I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity to remind the House of the resolution of 22nd May 1974, which imposes a duty on hon. Members in the course of any debate or proceedings of the House to disclose any relevant pecuniary interest or benefit of whatever nature, whether direct or indirect, that they may have had, may have, or may be expecting to have. Under that heading, I disclose a long-distance interest myself. The definition of "relevance" is left to the discussion of the Member concerned and the extent to which details of the relevant interest are disclosed is also a matter for the Member. This comment fully represents my view.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. We understand that those who speak in debates on the Bill are covered by what you have just said and that that is the understood practice of the House. But may I ask about the sponsors of the Bill? They often do not actually give tongue in favour or against the Bill, yet they are the people who have introduced it. For instance, the Lord President himself is a well-known and much-admired author. I was wondering what procedure there would be for him to declare his interest. Many of the other sponsors—the Secretaries of State for various parts of the United Kingdom—are at least authors of Fabian pamphlets even if their literary talents have not taken them further. I was wondering what opportunities there would be for them, if they do not catch your eye today. to declare their interests.
If an hon. Member does not speak in the House, I think he is quite safe. But if an hon. Member votes and has not spoken in the debate, it is in his own interest to make sure that any interest that he has is registered, because the registration, to which almost every right hon. and hon. Member subscribes, is taken by the House as a cover. If there is any doubt about it, I advise hon. Members to have a word with the Clerk at the Table.
I am grateful for your ruling, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that by law we prohibit members of local authorities voting upon matters in which they have an interest. I wonder whether, through you, I could ask the Lord President whether this Bill comes before us because of a vote in the legislation committee of the Cabinet which was carried by the votes of people with an interest.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Perhaps I might begin by clearing up any doubts about my own interests in the matter. Some right hon. and hon. Members may know that my mother was an author, and I must say that experience of that gives me some sympathy with other authors because I have always realised that the position of authors is highly anomalous in terms of their inability to benefit from their own work.
Like many other right hon. and hon. Members. I have, of course, enormous hopes for the future, but perhaps I can reassure the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) by pointing out that those of us who write Fabian pamphlets are more likely to have to contribute the cost of stamps for mailing them than we are to get any remuneration for writing them.
I believe that this Bill is an act of simple justice to a profession which has added lustre and grace to the country and which has been inadequately rewarded in the past. It is perhaps worth putting on record that the country owes more to its literature than perhaps to any of the rest of its arts and that we have as a country a remarkable record in this respect.
Authors have not been well treated. As right hon. and hon. Members who have
consulted the background information on this matter will know, the average income of the majority of authors is less than £10 a week. It might be worth quoting a description of novelists by a very famous poet, Wystan Hugh Auden, who recently died and whom we all miss. He wrote:
For to achieve his lightest wish, he must Become the whole of boredom, subject to Vulgar complaints like love; among the just Be just; among the filthy, filthy too And in his own rich person, if he can Dully put up with all the wrongs of man.
I believe that authors now have a right to have this simple act of justice for them because they suffer from the fact that we have in this country a marvellous public library service which makes their works readily available for nothing to a very large section of the public. Yet there is something anomalous about the fact that the very excellence of our public library service makes it more and more difficult for authors to sell their books and that they have very little recognition of the level of the loans which are made of what they produce. This is a paradox with which this Bill is intended to deal.
But all of us in this House know that this Bill has had a star-crossed history. It was introduced first in this House and then debated here and in another place in 1976. It was reintroduced in another place by the noble Lord Lord Willis in 1977. In both cases, time ran out not just because there was an inadequacy of time but because a very great deal of time was devoured by a minority of hon. Members who chose to argue against the clearly expressed wish of a majority of the House. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State gave a great deal of her time and effort to the discussion on the Bill, and there is no doubt that both in principle and in detail it has been exhaustively debated.
Private Members' Bills have been introduced time and again to try to get public lending right through Parliament. Mr. Ernle Money, then Member of Parliament for Ipswich, introduced a Private Member's Bill some years ago. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) similarly introduced a Private Member's Bill. My. hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), when he was Minister of State responsible for the arts, set up the Technical Investigation Group which has laid down the foundations upon which this Bill is based, and for which we are very grateful.
