– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th May 1976.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

10.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill we are discussing has been promoted over many years by interested parties, some of whom—with financial interests—sit in this House. Some have written books, some have not.

Should persons with such an interest, since it is not declared in the Register of Members' Interests, speak or vote without declaring an interest in the debate?

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

Perhaps I can help the hon. Member. There has arisen a convention in the House that hon. Members should declare such an interest in debates. Personal interest in votes on questions of public policy is covered in "Erskine May", as is the more hypothetical question raised by the hon. Member. At this hour of the night, I should be unpopular if I read pages 407 to 412 inclusive of "Erskine May", but I hope the hon. Gentleman's point has been met.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think you are quoting from the old edition of "Erskine May"—

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

The hon. Member is erroneous in his impression. I am quoting from the new edition.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I congratulate you and the Clerk's department on having a copy before it is published. Even when the new edition was being written, the House had not reached its recent decision on registering interests—

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

Order. I think I can help the hon. Member. To my certain knowledge, there has been a copy of the new edition in the Aye Lobby for a number of weeks. If the hon. Member cares to direct his attention to page 412 of the new edition of "Erskine May" he will see that paragraph F refers to the Declaration of Personal Pecuniary Interests and the House of Commons' Register.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is not correct to suggest that hon. Members who have written books have not declared their interest. I have entered in the Register of Interests my occupation as an author. It was the only other occupation I could find. I entered that interest in the full knowledge that virtually all my books are out of print.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

I call the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English).

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I did not impugn personally any individual hon. Member. I think that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) will be aware that I was not referring to him. He will be aware that certain people who have written books have not registered that fact in the Declaration because they are not required to do so. That is no fault of theirs, because they are not required to make the declaration. I raise the matter to ask whether they should declare an interest if they speak subsequently in the debate. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has written a book.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

Yes, most certainly they should declare an interest.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Whichever edition of "Erkine May" one consults, will you confirm that any interest declared in the Register does not remove from any Member who speaks in a debate the obligation of declaring a practical interest in the matter being considered?

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

I can confirm that point. Miss Jackson.

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

As I was saying, there is no doubt that, although many suggestions have been made for a variety of schemes involving public lending right, it is easy to see that the costs of administering so complex a scheme could easily outweigh any potential advantages either to the community or to authors of any payments which could be made. The whole task of the Government in preparing for the Bill has been to find a practical scheme which can work within existing knowledge, and to go for that as a real contribution to the problem. Moreover, we take the view that payments to authors should be dealt with on the same basis as assistance to other forms of the Arts—namely, that it should be a charge on my noble Friend's resources for the assistance of the Arts.

Both the providers of library services—the local authorities—and users can therefore be assured that they will not have to bear the costs of operating the scheme, and that these will rank with other forms of assistance to the Arts as and when resources can be made available.

Photo of Mr Jasper More Mr Jasper More , Ludlow

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but will she make it clear whether she has an interest to declare as the author of what she is reading to us, or has it been written by somebody else?

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

That is not a point of order.

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

I am sorry if this comes as a dreadful shock to the hon. Gentleman, but I actually wrote my speech. I realise that Conservative Members are accustomed to having a vast retinue of people, and need them, to help them com pose their speeches, whereas my hon. Friends and I are accustomed to having to help ourselves.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

My hon. Friend has referred to the cost of administering the scheme, but will she tell us what proportion of total expenditure will go to authors and what proportion will be involved in administrative expenses?

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

It might have been better if my hon. Friend had waited until we got a little further on in the debate. I do not think I can give him any clear figures. It is being suggested that quite a high proportion, perhaps 40 per cent., of the sums involved initially will account for administration. As my hon. Friend will realise, the initial cost of establishing such a scheme is likely to be very high. It is only when or if additional money becomes available that it will be possible to distribute more to authors. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to return to that matter later in the debate. To ensure that the costs of administration are capable of being met from the scheme, a basic principle of the Bill is that these costs shall be a first charge on the additional resources available. It is therefore of extreme practical importance that these costs shall be kept to the minimum so that the maximum amount can be made available for distribution to authors.

I now turn to the main features of the Bill. Clause 1 establishes a public lending right as a right of authors to be paid out of a central fund on certain books lent by public libraries in the United Kingdom—books which, by their appearance on the register, entitle the authors to public lending right. The clause also provides for the appointment of a registrar to administer the scheme.

Clause 2 establishes the central fund out of which public lending right will be paid. This clause places an upper limit of £1 million on the annual liabilities of the fund. The Government must require—indeed, it is a principle of sound finance, apart from protecting other demands on resources for the Arts—that the scheme shall not be open-ended and that Parliament maintains firm control over the total resources devoted to the scheme. However, there is provision in Clause 2(3) for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury and, of course, of this House, to increase the limit by order.

I now come to one of the more unusual features of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Could my hon. Friend tell me what the Government calculate will be the average annual amount which will be received by each author from the central fund?

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

That is not an easy calculation to make, as my hon. Friend may know. I am aware that my noble Friend quoted some figures in another place. This will depend on when the scheme is introduced and what the administrative costs turn out to be. It is difficult to look too far into the future. If my hon. Friend wants the figures, I will endeavour to get them for him later.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

That is an unsatisfactory answer. Will the hon. Lady consider the question put to her by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead)? The answer is simple. If there is an upper limit of £1 million and it is expected that 40 per cent, will be paid for administration, it should not be too difficult to work out the average sum per author.

