HL Deb 12 February 1979 vol 398 cc988-1039

3.28 p.m.

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

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time. I must first declare an interest in that I am the husband of an authoress and certainly hope to stand to gain from the passing of this Bill.

That is not however my only reason for commending it. The principle which the Bill enshrines has been stated and restated many times. It is that the Government believe it to be an act of simple justice to provide some recompense out of public funds for those authors whose books are lent out under the public library service. We have an excellent public library service—without doubt the best and most intensively used in the world—but the authors are the fundamental part of it, and yet the only payment they get, however many times their books are borrowed, is the amount they receive from the original purchase of the book by the library. The Bill provides that authors should receive a payment out of public funds which is based on the number of times their books are actually lent out by local authority libraries.

Noble Lords will have had a sense of dejà vu when they saw that this Bill was to be considered yet again in your Lordships' House. We have been here before. But there are some subtle differences. On the first occasion, in 1976, as I well remember, I was plunged into the deep end by having to take on the Committee stage of the Bill within two or three days of being appointed Minister for the Arts. On the second occasion, in 1977, my noble friend Lord Willis reintroduced the Bill. On both occasions the Bill came to us before it had run the gauntlet of another place. On the first occasion, in 1976, it ran into exceptional difficulty in the other place when a small minority of opponents of the Bill insisted on very prolonged debate at all stages, which I regard as a faintly polite way of putting it. On the second occasion, in 1977, the Government simply could not find the time for the Bill in a very crowded legislative programme dominated by the Bills on devolution.

The Bill has indeed, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place, been star-crossed. On this occasion, however, the Bill has already run the gauntlet of another place. It has been subjected to prolonged and exhaustive debate yet again. I should like to congratulate my honourable friend and colleague, the Minister of State, who handled the Bill in another place, for piloting it so skilfully there and bringing it to us in its present form. The Bill benefited there from the co-operation of the Opposition. Indeed, the Bill was welcomed by all parties represented in another place. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that with this spirit of goodwill towards the principle of the Bill, and the rigorous examination it has already undergone, little further scrutiny should be required from this House. We have, after all, put it through twice already. But I do not think I can skip my introduction, speaking too shortly, as not everyone will remember the details accurately. There are in any case some subtle changes in this Bill from the versions we have previously considered, and I will deal with these as I go through the text.

First, I think I must briefly recall to your Lordships' House how the scheme is intended to work. I will then go on to describe the detailed provisions in the Bill and deal with some of the points of controversy which have been raised by critics of the Bill. We propose that there should be a set sum in a kitty or central fund and that authors should be paid out of that fund pro rata according to the borrowing of their books from local authority libraries. Authors will have to register their books with a Registrar of Public Lending Right, and in particular they will have to advise him of the International Standard Book Numbers which apply to their books. These ISBNs are a set of unique reference numbers which identify each edition of each book published and enable the scheme to be computerised. A sample of about 72 local authority libraries throughout the United Kingdom will be drawn randomly but with reference to the need to cover different types and areas. These libraries will have inserted in the books in their stock a machine readable coded form of the ISBN. Each time a book is borrowed from the sample it will be recorded by the library, and periodically a return of the data of borrowings will be sent to the Registrar. At the end of a stipulated period, probably 12 months, the Registrar will run the tapes of lendings against the computer file of books registered by authors, and so he will be able to compute the entitlement of payment per author for the period in question.

Turning to the text of the Bill itself, Clause 1 establishes the public lending right as the right of authors to be paid out of a central fund in respect of certain books lent out of public libraries in the United Kingdom. The books in question are those which will have been registered with a Registrar who will be appointed by the Secretary of State to operate the scheme. He will help to prepare the scheme in detail and play a part in the consultation of those likely to be affected by the scheme. I repeat the undertaking given on previous occasions, that we shall publish a consultation document on the scheme.

Clause 2 establishes the central fund out of which payments will be made to authors in respect of the public lending right. This is where the first and most important difference arises between this and previous versions of the Bill.

Clause 2(2) places an upper limit of £2 million on the annual liabilities of the fund. The previous Bill had a limit of £1 million. We must have a ceiling on the fund to ensure that there is parliamentary control over the total resources devoted to the scheme. But there is provision in Clause 2(3) for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, to increase the limit by order, subject to an Affirmative Resolution in another place.

Clause 2(4) provides that the expenses of administering the scheme, including the expenses of the library authorities involved, will be a first charge on the central fund. In the Explanatory Memorandum these expenses are estimated at £100,000 in the first 12 months, rising to £400,000 in the second 12 months, of the planning period, which will precede the introduction of the scheme. When the scheme is introduced and in full operation the running costs will be higher than in the planning period, and the provisional estimate is that these costs could be about £600,000. All these estimates are based on the original work of the Technical Investigation Group, which was set up by my predecessor as Minister for the Arts. Costs have risen since that group completed its work in 1975, and the estimates include an adjustment for that to present-day prices. But there could be some offsetting savings, too, since 1975. In particular, since the group reported more public libraries have installed computer equipment of their own and if that is compatible with the requirements of the scheme there will be lower costs on libraries in the sample and so there will be less to be reimbursed to them out of the central fund. This will, of course, mean that there will be more for authors. As it stands, the estimated benefit to authors has improved from £600,000 out of a £1 million fund to £1.4 million out of a £2 million fund, a very considerable improvement.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, could he at that stage tell us what the individual authors are expected to get? Presumably the very prolific author will get a large sum out of which he will pay a large amount of tax, but the poor struggling author will get a much smaller sum. Has the noble Lord any idea how much these people are going to get?


My Lords, I deal with both these points in the remarks I have prepared. I would like to let it run and if the noble Lord is not satisfied I will answer him afterwards. I think I shall deal with both points fairly fully.

Clauses 2(5) and 2(6) are standard financial and accounting provisions.

Clause 3 requires the Secretary of State to prepare a draft of a scheme for the administration of public lending right and to lay it before Parliament. This draft can be the subject of debate in each House and is subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure. The scheme will reflect the consultations foreshadowed in Clause 1, and will deal, for example, with the selection of the sample of libraries, the reimbursement of the expenses of the libraries in the sample, and the classes of book eligible for the right. If there are to be maximum and minimum cut-off limits in the scale of payments—the point the noble Lord was asking about—these will also be dealt with in the scheme. The clause provides for the scheme to be altered from time to time but only after due consultation. I should also draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 3(8), which provides for an annual report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. This was an Amendment accepted by the Government at Report stage in another place. In partial answer, therefore, to the noble Lord, the question of cut-offs will be discussed in the discussion paper, and then put into the scheme which will come before both Houses of Parliament in the ordinary way.

Clause 4 provides for the register, which will constitute evidence whether a particular book shall be entitled to the right and to whom any payment is due. The Registrar has the duty of establishing and maintaining the register in accordance with the scheme. The onus of proving a claim to the satisfication of the Registrar falls on the applicant. Clauses 4(7) and 4(8) contain standard provisions as to the making of false statements knowingly and recklessly in connection with the entry of any matter whatsoever in the register. The Library Association have been very much exercised by these provisions, and after our meeting I was left with the impression that they were content with the explanation they had been given, but I now understand that I was over-sanguine.

I understand that they have now reaffirmed their opposition to these provisions, so at least the misunderstanding about their attitude has been removed. I ought, therefore, to remove any doubt as to the Government attitude. It is that a provision of this kind, which appears in many other statutes, is desirable in this case. It makes the law clearer and easier to apply. It is extremely unlikely that a librarian would ever commit the offence, but there seems no reason why librarians alone should be specially exempted from a provision which must apply generally to any individual member of the public or body corporate that deliberately attempts to mislead the Registrar as to a material fact relevant to the authorship of a book, or its ISBN, or the entitlement of anyone to the payment of sums due. If one states the case in this way, I find the librarians' objection difficult to understand.

Clause 5 contains interpretation provisions. It also provides for the Bill to be brought into force on an appointed day. The Government are not yet in a position to announce that they are assured of the resources for public lending right and until they are it would be premature to start the preliminary processes set out in the Bill.

The Schedule sets out in the usual form the provisions for the Registrar and his staff, who will not be civil servants. The provisions have been amended to make it clear that it is for the Registrar, as the employer, to set the pay and conditions of his staff, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Civil Service. It is estimated that the Registrar will need about a dozen staff at first during the preparatory stages, when the computer system is being designed, the Register is being compiled and arrangements are being made with the libraries in the sample; and when the scheme is in full operation he will need about 35 to 40 staff. The Schedule has also been amended to provide that the Registrar shall be a Corporation Sole; that will ensure that any legal business is executed by him in his capacity as office holder and not in a personal capacity, so there will be no hiatus whenever there is a change in the holder of the office.

There are a number of technical points which noble Lords may wish to raise and I shall endeavour to answer a few of them at the end of this debate. Some may be so detailed or technical that I may have to suggest that they are left over to the Committee stage. However, there are some points which I think I should deal with now.

Let me start with an article in the County Council Gazette for December of last year. The article was entitled "Public Lending Wrong" and it contrasted the loan-based principle in the Bill unfavourably with the so-called sales-based scheme preferred by some local authorities. I ought to explain that under a sales-based scheme, the public lending right payments would be calculated on the basis of sales by book-sellers and publishers to libraries, and not on actual loans of books by libraries.

First of all, the article says: The interests of novelists and biographers are being promoted to the detriment of writers and editors of reference books". The Government have publicly undertaken to give priority to bringing books in reference sections within the scheme when that is practicable. I repeat that undertaking now. The Government fully recognise the merits of reference books and acknowledge that the general principle on which the Bill is founded ought to apply to authors of reference books. But we must face the fact that it is not practicable, within the resources that are likely to be available, and without an unacceptable degree of disruption of reference libraries, to apply PLR to books in reference sections. I say "books in reference sections" rather than "reference books" incidentally, because the distinction is not between reference books and other books but between those books which are lent out and those which are not.