I am coming to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). The last is so often the best, and he should wait for it.
My hon. and cultivated friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) has produced an admirable report on this matter for the Council of Europe, and, of course, all of us in the House will miss during the debates on the Bill the very distinguished and thoughtful contributions of Mr. David Walder, the late Member of Parliament for Clitheroe, whose constructive speeches in the House were very much valued.
I turn—and perhaps he is becoming a little impatient—to the hon. Member for Chelmsford, and with my remarks to him I associate the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson). Last Friday, in the words of the hon. Member for Chelmsford, I was "charmless" towards him. I hope to take this occasion to make up for that aberration. The hon. Member for Chelmsford, like right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches, has welcomed the Bill in principle. I am anxious that his expressions of devotion should be translated into effective action on this occasion, and I should like to remind him that there is no conflict of affection—conflicts of interest are for other people to consider—with the views of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who made it clear last week that she also supported this Bill in principle. It is true that the right hon. Lady appeared to regard the Bill as in some form a benefit match for my right hon. Friend the Lord President, but I can assure her that that benefit match will now be very long delayed, and my right hon Friend will make it clear that his interest is largely for his fellow authors rather than for himself.
My hon. Friend the the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) may wish to take up those remarks as well.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford, who is renowned for his eloquence and famed for his incisive wit and persuasive advocacy, will I trust, now bring his gifts of persuasion to bear upon the grinding opposition of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and the acqueous defences of the stolid hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). I believe that if this were done in the ways at which the hon. Member for Chelmsford is so adept the Bill would have a substantial opportunity to reach the statute book at long last.
In this context, which is why I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West to delay his comment for a moment, may I pay a tribute to his sagacity? His representations on the Bill will be treated most seriously by the Treasury Bench, because we are very anxious to have his support at long last and after so many trial occasions for this excellent Bill.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for her kind words. However, her words about my right hon. Friend the Lord President and the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas) could be carried very speedily into legislative effect if she would accept an amendment in Committee to exclude all Members of Parliament from benefiting from this Bill.
I wish my hon. Friend all possible fortune in moving any amendments that he wishes to move. He has also made some other suggestions. We are prepared to consider any serious suggestions which may be made by him or by any other hon. Members.
Will the right hon. Lady make quite clear the basis upon which she is putting forward the Bill? She asserted that authors were essentially deprived of income because of our excellent library system. That was the tenor of her remarks. In the previous proceedings, her hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State denied that categorically. On 7th December 1976, the hon. Lady said:
I have never based my argument about a public lending right on the assumption that
authors are essentially deprived of income."—[Official Report, 7th December 1976; Vol. 920, c. 211.]
May we know which departmental view we are to have this time?
There is no difference in departmental view, nor is there any conflict between what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said and what I am saying here. My point is quite straightforward. It is that the level of book lending per head of the population is a great deal higher than in most other educationally advanced countries and that one of the effects of this may be —it cannot be proved, of course—that authors thereby sell fewer of their books than they might otherwise, given a very large reading public.
All of this has interfered sadly with the final part of my compliment to the hon. Member for Chelmsford. I thought that he, being a literary gentleman, would appreciate a literary compliment. I suggest to him that he might well accept the accolade which was paid by Robert Browning in his long poem entitled "Sordello" where he described Sordello as
Foremost in the regal class
Nature has broadly severed him from the mass of men.
That is a compliment that I wish to pay the hon. Member for Chelmsford.
I turn now to the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 establishes the public lending right as the right of authors to be paid out of a central fund in respect of certain books lent out of public libraries in the United Kingdom. The books in question are those that will have been registered with the registrar who will be appointed by the Secretary of State to operate the scheme. He will be involved in the preparation of the scheme in detail and the consultations with those likely to be affected by it.