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

The hon. Gentleman is over-simplifying the case. It is posible to work out the overall sum available to authors on the assumption of the expected administrative costs. My hon. Friend was asking what was likely to be the average return per author. It is not a matter of dividing the number of authors into the amount available. It is possible that, on the present size of the fund, the more popular authors will obtain sums of about £100 a year and that less popular authors will receive about £10 a year. The amount involved depends on whether the final scheme adopted has a ceiling for the amount of income might be involved, whether it is a tapering scheme, or whatever. These matters will be considered later in committee.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Perhaps I may assist the hon. Lady. Lord Goodman, speaking in the other place, calculated that approximately 113,000 authors would claim and that the average payment would be £5 a year. That, even by my frugal standards, is not a very large sum.

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

I did not say that it was a very large sum. I said that it was difficult to calculate. The amount will vary enormously depending on the popularity of the author. I gave a figure of about £10 for authors in the medium range, not authors whose books are borrowed over and over again. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is considering figures of the same order. I cannot say that I am tremendously grateful to him for his help, but I am sure that the House is.

Clause 3 requires the Secretary of State to prepare the draft of a scheme for the administration of public lending right to be laid before Parliament. The reason for this way of proceeding is that, as has been made plain in the debate, a large number of detailed arrangements will have to be made before we can have an operational scheme for paying public lending right. These involve not merely the nature of the equipment required to measure the books but the way in which returns will be made to establish the entitlement of payment, the working out of the sample of libraries selected for measuring the right, and the way in which the expenses of the local authorities are paid. The Government believe that the time is ripe to establish the right and work out the consequential details against the day when we all hope resources will be available.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

The Minister in the other place, Lord Donaldson, promised a Green Paper, a discussion document, in advance of publication of the scheme. When are we to have that?

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

Since the debate in the other place was a couple of days or perhaps a week ago, I imagine that the hon. Gentleman is not expecting a Green Paper the day after tomorrow. My recollection of what my noble Friend said was that we would seek to have the fullest possible consultation on the detailed form of the scheme. He thought that one way that might be appropriate was to publish a Green Paper, but I do not recall that he gave any indication of time, and I do not feel that I can do that now.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

Lord Donaldson did give an undertaking to publish a discussion document in advance of the scheme.

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

Yes, but, as I have not given an indication, and do not propose to do so, of how the scheme will be worked out, because this will depend on when resources will be made available—and no time has been stated for that—the hon. Gentleman cannot expect me to give a date for publication of a discussion document. If Conservative Members will be a little more patient, we might come to this question again in the course of the debate.

Clause 4 provides for the establishment of the register which will be the evidence on whether the lending of a particular hook will earn public lending right and to whom payment is due. The onus will be on the applicant to furnish proof of his claim to the satisfaction of the registrar, who will be charged with the duty of establishing and maintaining the register in accordance with the scheme.

It is the Government's intention to conclude the necessary work on the negotiations and consultations needed to prepare the scheme as soon as possible after the Bill becomes law. My noble Friend has made it clear that he will spare no pains to ensure that before the scheme is laid before the House both the research and the consultations will be carried out.

I now turn to two points which gave rise to amendments to the Bill in another place. These relate to the use of the word "works" in place of "books" throughout the Bill. The intention behind this amendment is one with which the Government have considerable sympathy; namely, to ensure that the new techniques of communication between authors and the public, with which public libraries are becoming increasingly involved, should not be excluded by the Bill. Against this, however, I must make it clear that the Government see no way of producing a practical scheme to give effect to this change in the foreseeable future. We see no way by which works other than books which are borrowed can be recorded and their use measured on a statistically justifiable basis at reasonable cost, and we take the view that it would be totally irresponsible to legislate for a purpose for which no practicable scheme seems to be possible at present.

The intention is to devise in this scheme the cheapest form of statistical sample of lending which can be justified, and this in itself is a sophisticated problem. The Government have not seen a way to extend the system of measurement to reference books except at inordinate cost, and reference books are, therefore, excluded from the Bill on grounds of practicability. We shall therefore move an amendment at a later stage to restrict the application of the Bill to books. Nothing would damage the interests of authors in the long term more than the failure to achieve the limited objectives that we are setting.

The second point raised in another place relates to the eligibility of foreign authors, which is dealt with in Clause 1(7)(e). As it stands, the Bill reflects an amendment in another place which restricted the eligibility to authors who were United Kingdom citizens or residents, or citizens of other countries which give reciprocity to English authors.

The Government are obtaining further legal advice on the legal issues involved and on the relevance of international copyright conventions. As a result of this advice we may be obliged to move amendments later, but there are strong policy issues involved concerning the whole of the international copyright situation, from which the United Kingdom derives a large net advantage, and, quite apart from the legal issues, the Government may decide that they cannot be justified in being too narrow in their approach to this problem. We do not expect not to have to pay for our imports, and there is no doubt that if we accept the principle of payment for services, foreign authors provide services for readers in this country.