The same article in the County Council Gazette goes on to say A PLR of this kind"— they mean the loan-based kind— cannot accommodate multiple authors". It can accommodate them and in the fullness of time I hope that it will. But the objections to taking on multiple authors apply equally to a sales-based scheme. The problem lies not in the collection of the data, whether this is done in libraries under the loan-based scheme or in publishers' and booksellers' premises under a sales-based scheme; the problem lies in the Registrar's office when he has to decide how much to allocate to each fraction of the authorship of a multi-author book. I do not rule out the possibility that a solution to this problem will be found during the consultation phase before the scheme is introduced. If so, splendid.

The article then says: A sales-based scheme offers greater justice to all authors". It does nothing of the sort. It takes no account of books already in library stocks and books which are out of print but still borrowed by library users. It ignores the fluctuations in the market shares of booksellers and the specialist publishers, which would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to devise a statistically acceptable sample. And since a sales-based scheme would be based on the single act of sale of the book, it would take no account of the different extent to which books are borrowed. Some are lent out by libraries 40 times or more before they are replaced or rebound.

Finally, the article comments on the proposal to have a cut-off limit—this is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Hawke raised—to prevent very popular authors scooping the pool. It says: Where now is the precious principle of rewarding by level of use?". Well, my Lords, of course any limitation on actual payment by number of times lent is a technical breach of the principle. But it is not one for which I propose to apologise. You might as well object in principle to the tie-break at Wimbledon. With the exception of the writer of the article under discussion, this proposal has met with universal approval. In all the discussions that we have had, we have been asked, as the noble Lord asked, what plans we had for a cut-off. We have always said that we thought that there ought to be one, but that it must be settled in the consultation paper and eventually in the scheme, and would not be included in the Bill.

Most of these arguments also apply to the so-called purchase-based scheme, which was considered by the Technical Investigation Group which studied PLR in 1974–75. As that group found, a purchase-based scheme would have to take data on purchases of books from all public library authorities to produce a reasonable set of statistics; but it would then be still no cheaper than, and statistically not as satisfactory as, a loan-based scheme which used a small sample of 72 library points.

My honourable friend the Minister of State undertook in another place that we would examine the possibility of excluding some foreign authors from the scheme, though with reciprocity to those countries which offered a public lending right to British authors. He also said—and I would re-emphasise the point—that this bristles with difficulties. We have examined this and we are continuing to do so, since we acknowledge that there may be a case in equity. But leaving aside the question whether there is scope for something on those lines within the powers given to the scheme under the Bill, there is the major difficulty that the savings which might be achieved in reducing the number of applications to register and the number of paying out transactions, could very well be very much less than the cost of the work which the Registrar—and the authors concerned—might incur if we tried to operate an exclusion which was fair and just, properly controlled and consistent with our international obligations. Further, I undertake to the House that we shall keep this under review and see if it is possible to operate a defensible distinction under the scheme. But I cannot promise at this stage that we shall be able to do so.

Some noble Lords were very keen on a previous occasion to extend the scope of the Bill beyond "books" to "works". But I am afraid that this would be quite impracticable. First of all, there is no standard unique numbering system for other articles lent out by libraries, such as records, cassettes, paintings and so forth, that would correspond to the International Standard Book Number for books. Without such a unique reference number it would be impossible to apply a computer to the calculation of the entitlement to the right. Secondly, the pattern of lending of articles other than books varies tremendously from library to library. This is another instance where it would not be possible to devise a sample that was statistically acceptable. So we should have to devise and apply a unique number system to these objects just for PLR and we should have to record all loans by all libraries, because a sample was impossible.

In addition to that, we should have the multi-author problem. Virtually all cassettes and records contain more than one performer. And then, over and above all those technical problems, there is the point that, while there is substantial lending of these items by libraries, it is nothing like the scale of lending of books which is, I think, something like 600 million a year. The case, however strong in principle, is numerically much weaker than it is with books and authors. This Bill is not framed to cope with lending of articles other than books and the state of technology is such that it will be some time before we could hope to devise a scheme that could cope with them.

There are two other fundamental issues of principle which I know worry some people about this Bill. The first is the suspicion that some people have that sooner or later libraries will be asked to bear some of the costs of the scheme. I think that that is really behind almost all the serious opposition to this scheme which comes largely from the librarians. Perhaps they will not get back their full administrative costs; perhaps they will be asked to impose a charge on borrowers; perhaps money will be allocated to the central fund which might otherwise have been allocated to the libraries to purchase books or help with their running costs. Categorical assurances have been given by the Government on all these points, both by me and by my right honourable friends in another place, and I gladly reaffirm those assurances. There is no question of a net final burden of this scheme being shifted on to libraries, either directly through inadequate compensation or indirectly through the diversion of resources which they would otherwise have had. In Clause 3(6) the Bill contains a specific provision as to reimbursement of libraries.

The second objection of principle is advanced by those who question whether this is a cost-effective way of helping authors. Is it really worth it to provide a payment which on average—and here, again, I give some answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke—will amount to about £14 a year, ranging from a minimal sum for many to quite a useful maximum for others? Quite apart from the probability that a number of authors at the lower end will not bother to register—so the average sum may be higher than that, and there is the prospect that in the fullness of time the total sum available for distribution may indeed be increased—no one has ever claimed that this scheme will provide a new source of substantial income for authors. Very few authors expect to make a living from their books anyway. This Bill sets out to remedy an injustice as a matter of principle. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

3.52 p.m.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, Members participating in this discussion on this Bill in another place were enjoined fairly severely by the Chair to declare their interests, as it seems that another place is swarming with authors who might benefit under the present Bill. I am afraid that in declaring my interest I must confess that I have to borrow a phrase which the noble Lord used towards the end of his speech and describe myself as an author "at the lower end", because I do not think that any great augmentation of my income will ensue from the passage of this Bill. However, I am the author of one book and the co-author of two other works.

As the Minister for the Arts told us, the Bill has had a star-crossed career. It has been in your Lordships' House twice before, and I think that that alone provides me with an excuse for being brief about it: we have been over the ground before. The noble Lord reminded us that on the two occasions when the Bill came to us, it came to us before it had to run the gauntlet of another place—we introduced it. It came to grief the first time because opponents of the Bill in another place insisted on prolonged debate at all stages; and the second time because the Government were in considerable difficulties, due to what is to my mind another costly and irrelevant measure, the legislation on devolution. The noble Lord might have added that substantially the same Bill secured Cabinet agreement under the last Conservative Government, thanks to the efforts of my honourable friend Mr. St. John-Stevas.

We may at least start, therefore, with the assumption that there is a measure of bipartisan agreement that the Bill should reach the Statute Book. However, as is so often the case where there is a measure of bipartisan agreement, individuals on both sides take exception to many of the provisions contained in the Bill. It is no secret that the most informed and formidable opposition to the Bill in another place was mounted by my honourable friends, Messrs. Sproat, Moate and Ridley. Incidentally, I must pay tribute to the command of English of my honourable friend Mr. Ridley. I thoroughly recommend noble Lords to read his objections to the Bill during the Commons Committee stage, for their style and wit. Your Lordships may guess from my own tone that I share some of the misgivings expressed.

The official Opposition welcomes the Bill and believes that it is time it reached the Statute Book. Yet many of us— myelf not least—find it highly unsatisfactory in many respects. Being in this ambiguous position, I am consoled a little, in that I detected that the noble Lord himself found it a less than perfect Bill in every way.


My Lords, I did not wish to give any such impression.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord did not wish to, but these psychological intuitions have ways of making themselves felt. Perhaps the principal objection to the Bill is that its stated aim—that of providing recompense to authors whose books are borrowed by the public—could have been achieved by simpler and less costly ways. Nor is this a simple disagreement about methods of administration; such have been taken up by various interested bodies including the librarians' associations and the like.

As we know so well in this country, the best laid plans of mice and men are filed away in a cabinet somewhere, and the high costs of administration of the scheme are surely in direct proportion to the low benefits which will accrue to the authors whom it is designed to benefit. The noble Lord the Minister mentioned the figure of £14. When we last debated this Bill, it was thought that it would be £12 per author.

A noble Lord: My Lords, inflation!

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, exactly. It should be rather more than £14 if inflation is being allowed for. Let me elaborate these objections just a little. As the noble Lord told us, the present Bill determines payment to authors on samples of loans of books collected from approximately 70 public libraries. This information would be collected from computerised records in the same sample libraries—and I understand that that is a technology which has only recently become available—the cost of which would be reimbursed from the PLR fund. The scheme, including payments to authors, would be entirely financed from central Government funds, channelled through this new body—if you like, this new Quango—to the Registrar.

There are serious misgivings here. Participation by local authorities in the scheme would surely be patchy, and the results could therefore be so unrepresentative as to provide a rather unreliable basis for the distribution of payments to authors. Everyone admits that the comparatively small amount of money which the Government would be able to allocate to the scheme in the foreseeable future—and the noble Lord was very honest with us as to what was possible at any given time—would have to be used to a very considerable degree upon administration. The amount, therefore, remaining for distribution to most authors would be derisory.

The intention to base the whole scheme upon public libraries is unfair and unrepresentative. Millions of books are issued each year from school and university libraries, Government libraries, even a Library in your Lordships' House, industrial libraries and other institutions. If the principle of an author's right is to exist, why should it be restricted to public libraries? To base payments upon issue figures is unlikely—and this point has been made many times—to reward the authors who are most in need of payment. Even with a ceiling placed upon the amount any given author can receive—and I understand that that has not yet been agreed—the highest payments will be made to the best known and most popular authors. Although this might be regarded as justified, there is surely a stronger case for using public funds to supplement the income of newer or more experimental writers, or those who base their books upon long and expensive research.