As the House will recall, we have it in mind to restrict the classes of book under the scheme, but that will be a matter for the consultation process. I am not sure that the books to be restricted will be exclusively those written by Members of Parliament, which would doubtless satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West.
The undertaking given on previous occasions still stands, and a consultation document on the scheme will be published—I hope very shortly.
Clause 2 establishes the central fund out of which the sums will be paid to authors in respect of public lending right. The clause places an upper limit of £2 million—on the previous occasion when the Bill was brought forward it was £1 million—on the annual liabilities of the fund. I hope that supporters of the Bill will give the Government credit for this 100 per cent increase even before the law is enacted. Although it is our view that it will be a little while before the scheme is drawn up and implemented, this higher limit should make it possible to implement it at whatever date, in the light of consultations.
We must, of course, have a ceiling on the fund to ensure that Parliament maintains firm control over the total resources devoted to the scheme. That might interest the hon. Member for Faversham. But there is provision in clause 2(3) to increase the limit by order, with the consent of the Treasury, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. If the hon. Gentleman has any doubt about that, he should get to know the Treasury a little better.
Clause 2(4) provides that the expenses of administering the scheme, including the expenses of the library authorities involved, will be refunded as a first charge on the fund. In the explanatory memorandum these costs are estimated at £100,000 in the first 12 months, rising to £400,000 in the second 12 months, of the planning period before the scheme itself is in operation and authors are being paid. Once the scheme is in full operation, the running costs will be higher than in the planning phase. The provisional estimate is that these expenses could be about £600,000.
All these estimates are based on the original work of the Technical Investigation Group. The estimates include an adjustment for any rise in costs since the group completed its work. But there could be some offsetting savings, too, since the group's report. In particular, if more public libraries have installed computer equipment of their own, which we believe that many have, and if it is compatible with the requirements of the scheme, there will be lower additional costs on library authorities in the sample, and so there will be less to be reimbursed to them out of the fund.
Clause 3 requires the Secretary of State to prepare the draft of a scheme for the administration of the public lending right and to lay it before Parliament. The scheme will reflect the consultations foreshadowed under clause 1 and will deal with such matters as the equipment and the system to be used in measuring the entitlement to the right, the selection of the sample of libraries and the expenses incurred by libraries in the sample. This clause also provides for the scheme to be altered from time to time. The need to proceed only after consultations are completed is fully protected.
Clause 4 provides for the register, which will constitute the evidence whether the lending of a particular book shall earn the public lending right and to whom the payment is due. The registrar has the duty of establishing and maintaining the register in accordance with the scheme. The burden of proving a claim to the satisfaction of the registrar will fall on the applicant.
Clause 5 contains interpretation provisions. It also provides for the Bill to be brought into force on an appointed day. Hon. Members will recall that the reason for this is that it would be premature to start the preliminary processes set out in the Bill until we were assured of the resources and knew when they would be available. The appointed day will be fixed in relation to these factors.
The schedule sets out in the usual detailed form the provision for the registrar and his staff, who will not be civil ser- vants. The registrar will need up to about a dozen staff at first to build up the register and arrange matters with libraries, and when the scheme is in full operation he will need about 35 to 40 staff, most of them clerical.
There are a number of technical points which I expect hon. Members will wish to raise in Committee and some which can only be sorted out during the preparation of the scheme and the process of consultation. Those points that are raised in the course of the debate will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Privy Council Office if he catches the eye of the Chair. However, there are two points that I should deal with now as they affect the fundamental principles of the Bill.
First, there is the question of timing. It is not possible to say exactly when the scheme will come into operation, because we have committed outselves time and again to a full procedure for consultation. But I have indicated that the financial provisions will enable the scheme to go ahead when the consultation processes have been completed.
Secondly, the coverage of the Bill applies only to books and not to other articles such as records, cassettes and paintings, though a similar case might be made out for such articles, because they happen to be lent by some libraries.
In very small numbers compared with books. The Bill has been applied substantially to the large area of lending by libraries—books. We are concerned with the borrowing and lending of books taken away from libraries.