I now turn to the question of resources. Hon. Members will accept that this is a particularly difficult time to start new programmes of public expenditure, and they will not therefore be surprised to hear that I cannot say when the resources will be available to enable this measure to come into effect. But this is no reason, in the Government's view, why we should not make a start in establishing the right and working out the way of implementing it as a consequence. This will be a complex and difficult task and it cannot be achieved overnight. The Government are sure that authors will accept the Bill as a firm beginning to the honouring of an undertaking to provide them with a return for the use of their works in libraries—a cause for which they have striven for many years and on which there is general agreement on the merits of their case.

It would be wrong to move the Second Reading of this Bill without paying a warm tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins). Just as I believe a general agreement exists in respect of the need for this measure, so, too, I believe it is generally agreed that we would not be in a position to consider this Bill had it not been for the work of my hon. Friend. Whatever disagreement there may be on the Bill, or on the scheme, I think there can be none in respect of the valuable contribution he has made.

10.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I am delighted at long last, and at six hours' notice, to welcome the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Lady on introducing it. Any deficiencies in her script were more than made up by the mellifluousness of her delivery.

We have a lot of people to be thankful to for the fact that we are having this Second Reading debate. We have to be thankful to whoever on the Government Benches was responsible for the error made in respect of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. We have also to be grateful to the private enterprise of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). With some prescience I acquired his advice on procedural matters in respect of the Education Bill a few weeks ago. Let us hope he is equally successful in that direction. Anyhow, one can say about the results of today O Felix culpa, if I may lapse into my native Latin.

The Opposition welcome the Bill in principle. We are not entirely in agreement with some of its clauses but the principle is right.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

It is a middle-class subsidy.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

That is the hon. Gentleman's opinion; he is more an authority on the middle classes than I am. If the cap fits, the hon. Gentleman must wear it.

I am delighted that it is one of the first acts of the period of office of Lord Donaldson that this Bill should be brought before the House. I welcome the appointment of the noble Lord. If we could not have the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) as Minister for the Arts, Lord Donaldson is the next best thing. We wish him well and we look forward to a period of fruitful co-operation. The Arts should be above party politics, and we hope we shall see a new era of co-operation now opening.

The public lending right campaign has had a long history. It may be difficult for the House to believe that it is 25 years since I first became associated with Sir Alan Herbert in his pioneering campaign to secure justice for authors. Unfortunately, it took a long time for this cause to get off the ground. In November 1973, when I was appointed Minister for the Arts, it was one of my chief hopes that I would be able to play some part in getting a public lending right on the statute book. To aid that cause I sought the help of Mr. Ernie Money, then the hon. Member for Ipswich, who had a Private Member's Bill on the subject. I should like to pay tribute to him for his work in this respect. I should also like to thank Lord Goodman for the important role that he played from the Cross Benches in the other place in achieving this cause.

At the time as the Conservative Government were considering introducing a Bill on this subject, authors were divided on their approach to it. Some wished to see a purchase right and some a lending right. It was thanks to Lord Goodman that an agreement was reached. The agreement which was reached between myself and the various groups of authors was that a Bill should be introduced which would confer both a purchase right and a lending right—or, rather, the possibility of either or a combination of the two.

Which scheme was eventually to be adopted was left open in the agreed Bill. That was to be decided in the light of the report of a committee of experts which I appointed, or was about to appoint when the Government left office, to consider the extremely complicated technical questions involved in this matter.

The point of principle established by the then Government was that the money should be provided by the Government. That was an extremely important decision of principle, because if the money had to come from local government, the local authorities would be likely simply to economise by buying fewer books and there would probably be less, rather than more, money available for authors. I am glad that the Government have adhered to the principle, which was established by their predecessors, of finance from a central source.

The sum obtained at the time was £1 million. The fact that that sum was found and was agreed by the Cabinet was primarily due to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the Opposition. She was tireless and was unshakeable in the support that she gave against those Treasury advisers who were extremely reluctant to see this injustice righted.

On 7th February 1974 the Cabinet agreed to proceed along these lines, and the Public Lending Right Bill was to be introduced in March. Unfortunately, on 8th February, the day after the agreement was reached, Parliament was dissolved and the Bill then lapsed for two years. But it is important that the record should be straight on this matter. I am glad that tributes have been paid to the previous Minister, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) but it is a fact that the groundwork was laid by the Conservative Party, by the Conservative Government in 1974.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

Would the hon. Gentleman now admit to the House that the groundwork was wholly wrongly laid during his disastrous 10 weeks in office? We have had to change it ever since and have spent most of our time trying to put right the mistakes he made during those 10 weeks.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I thought that it would be a mistake to pay a tribute to the hon. Gentleman, but the thought came too late. I should have followed my worse judgment rather than my better and more noble judgment. I do not begrudge the hon. Member for Putney, who is sitting there looking like a cross between Karl Marx and the Archbishop of Canterbury, his claim to be the father of this Bill. But if he can claim to be its father, I can legitimately claim to be its grandfather. In a sense that makes me the father of the hon. Gentleman, which means that I am quite a good age.