We should also remember that there are many creators of thoroughly worthy books which are extremely infrequently borrowed from libraries, and it is obvious that such authors—perhaps even the majority of authors—would reap greater benefits from the principle, for example, that they should be rewarded to the extent to which libraries stock their books. Certain types of book—for example, those of a highly specialised nature—are purchased predominately by non-public libraries, by specialist institutions. Authors of such books would benefit under an alternative proposal, but under the present Government's proposals they benefit not at all. Again, the authors and compilers of reference books would receive no benefit under the proposals to date and many believe that this is thoroughly inequitable and unfair.

I follow the Minister entirely in saying that we cannot always make perfect provisions for every interested group, but the noble Lord did say that the main point of this Bill was to establish a principle of equity. So one of our objections is that the principle itself is not very fully drawn up within the Bill.

To these practical and detailed objections we can, and I personally believe we should, add a philosophical objection, though I think it is philosophical only in the sense of commanding us to think something through with precision, not in the sense of being impractical or airy-fairy.

The logic of current events, and I think the trend of informed comment upon them, is that you cannot run a welfare or service economy without high taxation, high productivity, a high degree of centralised planning and control over prices and incomes, and a high level of political consent. You could, of course, obtain the latter by force. Now in Britain none of these forces is working in a smooth, propulsive way—pushing our ship of state through choppy seas, as it were. We have high taxation, low productivity, high centralised planning, and low control over prices and incomes: a thoroughly combustible mixture; an explosion indeed of incompatible forces; and the spark is provided by our adversary party political system, and a very low degree of political consent.

So we can either go in the direction of greater centralised control over the whole economy, which must include the standard of life and to some extent the cultural habits and choices of people, or we must severely restrict the role of Government in the economy and cease to enjoy the damaging fallacy that the interests of the State and the interests of the people are the same. At present we suffer the worst of both worlds and the effects are everywhere apparent.

I make no apology for making the rather philosophical point because the present Bill is a perfect example of the worst of both worlds. Authors by universal agreement will benefit very little, and such benefit as they do receive could be augmented by direct reimbursement of the Government at much less administrative cost than the present scheme. The chief beneficiaries will be authors who are already very rich, or foreign, or both. The public will not benefit. The Treasury will not benefit. A new Quango will benefit. However impeccably administered, however responsible are its tetrahedrons, if these are the limbs that Quangos have, the Quango will benefit.

In sum, the Bill is a perfect mish-mash of muddled good intentions; a perfect little microcosm of the muddied and muddled compromises which characterise our mixed economy. The Government are committed to it because they have alread lost it twice and they are anxious not to look too foolish in the eyes of authors and intellectuals who are often assumed, I do not quite know why, to be vocal supporters of Labour. The Opposition are committed to it because we too wanted to cut a dash in authors' eyes when we were last in Government and because, to be fair, we do not wish now to renege on an earlier commitment.

When the authors themselves have experienced the practical effects of this legislation, they will, I am sure, feel cheated and aggrieved. The position is therefore deeply unsatisfactory, and having to commend something to your Lordships in which I have so little confidence is one of the less pleasant tasks that I have had since working in Parliament. I am, however, consoled in the task by two considerations. One is that the Government, the promoters, after all, of the Bill, share at least some of my misgivings. In Standing Committee in another place the Minister of State said—and I think our rules allow me to quote a Minister— What the Government are saying on this Public Lending Right Bill is that we have to learn to crawl before we walk. This is a crawling attempt to do justice to a section of the community which has provided a great deal of interest and entertainment and has received no money for its pains in the past. It is not perfect. There are inequitable matters in the scheme. There is no doubt about that". My Lords, it is my intention—I cannot of course speak for my noble friends behind me—not to make Amendments at Committee stage. As the noble Lord the Minister said, we have in substance been over this ground before. The Opposition believes that the Bill should reach the Statute Book this Session, and because this Session is, thank goodness, constitutionally limited in duration the best thing would be for us to hurry it through fairly quickly. The best thing would be to let the Bill operate for sufficient time for the principle of equitable treatment of authors to be accepted—and that principle I endorse—in order that the inequities in practice which I have mentioned can be thoroughly shown up.


My Lords, will the noble Earl allow me to intervene? It has been an interesting macrocosmic analysis of a microcosmic problem. I am grateful that at the end he admitted that it is a pragmatic thing, and, after we pass it, time and trial will find an answer from both sides of the House. Why take so long over it?

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, I am not taking very long over it. I have been 12 minutes, and I would have been finished by now if the noble Lord had not inter-rupted me. The difficulty that both sides find themselves in here is that they have accepted a principle of equity which in my contention is inequitable in practice. I have mentioned one consolation. The other consolation is that under the provisions of the Bill the practical workings-out fall within the scheme. In my view this scheme will not work very effectively, but we will at least, on another day, and no doubt under another Government, be able to come back and modify it.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, it is a pleasure to thank the Minister for shepherding us through the complexities of this matter, which I thought he did with tremendous clarity. I must repeat the declaration of interest which I made on an earlier occasion, although the more time passes the smaller my interest seems to become. It is nice to see one or two new names on the speakers' list, but most of us have indeed been here before. What is quite new, and what I shall chiefly concentrate on for a few minutes, is the different tactical context of the changed parliamentary situation. This time it has passed through all its stages in the other place. It slipped through that other place as smoothly as an overgrown camel negotiating the eye of a rusty needle, but it did get through and I pay my tribute to those who saw it through. They had to display a degree of patience which even in this House would have been remarkable.

If my understanding of the legislative process is correct this means that we only have to pass it through this House unamended to be certain of its enactment. "Unamended" is the key word, and perhaps the only thing in the speech of the noble Earl which I really liked was his statement that he was not going to move any Amendments; perhaps not the only thing—that is unfair—but the thing I liked best. If the Bill were perfect, this desirability of passing it unamended would present no problems, but of course it is not perfect. It is extremely unsatisfactory, for example, that all the more interesting and debatable issues remain to be settled in the scheme which the Secretary of State will prepare and which, as I understand it, we will have no chance to alter. Is that correct?


My Lords, with respect, not quite. The scheme will be set out in the form of a consultative document, which will have no powers in it, for discussion. Anybody who wishes can discuss this wherever they want, and that includes your Lordships' House. If you like to discuss the consultative document before it becomes a scheme, we have the right to do so through the usual channels. Once it has become a scheme, it then has to be either agreed or rejected in the ordinary course of Statutory Instruments.


My Lords, I am grateful, and I apologise for my misunderstanding. These matters are the most interesting things: reference books; multiple authorships; translations; posthumous registration; and the cut-off point above which the most borrowed authors will get no more.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, just before the noble Lord leaves that point, may I say that I do not think that the Minister answered him quite correctly. Is it not the case that the scheme can be dealt with only by the House of Commons and not by your Lordships' House?


Absolutely not, my Lords.

The Earl of GOWRIE

It says so in the Bill, my Lords, I refer the Minister to page 3.


Perhaps I had better get on, my Lords. I was talking about the cut-off points—the maximum which the most-borrowed authors will be able to take and the minimum below which payment would be considered uneconomic—in other words, those who will bang their heads on the lintel and those who will stub their toes on the threshold. All those and other arguable points I hope we shall have a chance to discuss in this House, otherwise there will be nothing for it for authors but to trust their chosen, elected representatives, and that, as a member of the Society of Authors, I certainly do. I would make one suggestion, namely that it might be no bad thing if the Society and other bodies concerned were to circulate a questionnaire covering a few of the problems which are a matter of principle rather than of technicalities to discover the views of their members.

I say once more that we have only to pass the Bill, such as it is, unamended, and we shall have it; to parody the language of the more depraved journalists, we face a half-a-loaf-is-better-than-no-bread situation. If any of our opponents—I think there are one or two—try to frighten your Lordships with the argument that this is just the thin end of a wedge, my answer would be, yes, it is a very thin end of a wedge, but a wedge which we intend to drive home with all the strength which our knowledge of the justice of our cause gives us. Let us get this enacted now, and then, when we have the scheme, we can settle down to a long campaign to persuade future Secretaries of State, perhaps yet unborn, to vary it and to vary it for the better.


My Lords, perhaps I may clarify the answer which I gave the noble Lord, Lord NcNair, indirectly. I have now found the place in the Bill; it is under Clause 3(1), where it is made quite clear that the scheme must receive the Affirmative Resolution of both Houses.



My Lords, I must apologise for not being in my place at the beginning of the debate. That was not entirely my fault; it was a failure in communication which I shall not retail. I came here feeling rather more cheerful than I normally do, since I thought that just for once a tiny piece of useful work was going to be done, admittedly imperfectly, on a problem which is not going to affect much of the nation but which, nevertheless, will give some mild satisfaction and relief to a few not particularly harmful citizens.

However, when I came in in the middle of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, I found that that was very far from the case, and I must say that my spirits became about the same colour as the sky outside. In fact, I would remind the noble Earl of Bleak House, because I felt he would have made an admirable participant in the proceedings of Jarndyce v Jarndyce. If he were the only villain in this piece I should feel inclined to weary him with a long speech—a speech about the same length as the proceedings in Jarndyce v Jarndyce—just to show him how ingenious men can be in avoiding any kind of conclusion to any kind of activity. But that would be unfair, he is only one among so many, and let us leave it at that. I shall have some words with him privately.

I wish to be much more brutal and businesslike and for once I want to talk to your Lordships like someone with some experience of what literary life is like. The economics of literary life are very curious; as the Americans say, it is either feast or famine. A certain number of people in modern conditions make enormous incomes, incomes larger than major industrialists. The majority of writers, however, including good writers, make rather less than a dustman. That is the position. I cannot grumble; I make more than a dustman. Some writers, some good and some very good, make incomes of enormous size, and obviously they do not need help. The whole purpose, I take it, of an imperfect Bill with all kinds of unsatisfactory features is simply to do a little for the people, worthy professional people, often talented, for whom we cannot provide in any other way.

