disbursed in subsidies and helpful handouts to no doubt very worthy people and organisations in the year then ending. I find this puzzling. I should be most interested to know how the noble Lord the Minister for the Arts sees the claims of public lending right in relation to the claims of the Arts Council. How do the priorities arrange themselves in his eyes? I shall no longer deny you the pleasure of hearing the noble Lord who is addressing you for the first time, as I did myself in the equivalent debate last year. I am sure that we shall give this Bill its Second Reading tonight.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships' House for the first time, I must beg not only the indulgence customarily and generously accorded to a maiden speech but additional indulgence on account of the lateness of the hour and the history of the Bill, on which much discussion has already taken place. But I shall be brief. My qualification for intervening at all is slender but it does exist. I have published three books and hope to publish others. My personal interest—which I should like to declare—is extremely limited, for even if I climbed from the ranks of "little borrowed" authors into the lower middle rank, it appears that I should be unlikely to receive more than £10 or so per annum under the provisions of the Bill. But this, at least, has the advantage that I can speak from the standpoint of an author without, I hope, giving rise to any suspicion that I am feathering my own nest.

Now £10 will not keep me or anyone in business as an author, but hope is held out that some writers in the middle to upper ranges of popularity might receive sums in three figures. Here we do move into an area of relevance for an author, for such sums even today could be of the greatest importance in freeing a vital extra week, or even a month, for the completion of a significant work. Authors have many adverse factors to contend with. I propose to mention only a few. First, publishers' advances in the case of commissioned books are seldom sufficient to cover the cost of writing them, particularly if any element of research or travel is involved. Then, grants from the Arts Council to writers of creative work run at only about 1 per cent, of their budget; I think the figure was £289,000 for 1975–76. Literature, therefore, is the poor relation of the Arts. Furthermore, the amount of cushioning of writers by universities through sabbatical years of paid leave in general extends only to a very limited number of authors, naturally in specialist fields.

There may, of course, still be some who hold that authors ought to be left out in the cold, that it is good for them, that the weakest will go to the wall and only the strongest survive—which will be a good thing, as too many books are written and published anyway. I am not remotely suggesting that this line of thought is likely to commend itself to your Lordships' House. I am simply trying to foresee the objections which this Bill may yet give rise to and must overcome if it is to get on to the Statute Book.

I do not see how such a view of authors of books can possibly be sustained at a time when libraries and reading matter in general are becoming of increasing importance because of the increase in leisure which has already taken place this century and which will continue, because of greater longevity and even, it must be said, because of greater redundancy and the corresponding need for re-training and for the re-launching of people's interests in new directions. Books are vital in adolescence, during higher education, when out of work and during retirement, some of the problems of which were interestingly and movingly expressed in your Lordships' House the other day. Are not great efforts being made at this present time to promote literacy through an Adult Literacy Campaign? Thus, the author's role in life can hardly be said to be parasitical.

It may be said, "If we must have authors, let the users pay for them; let habitual readers buy season tickets to libraries ". Despite what has been said to the contrary this evening, it was not my intention to be controversial and I made my notes before I had the honour of hearing the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. Libraries are against this; half the users would be students and pensioners and they would have to be excluded. It would also go against the great principles of the Libraries and Museums Act, on which our use of these vital props of a civilised society are based.

How, then, are we to assist the struggling author, a member of society who, we discover, somewhat to our surprise perhaps, is not a luxury but a necessity? As we have seen, we cannot make him a charge on the individual borrower. I believe there is no solution but a public lending right, and I feel there are very adequate grounds for a wide consensus of all people of good will and good sense, of whatever Party or no Party, on this point. Of course, what is provided in the Bill will certainly not allow any author to put his feet up and wait for the annual PLR cheque to come in. All it may do is to provide some of the more deserving and hard-working with a little additional help to achieve what all true authors want, which is simply the ability to survive and go on working. The best authors do not want more than that.