I was, naturally, anxious at that time that all the progress that had been made should not go by default. It was agreed that a pledge for public lending right should go into the Conservative Party election manifesto in February. But, owing to the speed of the election, when the manifesto was published there was no sign of the pledge. The matter has had a chequered history and we might as well get the record straight. When I inquired what had happened, I found that it had been left out in error by a typist because it was at the end of the page dealing with education. I went round to the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and at his first Press conference on 11th February he pledged that public lending right would be introduced. It was not mentioned at all in the Labour Party's campaign documents, although the hon. Member for Putney, with some rather ethereal reserve, eventually pledged £5 million for the implementation of a public lending right. The pledge was for £5 million but it was subject to economic circumstances. That did not receive the publicity. The £5 million caught the headlines.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Some of our hon. Friends may not understand that last point. Can my hon. Friend say by whom and when that pledge was made—bearing in mind the earlier criticism that the sum was frugal? Does my hon. Friend intend that that should be the sum?

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

The pledge was made by the hon. Member for Putney. I should be delighted if £5 million could be devoted to this cause, but I recognise that in the present economic circumstances it is not possible for a sum of that size to be made available. I hope that in the future the sum provided in the Bill will be increased.

I want to stress for the record that the Bill is not a concession. It is not an act of favour from the Government. It is a simple act of justice, because authors have a right to reasonable remuneration for their work. They receive only one royalty for a book in a library which may be borrowed many times. I have already declared my interest—such as it is. I have written 10 or 12 books. For work lasting many years one receives a pitifully inadequate return. The novelist, for example, may sell 3,000 copies of a first or subsequent novel which can be borrowed about 117,000 times from libraries—that is the average calculation. The author will obtain between £600 and £800 for the sale of the book but for the 100,000 borrowings he will receive absolutely nothing.

The situation is pretty acute in Britain because of the excellence of our library service. Libraries are popular here. They average 600 million loans a year. In Germany, with a rather larger population, the loans are 75 million a year. In the United States, with a population four times that of Great Britain, the circulation from libraries is 450 million loans a year. It is excellent that we should have such a good library service, but it is right that compensation should be paid to the authors who, above all, make the service possible. It is on their contributions that the service is built up.

I am also delighted that the Government have decided to make this a lending right as such and not a purchase right. But there is a flaw in the Bill which was fleetingly referred to by the hon. Lady, that it does not extend to reference works held in public libraries. They are the books on which most work is done, and yet the least reward is given to their authors by the Bill. I hope that it will be possible in Committee to devise an amendment so that the authors of reference works are included within the scope of the Bill.

I turn to the question of the sum of money involved. The Conservative Government fixed upon £1 million two years ago. That is equivalent to only about £600,000 today. Inflation has taken its toll, but it has not been allowed for in the sum provided by the Government in the Bill. Worse still, the cost of administration, which has been estimated by the Government at £400,000, and which is much more liable to go up than to go down, leaves only £600,000 for the authors. But it would be wrong to press for a large sum of money in our present economic circumstances. Everyone must make sacrifices.

It is true that the principle is important, but the sum should not be so small as to make the implementation of the principle in effect derisory. That was the point raised by hon. Members on this side of the House, who asked the hon. Lady whether she could say how much authors were likely to receive. The fact is that they are likely to receive probably about one-tenth of 1p. for the loan of a book. Another calculation is that an author can expect about £5 a year.

The reward to the author should not be such that it is liable to become less than the cost of the administration of the Bill. It would be a very bad principle to establish that in the law. The hon. Lady should look again at this question, to see whether the cost of administration of the scheme could not be excluded from the notional £ 1 million which is the limit on the Bill. That would not be a large addition to public expenditure but it would make the working of the Bill much more reasonable.

The Minister has given no date for bringing the Bill into operation. It is certainly not in the Bill. An indication this evening of the Government's intention would be most welcome. Perhaps the hon. Lady can give at least a rough forecast of the date on which a scheme is to come into operation. I suggest that a scheme should be submitted to Parliament not later than six months after the Bill has received the Royal Assent.

It is very bad constitutional practice to introduce a Bill embodying a principle and to say "This is the beginning of a process" but not to give any indication of where that process is to begin. In the two years that they have had, the Government should have thought out the difficulties associated with the Bill and should be ready to bring a scheme into operation. Otherwise, they should not have introduced the Bill. To introduce a Bill and say "We haven't made sufficient preparations to bring it into operation" is a dereliction of their constitutional duty.

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the argument he is now advancing is to the effect that the Bill should not have been introduced. If he wishes to see the Bill on the statute book, he would do well not to press his suggestion that the measure should not have been introduced at all until the scheme had been worked out. If he has now changed his mind from the impression he gave earlier and does not want the Bill to be enacted, he should make that plain.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

The hon. Lady's logic is at fault in that she has drawn the wrong conclusion from my argument. My argument was not directed at the conclusion that the Bill should not be introduced. The effect of my argument was that the Government should have spent the period of two years constructively and should have worked out their ideas more fully. The Government are not at fault in bringing in the Bill. They are at fault in not coming to the House fully equipped with the answers to these pertinent problems. After all, they have at their disposal all the resources of the Department to give them the answers to these questions.