It is true that hon. Members can find niggling points of detail, if they wish, and they are already beginning to do so. They will also find a certain amount of rough justice here and there. But the simple truth is that the time has come to make it quite clear that the House intends to do justice by authors, that it recognises what this country owes to authors and that the House is now ready to put on the statute book an acknowledgment of the justice of the case of that profession.
I urge upon the House that on this occasion, after so many previous other attempts, we try to deal with technical matters, niggling matters, petty matters, in the proper way in which the House deals with such matter which is by discussing them in Committee and by tabling amendments intended to meet them where they are genuine.
I plead with the House to recognise that most hon. Members believe that the time is over-ripe for the Bill, and I urge upon all hon. Members that in recognition of that wish by the House there shall no longer be an attempt to prevent the Bill from reaching the statute book. I pledge the Government to make their very best effort to enable the Bill to do so.
I join the Secretary of State in warmly welcoming the Bill. I am glad that the debate has been graced by the right hon. Lady's presence. I am happy to declare myself in total agreement with everything that she has said, and in particular with the manner in which she has spoken. She knows that I am devoted to her—
I am ecumenical in my affections. I regret only that on education matters the right hon. Lady and I differ, and have to differ, from time to time.
I thank the right hon. Lady for the tribute that she paid to me—a little late in coming, but worth waiting for. I presume that she was arranging her tributes in the ecclesiastical order of precedence, with the greatest at the end.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her quotations. It is nice to find a Secretary of State for Education who has read poetry, or at any rate whose advisers have done so, and to hear the verse of both Browning and Auden. May I reciprocate with a verse from a lesser-known poet and hope that the Bill and the right hon. Lady escape the fate that befell, in poetry, our late sovereign, Queen Victoria. The right hon. Lady, with her wide knowledge of poetry, will recall the lines.
Dust to dust,
Ashes to ashes.
Into the grave
The great Queen crashes.
[HON. MEMBERS: " Author."] Modesty forbids that I reveal the name of the author.
In response to my hon. Friend, I declare an interest in that I am the author of 10 or so books. I do not remember the exact number. My first book was "Obscenity and the Law" which was published nearly 25 years ago and now, mercifully, is out of print.
It is a handicap to write a book with such a title because as one walks down the Charing Cross Road one sees it displayed alongside volumes that have no claim to be considered scholarly. As one reviewer said of that book' "Once one puts it down one never picks it up again."
I was merely anxious to protect my hon. Friends.
My colleagues and I are delighted to welcome the Public Lending Right Bill once again. The Conservative Party consistently has supported the creation of this right. We supported it in our policy statement "The Right Approach". We supported it a week or so ago in our policy statement "The Arts—the Way Forward". We support it again today. I have been associated with the cause of a public lending right for many years—since I first met A. P. Herbert, who was kind enough to write a preface to my first book, which was written in the cause of reforming our antiquated censorship laws. When we had succeeded in that direction, he moved on to the campaign for a public lending right for authors. He would have been delighted could he have been here today to see this measure making progress.
When I was Minister with responsibility for the arts in 1974, I was able to secure the Government's support for a Public Lending Right Bill. At that time authors were divided about the rival merits of purchase and lending rights. However, thanks to the gifts of Lord Goodman an agreement was reached between myself and the various groups of authors about a Bill for which we obtained £1 million from the Treasury.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who was then Secretary of State for Education and Science, for the way in which she consistently backed me in my efforts. We secured Cabinet agreement for the measure on 7th February 1974. On 8th February Parliament was dissolved. The Bill was one of the casualties of the election.
Since then public lending right has had a rather chequered history. I endeavoured to have a pledge inserted in the Conservative Party election manifesto for the February 1974 election. Everything was rushed, the manifesto was published but to my horror I found that there was no sign of the pledge in it. Inquiry established that it had been left out in error by a typist. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never!"] It is the truth. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Apparently the pledge was at the bottom of the page dealing with education, and in the haste of the moment the typist left it out.