With this in view, I very much hope that when the detailed scheme comes before Parliament the payments will be so devised as to make a meaningful, if modest, contribution to the capacity of serious, hard-working authors to support themselves and their families while continuing their work. The scheme should not offer a large bonus to authors already financially successful, and I do not believe that this is the intention. Both a tapering scale and a fixed maximum have been discussed in order to prevent the most heavily borrowed authors from scooping the fund. Whatever solution is eventually adopted, I submit that its net effect should be to spread meaningful payments over a broad range of authors with, I would suggest, a maximum of £500 a year for any one author so long as the fund is pegged to £1 million, less expenses.

I am not sure if it is inappropriate to say this, but I think it is considerably to the credit of the Government that they have continued to give the Bill their blessing in its present form. Naturally, the proposals as they stand have given rise to thoughts about the rights of composers, performers, sculptors, painters and others who contribute to the quality of life in this country. At one stage, some noble Lords thought it would be only fair to substitute the wider term "works" for "books", and while respecting the generosity of their motivation, I feel it is liable to be counter-productive for several reasons.

First, there is the purely practical one of the limited amount of money that will be available for distribution. Second, records, cassettes, slides, films and other audio or audio-visual material would require a completely different scheme, if indeed one could be devised at all, and the extra cost would be out of all proportion to the benefits to be derived by anyone. Painters and sculptors certainly have a claim on the community, but their situation is fundamentally different from that of authors of books. I number several painters among my friends and I could expand on this, but time does not permit me to do so.

Although the supporters of "works" were undoubtedly acting on the highest principle of equity among the creative arts, the greatest objection to the term is the way it lays itself open to misconstruction by opponents of the Bill, for whom it all too easily becomes the subject of prolonged quibbles about what is and what is not a "work". This led in large measure, so far as I could see, to the loss of the predecessor of this Bill. If it is still claimed that "works" should be in the Bill so that the right can be extended to other branches of the arts at some unspecified date in the future, my simple fear would be that such a wide enabling measure, particularly if it had no financial provision, would remain on the Statute Book as an expression of good intentions which succeeding Governments might well not see their way to implementing.

There are, of course, bound to be some divergent views on the scope the Bill should have, the categories to which it should extend and the funds with which it should be endowed. But because we cannot do all the good we should like to do, that is not a reason for doing none at all, and the opportunity we now have to do some good may not be speedily repeated. I would in fact go so far as to say that this is still, and just, a historic juncture between the energetic promotion of the authors' cause by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and others on the one hand, and the civilised disposition of the Government to come to an accommodation with these legitimate aspirations.

My Lords, I thank you for your patience. I will end by saying only one thing more: let us not miss this opportunity; it has already knocked more than twice.

8.7 p.m.


My Lords, I wish at the outset to congratulate most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, on his maiden speech, which was very eloquent and convincing, and I am sure that your Lordships will wish with me that we shall hear from him frequently in future on this and any other topic he cares to address his obviously well-informed mind towards. I must, like everyone else who has spoken in this debate, declare an interest in that I am an author and my books are borrowed from the public libraries. Furthermore, I am represented in this House by my leader, because I am a member of the Writers' Guild and where my leader goes there go I. I should also like to renew the congratulations which have been extended by other speakers in the debate to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for his tireless furthering of this necessary Bill, and I wish to pay tribute to those angels behind the scenes, Miss Brophy and Miss Duffy, without whose efforts the Bill would certainly not have got as far as it has now.

I think there is little controversy in your Lordships' House or in the country at large about the principle behind the Bill, and I was slightly edgy at the thought that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, raised the issue of charging at public libraries at this stage. There may well be a theoretical case, which I know the noble Lord strongly believes in, for the free market operating in such a way that nothing is free and everything is charged for, but I think that that general argument of a philosophical kind can only at this stage jeopardise the passage of the Bill by enraging the librarians who, despite their other admirable qualities, appear totally to be unable to understand the literature which is issued in connection with the furtherance of the cause of the Bill.

I share very strongly with the noble Lord whose maiden speech we have just heard the belief that the maintenance of the free public library in this country is a necessary part of the maintenance of such part of the civilisation as remains with us, and therefore I hope very much that rather than take the step towards charging for public libraries we shall in fact take the step of enacting this Bill which gives, first of all, a token payment to authors, but which paves the way for a proper way of paying authors in the long run for the contribution which authors of all kinds make to the permanence and perpetuation of civilised values at a time when the values of evil people are rising on all sides about us.

