HL Deb 19 April 1982 vol 429 cc387-94

3.6 p.m.

The Earl of Avon rose to move, That the draft scheme laid before the House on 8th March be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the principle of public lending right has enjoyed support from all parties, and the completion of the scheme is the culmination of many years' endeavour for those distinguished supporters of PLR who helped to carry the torch for the idea through difficult times. We believe that this is an important moment for the cultural life of the country.

Although it is a major step forward, it represents no more than justice for authors. The principle enshrined in the public lending right is that some modest reimbursement should be made to authors for the use of their books in public libraries. Our library service is a major social provision and a shop window for publishing. But while it undeniably makes books available to everyone, it is equally indisputable that authors do suffer a loss of income by the provision of a free lending service.

The Public Lending Right Act 1979 established a new right of personal property to be determined by the number of times an author's books are lent from public libraries. This is an important point. It enables authors' payments to be directly related to the use of their books and the Act requires the entitlements to be determined in respect of any book. It is therefore far more just than basing payments on the purchase of books by library authorities, or a count of the books at present on library shelves—neither of which would relate to usage, or determine a right in respect of each book borrowed, as required by the Act.

The Act also requires authors to establish their right by registration of their books. It places the responsibility for the maintenance of a register in the hands of a registrar, who will also manage the funds voted by Parliament for the purpose. The registrar was appointed by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts last September. He has established his office and started various essential preparations, including the recruitment of the first of his staff.

Despite the complexities required by a legislative scheme, particular attention has been paid to the simplicity of the arrangements in operation. It is very important that administrative costs should be kept to the minimum necessary for the efficient operation of the scheme. The Act requires the administrative costs of the scheme, including the reimbursement of costs incurred by local library authorities, to be deducted from the funds voted by Parliament. These deductions will represent the first charge on the funds and the balance will be distributed among the authors. The Act places a limit on the size of the fund; that is £2 million. This cannot be increased, either in volume terms, or to keep pace with inflation, without specific parliamentary approval. For this reason, the scheme deals with a wide range of contingencies that may arise in order to give the registrar immediate guidance and also to minimise administrative effort later on.

Similarly, it is important that the demands placed upon library authorities be contained. The local authorities have been very co-operative during the consultations on the scheme and this whole exercise would not be possible without their help. Local library authorities will be able to claim in full all reasonable costs incurred at the request of the registrar.

A great deal of effort has gone into reducing the size of the sample to achieve a reasonable accuracy of payments at a minimum administrative cost.

It is proposed to establish a sample of 16 libraries. This is considerably smaller than the sample size upon which earlier planning studies were based. The reduction has been achieved by learning more about reading habits across the country. This has replaced some planning assumptions with hard fact and has led to a refinement of the statistical basis of the sample. The sample will be changed regularly by replacing four libraries every year and this, taken with the geographical spread of the sample, we believe will maintain a satisfactory level of accuracy in terms of notional loans. The smaller sample means a significant reduction in administrative costs and in the requirements placed upon the library authorities.

If I may now turn briefly to the main features of the scheme, an author must establish the new right by registering his or her books. The registration must be made by the author or joint authors, up to three in number. Authors must therefore, as your Lordships will understand, be alive to register. It is open to all authors who are United Kingdom or European Community citizens resident in the United Kingdom. I recognise that there is a case for saying that all authors ought to be able to register, whether resident in this country or not. But that raises difficult issues. Some of the problems were recognised during discussions on the Bill and there remains a widely held view that the scheme should ensure that United Kingdom taxpayers' money would benefit only our own authors. The inclusion of European Community authors living in this country is deemed necessary to be in the spirit of the terms of the Treaty of Rome.

I come now to the mechanism for payment. Since arrangements must be completed in the financial year and based upon loan statistics, there is a timetable which starts with a July to June statistical year. The registrar collects statistics from the regional count of sample libraries and grosses these up to give national figures for each book and each author. Only when the results are available, in the autumn, is he in a position to assess his payments within the limits set under the scheme. This will enable him to calculate the rate per loan and, if need be, to adjust the rate to ensure that as much of the money available as possible is distributed among the authors. The timetable then allows an amending order to be made in the autumn to adjust the rate of loan, if necessary. Payments to authors will be made thereafter, up to the end of the financial year.