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

I think the House should know that, despite the rosy picture painted by the hon. Gentleman as to the state of affairs on this subject when he left office, it was necessary for the Department to put in a considerable amount of work in producing a scheme. The two reports are the fruits of that work, and indeed a great deal of time has been needed in bringing any scheme at all before the House. Indeed, there is still a great deal of work needed. This is a complex problem and cannot be solved overnight. Since the Conservative Party, with all its good will, did not manage to produce any scheme at all in a period of 25 years, it is a little hard for the hon. Gentleman to accuse the Labour Government of not having worked out a practicable scheme.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

We produced a blueprint for a Bill, and that Bill was produced within a period of six weeks. If the Government had proceeded at the same pace as that at which we proceeded, these problems surely should have been worked out by now. Problems do not get easier to solve merely by delaying them. Within the five-year lifetime of a Parliament, a period of two years surely should provide enough time to work out what is admittedly a complex problem. I believe that there has been a lack of urgency and drive by the Government on this matter.

I wish to make the point that it is important that if there is only a limited sum of money available it should go to the right persons. It should go to the authors and not to the publishers. It would be monstrous if the greater part of the money provided by the Bill went to the publishers and administrators and the authors got the minority share. That must be wrong. This Bill is intended to give justice to authors.

I hope that the Minister will be able to say what is the role of publishers in this scheme and to outline the benefits which they will obtain.

The Minister did not deal with the important matter of payment. It is important that no well-known author should scoop the pool and leave the less-well-known authors to get the dregs. That is an important point. I am sure that bestselling authors would be willing to accept some limitation on the amount of money which any individual can get from the sum of money available.

I put forward as a basis for discussion the suggestion that the limit should be £1,000 per author for £1 million in the pool. That would mean that everyone would get a fair share of the help available.

This debate is taking place late at night, but it is an important debate and I hope that it will be a lively one. The House is not unanimous on this subject, although I believe that there is a majority on both sides of the House who are in favour of the Bill. It is the policy of the official Opposition to support the Bill. [Interruption.] I am aware, from some of the noises I hear behind me, that there is a certain amount of dissent from the Bill. I do not complain about that. I have done my bit of dissenting in my time, and I may well have to do it again in due course. But the Bill has not only my assent but the assent of the entire Shadow Cabinet and the vast majority of the Parliamentary Conservative Party. Subject to its improvement in Committee along the lines I have suggested, I wish the Bill a speedy passage.

10.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on the succinctness with which she presented the Bill and wish her every success in carrying it through. I would like to have been in her position, I must confess, but, since that was not to be, it would be appropriate for me to say that, since the Bill had to be carried through by someone other than myself, I could wish for none other than her to do it.

I must make amends for being perhaps a little sharp with the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). Although I had the feeling that he got off on the wrong foot on the question of public lending right with his idea of a purchase right scheme, I believe that, as Shadow Minister for the Arts, he fulfils a useful and satisfactory function, and I hope that he will long occupy that position.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reference to me, but I must correct him. I never adhered to the purchase right as such. It was a policy developed by my predecessor. I modified it as much as I could. I was never in favour of purchase right, save that it was part of my inheritance.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

I am delighted to hear that.

One reason why it has taken perhaps two years to reach this stage with the Bill is the complexity of arriving at the right solution. The advantage of the Bill is not so much in the wording itself but in the work which has been carried out over those two years, in which we have succeeded in establishing a loan-based scheme—a payment made to the author every time a book is borrowed—as a practicable proposition whereby, properly and fairly, the most popular authors will not scoop the pool and in which the cost of administration is no greater than the administration of purchase right would have been.

I share the view that, as a result of inflation, the percentage of the sum of £1 million mentioned in the Bill which is likely to be spent on administration—perhaps about 40 per cent.—is too high. But I also draw attention to why my hon. Friend said that that figure is likely to decline. The first year's cost is likely to be about 40 per cent., but after that it will be a reducing percentage as an annual cost. The early years will entail a complex process of selecting 72 libraries, putting machinery into them to get a fair sample, and then rotating the sample to ensure that it works. That cost will have to be set against the early years and is likely to decline. It is also my firm conviction now, as it was in Government, that the figure of £1 million is a start.

I believe that the importance of the Bill cannot be over-estimated. We are establishing a principle the future of which will fundamentally affect the whole craft of writing, and many other things as well. We live in a society in which we pay for use. We pay for the use of our houses, for the use of our television sets, and for many other things. The proposition of payment for use is firmly established.

This principle also applies to books to some extent, because the author receives a royalty in relation to the purchase of the book. It might be said, therefore, that the principle of payment for use is recognised already by the royalty payment.

Let us compare what the author of a book receives with what is received by the writer of a play. The royalty to the writer of a play is related to the number of people who go to see it. There is, therefore, a continuing income to the writer of a play as long as the play is in use. The author of a book is in a very different position. In this country we borrow books to a much greater extent than people in any other country in the world. In other countries books are bought on a much greater scale. We are not great buyers but we are great borrowers of books.

Although our authors stand high in the estimation of the world, they are the worst paid in the world. It is easy to say, of course, that there are authors such as Agatha Christie who are wealthy, but the average author does not earn the average wage and is a poor person.

We should try to do something to mitigate the loss of the creative artist. Is there anyone in this House who thinks that the creative artist is unimportant? Is there anyone on the Socialist side who thinks the creative artist does not matter in society? No Member on either side should dismiss the creative artist as an unimportant member of society. On the contrary, those who recognise true values in society would say that the artist who is a creative worker is the person to whom all of us owe an enormous debt.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

I entirely agree with by hon. Friend but he has been talking of creative works, and there was an amendment about works, rather than merely books, in another place. Why is he opposed to the extension of these rights to the borrowing of cassettes from a library?