What the Bill does is to set up the machinery by which authors can be paid a just reward for their labours, which is only fair, right and proper and is supported by the TUC and by every major organisation in the country which is concerned with the equitable distribution of income. It has the Government's blessing and, we know, the very strong! support of Mr. Hugh Jenkins, the noble Lord's predecessor, and the present Minister for the Arts, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who has laboured hard and long in this worthy cause.

Though I shall not detain your Lord-ships long because we want to get the Bill through as soon as possible, I must say in all seriousness that if the Bill does not pass in another place I very strongly share the fears of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, that we shall see the beginnings of a demand for an end to the free library service. I would go further: I think that a very small but influential section of the community will become increasingly disillusioned with the democratic Parliamentary process. The thought that a Bill supported by all sides in this House and the other place can be held up by the antics of three people of a kind that I would not wish to refer to in your Lordships' Chamber in language that would be acceptable to your Lordships, is calculated to bring Parliamentary democratic institutions into disrepute. This kind of filibustering has no place in serious debate about serious matters which are not controversial between the major Parties. It is perfectly fair for one major Party to try to stop another major Party from getting controversial legislation through, but this legislation is not controversial and Parliament exists to see that the law is put right in the public interest. That is what the present Bill seeks to do. With that, I sit down in the fervent hope that the efforts of my noble friend Lord Willis will be rewarded.

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, on his excellent maiden speech. I hope that we may hear him again soon in your Lordships' House, though I am sure he will agree with me that it should preferably not be on yet another Second Reading of the Public Lending Right Bill.

Once again—now, for the third time—I find myself speaking on the Second Reading of a Public Lending Right Bill. The whole thing puts me in mind of that very successful play The Mousetrap, which has been going for more than 25 years and has had more than 9,000 performances. My heart trembles for the noble Lord, Lord Willis, but I am sure that other noble Lords who have spoken are, like myself, hoping not to have to speak as many times.

I do not want to repeat anything that I have said before on two previous occasions, but there are several points that require mention. Of the two preceding Bills, the noble Lord, Lord Willis, withdrew his Bill because the Government gave an assurance that they would introduce their own Bill. This they did, as we all know. Unfortunately, the Bill did not get through in the other place. Let us hope that this time it has more luck.

I feel that each time a Public Lending Right Bill is drawn up so it is improved. In Clause 1(2), it is a question of the books in which public lending right is to be held to subsist. This is obvious enough in the case of books that are lent in such a way that they may be taken outside libraries. But, if the words "public lending right" have any meaning at all, there is also a kind of loan that takes place inside the reference sections of public libraries for, although borrowers may not carry the book outside the library, it is nevertheless lent for use inside it. I hope that at the Committee stage we may perhaps obtain a clearer definition and that, when the Secretary of State's scheme or schemes are presented, the sharp distinctions made in the last two Bills between loan works and so-called reference works will have disappeared.

In the City of York public library an official sits and photographs the code number inserted on the inside of the back cover of each book together with each borrower's card. It would surely be just as simple to install a camera in the reference section. There are, of course, other ways of determining the frequency of use of reference books. It is obviously impossible for the Secretary of State to tag particular books into particular categories. The so-called reference books—dictionaries included—can be borrowed from the open shelves of the mobile library which halts near my house every Wednesday. The only difference occurs when the same book that the mobile library lends out is placed under restriction in a reference library.

I am glad to see that there appears to be no restriction on joint or multiple authors. I find only one question to put to the noble Lord, Lord Willis. Clause 1(7)(b) provides that the scheme for public lending right shall be "transmissible by assignment or assignation". "Assignment" I understand perfectly well. But "assignation", if the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will forgive me, reminds me of an opera in which there figures a certain Private Willis and in which a very adequate definition of the word "assignation" is given by a certain noble Lord—by name Tolloller—as follows: I heard the minx remark, She'd meet him after dark, Inside Saint James' Park And give him one! Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Willis, would enlighten us as to the assignation to which he refers!