The reason for this accentuation of the difference between the extremely prosperous and the unprosperous is due to various technical developments of the last 40 or 50 years. These are not really technological, although that comes into it, but relate more to the skills in organisation and marketing which make it possible to distribute millions of books if one can find a market for them. That is where some people obtain a great public and a great income.

Whatever one does, for a certain number of writers all that apparatus is absolutely useless. In my life I have met, I think, four people who were all of really high talent. about my own age, plus or minus three or four years either way, and who never made more than £400 or £500 a year—and remember that income has not altered much with inflation. It is rather like the income of high ecclesiastics; almost the only income which has not to some extent been compensated for to meet inflation. Unsuccessful writers are therefore still getting about the same number of pounds they would have got 30 or 40 years ago. That is one reason why a number of us are really deeply concerned, if it is remotely possible, to do something to give them a faint chance of standing themselves an occasional drink.

All methods of distributing money to writers are totally unsatisfactory. This has been gone into time and again. They can be given grants, but that is highly subjective and is nearly always very unsuccessful in cost-effective terms, and it is subject to all kinds of personal animosities and so on. They can be given prizes and they can be given advances; publishers often do that and they have lost a lot of money in the process.

We are considering the only way, to the best of my knowledge, that anyone has been able to discover which is reasonably objective, which is not subject to any of the difficulties of personality and which has some faint relationship to common sense. Noble Lords need not worry about the statistical arguments; we should know by now that we are very good at sampling, something which has improved immensely over the last 20 or 30 years.

Hence, I recommend the Bill to your Lordships with some violence, as noble Lords can see from my unaccustomed tone. I think it will do a little good. It will certainly not do any harm. It will give a little cheer to people who, unless one thinks writers should be exterminated, deserve what cheer we can give them. As for the Jarndyce v.Jarndyce arguments, I confess they do not seem to be worthy of the occasion. This matter has been going on for more than 30 years, which is a fairly long time even for a Chancery case in the 19th century. Good and generous men tried to represent the case, patiently arguing with everyone they could find. The father of one of the persons who has been most actively concerned in the contemporary campaign was a leading figure 30 years ago; A. P. Herbert was another leading figure. Many people have given the matter time and thought—not for their own ends because it did not matter much to them but it mattered quite a lot to the people whom they were trying, in vain, to help. As I say, it has been going on for 30 years. Thirty years is a long time, my Lords, and it is time that we did something now and put a stop to the present situation.

4.21 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I have a small interest to declare. The royalties from my books kept me in tea and coffee— nothing more—and if the Bill is passed, I might receive an extra pound or two. As noble Lords have already said, we are back again discussing how we can put authors in the way of earning a better reward for their labours, and I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Snow, that this is a very old and important problem. We need good books as much as we need the best work of all artists and craftsmen, and the present poverty of many good writers hurts. It hurts because it is relative, and it hurts because it is real. It is high time to do something about it, but, as my noble friend hinted, the Bill does not provide a respectable solution—far from it! It is an unfair, humiliating and ridiculously expensive mouse.

Why did the other place send us such a bad Bill? First, it was because honourable and right honourable Members are tired of looking for a respectable solution; and, secondly, as there is a General Election in the offing, they were anxious to keep authors quiet. It is easier for us in this House to protest against the bad features of a temporary political Bill, and I intend to do so and to offer your Lordships one or two suggestions as to how we might get the authors a better deal at less expense to the taxpayer.

No one really knows whether authors were ever adequately paid. What we do know is that English literature is the richest and most profound in the world, and we want to keep it that way. In the great days, standards were high and far fewer books were published, but it is very different now. There are many more authors and many more books. One reason for this is that universities used to be geared to teaching and the dons produced a few books by way of a hobby. But it is the other way round now: producing books is their main business, and teaching suffers—how much I do not know, but probably quite a good deal. Before the war, about 10,000 titles were published a year, and the statistics show what has happened since. In 1978 (last year), 38,700 titles were published—2,500 more than in the previous year, which was itself a record. Sales are equally buoyant. In 1977, total book sales at £450 million were 18per cent. above 1976, and sales in the first half of 1978 were 10 per cent. above the first half of 1977. Paperbacks, as your Lordships know, have triumphantly broken through the £1 barrier.

Yet, despite this real boom and bearing in mind the handful of exceptions to which the noble Lord, Lord Snow, referred, most authors' royalties are said not to amount to £1,000 a year; and you cannot live on £1,000 a year. On the other hand, this is not a new situation. In the past, very few authors whose works we still read lived only on the proceeds of writing. They had another bread and butter job, or a rich spouse, or private means, and some of them still do today. But since the expansion of higher education there are far more authors who wish to live only by writing, and their relative poverty is a hard, inescapable fact. They have lost out in the financial scramble. In three months a lorry driver earns as much as many of the best known non-fiction writers earn in a year or more, and these self-employed authors have no Transport and General Workers' Union to bully the publishers or blackmail the public. Their legitimate hope seemed to lie in a public lending right calculated on the borrowings of their books from libraries. But, when a method of implementing this right is brought to Parliament, let us remember that authors want money as well as justice; and the Bill does not give them a fair measure of either.

The right now proposed is a mutilated right. It is one which is not going to be fairly assessed, as I shall show in a moment; nor is it capable of producing for the average author annual payments sufficient to buy his family one good Sunday lunch. This is thin justice indeed. The right does not extend to all mono-graphs, reference books, articles, et cetera; nor does it cover all the libraries from which books can be borrowed. A genuine public lending right, paid for by the taxpayer, would be unacceptably expensive. We all know that. But are the costs of even this truncated right acceptable to your Lordships? As the Minister has already said, when the Secretary of State introduced the Bill, she increased the estimate for the Quango when it is in full blast to £600,000 a year. What will the figure be when the scheme is operating, when we have this Quango with its large staff and with its obligation to repay the local authorities all expenses that they can properly attribute to the scheme? I think that if we put the figure at three-quarters of a million pounds we shall not be far wrong—in which case the average payment works out at between £10 and £12 a year subject to tax. My Lords, it is—


If the noble Viscount is to speak in opposition to our statement, which has been extremely carefully worked out, that we think the cost will be about £600,000, I think that he ought to say more than that it had better be put at £150,000 higher.

Viscount ECCLES

I should be delighted to do that, my Lords; I am simply taking the existing claims of local authority staff and workpeople, and am bearing in mind that the cost of everything that everyone uses—paper, telephones, and everything else—is going up. Does the Minister not think that in two years—which will be the period from when the figure of £600,000 was calculated—we shall have a figure of £750,000? If he prefers £700,000, I really do not mind; but there is bound to be a very large increase on the Secretary of State's estimate. It is shameful to put on the Statute Book a scheme under which half the beneficiaries will receive less than the cost of assessing and paying their benefits; and that is what your Lordships are asked to do.

I must say a few words about the method of assessment, because here I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Snow. In the public library system in the United Kingdom, books can be borrowed from 13,500 points of issue, and the fair way to translate into cash for the authors all the loans from that enormous network is to charge the borrower 1p, 2p or 3p every time he or she takes out a book. That was Miss Brophy's first idea—and a very good idea, too—but it could never be a starter so long as all the political Parties were dead against charges for borrowing. So a scheme based on a different principle had to be hatched; and the Government now propose to sample 72 points of issue out of the 13,500—roughly one in 200. Yet, my Lords, we all know that libraries are different: their stocks are different; some keep one author's books, some keep another author's books, and in different quantities; and their readers' tastes differ according to the special interest of the region in which they live and the quality of the library service in that particular region.

The Government, knowing full well, whatever the Minister may say, how inaccurate this sample is going to be, tell us that they will frequently change the composition of the sample. Very well; your Lordships will observe that it will take 200 years to include once only every point of issue in a sample of 72, and we may suppose that in half that time most authors and their copyrights will be dead. Be that as it may, this hit-or-miss performance must favour the most popular fiction writers, whose novels are widely distributed, but they may not be the people who are really in need of money. Many serious and local authors will either be missed out altogether in the first dozen samples, let us say, or the number of their borrowings will be seriously under-estimated. Justice is sacrificed to expediency in a manner which I hope does not commend itself to your Lordships.

Now I have to say a word about the libraries. The libraries are not looking forward to this sampling procedure. They can see the trouble coming from authors who have been badly treated because they are not included in the first dozen samples—that is 12 years. They also want one or two Amendments made, but I am not sure we should try to amend this Bill. However, I ask your Lordships to understand the feelings of librarians and local authorities. Our public libraries are easily the best in the world. Their buildings, their stocks and, above all, their staff can stand comparison anywhere; and the librarians have every right to be proud of the service which they give to the public and, in consequence, to the writers of books whose works are on their shelves. But we have to act realising that their great success is both an advantage and a disadvantage to authors.

The number of copies of a new book which libraries will buy has become predictable. Publishers have a good idea when institutional buying will cover the costs of a hard-back edition, which is one big reason why publishers have been able recently to raise the price of hard-back books so much. Given this predictable market, publishers have accepted and are accepting many manuscripts which would otherwise never see the light of day. Library purchases have therefore been of incalculable value to a growing number of authors.

Then comes the disadvantage, however. Once the book is the property of the library, it can be borrowed free of charge. The author has no right to tell the library what to do with its own property, but the author feels that in justice he should be paid something when it is borrowed—and we here agree with that view of the author. That is our problem, because it is a fact that the system of publication, book-selling and book-borrowing, taken as a whole, results in very low rewards for authors of undoubted merit. Looking at their situation in perspective, we see that authors are a section of the self-employed, who in recent years have fared so badly alongside professional and industrial groups. Authors, I think, are usually in that stratum of society which has been pulverised by inflation, by socialist taxation and by organised labour. Our society is not going to remain healthy and creative unless we deliberately discriminate in favour of the self-employed.