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

I am not opposed in principle. But this is an important scheme that we have before us, and it should start off on a basis on which it can be sustained and grow. If we try to do everything at once, and to include cassettes and all libraries, we shall find that we have bitten off more than the Treasury will permit us to chew at this stage. We have to start on a rather small basis. I agree with my hon. Friend to the extent that I think that the endeavour made in another place, to include a right for the Government to introduce works by Statutory Instrument, is the right way to go about it.

I should like the Bill to contain a provision that without fresh legislation, and by Statutory Instrument, the Secretary of State may in the future extend the Bill so that it becomes possible to include items other than books—and even to include libraries other than public libraries, to which at present the Bill is restricted. The amendments suggested in the other place should be accepted by the Government, and I hope the Government will not move against them in Committee. There are one or two other matters which the Government might consider introducing as Government amendments to the Bill.

I think that the hon. Member for Chelmsford was right in emphasising that the Bill has taken two years to reach this stage. A great deal of work has been done, however, in this period. Indeed, most of the work has already been done. There need be no great delay in presenting the scheme. The Government should place a limitation on the period of time taken to put the scheme before the House. Therefore it might be said that there should be a period of, say, not more than six months before the scheme gets going.

It may be that the Government already have power in the Bill to increase the sum of £1 million. The £1 million will probably be all right for the first year, but I suspect that it will not be for very much longer.

As for reference books, here again I think that the right solution is not to include reference books in the Bill but, rather, to give the Secretary of State power by Statutory Instrument to include them when it becomes possible technically to do so. It must be remembered that there is a difficult technical problem involved in including them, to say nothing of the financial problems which will arise.

Having put forward those qualifications, I wish to associate myself with the welcome which has been given to the Bill. Its importance is hard to exaggerate. Merely because it is starting off on a small scale, we should not overlook the fact that this is a measure of great importance. We are recognising the right of the writer of books to participate in payment for use, as many other members of the community do. We are doing it without moving against the sacred principle of the free library. We are doing it without in any way taking money away from local authorities or library authorities. We are setting up a new central Government fund which preserves the essential basic principle of the free library. In other words, this measure will benefit the creative artist and will at the same time make us a more caring and conscious community. The Bill will bring credit to the House. Goodness knows, after the goings on in recent days, the House needs a bit of credit of this kind!

11.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

I begin by saying that we on the Liberal Bench welcome the Bill in principle. The Minister referred to it as a scheme, but it is in fact so light-weight that perhaps "a wheeze" would be a better description. Incidentally, I noted that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) paid tribute to the hon. Lady's mellifluous delivery. It sounded more like a tribute to a midwife than to a junior Minister.

It seems to me that the whole point of this Bill is not only to recognise the contribution of the artist in our society, as the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkin) so rightly said, but, in many ways, to compensate the artist whose books are constantly borrowed but seldom purchased. It will be very important, in Committee, to work out some method not whereby the fat cat becomes fatter but whereby the lean author receives genuine recognition for the value of his books. This is a matter which has to be looked at most carefully.

If nothing else, I hope that there will be generous tax concessions for successful authors who do not demand payment under the public lending right.

A certain amount has been said about reference books being exempt from this legislation. I want to bring in one other matter, concerning school books. They need very special consideration.

I turn now to the question of children's books. Here I had better declare an interest. I have written not between 10 and 12 but exactly three children's books. They tend to be kept in schools without any definite pattern, but in a good school a kid can borrow any book on condition that he returns it. When this Bill is looked at with care, I hope that the position not only of the educational book but of the children's book written specially for children will be considered, to ensure that the person who writes children's books receives proper recognition.

What must be realised—and I was as disappointed about this as all hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House—is that if the limit is to be £1 million, and expenses are to be 40 per cent., our authors will receive, by way of public lending rights, a sum less than twice as much as the amount lost on the House of Commons catering. It is really disgraceful that, between them, 113,000 authors are to be the recipients of £600,000, which is less than twice as much as we lose on our catering.

I hope that when the Bill goes through Committee we shall introduce a proper programme whereby those who write books which are borrowed, rather than sold, receive financial compensation for the number of times that those books are borrowed. Let no one think that £400,000 spent on administration is anything but an insult to the 113,000 people who write books, and who will average £5 a year between them.

I realise that the public lending right debate is a certain election loser, whether or not a typist forgets to put it into the manifesto, but I hope that the Bill will get through Parliament before there is another change of Government.

I hope that hon. Members who are on the Committee—and I hope to be one of them—will remember that the idea is to compensate the poor authors, because those who write successful books are already doing very well.

11.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

I hope to be brief. I do not wish to follow in too great detail what the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has said.

I found it rather difficult to follow his argument on the question of books in schools. I was not sure whether he meant text books or children's stories. Children's stories are widely purchased and circulated through lending libraries. So far, my children have resisted the blandishments of the hon. Member and have not yet brought home any books written by him. I am sure he will accept that within the library system the authors of children's books stand to gain from the Bill, as he will himself, perhaps.