In devising this scheme, after consultations with both the authors and the local authorities, as many points of criticism have been met as possible. In particular, there is an upper limit per author which means that a very popular author does not necessarily scoop the pool, although he or she will get a reasonable recompense—that is, up to £5,000 per annum. A lower limit of £5 per registered interest has been included to avoid unnecessary administration in paying out tiny sums, or the problem of carry-over from one year to the next. Any sums not paid out because they are above the upper limit or below the £5 lower limit will be returned to the pool and thus will increase the rate per loan.

I know that there is one issue on which some authors remain concerned: the question of reciprocity. During the debate on the scheme in the other place my right honourable friend Mr. Paul Channon gave an assurance about reciprocity. He said: I am very ready to see examined the possibility of reciprocal arrangements with other countries that have relevant schemes. It would have been impossible for us to include reciprocal provisions in the present scheme on the basis of our present knowledge of arrangements elsewhere, and without making it very much more complicated". If I may elaborate, the Australian scheme includes non-nationals resident in Australia but is not loan-based; the West German scheme is not based on a full count of loans, nor does it return all the money available to individual authors. Nevertheless, it is recognised that the Federal Republic does already make certain payments to British authors registered with it, and in principle we shall be very ready to examine whether corresponding arrangements can be made to include registered German authors within the provisions of the United Kingdom scheme. It will take time to consider the details of the German arrangements and to be assured that they are sufficiently comparable to justify bringing in reciprocal provisions here.

We shall obviously also have to have regard to the legal confines of the United Kingdom scheme which lays down, in accordance with the Act, the arrangements for passing on the right established in books for a period of 50 years after an author's death, by assignation or testamentary disposition. I can assure the House that these are matters that we shall be willing to consider further as soon as we have experience of operating the scheme on a United Kingdom basis in its present form.

My right honourable friend intends to bring into immediate effect those parts of the scheme required for the registrar to continue his preparations. Part III of the scheme dealing with the establishment of the register will take effect from September when the registrar will start to process authors' applications. Part IV of the scheme dealing with the arrangements for the sample and the collection of loan data will come into effect as soon as possible to give the registrar and the local library authorities the maximum time to prepare. It is expected that loan recording will commence during the winter, probably in January 1983. Part V will then come into force in July 1983 to enable the registrar to calculate the first public lending right payments to authors on the basis of the data collected between January and June next year. This data will be grossed up to represent 12 months' loans. It was hoped to make the first payments at the end of this year, but as the House will realise, this has proved impossible because of the time needed to introduce all the necessary preparations, particularly the statistical sampling. Nevertheless, the final preparations are now well in hand.

What we have at present before the House is something of a break-through. It represents the first attempt to give authors some direct payment in relation to the number of times their books are borrowed. It represents the culmination of many years' pleading by authors' interests, but only the start of a scheme which can be tailored to the amount of money available year by year, and changes in circumstances or need. I ask noble Lords to give this imaginative scheme a fair wind. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft scheme laid before the House on 8th March be approved.—(The Earl of Avon.)

3.17 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, all of us will rejoice that the public lending right scheme is about to ascend after two decades of preparation on the ground. I give my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and his colleagues for their long and successful campaign. One must also congratulate the Minister on evolving a scheme that looks to be both practicable and economical. There were no easy answers even to such basic questions as, What is a book? and, Who is an author? What strikes one as inspired is the decision to reckon the frequency of borrowing by means of a sample of 16 carefully selected libraries rather than to have every library make an individual return. That would have been costly of effort, even in these days of the computer.

Of course, any scheme which attempts to be simple has to make a number of arbitrary judgments which seem to be unfair. It is the attempt to be fair which is responsible for many of the fantastic complications of our tax law, and it is such complications that the Minister has avoided in his public lending scheme. What is important now is that the scheme should be approved without any amendment so that next year the recording of lending can begin, followed by the disbursement of the first of the annual £2 million into the pockets of the deserving authors. May I say that George Orwell perhaps never imagined that his heirs would be the beneficiaries of this in 1984.

But the Minister should of course be thinking of what subsequent improvements can be made to the scheme. The first of these—I was very glad to hear the noble Earl mention it—would be reciprocal arrangements with countries which have, or are now preparing, their own public lending right scheme. We should do very well out of this because British authors write so many very good books which are very much enjoyed abroad.