Some countries are doing this already, by means of tax reliefs. For authors, we also have the choice of several other methods. First, and by far the simplest thing to do, borrowers could be charged when they take out a book.


My Lords, may I interrupt for one second? I find this very hard, remembering my student days and other people in the same situation. The librarians were sometimes so kind to us when, being in the sixth form, we wanted to borrow advanced textbooks, and things like that. If students are to be expected to pay, it will be against all the educational aims of both sides of the House, I should think.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I have had something to do with education, and I have always supported no charges for borrowing; but if you take that view you are in great difficulty in finding a satisfactory way to help authors. If it were not so, we should have had this Bill or another Bill years ago.

The second thing, which has already been mentioned, is that authors could be paid a bonus on the purchases by libraries of their books. That has the benefit that the booksellers and the publishers could keep the accounts, and that would save the taxpayer a lot of money, That is, as a matter of fact, what the Association of Metropolitan Authorities are now asking us to do. Thirdly, the Government could provide a fund out of which an independent body could make grants to authors.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Viscount would permit me to interrupt him, because I feel it is of interest. If an author does not want a library to lend his book, he does not have to sell it to the library. Equally, he can sell it with conditions. I have a book here with this condition of sale: This book is sold subject to the condition it shall not by way of trade or otherwise be lent". Why should you reward an author for entering into a perfectly free bargain when the person to whom he sells it uses it for the purpose for which it was sold?

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I must tell the noble Lord that I have not met many authors who do not want their books to be read, and borrowing means reading. If he has met some, then he has had more experience than I have had.

I was just saying that, in relation to a fund of this kind the public interest is not to have more books—we really have a mass of titles published today—but to have good books. It is quite possible that a fund which helped young authors, and authors whose research takes a very long time, would do a considerable amount of good. Any of those three methods, either singly or in combination, would in my opinion be a lot better than that proposed in this spendthrift Bill. If the Government care about public expenditure—and in present circumstances they must care about public expenditure—they ought to take this Bill away and bring in another based on a sounder principle, but I fear they are too apprehensive about the coming Election; and I do not suppose that any noble Lord will divide the House on Second Reading. If he did, I would support him in the Lobby.

I do not think the Bill is very easy to amend because we have not got in the Bill those details which the noble Lord, Lord McNair, and other noble Lords spoke about, which are precisely the things which one would want to amend. If, as seems quite possible, the scheme should come back to your Lordships' House in a form in which we must say "Yes" or "No", and if the form of that scheme is as we must envisage it today, then I think your Lordships should throw it out.


My Lords, I made my maiden speech on the Second Reading of Lord Willis' Public Lending Rights Bill almost exactly two years ago, on 15th February, 1977. That, of course, in itself is not a good reason for making another Second Reading speech on the same subject, but during those two years I have joined the "Short Speeches Club" and shall not be detaining your Lordships for very long. My position on the principle of the Bill is quite clear. I am grateful to the Government for taking it back under their wing and for finding time for it. I hope that it will receive a Second Reading this afternoon and pass rapidly through its remaining stages. The Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has told us, will when it becomes an Act be only the precursor of the scheme which the Secretary of State is enjoined to lay before Parliament under Clause 3(1). Without the scheme, the Act will be a mere husk. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has been good enough to promise us a consultative document and this is the last chance, as I understand it, that we shall have for influencing the draft scheme—which we shall then simply either have to accept or reject.

On these grounds, I do not think it is inappropriate this afternoon to refer briefly to the scheme. The Department of Education and Science commissioned an investigation of the technical and cost aspects which was published in 1975. In Appendix D of their report, the technical investigation group described a pilot survey for the loan-based scheme. Using a broad sample of authors, this yielded a top payment per £1 million available for distribution of £1,261. This sum would have gone to an author coming under the heading "Adult fiction, Popular, Current". The highest score under books for children stood at £385 and, under "Adult, non-fiction", at £113. These figures might have given some of the answers that the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, was seeking; but I see he is not in his place.

In its final report in paragraph 16 the technical investigation group summed up as follows: A small proportion of authors would be entitled to relatively large payments and a relatively large share of the amount available for distribution, a large proportion of authors would receive modest payments and another large proportion would have small or zero entitlements". A good deal of play was made in another place with the absurdity of paying out over £1,000 to authors who did not need it and a derisory £2 or £3 to others to whom such minute sums would make no difference at all. But there are remedies for this.

The report tells us in paragraph 63 that there is no technical difficulty in limiting the maximum entitlement; and the prescribed maximum entitlement could be altered at will. If a best-selling author gets £1,000 he will pay United Kingdom tax on it at a very high rate—so that, to this extent, the scheme would be partly self-financing—or he will export it to a tax haven. Surely it cannot be the Government's intention to use the fund for either of these purposes! We are also told in paragraph 64: The cost of making very small payments could exceed the costs of the payment itself". This, I think, was one of the points touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.

I said that there were remedies. The first type is voluntary. In the Second Reading debate in another place on 10th November last year, Mr. Clement Freud suggested that those—like himself—who wrote books that sold might consider returning their PLR entitlement to the fund for the encouragement of new authors. I would reciprocate from the other end of the scale. If I became entitled to £2 or £3 for the couple of books of mine that are in print, I would prefer to plough back my entitlement into the fund so that somebody else might get enough to buy a much-needed reference book or even a new typewriter or a camera. Authors need tools for their trade.

But, my Lords, there is an even better remedy which is that this principle should be embodied in the scheme. I, therefore, feel that there should be a lower limit below which the Registrar would not be required to make payments. It could be £5, it could be £10. I think it should be somewhere in that region. It is partly a question of administrative convenience. And I do not think that he should be required to carry such sums forward; they should be ploughed back. Also it is my firm conviction that there should be an upper limit. So long as the whole fund is limited to £2 million—from which at least £600,000 (and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has made a higher calculation) must, it seems, be deducted for operational costs—I believe that £500 is the correct figure for the upper limit. Of course, it can be argued that inflation is likely to make serious inroads into such a sum by the time it becomes payable. But I am still convinced that the aim must be to benefit the hard-working author in the middle rank, so far as earnings go, and not to fritter away money where it is surplus to need or where the sums are too small to be worth distributing. The upper limits can always be increased if experience shows this to be desirable and the fund allows. It will be much more difficult to reduce the maximum once it has been set.

With a fund of the size that we are talking about, entitlement should be contained within a lower limit of £5 or £10 and an upper limit of £500. I urge the Government to take these considerations very seriously into account when drafting their scheme. I conclude by stressing that nothing I have said is at variance with the Bill as drafted and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading this afternoon.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I think I am the first noble Lord to take part in this debate who cannot find an interest to declare. In my humble opinion, this is an historic day not only for authors, not only for literature, but also for the noble Lord, the Minister. Eight previous Bills have foundered in the rough seas of hostility or the calm eddies of calculated in-difference. Somehow my noble friend the Minister for the Arts has launched this Bill, has kept it afloat; and now it is for noble Lords to see it safely into harbour. As an old sailor, I appreciate the special, sensitive skill with which the Minister has carried out this operation. Some of his predecessors revealed certain obtuse "land-lubbernesses" in conducting previous attempts to get this Bill on to the Statute Book—and perhaps that was the cause of some of them going on the rocks. But to enshrine the principle of public lending rights in legislation is, in my opinion, to erect a milestone on the road to Society's recognition of the role of the writer in its midst. It is (is it not?) an extraordinary fact that for over 100 years local authorities have recognised and accepted the obligation to provide literature free to the ratepayers. The free library service has provided an outlet for thousands of books of every kind and the free library service is, indeed, the manifestation of that part of the chartered duty of the Arts Council of Great Britain to increase the accessibility of the arts to the public.

Yet, in the second part of that duty, to develop the understanding and the practice of the arts, there the support of local authorities, with a very few notable exceptions, is still so weak as to be blocking the explosion in the arts which could now happen any day and which could provide the ordinary ratepayer with the excitement and the pleasures that the arts can provide. Perhaps the passage of this Bill will go some way to convincing local authorities that if it was not for the genius and talents of the author—talents and genius unique to him or her—there would be no volumes on the shelves of the libraries which they administer.

The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, in his report in 1976, pointed out that the sum spent on the free library service exceeded the total central Government support for the arts. Yet it has taken a quarter of a century of unremitting effort for central Government to recognise and acknowledge the simple justice of the author's right to a modest financial reward for his own creation on which the whole of the service depends. The opposition to this Bill has come hitherto mostly from the libraries and from the AMA at their behest.

Speaking for myself, what was said this afternoon in opposition by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, seemed to me—if I may use the phrase—somewhat jaundiced and ungenerous. Surely, here is at last an attempt, as has already been pointed out, to begin to give some recognition to the author. The £2 million of course in the future can always be increased. Does it really matter that the rewards will be reasonably low, that no doubt the greater rewards will go to the more successful writers? What does it matter if the principle can be established? Surely one will acquit the Minister and the Government of having brought this Bill in at this moment because of their fear that the authors might not be on their side at a General Election. If that is really so, then indeed it is a compliment to the power of the written word, the power and position that authors now hold in society—and I must say that it has given me a great deal of pleasure to see those views coming from the other side of this House.

