PUBLIC LENDING RIGHTS BILL [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th October 1976.

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Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter 12:00 am, 14th October 1976

I am not sure whether we are speaking on the Second, Third, Fourth or Fifth Reading of the Bill. It would have been disgraceful if the Government had succeeded in their attempt to curtail the debate once again while a few hon. Members still wished to speak. It is a case of the biter being bitten, because in the attempt to curtail this debate and so save time for the following debate the Government have added 20 minutes or so to the proceedings.

I support the Bill. I accept that the present could not be a worse time to introduce a new spending commitment, but I feel very strongly as a matter of principle that this small Bill, a measure which has had the support of both parties for many years, should not be abandoned. One thing that is certain is that if my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) had still been Minister for the arts after February 1974 the Bill would have been on the statute book a long time ago.

Although I welcome the Bill, I have serious reservations about the effectiveness of the proposed system of financing and administration. The low figure of £1 million for finance means that if in Committee we do not come up with a better and cheaper system of administration for the registrar and his office, or an alternative system, the net amount available to authors will be negligible. These, however, are matters for Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) has made a suggestion, which he explained to a meeting of authors and hon. Members yesterday, for administering the system through the Performing Right Society. In the light of my experience of the society, through the musical world, I consider that to be a very good idea which is well worth considering.

Hon. Members who declare themselves against the Bill are basically opposing the principle of the right of authors to be paid for the use of their work in a State library scheme, or are calling into question the sense of using public funds at this time of financial stringency. That bothers all of us on both sides of the House. If it were not for the fact that I strongly believe in the principle, and that the amount in national expenditure terms is so small, I should not be speaking in support of the Bill.

Our financial support for the arts is appallingly vulnerable in these days of crisis, yet if we allow the arts to deteriorate and contract our social fabric will also deteriorate. At a time of similar financial crisis in 1940, the Government of the day created a support fund for the arts in CEMA, the father of our present Arts Council.

I stand by the principle that, if our State library system uses the creative work of authors for its free loans, those authors should be paid. The method chosen—the loan sample system—is probably right. From my experience of the musical world and the performing rights system which applies to the use of songs and records, I am confident that our libraries will be able to operate a loans list satisfactorily.

I also welcome the Lords amendments extending the payments to cover works, which should include reference hooks. I accept that with such a limited sum available the Government will probably want to introduce these categories in stages We heard tonight that no date is set for the introduction of the scheme, but if it is introduced in two years' time—the estimated date—it should probably start with books and gradually extend to cover works and records.

I also accept their Lordships' contention that PLR should be payable to foreign authors only if their countries make reciprocal payments to British writers. I hope that in Committee the Government will not try to reverse the amendments which have been made. They have quite enough on their plate in tackling all the other amendments which have come from another place without adding to their problems by trying to alter this measure. In so doing they would help to prevent its getting on to the statute book within the remaining four weeks of the Session.

My main concern lies in the sheer inefficiency and inadequacy of the proposed administration. Surely £1 million is not such a great deal of money to cover a library service that is making about 600 million book loans each year, especially after deducting the estimated nearly £½ million that will be expended on administrative costs.

In these rather worrying days of substantial overspending by the Government, I could not press for a larger amount to be allocated, but it is the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West that copyright should be extended for 10 years and that the funds received become the funds for the public lending right, which could be administered by the Performing Right Society. That would help to wipe out the taxpayer's liability and would please those of us who want to take the burden away from the taxpayer, putting it upon the users of books and the buyers of books. The principle of rewarding creative artists for their labour should apply to authors as well as to song writers and composers.

I turn to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). In the United States and in Germany, one book is bought for every one that is borrowed. In France, 10 books are bought for every one that is borrowed. In Britain, only one book is bought for every nine and a half books that are borrowed. The figures confirm that the present arrangements reward only partially the very successful writers and do not reward at all the younger and up-and-coming authors, those who achieve only few sales but whose popular romantic novels are read by thousands of housewives and pensioners and are borrowed free from the public libraries—