I then repaired to No. 10 Downing Street, which at that time was occupied by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). He made a pledge at his first press conference that we would introduce a public lending right.
Alas, we were unable to do that. But it was some compensation for that disappointment that when the list of Government Ministers came out when the Labour Government were elected I found the following interesting names:
Secretary of State for Education, right hon. R. E. Prentice, M.P. Minister of State G. T. Fowler, M.P. Minister for the Arts, Mr. N. St. John-Stevas, M.P.
It was an interesting team. The list had to be withdrawn but I keep it as a curiosity. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the others?"] They have followed me into oblivion and silence—or at least into oblivion.
Since then the cause has languished. There has been a delay of nearly five years. The responsibility for that delay is primarily that of the Government.
I do not need to look behind me. I know the point that the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) is making. Is he really saying that his Government are so feeble that they can be defeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) even if he is backed by his colleagues?
In view of the gallant tone in which the hon. Member is putting forward the argument for the Opposition, does he not think that there is a certain lack of gallantry in his comments in the light of the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Miss Jackson), whose undisguised efforts for the Bill are well known to the House?
Well, if she has not been anywhere she should have been. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) for the efforts that he has made on behalf of the Bill.
The last time that we had such a Bill, in 1976, it was introduced late in the Session. Because of the lateness of its introduction and the lack of active support from the Government benches, a group of Back Benchers from both sides were able to combine and defeat the measure. This time I can find no fault with the speed with which the Government have acted. They have learned that lesson and I congratulate them. I hope that the other lesson has been learned and that the Bill will not be treated as if it were a Hybrid Bill—somewhere between a Private Member's Bill and a Government Bill. This should be treated as a full Government Bill. I hope that every effort will be made to see that it passes through Committee.
I have more faith in Labour Members than the Leader of the House. Undoubtedly the Secretary of State's presence here today shows that she intends to serve on the Committee. I have asked my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) to devote his talents to the Committee. There should be no difficulty in getting the Bill through in record time.
Can my hon. Friend stretch his memory one stage further and remember the name of the typist who left this measure off the manifesto? It might be useful if she were employed in drafting the amendments to the Bill or if, in some way, she could be brought back on to the scene because, obviously, she has the right idea.
I am afraid that I did not inquire into her identity. She was, in fact, protected by the Civil Service rule of anonymity. I have no doubt that with such a record she would have been instantly promoted. In any Department of Government, her career after that incident would have been assured.
In the Prime Minister's immortal words, I would require notice of that question.
I should like now to return to the substance of the Bill. The Bill is not a concession. It is not an act of favour. It is a simple act of justice for authors. I am very glad that the Secretary of State made that point so strongly in her opening remarks. Authors have a right to remuneration for their work. I regret, however, the phraseology of the measure, when it says that a right
shall be conferred on authors".
That sounds a little patronising. It may be correct legally, but in justice that right already exists, and I would prefer to see the right recognised by the legislation.
The situation for authors in Britain is acute, because libraries are so popular. There are 600 million loans a year from libraries. Germany, with a far larger population, has loans numbering only 160 million a year. The United States of America, with four times our population, has loans of, I believe, only 450 million a year. It is precisely because we have such an excellent library service that authors have not received their due.
I welcome the fact—indeed, it is essential—that the right should be a lending right, but there is a flaw in the Bill in that reference books held in public libraries are not, as far as I can see, covered by it. They are books on which perhaps the most work of all is done and for which the least reward is given. I hope, therefore, that we shall find some agreed way of putting forward an amendment in Committee to include authors of reference works within the scope of the Bill, if indeed they are excluded.
I note that the money to be provided under the Bill is to be increased to £2 million. The Secretary of State said that that was an increase of 100 per cent. Even with my limited knowledge of mathematics, I would not quarrel with that remark, on the face of it, but it is not a real increase at all. It is an increase on the original figure of £1 million which really only takes account of the inflation which has taken place since that time. There may be a marginal increase but it is to take account of the inflation. It is virtually the same as the original amount.
