HL Deb 19 April 1982 vol 429 cc402-4

Debate resumed.

4.4 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, having with some difficulty restrained myself from asking a question on the Statement on the Falklands, may I draw your Lordships back to the draft Public Lending Right Scheme in which there is a unanimity in the House which is probably greater in fact than the unanimity which appeared to exist on the previous question. I venture to say a few words on the subject because I was the Minister who in 1974–76 had the pleasure and the duty, as Minister for the Arts at that time, of introducing the first Public Lending Right Bill in another place. My noble friend Lord Willis will remember the struggles we had in that earlier period to bring the idea of public lending right round to the position of general acceptability which it has now obtained. In those earlier days the whole idea was strongly resisted and resented in library circles, and it was not easy to get the general acceptance which now exists.

As has been said—and this is welcome—from the beginning this has been an all-party affair. There has been support among all parties for the idea of public lending right. But, equally, the opposition was an all-party affair as well. I may possibly leave the Liberals out of that suggestion. I am not sure whether they joined in the oppositional endeavours towards public lending right. It certainly existed in both the major parties during that period. As the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said, the opposition were successful in preventing the first Public Lending Right Bill getting on the statute book. It got to a final stage, and indeed in all essences that first Bill was similar to the second Bill which the then Minister, Mr. St. JohnStevas, succeeded in getting on to the statute book.

This draft public lending right scheme follows in essence—there are important changes in detail—from those early endeavours. I therefore join in the general welcome which has been given in an especially hearty fashion, because here is the culmination of something which I had the pleasure of starting in a governmental sense. It is always welcome to see something which you started brought to a conclusion, although, as the noble Minister has said, it is hardly a conclusion; in a way it is a fresh beginning. It is the start of something which we all hope will grow to something of extreme significance.

The other point I would wish to make about public lending right is that the idea of payment for use is something which is widespread in our society. I hope that it will develop and become significant, and that in the course of time it may be spread to the work of other artists. If it is a good thing that writers shall receive a continuing remuneration arising from the sale, or lending or reading of their books, it would be an equally good thing, and equally possible in these days, to make an arrangement whereby painters would also receive a continuing remuneration from the exhibition and sale of their works. This is something to which at some time we shall get around.

Having said that, I only wish to join in the general welcome, to express the hope that the draft lending right scheme will speedily come into effect and that writers will benefit as much by it as we all hope that they have done over the years. I believe it will become an extremely important international development which all of us on all sides in this House will welcome.

The Earl of Gosford

My Lords, I should like to express my solidarity with the writers, and briefly congratulate them on reaching this point. I certainly have enjoyed books in the library, and I hope that at some time, as libraries are increasingly lending pictures to the public, the writers may support us in the future too.

Baroness Wootton of Abinger

My Lords, I have a few questions for the noble Earl about the administration of this scheme, but I think they can now wait until it is in operation. I should like to add my congratulations on the lucid and helpful way in which the noble Earl has explained what is, after all, quite a complex scheme. I should like to confirm the hope that we may have reciprocity. I was once surprised to find in the Peking University Library a book of my own. I trust that we shall have negotiations with the Republic of China as well as with those near at home.

The negotiations have been prolonged. One may take the old proverb and say that the mountain has been in travail, and it has produced, I would not say the proverbial mouse, but something rather less than a giant. But today of all days we might hope that it is a good omen that prolonged negotiations, possibly even in other contexts with which we are more immediately concerned, may result in a happy ending.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate.

I am particularly grateful for their response, for their kind remarks about my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts and for their kind remarks about the scheme itself, and I shall endeavour briefly to answer some of the questions put to me.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, mentioned the question of assignments. Although an author can assign his rights to up to four people, the registrar will have dealings with only one assignee, in order to minimise the administrative costs. The noble Lord also mentioned photographers having to pad out their books. That came about by the need to define a book, and it was thought that the reference to a number of pages would mean that we should also have to define what was a page. It has generally been felt that the scheme should, in the main, reward the written word, and that is why 32 pages have to be at least half text, so that an illustrator who fulfils that requirement will qualify. The difficulty of phographers should, I suggest, be borne in mind by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, when he thinks of how we shall reimburse the painter as well.

The noble Lords, Lord Ardwick and Lord Somers, drew my attention to the question of translators. They are excluded on the grounds of equity because, where an author remained ineligible during his lifetime, it would, we think, be contentious if, upon his death, his translator was able to register all his works. However, that matter can be looked at in due course when the scheme is in operation.

Several noble Lords referred to the limit of £2 million. That can, of course, be changed with Parliamentary approval, as I said in my opening remarks. There was also some comment about index-linking. The amount available can be adjusted annually by resolution. That would allow for index-linking, and no doubt that consideration will be kept in mind by the Government of the day.

We had quite a discussion about reciprocity, and I can tell the House that the registrar will be ready to begin to study the question of reciprocal arrangements with the appropriate German authorities at an early date. In fact, he is intending at present to go there this year, which shows that we are not just saying words. I assure the House that the other comments that were made will be looked into. As I said in my opening remarks, this is a scheme which we are getting off the ground, and of course we can look at it after it has been going for several years.

On Question, Motion agreed to.