The other provision which I should like to see, although I recognise that this is very difficult, is reward for the translator. There is inspired translation—the Authorised Version, or Urquhart's Rabelais, or Murray's Euripides—which are great works of art and deserve reward; but there are bread and butter translations whose width is more impressive than their quality and which are perhaps adequately rewarded at the going rate. It is, of course, very difficult to judge which is which. These and other matters are for the future.

Meanwhile, let the authors start to draw their rewards, with the stars enjoying their maximum of £5,000 and the groundlings their pathetic minimum of £5—a contribution made by the use of a mere 100 borrowers because apparently the reward is 5p per borrowing—a kind of "bob a job" basis. And let the Government show some modest generosity by indexing the global sum. This sum of £2 million has already lost quite a lot of its value since it was proposed and this should be restored as quickly as possible.

3.20 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, we on these Benches do of course welcome the implementation and introduction of this grant scheme. It is something which noble Lords in all parts of the House have been agreed upon in principle and we are only glad that after rather a long time we should actually be coming somewhere near to fruition. Our free library system in this country is probably one of the great institutions of the world. We all of us benefit from it and it has only been sad that in the past the benefits of this institution have been coupled with possibly a certain amount of injustice to individual authors. However, that is now being remedied and we are all grateful. I would like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, in his remarks congratulating the elegant simplicity of the statistical base which has been found for making the calculations.

There are only three points which I want to raise with the Government. One of them has already been very largely dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Avon; the reciprocity with other countries. I am delighted to know that the Minister has committed himself on this matter and that we will see some progress. I must say that when we examine in Hansard the remarks which the Minister made about the great difficulty which is involved, I am not certain that they will stand up to all that much examination. The West German scheme, for instance, although different in some particulars from ours, is there and is known about. I would have thought we could have gone quite a long way already with producing arrangements for a simple reciprocity between the two countries. I hope that bureaucratic considerations will not be allowed to interfere with getting on with what in principle must be a fairly simple job.

There are one or two other small points which I believe can be made. There is the definition of the size of the book and the stipulation that a book must have a certain amount of text in it. I am far from clear why photographers or draughtsmen who may not be at all gifted in the use of the written word should have to produce 24, 32 or whatever number of pages of text to pad out a book which may be extremely valuable in its own right without that textual matter. Although that point cannot be dealt with at this moment, because we do not wish to delay the scheme in any way, it is one that demands looking at again in the interests of justice.

Finally, I am not at all certain why the Government have I ejected the idea put forward to them by the authors that the number of assignees of public lending right should be limited. In fact, I believe the authors put it to them that there should only he a maximum of one assignee. It is the object of everyone concerned in this—the Government and the authors—that there should be the minimum of bureaucracy and that the maximum amount of money should go to the authors themselves. Obviously there will be quite a lot of effort (and therefore money) taken up in the administration of the assignment and payment to assignees. It would have been much better for a greater proportion to go to the authors themselves in their lifetimes or during their time of active work, even if it had been at the expense of not having a maximum of four people to whom the copyright could be assigned. I think that needs looking at again. Nonetheless, this is a very welcome scheme. It redounds credit not only upon those who have been putting it forward over the years but also on the Government for taking it aboard during a period of financial stringency. We are all extremely grateful.

3.25 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, it is with real delight that I welcome this document and congratulate the Minister for the Arts and his representative here, the noble Earl, on producing something as economical as this has turned out to be. I first came into this matter halfway through the first Bill which I had to take over from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I was very upset to find that the Bill was fillibustered out in another place. The second time, when the noble Lord, Lord Willis, produced the Bill, my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock made a splendid maiden speech. On that occassion, however, the Bill again failed to get through. Finally, we have reality. It is a moment of great excitement and interest to all of us who have been working on this.

I would like to say only two things in addition to the various comments which have been made by noble Lords who have already spoken—and with all of which I agree. I wonder whether the sum of £5,000 is not rather high as a maximum and whether there will be anything left for the other people? I think that is something we must look at. Secondly, I very much wish to endorse the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, that there should be indexation. If ever there was a case for indexation, this it is. We ought to start from two years ago, or even from five years ago, when the proposal was first put forward with a figure of £2 million—I suppose that would have grown to about £7 million by now. With just these few thoughts, I welcome this scheme and congratulate the Government upon it.