The importance of this Bill is not only as an act of justice to authors, but public recognition of the fact that in the patronage of the arts, whether it is the great national companies or whether it is the arts centres, orchestras, theatres or galleries, that it is ultimately the artist who underpins the whole operation. In welcoming this Bill, I should like to pay tribute to those who have led this battle over the past 25 years: John Brophy, Alan Herbert—who has already been mentioned—Brigid Brophy, Maureen Duffy, my noble friend Lord Willis, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and, in another place, Mr. Norman St. John Stevas and also, in a modest way, to the Arts Council of Great Britain. It is a great day, as I said when I opened these few words that I wish to contribute to this debate, for literature, and it is a great day, in my submission, for the Minister who is the first Minister, we all hope, successfully to bring a Public Lending Right Bill on to the Statute Book.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I speak with some slight knowledge of libraries as I was a chairman of a county councillibraries committee for some years, and I am now a member of the committee of the Association of County Councils which deals with libraries. They are the people who will have to operate this scheme. I must tell you, my Lords, the Association of County Councils and the librarians do, as you have heard already, have some reservations about the scheme, particularly about the manpower requirement and the costs. I know that we are assured that the Exchequer will reimburse all costs, but the country are still paying these and we want to get good value for money.

This must be the fourth Public Lending Right Bill to be presented to Parliament. I must congratulate the sponsors on their tenacity. They have obviously learnt the lesson: "If at first you don't succeed try, try again." That is a principle we forget too much in our modern, compassionate world; so concerned are we with the under-privileged that we often forget to teach them how to help themselves. The authors have certainly fought. It is lucky for the authors that the present minority Government, being incapable of passing major legislation, has time for many less controversial Bills, but this is the luck that rewards determination. However, we must look at the reasons why this measure has had such a difficult passage when a large majority of both Houses are agreed that it is desirable.

Of course the reason is that this Bill provides so little for authors for so much cost. In the last Bill the taxpayers were finding £1 million and the authors getting £600,000. This Bill doubles the cost to the taxpayer and the authors will get £1,400,000. That is better for the authors but is not so good for the taxpayers. But the total expenses are 30 per cent.—


My Lords, just for accuracy, it did not double the cost to the taxpayers, it put it up by 50 per cent., from £400,000 to £600,000.


My Lords, that is the cost of the administration. The total cost to the taxpayer is £2 million rather than £1 million. That is what I meant and I think is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer will understand. What I was going to say was that if I had to subscribe to a charity where 30 per cent. was going on expenses, I would think very hard and I am wondering whether the taxpayers feel the same. Cost-effectiveness must be the key to considering this Bill. The ACC in the past had advocated a purchase-based scheme rather than a loan-based one. This idea was demolished by the working party which assured us that it would cost just as much.

Therefore the Association have dropped this plan but we have been investigating a sales-based scheme. We are suggesting a scheme based on the records of the small number of firms which sell books mainly to public libraries. By concentrating data collection from those few points of sale which account for the major sales to the library market, this scheme would be the fairest method yet devised of rewarding authors and the most economic in administrative costs. It would also bring in the multiple use of reference works. It could easily be done in this way. The firms concerned are very large and in the main computerised. Therefore the information required could be obtained very cheaply. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, suggested that a sales-based scheme would not help authors of existing books. If books are lent a lot they have to be replaced and therefore existing authors would benefit that way. Records are there and there is no reason why these matters should not be backdated to the date of the passing of the Bill rather than the date of the scheme to bring in books that have been published recently. I gather from the tone of the House that they are hoping there will not be Amendments at Committee stage, but I hope to table Amendments on these lines in order to elaborate what could be done in the hope that, even at this late hour, we could get a rather cheaper way of administering this scheme.

Of course, the present scheme is not intended to deal with reference books: that is because of expediency and due to the difficulty of obtaining data. It is hardly fair, but when this Bill reaches the Statute Book I am sure there will be pressures to include reference libraries. It will be very difficult to resist them and the case made would be fair: but if they were included it would of course, further increase the costs and dilute the rewards.

I should like to turn now to another aspect of the Bill. In another place there was much discussion about payment of PLR to authors who reside abroad in order to escape our penal taxation, or perhaps even to get away from the sort of winter we are having at the moment. The Government indicated they would give further thought to this, and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is still thinking. I must confess I am in two minds over this. It would be very unfair to discriminate, but it is quite likely that large amounts will go to authors whose incomes are already so large that they have great reasons to go to some sunny tax haven. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Snow, has resisted that temptation, but I think his reward is in the privilege of living in this country, which despite all our problems is still the most civilised in the world, rather than in any gain from this Bill. Certainly if I am sensible I shall in future swell the incomes of authors by borrowing more books from libraries rather than reading all the stuff provided for us by the Printed Paper Office.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, this is a ridiculous Bill, and from the general tenor of the debate in this House I think that the great majority of Members on all sides agree with me that it is a ridiculous Bill. Nevertheless, I shall vote for it and I was glad to hear that Her Majesty's Opposition will not move Amendments; so we can look forward to a poor little mouse of a Bill going back to the other place unamended because, small though it is, it is a flag in the wind—such a very small flag—and it does mean that we are beginning to establish certain very essential principles.

It is 15 years after the first occasion on which I had to look at the possibility of authors' rights. At that time, or shortly afterwards, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, was chairman of the Arts Council and I was Minister for the Arts. In the teeth of total opposition from the senior staff in the Ministry of Education and Science, we worked out a scheme and we took that scheme to our Ministers, particularly to the Treasury Ministers. But it began with asking the Government to contribute £5 million—not £1 million or £2 million—and, bearing in mind all those changing money values, if it is assumed that for administration purposes the present scheme will cost £600,000, then I think I can safely say that about 15 years ago the administrative cost would have been about a quarter of a million. That would have been one-twentieth of the money; so the whole thing would have begun to be accepted. But, alas! we failed to convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time that it was really worth while finding that £5 million, although he himself was an author—and I may say I get a useful little cheque now and again through the post, but nobody knew very much about that.

There it is. After all those years we are bringing in a scheme which we know will do practically nothing for the great majority of authors and yet, in spite of that, it is worth bringing it in so that Governments of the future will have something to amend and something to build upon. I cannot understand anyone who imagines that those of us who are in favour of royalties for authors are in any way hostile to libraries. Ultimately, if I thought that by passing this Bill, or future amended Bills which would be more substantial, I would be in any way injuring libraries, I would be against it. Our wonderful libraries not only supply books free of charge but, in my experience, when you are trying to build up an interest in the arts locally, your best friend in most constituencies—and certainly in my old constituency—would be the libraries. They were willing to take on amateur painting shows, concerts and photographic shows. When we had nowhere else to go we had friendship from our libraries and the librarians in furthering the broader work of the arts.

I would just say this, if I may, to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I hope he will be as unsuccessful in the future in pressing for charges for books borrowed from libraries as he has been in the past in pressing for charges to museums and galleries. We have a lot of problems in this country and lot of anxieties, but we have also a great deal to be proud of. One thing we can be immensely proud of is that people can go into our great museums and galleries free of charge and that they can go into our great libraries free of charge. If we are concerned to see some justice done to others—and I am not going into all this business of cutting off at the top end and building up at the bottom end, because there will be many more occasions when those matters will be discussed—and if we are concerned about the quality of life in this country, let us please hold on to those good things that we have done and, however trivial this Bill may be, for God's sake! let it pass.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to give the Bill a welcome which is about as warm as that of my noble friend who has just sat down, I wish, like so many other noble Lords, to declare an interest in having published several books which are all out of print. I shall be publishing another in September: I will not name it or the publisher. I certainly hope that I may benefit to the munificent extent of the average of £12 a year, less 10 per cent. for my literary agent, for the rest of my life, unless the scheme to be announced excludes those who are domiciled outside the United Kingdom—in which case I shall have no interest to declare.

My main objection to the Bill is that which has already been hinted at, both by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and by the noble Lord, Lord McNair—that so many of the interesting details that we should like to know about are not included in the Bill. It was just the same when my noble friend Lord Donaldson was at Stormont, and was introducing Bills giving wide powers to the Secretary of State which we knew nothing about, but we had to vote on the Bills just the same. It is the same here today, because we have a scheme that is to be prepared by the Secretary of State and is to come before this House and another place, and, although we can say whether or not we like it, we cannot amend it and we cannot go into detail on it. What happens if we do not like it? We can chuck it out.


My Lords, may I make the position clear? I have said repeatedly that there will be a consultation document which will not be a scheme; it will be a document on which a scheme is to be based. The consultation document can be altered in any way that anybody likes, providing that the Government can be convinced that it is correct. The final scheme cannot be altered when it comes to Parliament—it can be only accepted or rejected—but the chance to deal with the consultation document is an absolutely real one.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that intervention. I was, of course, going by Clause 3(2) which states: If the draft scheme is approved by a resolution of each House, the Secretary of State shall bring the scheme into force … by means of an order in a statutory instrument". I am merely saying that it will be very difficult for us to bring about any changes, as we could by amending a Bill in Committee, if there are certain features of the scheme or the draft that we do not like.

For example, under Clause 1(2), the scheme has to determine the classes, descriptions and categories of books in respect of which public lending right is to subsist. We know that, unfortunately, reference books cannot be included, because such books are not normally taken out. But I, for one, cannot see what other books that are borrowed are likely to be excluded under this Bill. It seems to me that any book that is borrowed from a lending library ought to qualify for the right.

Then, right through the debates in another place, it was stated as more or less an accepted fact that there is to be a cut-out point at about £1,000 and that no author will receive more than that amount. That is something that is to be in the scheme, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, that a lower ceiling than that would be preferable, because what matters is to help a struggling author who needs some addition to his income. I worked it out that an author will get one-quarter of a penny each time one of his books is taken out from a public library. But anybody who, on that basis, earns £1,000 or more from the public lending right is already a very rich author; 85 per cent. of what he gets will go in tax anyway, and he does not need it. I should therefore like to see a much lower ceiling, so that more of the £1.4 million is available to authors who are not already extremely well-off.