I am glad that as the debate has proceeded we have been able to get away from the earlier attempts to dispute paternity and the attempt to canonise the blessed Margaret as the patron saint of authors and the "onlie begetter" of this Bill, even though it did not appear in the Conservative manifesto. I wonder whether that manifesto would be regarded as a work of reference that would not be allowed to receive the proceeds of the Bill, or a work of fiction, which would qualify. That must be left to the Registrar, along with the other onerous tasks that we are giving to the administrative framework set up in the Bill. In my view too large a proportion of the moneys allocated under the Bill's provisions is going on administration.

It is regrettable that the actual sum available, once this Bill comes into operation in two or three years time, is so measly. We do not want to remunerate the best selling, rich authors by giving them a payment exactly equated to the number of times their books are borrowed from the libraries. We want to re-remunerate the lean authors. But to give the leaner authors an average of £5 a year from the sum allocated seems extraordinarily little, given the immense apparatus that we are setting up at the same time. We could send those same authors—if the figures quoted in another place are correct and there are 113,000—about £.8·50 each as a kind of authors' Christmas box, without any of this paraphernalia, and they would be rather better off than they will be under the Bill. We should not see ourselves as being over-generous to the unfortunate authors in the actual terms of the Bill.

It is the principle of the Bill that we accept and welcome, and that we are right to accept and welcome. I pay my own warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who, as the Minister responsible for the early devilling on the Bill—if I may call it that; the Minister himself has been called many things tonight—is probably extremely happy to see it brought before the House tonight.

There are a number of things that we shall have to look at in Committee which are too complex to go into in a short debate now. The question of reference books is absolutely crucial. It is an absurdity that a reference book should be excluded from these provisions, even if that reference book has a single author. Of course, there is a problem about the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the question whether we should offer remuneration to the author of every article in it. But where a reference book is written by one or two authors—and I understand that there is provision, in the case of co-authors of books, that only one will receive payment—surely it will not be beyond the wit of the Committee to decide that we are able to extend the provisions in some way, perhaps—even if it makes the Bill a hybrid Bill—by extending purchase right to the question of reference books.

There are some libraries—and I hope some selected out of the 72 in the sample—that keep one kind of book in their reference section, perhaps because they have a singularly mistrustful chief librarian, whereas others allow that kind of book to be borrowed. Some books are categorised as reference books in one library and not in another. I hope that that will not mean that authors will be given inadequate remuneration because of what is being done in one library and not in another.

There were some interjections earlier about this being another bonus and another subsidy for the middle classes, and that the workers would be paying because it is they, on the whole, who go to the lending libraries. We must not get that attitude into our minds. Those who write books and spend a great deal of time on them find—as most authors with whom I am acquainted find—that they cannot earn a living out of writing. They should be in receipt of a working wage, just as everyone else in the country.

The provisions of the Bill make a start in principle, although they do not go very far, to giving some remuneration to authors. This will not be a tax upon the poor. It will not breach the principle of the free library. It will extend within this country a more equitable share of the resources generated by the one group of people, without whom there would be no books or publishing industry and none of the whole apparatus of public lending libraries which have been in their time the great glory of this country—that is, the authors themselves. The authors should be remunerated. The Bill is a start along that road. I hope that in Committee we can amend it along the lines suggested.

11.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Walder Mr David Walder , Clitheroe

The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) interjected earlier on the question of our interests. Like someone else who asked that question, he has not waited for an answer. I declare my interest. I am an author and a publisher, and most of my working life has been concerned with books in some way or other.

When this idea was mooted originally, I was very much in favour of some such measure coming before the House. However, in the last few months, although I have not exactly begun to get cold feet about it—that would be the wrong impression—I have certainly got some doubts, because I wonder what we are really attempting to do by the Bill.

Are we pursuing a principle? If we are merely pursuing a principle that authors should be remunerated for lendings, on rather the same principle that a person who makes a gramophone record is remunerated for each performance, very well; the Bill puts that principle into effect, and authors will be entitled, as one understands it, to the princely sum of £5 or so at the end of the year.

No one would pretend that that will provide a working wage for authors, assuming that writing is their only job, or that it will be an inducement to anyone to become an author.

It is sometimes suggested that some people who are capable of producing works of art are held back by lack of remuneration. If we were producing a recruitment poster, the incentive of a fiver at the end of the year—with a bit of luck—would not produce a flood of people with works of art.

It is obvious who will be well off after this Bill is passed—the Registrar. There is no doubt about his position. His salary, pension, allowances and gratuities are guaranteed—and inflation-proofed as well, no doubt. I note that he will not be regarded as a servant of the Crown. I am not doing too much angling, and I do not know how much expertise is assembled in the House, but the job is open.

We are establishing a principle in the Bill, but there will be difficulties in the administration. No doubt some of them will be solved in Committee.

Comments have been made about the difficulty over reference books. Having been on both sides of the writing industry, I find a sort of proviso in my mind. The authors of reference books will have difficulties, but I know how easy it is to sell reference books. In many ways they are easier to sell than fiction or works of art.

In justice, we should say that more money should go to the author who gets one book into a library, even if it is not borrowed a great deal. Perhaps the authors with only one book on the shelves should receive more than the writer with five books. I do not think this is being intellectually snobbish, but one author may have written a worthwhile novel, only one copy of which gets into a library and is borrowed occasionally, while that library may have taken five copies of "Memoirs of a Window Cleaner", all of which will be borrowed constantly. Given this difficulty, are we not to apply standards at any time?