It ought to be realised, I suggest, that it is not just an increase of 100 per cent. It is very much more, because a substantial amount of the initial £1 million was to be spent on administrative expenses. This means that by bringing the figure up to £2 million we have virtually an increase of 250 per cent. in the money available to the authors.
I hate to differ from the hon. Gentleman, but that is not so, because the administrative costs of the Bill are to be met out of the £2 million. The Bill makes that quite clear.
Perhaps I can help the House. The position is that in the original proposals about £400,000 was estimated for administration out of a total sum of £1 million. At the extreme outer edge we would expect a maximum of £600,000 to be spent out of the total of £2 million, so that there would be an increase in the element for authors of about 200 per cent., although not quite 250 per cent. It is roughly double the amount.
I am not saying that there is not an increase to authors. What I am saying is that it is undesirable that the costs of administration should come out of the £2 million. I think the figure of £600,000 is the upper estimate. As I suggested on the last occasion, I would much prefer to see the cost of administration met separately from the sum of money devoted to public lending right.
I believe that it is undesirable that popular authors should scoop the pool. I think that it would be desirable to have a limit placed on the maximum amount which any one author could draw out of the pool—perhaps £1,000 per author per £1 million in the pool—otherwise, with a limited sum of money, we shall not get justice for authors. We shall get another form of inequity. I want an instalment of justice. One cannot have complete justice with a limited amount of money, but at least this is a step in the right direction.
I am uneasy about the provision for increasing the sum which the Bill rightly envisages when the financial situation is less stringent than it is at the moment. I am uneasy that the Treasury has managed to get written into the Bill that it is only with its consent that the sum of money can be increased. I find that a rather strange provision to have written on the face of the Bill, as it were, because, of course, one has to obtain the agreement of the Treasury for any expenditure. I find it a little alarming that it should be put forward on the face of the Bill itself.
I am also uneasy about the affirmative resolution which is required if the sum of money available under the Bill is to be increased. I should like to know why it has been done in this way. Surely it would be sufficient for the negative procedure to be applied in this case.
We welcome the assignability of the right and the fact that it is transmissible, and that it is possible to make testamentary dispositions of it. It is a form of property, and it is consistent in principle with the creation of that form of property that it should be a transmissible right.
I am a little worried about the timing of the Bill—that is, when it is to be made effective. I note from the timetable that the Bill is to be passed—we hope that the House will give its consent—by 1979, but the Act is not to come into force until it is approved by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State's selection of date is to be determined by the preparation of the scheme, on which the registrar will operate. The time-honoured phrase in the Bill is that it will come into operation
as soon as may be.
That could be years later, and, because the whole scheme is liable to take some time to prepare, I think it would be very helpful if, in the reply to the debate, the Government could give some indication of the timetable they have in mind, so that we could be guided by that in our considerations.
The debate has been characterised by "sweetness and light"—to use the words of Matthew Arnold—but we should not be led by any euphoria into thinking that there is no opposition to the Bill. I am referring not to certain reservations that there may still be on the Back Benches on each side but to the fears and the opposition of the library associations, which have not been mentioned and which are important. No doubt they have been consulted about this. I consulted them and I was able to reach a measure of acquiescence, if not a measure of agreement. But since then their attitude seems to have hardened again. We shall be interested to hear from the Minister what is the present view of the library associations and what consultations have been held with them. They have fears, but I think that those fears are exaggerated. After all, the sampling system, which they fear will increase their work, is likely to involve only 72 of the 6,500 public libraries.
Secondly, the library associations should be reassured that they will not be financially affected and that any costs in administering the Bill will be met by central Government. Thirdly, their concern that it applies only to public libraries can be met by indicating that it is reasonable to start with public libraries to see how the scheme works before attempting to extend it elsewhere.
I welcome the Bill. It accords fully with the official policy of the Opposition. It is in accordance with a pledge of long standing and it is consistent with actions which we have taken in the past. We wish it well. We wish it a speedy passage to the statute book. As a nation, we treat our artists and creative writers meanly and at times disgracefully. The Bill represents a small step in a more enlightened direction.