There is only one other point that I want to make, and that is about the provision that the money from the public lending right should continue to be paid to the heirs and assigns of dead authors for a period of 50 years after their death. This will not have any effect at present, because authors who are already dead cannot go on the register. This is very unfortunate for a recently dead author, because if he had lived for another year he would have been able to get on to the register and there would have been some benefit from that for the next 50 years.

However, it will, of course, increasingly affect the amount of money that is due to living authors, and in another place in Committee the Government seemed at one point to give the impression that they were prepared to cut this period to 20 years, but, in the event, the Amendment in question never saw the light of day. So long as it remains at 50 years, this will surely mean that in 30 or 40 years' time a very sizeable percentage of whatever sum the £2 million has grown to by then will be going to sons or grandsons of deceased authors, who will have done nothing to earn that money. So I think that it is very much preferable that deceased authors should be cut out altogether, in order that poor, young, living authors can benefit to the greatest possible extent.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, I did not understand the observation of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, whose speech I heard with respect and regard, when he said that the best laid schemes of mice and men were locked up in the Cabinet Office, because surely the reason for that is the simple one that they do not go out to play. However, I think that I understood clearly his next observation, which I believe was to the effect that this Bill is here in its hollow shape, without any filling. Many conferences have taken place over the years, and I was concerned with some of the earlier ones when I could afford to pay my subscription to literary societies and others.

For years now, I have not been to a place of entertainment; but I still have books, and so long as I have books life is worth living. I would therefore say that it appears to me that the best help I can give to those who worked so long on this Bill is to keep my mouth shut, and not voice some of the apprehensions which I have. That I propose to do. It may be, if this Bill get through, that some further questions on museums, books and libraries will occupy the Minister's attention, if he is still there, in the earliest practicable future.

5.18 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I have never written a book and I have no intention of ever writing one. Therefore, I feel that I have no beneficial interest to declare. Indeed, when I visit bookshops, which I frequently do in search of improving literature, the volume of what I would judge to be second or third-rate current products there exposed for sale makes me sometimes conclude that there may be a production surplus of books today, rather like the mountains of butter and milk in the EEC.

I am intervening for only a moment in a debate which is not quite up my street, because I understand that the two associations representing the counties, the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which have had the responsibility of administering by far the greater proportion of lending libraries in the country, are not happy with the present Bill, and I think that their views should be on record. I am sure that they do not dispute the aim of ensuring a fairer remuneration for authors whose works are read and used by the public. It is the method which has been chosen about which they have serious doubts. Two of their objections, to which I wish to refer very briefly, are, first, their belief that the administration of the loan scheme contained in this Bill will prove needlessly expensive to public funds. Too high a proportion of the funds allotted are likely to be consumed in administration. I think my noble friend Lord Eccles dealt with that point. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, gave us some estimates. My recollection, however, is that estimates which are made at the time that Bills are introduced are always too low, as a result of inflation or the growth of administration. I believe that one must take those figures with a pinch of salt.

The Association believe that the alternative of a sales tax scheme, which they have put to the Minister, is much to be preferred. There is no doubt, from what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has said, that he does not agree. He referred to one drawback, which I acknowledge must be a drawback of such a scheme: it cannot deal with existing stocks of books in libraries. I am told that the turnover of books in public libraries is much faster than I had thought. Although this would be a temporary drawback, it would soon be cleared by the effluxion of time.

Secondly, the Association believe that the proposal to exclude reference books—as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, made clear, that means books which are not lent but which are much used by the public—is entirely unfair to authors and should be corrected. They hold that a sales based scheme would deal with both of these objections and would, as I have said, be considerably cheaper to administer. They believe that it would be fairer to authors because it would include much-used books in reference libraries.

Your Lordships will agree, I think, that the considered views of these authorities who have the main responsibility for running public libraries should carry weight and that they merit the fullest consideration. The reception of this Bill seems to me to be marked by an astonishing lack of enthusiasm. The general attitude seems to be one of fatigue with the issue and a feeling that the present Bill had better be accepted, for the very little that it is worth. If that is the general attitude, I suggest that it does not augur well for the future success of the Bill. My Lords, if I continue any longer, I may develop an interest in this subject which, in the course of time, may lead me to write a book. This is an eventuality which I know your Lordships would unite unanimously in deploring.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, yet once again I welcome a Public Lending Right Bill, but hope that this time it may have a speedy passage through your Lordships' House and receive the Royal Assent as soon as possible. We have so frequently traversed the matter of a Public Lending Right Bill that there really is very little that one can usefully say. It is cheering to know that it has the blessing not only of the Government but also of the Opposition.

I notice with interest that Clause 3(4)(b) says: includes any such collection (of books) which is taken about from place to place". I take it that the reference is to the admirable county mobile libraries, of which one stops 200 yards from my house every week. Perhaps the Minister could explain how it is proposed to keep an account of the loans, because the computer counting system that one finds in ordinary public libraries is not easily portable and there is only limited space in the mobile vans. Again, these mobile libraries have shelves for reference books, from which I have been given to understand the public are able to borrow. So we reach the curious anomaly that a reference book may be loaned out of a mobile library, whereas it cannot be borrowed, shall I say, from a static one. Thus, under the proposed Bill the reference authors—and I must declare an interest, that my husband is one—may benefit from loans from mobile libraries but not from the ordinary public lending libraries.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may be allowed to make it clear that the definition which I gave of a reference book is "a book which is not lent out".


My Lords, could the Minister say what is the position regarding a reference book that is lent out from a mobile library?


My Lords, if it is lent out it is not a reference book.


My Lords, all right. I accept that it is not a reference book.


My Lords, that was my definition, and I stick to it.


My Lords, I shall accept it, but I do not think that it is practical to include encyclopaedias or books of multiple authorship beyond perhaps two authors. However, a great many reference books are by single authors, and I hope that efforts will continue to be made to find some way around the present difficulties. Would it not be possible, when a reference book is purchased by a public library, to make a single, once-and-for-all payment to the author? Alternatively, presumably a lesser sum could be paid annually for a limited period of, say, 10 years. Clause 3(1) says that: 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…". Can the Minister who is to reply give any indication of how soon "soon" may be? Is it to be like the plumstones one counted as a child: This year, next year, some time—but I shall avoid saying "never" by taking an extra plum! I can only hope that this Bill will be brought into effect with as little delay as possible.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, like the noble Lord, Lord Snow, felt a certain glow as I came along this afternoon for the Second Reading debate on this long-running saga. However, having listened to some of the speeches which have been made I must say that I feel rather like the gentleman who went out to dinner. When he came home his friend asked him what it was like and he said, "Well, if the soup had been as warm as the white wine, and the white wine had been as old as the chicken, and the chicken had been as tender as the waitress, and the waitress had been as willing as my hostess, I should have had a good time". Having listened to the speeches, I feel rather like that! A little of the enthusiasm that I felt for what, I agree with my noble friend Lord Hutchinson, is a great occasion has evaporated. Indeed, going back over the many years of this debate—not in this House particularly but in other places outside Parliament—and having listened to some of the speeches which have been made against the Bill and against the proposal of a public lending right, some of the people who have spoken seem to me to bear about the same relationship to British literature as the Boston Strangler does to door-to-door salesmanship.

It seems to me that many of the points of opposition to this Bill centre around one thing. Therefore, I want to anchor my argument on that one thing, and that one thing alone. First, I must declare an interest as an author of books in libraries. The anchor of my argument is that authors are not asking for handouts. Authors are not asking for charity. The noble Lord, Lord Snow, spoke about prizes and grants as an alternative. I know that these suggestions have come up from time to time from various directions, but we are not looking for those. If some great publising or newspaper firm wants to put up a prize for authorship in a certain area, yes, we would welcome it, but that has got nothing to do with the principle of this Bill.

We are simply saying that a public library consists of a building, that it consists of the people who operate that public library, that it consists of shelves of books and that at present we pay everybody, except the people who supply the shelves of books. That is the basic anchor of the argument. It does not matter, therefore, whether an author is rich or poor, whether he is part-time or full-time, whether he is much borrowed or whether he is little borrowed. So long as the country wants a free public library system it must pay for it, and it must pay everybody for it. It must therefore pay the authors. We are not asking for help. We are asking, indeed, simply for justice.

The Bill as at present phrased will of course benefit those authors who are more successful than others. We hope that in the scheme there will be an upper limit and indeed I believe there should be one—but even that does not matter. If an author's book is only borrowed two or three times and he only gets a fiver or £1 out of this scheme, that is not the point and it should not worry Parliament. The point is that he is being paid for the use of his book and if another author's book is borrowed 500 times and therefore he gets a great deal more, that is perfectly equitable and just. Nobody should worry about it and that is the central point. If your Lordships and the country can grasp that, then most of the arguments of opposition fall by the wayside.

It may be that in future years the amount may have to be increased to account for inflation. It may be that in future years various other points may have to be altered. Certainly, I hope that we shall come back to the subject of reference books and do something about them and it may be that in relation to reference books it will be necessary, as the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, said, to have a slightly different kind of scheme—a purchase scheme for reference books. I do not know, but certainly modern technology may help us to solve the problems with which we are confronted at the moment in dealing with reference books. But because we cannot deal with reference books and because we cannot deal with certain other things like gramophone records and cassettes, it does not mean that we should hold back in giving justice in an area where we can solve the problem. Modern technology tells us that we can solve the problem in relation to books that are borrowed and therefore I think we should seize the opportunity with both hands.

The arguments seem to me to be so transparently simple that I really cannot see the line of the opposition. If you were to apply it to cars rather than to books you would of course have the manufacturers of motor cars up in arms, but for 100 years or more the authors of this country have subsidised the free public library system and all the talk about giving the poor authors assistance has nothing to do with it. We do not ask for that. If an author's books do not sell he will not make any money. That is the law of life and that is the law of literature and I am afraid that is how it works. We are not in the market for handouts and grants and I hope I have said enough to put that over to your Lordships.