8.17 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, I am very glad that we should end this discussion by a quotation from a very famous and much loved opera. It is really rather sad for me, as it is for all of you, to be at it again as we are tonight. I think I have seldom been more angry than I was when I observed the treatment the previous Bill got in another place where, as three noble Lords have said, the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party had all expressed themselves as in favour of it, but three individuals-one of ours and two of yours, if I may so put it—used the old-fashioned Irish technique of deliberate filibustering. One of the glories of a free society is that one occasionally runs into things one cannot control. What these people did was perfectly legal, and I do not see how Parliamentary procedure can be altered to stop this kind of thing except by timetable agreements between the Parties which are very difficult to attain. It was very largely the fact that the Government realised that, if they were to give time in the Commons for this Bill, there was absolutely no guarantee of what time they would require, that made it so extremely difficult for them to do so.

Our commitment to the principle of public lending right remains as firm now as when we introduced our own Bill, which I had hoped to be able to reintroduce here and which closely resembled the present Bill. It is the pressure on the legislative programme that has prevented the Government from reproducing the Bill in this Session, so I am delighted to give support to my noble friend Lord Willis, as I could not do it myself; to support his initiative and to affirm our support for the principle. I wish him every success in this venture. He has shown how well he has been able to master the intricacies of a subject which is full of pitfalls in practice, though it is simple and challenging in principle. I am also glad to see that the Bill incorporates a number of improvements as the result of the debates in this House on the previous Bill.

My Lords, I have to say, quite honestly, that, as things stand at the moment, I do not see how this Bill will get through another place. But things can change and our intention when we discussed what would be the best course to take was that we should have the Bill alive and kicking so that, if an opportunity arose, we could force it through in another place. Let us also support the three Parties in controlling their maverick Members by extensive propaganda in this House and the newspapers for the virtues of a Bill of this kind. This gives a little time to work that out.

Having said that, I should like to say how very much I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. It seemed to me to be totally controversial because it was saying the opposite to Mr. Sproat, Mr. Moate and Mr. English. That is to be controversial. But apart from those three people, I think that within this House the noble Lord observed the normal rules which we expect. He managed to say two or three things which I think need saying. First, he said that literature is a poor relation. I am not quite sure that I agree with that. I think that parts of literature are a poor relation and other parts are not.

The objective of a Bill of this kind is a very simple one. It is to see that if there are two people who have a book bought by a library and one book is not borrowed for ten years while the other is borrowed a hundred times a year, some distinction is made between them. This is what the Bill is about. It is not a very elaborate or complicated idea. It does not cover all kinds of additions which could, I think, justifiably be added if they were practical. I think that the addition of works instead of books is something which one day one should like to see. I certainly think that the addition of reference books, to which the noble Lady referred, is a matter which, if a method can be worked out, might well be included later. I think the question of joint authors might be considered as well. But for the moment we are asking this House and the other place to pass a very simple Bill, with a very simple conception, unfortunately with a very expensive way—and we can find no other—of honestly and fairly finding out who ought to have what. This is one of the difficulties of the Bill.

I must say a few words about payment for books. There was, I think, some years ago, the original Brophy penny. If it had been introduced then it might by now possibly have been morally and politically acceptable. But, quite honestly, to take away something from people which they have had for years and have made such amazingly good use of is not, either morally or politically, justifiable. In any case, I think that politically it would be extremely awkward, as noble Lords opposite found with museum charges. But there is a reality which one would be depriving people of, and of which they are now immensely proud. This goes not only for the librarians, who would be absolutely solid about this, but it also goes for the people who use the libraries. I as an Englishman am proud of the fact that, I think, 600 million books have been borrowed free of charge in this country. It is an absolutely amazing achievement, and we have enough troubles to make it worth while occasionally reflecting on the good things that we do.

It is perfectly clear that if we were to introduce payment for books we should have to exempt school children and old age pensioners. My Department has looked at various ways of doing this and has always come to the conclusion that by the time the exceptions were made and the work had been paid for it would not be worth the candle. The Government's view is perfectly clear about this. We do not think that that is the way forward.

I was very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, referred to the TUC report. I felt that it was a very good report; it was very forward looking in backing the public lending right, and it was a great help for us that it did. My noble friend Lord Willis has to be—otherwise he would not be where he is—a tremendous optimist. When he said one year to 18 months I thought he was being tremendously optimistic. I do not see the timescale as low as that.