Photo of Mr Tom Arnold Mr Tom Arnold , Hazel Grove

Is my hon. Friend aware that, after a great deal of difficulty. I have managed to obtain from the library at Marple, in my constituency, a copy of a book written by him? It grieves me very much that, at the moment, I shall not be in a position to pay him for it.

Photo of Mr David Walder Mr David Walder , Clitheroe

It grieves me that my hon. Friend did not find out about the book before, and buy it when it was on sale. I am happy that he has borrowed it, but when I start calculating how much money he will put in my pocket in the process, I find that it is a little like chicken-feed.

If one could abstain constructively on a Bill, that would be my attitude to this measure. No measure will deal with the mythical person who is starving in a garret but about to produce the great novel of the century. When I was in publishing I used to meet a number of those persons almost every week. It is ridiculous to suggest that the Bill will provide them with wealth, food and drink, or that an author will be hoping for his fiver at the end of the year if only he can get a copy into the local library.

Photo of Miss Margaret Jackson Miss Margaret Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Education and Science)

I think that the hon. Gentleman is falling into the trap that one or two others seem to have been straying towards. The Bill is not providing for the support of indigent authors; it is meant to take account of the fact that, at present, authors obtain financial support only on royalties from the sales of their books, and not from borrowing. The Bill is not designed to supplement the incomes of authors at large.

Photo of Mr David Walder Mr David Walder , Clitheroe

That brings me back to my first point. The Bill is merely stating a principle. It is patently clear that £5 is not a living wage. We are stating a principle.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

The Government, by means of the Bill, are stating a principle and giving financial help to authors. It may be that the financial help cannot be very much at present, but we cannot separate the principle from the finance. Provided that a scheme is produced at some stage, this is the beginning of obtaining not a hand-out for authors but, as the hon. Lady says, justice for them.

Photo of Mr David Walder Mr David Walder , Clitheroe

My hon. Friend comes back exactly to justice and principle. I cannot see any future Government, of whatever composition, upping the amount of public money that is spent to provide something like a living wage. Therefore, we are back to saying that we are creating a principle. I must say that it is one to which I cannot object. This is perfectly reasonable, but let us not go overboard and say that we have created a new sort of economic climate for authors. Patently we have not done that.

My last point—I really do not know why I want to mention this—is that publishers sometimes come rather badly out of some of the arguments that are advanced by groups putting forward the case for authors. The principal object of WAG, for instance, would seem to be to keep authors off the streets, but publishers come off rather badly. I remind the House that the hazards of publishing are of a different dimension from those faced by authors. However, they are as unpredictable as those of authorship. Sometimes one reaps the benefits, sometimes one does not.

I was once concerned with a book called "The Sex Life of the Primates". It was a serious book about apes. As publishers we were astounded to find that it sold in vast numbers in translation into French. It appeared that it was thought to have some reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury. All I can say is that so far as authors and publishers are concerned, one never knows. In those circumstances I am prepared to give a very qualified support to the Bill.

11.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

I share all the doubts expressed by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder), but I cannot bring myself to the pitch of emotional support that would drive me into voting for the Bill. I find I have a considerable lack of interest in the proposal. I doubt whether it will make any contribution towards the support of the creative artists about whom I feel we should be deeply concerned. Therefore, I must express doubts, some of which have been referred to already.

It seems that unless we have full details of the scheme that is to be proposed—the details may contradict my doubts—we can assume that only the existing popular author who has achieved a position of some standing is likely to get any kind of remuneration from this scheme, or any scheme that we can envisage the Treasury approving.

Established authors, by and large, do reasonably well—some extremely well—with the sale of film and television rights, and so on. I see no reason at all to support a measure that adds further to their position, even though I appreciate the way in which some of my hon. Friends wish to emphasise the importance of the principle.

I am concerned to try to help artistes who are struggling to achieve some position. I think that I have shown that to some extent in the past by attempting to establish various forms of support for the arts and by helping to create regional organisations for the support of the arts. However unsatisfactory much of that may be. I think that is the channel which is likely to prove the most fruitful in giving support for those who wish to achieve success. That is more likely to be of use to the author who is trying to make his way than anything that is likely to come out of this kind of measure. Struggling authors will get wholly negligible assistance from this proposal. I see no prospect of them getting anything more out of any kind of Treasury provision that we could expect.

On top of that there is to be a heavy administrative charge. I welcome the fact that the libraries are not to be charged directly. Nevertheless, a great deal of the administrative work will fall on some of the libraries. I do not, and I am sure that the libraries will not, welcome that at all.

Photo of Dr Jeremy Bray Dr Jeremy Bray , Motherwell and Wishaw

I am a great admirer of the work done by my hon. Friend in the Northern Association of the Arts and I strongly support the moves made by the Arts Council to support authors. But my hon. Friend will not wish to argue that that type of support and the public lending right are in any way in conflict. They serve two different stages in the whole process of authorship.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

I appreciate what my hon. Friend said. I am trying to understand what kind of provision the Bill could make. I have heard a great deal of conflicting argument about different types of proposals. I should like to know how this measure will make any significant contribution to those whom I wish to assist. Therefore, I am in a deeper state of doubt than the hon. Member for Clitheroe about this proposal. I am particularly anxious about the administrative costs which are to be saddled upon us for no very obvious reason, and I see no useful product coming out at the end.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Snape.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.