The other argument that has been raised quite frequently is the argument that libraries actually help authors. There is a great deal in this as I have said in previous debates. It is true that the purchase by libraries of certain books enables publishers to publish those books and there is a certain gain to authors in that area. But let us not exaggerate it. The existence of a first-class free public lending library system in this country has meant that fewer people buy books than would normally be the case. Take, for instance, the example of West Germany where it is undoubtedly true that they have a much smaller public library system than we have in this country and they have many times more bookshops than we have. It is true that you can go for vast distances in this country without finding a bookshop. Bookshops find it difficult to exist because of the very perfection of our free lending library system. This must have an effect on sales.

No one has done any active work on this but one little sample came to us last week from Sheffield where, quite off his own bat, a professor went out and questioned 46 people coming out of the public library. The figures were rather like this: out of those 46 people, not one single person ever bought a hard-backed book—not one—but they borrowed them frequently and, of the 46 people, 21 bought up to—but not more than—five paperbacks every year. I am not pretending to your Lordships that that is any kind of authoritative figure but it is a sample of the way the wind blows. I am quite sure that there are thousands of people in this country who read hardbacks five, six or 10 times a year but who never buy one. That is a loss to authors and we have to make it up somehow in the measures which are being introduced in this Bill.

Again, the rather hoary argument has been raised that the loan system suggested in this Bill is too expensive to administer. We will admit that it is expensive to administer but it is only expensive in relation to the total amount—£600,000 out of £2 million. If in fact the figure were £10 million the expenses of administration would be little less than £600,000. It is a question of the relationship between the total amount of money that is made available by central Government. There would not be a substantial increase in administration costs if the total amount went up. But we are not asking for the total amount to go up at this moment; we are simply pointing out that the estimate of £600,000 is in a sense a relative figure. Certainly, it is true that the Ministry set up a technical investigation group and other investigations were made and it was quite clear that the loan sampling scheme that we suggested and which has been incorporated in this Bill is as cheap, if not cheaper than any other comparable method of paying authors.

That is all I really want to say. I have said it all on previous occasions in various debates and I do not want to repeat myself. I join with those noble Lords who have said, "Let us get it through without amendment" so that this time at least we can say that the long saga has ended.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, it has always appeared to me that this Bill is based on a misconception—an idea about a public lending right which does not exist and never has existed; the idea that by passing this Bill we provide authors with a new right that they did not have before. We do nothing of the sort; in fact we limit their existing rights. The right of an author is a property right conveyed upon him by the copyright Acts. He is protected in his property; he is protected from reproduction and he can put such terms as he wishes upon his licence to reproduce his work. I have here a book published by Fontana, The Life of Engels. The author has put this condition on the book; it is printed on the flyleaf: Conditions of sale. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent without the publishers' prior consent". Anybody who does not want his books to be lent can put on that condition. If he sells to libraries he sells because he wants his book to be lent and he thinks that it will pay him if his book is lent. Therefore, why should public funds be introduced to finance a contract which he is free to make or not to make, and which he deems to be to his advantage or he does not make it at all?

The second aspect which is put forward is (maybe unkindly) described as the charitable one: "If it is not right, well the author is a poor, hard-done-by chap who does not get a living wage and we ought to do something for him." I wholly disagree with that. I cannot see where the right to a living wage comes in for an artist. I would venture to say that probably most of the great books have not been written by full-time writers and have been written with little idea of reward. The same goes for painting. The vast majority of paintings are produced by amateurs who are delighted if their pictures get selected for an exhibition and who certainly do not feel they have a secrecy right and that payment should be made to them by everybody who goes to the exhibition.

I believe that exactly the same applies to writing. The vast majority of books are produced by part-time writers who get great pleasure from what they do. May I declare an interest? I have written a couple of books on which I occasionally get a royalty. I have got another one coming out next month. I have experienced the joy of getting a book accepted and seeing it in print. That is the pleasure one gets. It probably would not be accepted and probably would not be in print but for the lending libraries. The lending libraries give a certain prospect of sale which the publisher can rely on that enables him to publish far more books than he would otherwise, and that enables us very much lesser writers to have the joy of seeing our work in print. Really, to go into all this nonsense in order to make life more difficult for libraries—which all the libraries tell me it certainly will—does not seem to me to make sense.

If we want to help authors, I think there is a very good case for having a fund which can provide money to enable authors with a really worthwhile idea to carry out a research programme. If we have £2 million which we are trying to throw about, £2 million available which we want to get rid of in a charitable way, I think that could be a very useful way to use it. But to have it divided up almost entirely among the authors who require it least in a form in which the great majority of it will probably come back in taxation, at an administrative cost of £600,000, seems to me quite ludicrous. I believe this Bill has resulted from a meandering obsession based on a quite non-realistic view of rights which has been held for far too long. I would like to see it stopped, and if anybody does divide against this Second Reading I will certainly be in their Lobby.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I think I must begin by saying that a great friend of mine, Sir George Solti, who is a Hungarian, once said to me, "If you have a Hungarian friend you require no enemies". I must say the support from the Front Bench opposite was very Hungarian this afternoon. I hope and think that the right honourable gentleman Mr. St. John-Stevas, who spoke so ably, and incidentally extremely wittily, in favour of this Bill at Second Reading, will be shocked by what the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, had to say. It was the most grudging support I have ever received on anything I have ever been connected with; but it was support, and for that I am grateful. I hope very much that this rather curmudgeonly lead will not be followed by the noble Earl's colleagues. However, there is no ill-feeling in this.

There is one point which was made very well by my noble friend Lord Willis, which he wants to be specifically corrected, which is the suggestion that you can help people more in other ways. We would like to repeat that the objective of this Bill is not to ask for charity; this is why we call it a right. The noble Lords, Lord McNair and Lord Snow, spoke so agree-ably for me and I agreed so much with what they had to say that I will not comment on it. I suppose I got the greatest pleasure from the support of my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge, who, with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, did the first run here and on terms which were both to me and to most of us more acceptable. We have failed to bring them into this Bill; the terms are less good. But it was a great help to me to feel that she and her colleague, who came here for a few minutes, were still behind us even in the form of this Bill, which we know not to be entirely satisfactory. My noble friend Lord Hutchinson said it will be a great day for us in the Department. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, said much the same, and made a suggestion about the top cut-out price, which was followed by my noble friend Lord Kilbracken. So much for my supporters.

There have only been three critics of importance, I think. One was the noble Viscount. Lord Eccles, who is always interesting but sometimes wrong. The second was the noble Lord, Lord Paget, who is sometimes interesting, and I was going to say always wrong; but I will not go so far as to say that, but certainly he is hopelessly wrong in this case. Then there were the local authority critics, the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, and the noble Lord, Lord Digby, who I will deal with in a minute.

First of all, I put a point for the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. He seemed to think that our statistics were unsound. I do not know where he got this idea from; it is not true at all, It has been the most careful scheme. It has a technical name which is a "random stratified sample". The chairman of the group was a professional statistician and the margins of error in the sample are discussed in detail in the report which he put in. I have not got it with me, so I cannot quote it, but if the noble Viscount is interested I can let him have it. It is a perfectly respectable statistical sample which any agency anywhere would be perfectly content to use.

The noble Lord, Lord Paget, takes a point of view which has been taken all through history by a number of people interested in the arts. It has always been, I think, absurdly wrong. But the idea is that money has nothing to do with this, that people who are any good will be any good whether you pay them or not. And there is some truth in this. You cannot stop great talent by not rewarding it. But you can create in-justice, and that is what we are trying to avoid. I do not think you would have had anything like so many volumes from Proust if there had never been any question of money. I do not think either Beethoven or Mozart would have written as much music if they had not had the stimulus of wanting the cash; and in Beethoven's case wanting it very badly and in rather a hurry. To me the whole conception is so completely wide of the facts of life that I shall not go on with the discussion. The noble Lord will forgive me for disagreeing, which we have often done before and look forward to doing again.

The local authority argument is, of course, a more difficult one to deal with. The local authorities, prompted by their librarians—and not by 100 per cent. of their librarians by a long chalk; there are a certain number of librarians who do not take this view—have been convinced that this thing is going to be a nuisance to them and they have been looking at simpler ways to do it. They have come up with a way that has a certain plausibility. I looked at this scheme very carefully when they first told me about it; I put my staff on to it and discussed it with a lot of different people. We came to the conclusion that the sales-based scheme was not as good as the scheme we are putting forward. They both have a number of inconsistencies, but, we thought that, on the whole, ours was the better.

There was an additional reason why ours was the better; namely, that that was what the authors were demanding. The whole of this movement has come from the authors themselves. Since A. P. Herbert—to whom the noble Lord, Lord Snow, referred—they have been saying all the time that they want to be paid each time their book is used. The Government felt that if a scheme which would do that could be produced, a scheme which was at least as good as any other, we should try to give it to them. If the noble Lord wants me to go into further detail I shall but, in fact, I have written about this again and again to local authorities and, sooner or later, somebody must make up their mind. I have made up mine as regards this particular matter: I think that our scheme is better. If the noble Lord wants a long letter explaining exactly why I take that view I shall give it to him, but I shall not go through it here this evening.

We have had a very useful debate. The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, raised a matter to which I had already referred in my opening remarks. We have always said that if we could find a way which was not too expensive, of honouring the writers of reference books, and indeed joint authors, with the funds which we thought we were going to have to distribute, we would do so. That offer still stands. I think that there are approximately a couple of years in which we can look at the matter before there is any very serious chance of this beginning to roll.

I am full of hope that the majority of your Lordships who have supported me so fully will carry the day in Committee, and if that happens then we shall have the Bill. Let us hope that after all this time we get it.

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