3.27 p.m.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I would like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Avon on his introduction to this new scheme. I should also like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, to the Front Bench; he is a great ornament to and a distinguished member of the Labour Party. I must declare an interest because I have already received my first payment under the German scheme, of £4.23p. I look forward to receiving much more in the longer term. For that reason, I particularly support the principle of reciprocity mentioned by my noble friend Lord Avon and supported by other speakers.

This is an important new right in the cultural field and one that should be pursued in other countries and in other fields. It seems to me that the scheme has been well drawn up. It is both efficient and economical in its administration and it is something that can be widely commended. As the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, hinted, there is a major innovation in this piece of legislation because, so far as I know, it is the first scheme under an Act of Parliament which is specifically based on the statistical technique of sampling.

Sampling is quite a modern statistical technique, although it is the basis of the science of statistics. It was actually introduced as a result of innovations made by Louis Pasteur and by a brewer at the Guinness Brewery who wrote anonymously under the name "Student". In fact, Student's Law is one of the basic principles of statistics. The brewer in question sampled the various barrels of stout to see which of them had "gone off", to avoid the problem of having to taste every barrel of stout. So sampling is a basis of statistics.

It is very interesting to those few of us who sit in your Lordships' House who are not barristers or solicitors, to discover how few modern statistical techniques are used in legislation. For example, the idea that fines levied by the courts should he indexed would appear to be a revolutionary idea to lawyers, whereas it seems an elementary idea to economists and statisticians. I hope, therefore, this piece of legislation, which is immensely welcome in itself, extremely well drafted and extremely efficient, and which embodies a principle of no little importance, will provide a model for other pieces of administrative law which go through your Lordships' House. I hope very much that they will be given as fair a wind as this piece of legislation.

Before I sit down, may I just say that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who sits over there, is immensely to be congratulated upon this major step forward in the interests of the arts in this country.

Lord Somers

My Lords, may I say how very much I appreciate this scheme, which provides for authors a parallel to the performing right scheme which composers have enjoyed for so long. I should like to ask the noble Earl one question. What will be the position for translators of foreign books? I should declare an interest herein that I am in the process of making one myself. Will the right have to be divided between the translator and the author, or what will be the position?

Lord Willis

My Lords, I spent last Saturday afternoon at Gatwick Airport waiting for an aeroplane that had been delayed three times. When it eventually arrived five hours late, your Lordships may imagine that it was a heartwarming experience, and I feel rather the same today as I stand up and find that public lending right has at last come before the House in its final form. It has been a very long haul, not only for me, but for my fellow authors, and we are, I am afraid, in danger of being drowned in euphoria about this particular scheme. I do want to join in the general congratulations offered to the Minister for producing an efficient scheme, a scheme which has taken some consideration of the criticisms that authors have put forward, and which I hope will work—in fact, I am sure it will work.

However, I do want to add one or two further points to those already made by other noble Lords. First of all, on the question of reciprocity, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, said—and I thank him for his kind remarks about me personally—we are already receiving large sums of money from the German public lending right; British authors are already receiving these. There is a grave danger that unless we do make reciprocal arrangements with the Germans these sums of money will be lost. I welcome the very clear statement that the noble Earl made about this. I should like him to emphasise one point when he replies. Would the Minister be prepared to enter into immediate negotiations with the representatives of the German Federal Government about reciprocity, because my understanding of the situation is that there are no problems that cannot be fairly easily solved? I believe that, if those discussions were to take place, there would be an atmosphere of goodwill and a solution would come up within a very short period of time.

The other point is this question of indexing. Already the original sum put forward has shrunk alarmingly since the scheme was first put forward four or five years ago. It has remained constant throughout all these inflationary years and therefore it is worth a great deal less than it was originally. Authors are not greedy; as I have said several times in the debates on this subject, we only want what is right and fair. Would it not be possible for the Minister to bring before the House at a fairly early time a modest proposal to index-link the sum that is going to be made available in the general pool? I do not think this would particularly embarrass the Government, it certainly would not embarrass the Opposition. It would prevent this becoming a subject of controversy over the next years, with authors agitating for more money. It would seem to me that this would remove a very serious point from controversy.

Having said those things, I want once again to thank the Minister, to thank my noble friends and friends on all sides of the House for the constant support they have given me and my friends over the years on this subject, and to wish this scheme not only a fair wind, but a full sail.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will forgive me. I think there may be one or two other noble Lords who wish to speak on this matter. Perhaps this might be a convenient moment to interrupt the proceedings to take the Statement.