What we want in putting the Bill through this House is to get an enabling Bill. Once we have an enabling Bill, which is part of the law of the land, we shall get money allocated in due course. As I told the House last time round, the money is a paper figure. It has not yet been allocated, and it will not be allocated until the Bill is passed. But once the Bill is passed the Government have an undertaking, and in due course this will come.

In the course of our previous discussions we came very clearly to the view that we must set limited objectives which we know how to achieve, and not try to do everything at once. This is the only rider of principle that I must insist upon making. Our support—by that I mean the Government's support—for the Bill is in the form in which it now stands and not, I must say to the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, to any extensions or major modification of its principles. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage we will not elaborate the Bill. Getting it through in this form will be the easiest way to get it through—and even that will not be easy. Therefore I hope that we will not, for example, substitute works for books or get involved with libraries which are not public libraries, where nobody has yet found out how the effective measurement which would be fair to authors could be devised. The cost of administering any scheme of PLR which is fair is so high that to add to the complications of administration to satisfy issues of principle would spoil the effect of the Bill and might even result in failure.

With regard to foreign authors, we must be careful not to be discriminatory against our obligations under the Treaty of Rome, nor to impose a vast amount of detailed work on the system in order to try to increase the entitlement of authors in this country. But if it proves possible within those constraints to encourage reciprocation by other countries, the Government will certainly be prepared to consider doing so when preparing the scheme.

My Lords, I hope that I have not misled the House. I have been very much less forthcoming than I should like to be about the Bill. I have not given, and cannot give, undertakings about the next stage in another place. But my view is that if we have the Bill cut and dried with the full support of this noble House, with support which I hope people will perhaps try to arrange outside in newspapers and in other ways for the principles of the Bill, a situation may, by good luck, arise when it can be shoved in, and we will get it through. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting my noble friend in his Motion that the Bill should now have a Second Reading.

8.27 p.m.


My Lords, I will be very brief. I should like to join in the congratulations extended to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, upon his maiden speech which was eloquent and provoking. I am grateful not only to the ranks of those in this House who have spoken but also to the ranks of those who support public lending right and I look forward to debating the matter further with the noble Lord on another occasion. There are one or two very brief points I should like to make. I want to put the record right about a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. In the course of his speech he mentioned Michael Foot. I can say this: that nobody, but nobody, in the other place was more helpful to us when we were trying to fight against these filibusters than was Michael Foot. He was patience itself at a time when he was enormously busy. He showed himself to be dedicated to the principle of PLR, and no author could have wished for finer support. That it failed at the last stage was not his fault; nor was it the fault of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. As we have all heard, it was the fault of those—forgive me, my Lords, I will swallow the words.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, also made one other point, which I think was probably a slip of the tongue, when he said that £400,000 out of every million— "every million", I think, were the words he used—would be "sewn up" in administration. That, of course, is not true. Once you have launched the scheme and spent the first £400,000 out of that first £1 million, collecting the next £1 million will be relatively less expensive because you will have already set the machinery in motion, and so on. So the larger the sum allocated the smaller will be the percentage of costs.

The noble Lord, Lord McNair—and, again, I thank him for his support and his eloquent speech—asked me the question: Should we name the sum of £1 million? The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, used the best phrase, I think, when he said that it is "paper money"; and "token money" was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Vaizey. That is really what it is. It is better to have something named in the Bill, because if you do not have anything named in the Bill you may very well find yourself kicking off with a much smaller sum, even, than this rather miserable amount.

Finally, in answer to the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss—and once again I congratulate her on her persistence about reference books, which I entirely support—I would say that there is no real reason in principle why reference books should not be included but, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has quite rightly said, at this stage we must keep it simple and get the principle on the Statute Book, and I support that. In reply to the noble Lady's question, I am informed that "assignation" is the equivalent in Scottish law of "assignment", but if that explanation does not entirely satisfy her I would be delighted to have an assignation with her and explain it further.

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for his continued support and for the remarks he made. We have a clash here between the optimist and the pessimist. I am hopeful that some gap in time may open up in the other place and that the Government will give us their support on this Bill; but in the meantime I again thank noble Lords for their support and for the splendid hearing they have given to the speakers tonight.

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