I have to declare an interest, not in the realm of writing or authorship but as honroary life president of the Scottish Library Association, chairman of the library co-operation committee of the National Library of Scotland and chairman of the Library Sub-Committee of this honourable House.
I cannot shed much light on the official policy of the Library Association which has been conveyed to my right hon. and hon. Friends through official channels, but I should like to put on record that librarians have always been looked upon as people who have stood between authors and proper payment for the services which they provide. That is just not true. Librarians are aware that there would be no librarians if there were no authors. Librarians owe their profession to the many hours of hard work, by the light of candles and paraffin lamps, that authors have indulged in throughout the ages to produce books for for us to read in our libraries. If authors had expended a small proportion of the effort that they have put into trying to gain this public lending right towards getting reasonable royalties from their publishers, they would not be so financially upset today.
Librarians are the first to acclaim that authors should be adequately paid. I subscribe wholeheartedly to that view. Single sale royalty is sometimes a meagre compensation for the repeated use of a book. Authors should be adequately paid, but that they will not be adequately paid by the passage of the Bill must be obvious to all. The public lending right is not a true right. As the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) indicated, librarians feel that the public lending right outlined in the Bill discriminates against the public library.
I shall not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. I want to see the Bill thoroughly examined and improved in Committee, because improved it must be if, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said when introducing the Bill, the House intends to do justice to authors. The Bill gives them a small crumb from the table. However, if we are serious about doing justice to authors, we shall have to do much more than is instanced in the Bill.
The Bill, on first reading, hardly does justice to the amount of time and effort which has been expended on seeking payment for authors via the public lending right since the days of the Brophy penny. Under the Brophy scheme, when a person borrowed a book from a public library he paid a penny, which went to the publishers.
Many people nowadays feel that the free library service will be undermined. Far too many people feel that it is time that we charged for books coming from the public library. That would be a huge backward step.
This matter has been debated at length from Brophy through the Society of Authors, the Arts Council, Sir Alan Herbert, Lord Eccles, the former Member for Ipswich—Mr. Ernle Money—the hon. Member for Chelmsford, and my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins). If the public lending right is to reward authors for their work, it is passing strange and hardly relevant to extend it for 50 years after their death. The Bill may concede the principle, but the rewards that it offers to authors are still very poor.
Librarians are apprehensive. They fear that this is the beginning of the end of the free library. They recall another period of financial stringency when the Government of the day thought it necessary to impose museum and art gallery charges. That was occasioned during a period of financial stringency. If that stringency continues, the inevitable increase in the cost of administering the proposed public lending right may fall on the local authority with a consequent reduction in the vital book fund and a resultant decrease in the number of books published. That would not help authors. The Bill gives an assurance that the Exchequer will meet the cost. My right hon. and hon. Friends have endorsed that assurance. But Governments and attitudes change. That is where apprehensions come in.
The money is such as to have hardly any effect on authors. The principle concerning public libraries worries me. Having secured the principle, authors naturally will not be satisfied with the meagre rewards envisaged in the Bill. This is only the beginning. It is the end which worries the librarians.
It is estimated that there are about 114,000 authors whose works are stocked by public libraries and that over 7,000 new authors' works are published each year. Approximately 35,000 new volumes are published each year and, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford said, there are approximately 600 million loans. I quote these figures not to rehearse the argument but to highlight the immensity of the task. People in the public library service find that this is compounded by the interlending schemes which proliferate throughout the country—for example, the talking book, the braille book and book exchanges.
This is an immense and daunting task and not every library is on a computer. We are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. If we are concerned about justice for authors, why limit the scheme to public libraries? Why discriminate against public libraries?
School libraries are now an important adjunct of education. In my young days, a few books in a classroom constituted the school library. But in our new secondary schools, praise be, there are hundreds of books and usually school librarians to guide the reading habits of the pupils. There are almost as many books in school libaries now as there are in many public libraries. There is a paradox, in that, for example, a student who would perhaps go to a public library and take out a book on payment, via the public lending right, may be able to go into his university or college library and get the same book with no tax on it at all.
Subscription libraries are left out. If ever there were an area from which authors could gain, it is subscription libraries. If the principle is to compensate authors for books which are lent, it seems illogical not to apply that principle to books in every type of library. Only thus can authors be adequately compensated.
My suspicion is that the cost of administering such a scheme as is proposed would be too high, and, as I have said, this worries librarians. If the payment to authors is restricted because of the lack of funds, the catchment area will be thus reduced. Are we to start with public libraries and then branch out? The public library will be the fall-guy, the man in between.
Librarians believe—in my view, rightly —that the proposed public lending right brings into the law a new concept in respect of public ownership by implying that the community has a continuing obligation to the originator of an article which it owns. It is difficult to see the justification for treating books as unique in this respect. Although books deservedly have a claim to special consideration in our society, the principle on which this special recognition is given is nowhere stated. It could hardly be defended against the originator of other artefacts owned or used in common, whether it be through a local authority or other form of community provision. I hope this concept will be thoroughly investigated in Committee.
It has been said that librarians have changed their point of view. I think that the hon. Member for Chelmsford mentioned this. In fact, they have not changed their view at all as regards payments to authors. But what concerns them very deeply is the penal sanctions which it is sought to impose by clause 4(7) and (8). According to subsection (7),
It shall be an offence for any person, in connection with the entry of any matter whatsoever in the register, to make any statement
Which is knows to be false in a material particular or recklessly to make any statement which is false in a material particular; and a person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than £1,000.
Subsection (8) provides:
Where an offence under subsection (7) above which has been committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of, a director, manager. secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, or any person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he (as well as the body corporate) shall be guilty of that offence and be liable to be proceeded against accordingly.
Where the affairs of a body corporate are managed by its members, this subsection applies in relation to the acts and defaults of a member in connection with his functions of management as if he were a director of the body corporate.
Although I appreciate the need for some powers to police the implementation of the Bill, it is ironic that, when librarians and the Library Association have for years been petitioning the Department of Education and Science on the need for statutory penalties to support the enforcement of adequate standards of public library services under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964—if these standards were adhered to, many more thousands of books would be published—the same Department should propose such stiff penalties to defend the rights of authors to receive additional money from the public purse rather than provide for the public to receive an adequate standard of library service
One has only to look at the annual reports of the Arts Councils of Scotland and England to see that the desired aim in helping authors could probably be achieved much more easily. The Arts Council grant to literature is less than 1 per cent. of its total support. In Scotland, in 1977 the money given to writers was £12,750, mainly for poetry and for local books, and £29,000 was given to publishers. The latter may seem strange, but if that money had not been given to publishers many books might still be unwritten. In England, the story is the same: £87,000 given to writers and £50,000 given to publishers.
If the £2 million proposed under this scheme were given to the Arts Council specifically for literature, many more books would, I believe, be written, many more authors would be encouraged, and many more struggling authors would be taken out of the struggling category.
I repeat that I am in agreement with the principle that authors should be properly paid, but the proposals in the Bill are unsoundly based and, if passed unamended, would not represent a proper remedy to the authors' problem.
Perhaps I should begin by declaring an interest in the expectation—to take up Mr. Speaker's words—that I may at some future date make some money out of any books which I have written and which are subsequently borrowed from public libraries. Nevertheless, in spite of any financial advantage that might accrue to me, I oppose the Bill. I look forward to opposing it in Committee with all the rigour which we applied, and applied so successfully, last time. On this occasion, however, I shall confine myself to three general matters in order to explain why I oppose the Bill.
My first objection relates to the cost —£2 million. If I were the Government and had £2 million to spare, I should not think of authors as the first group of our society to whom that £2 million should be given. When we hear, on many occasions with considerable sympathy, Ministers making pleas that, for example, the hospital waiting list is so long because there is not enough money to go to hospitals, and when we hear protestations from the Government about shortages of money, I find it offensive that they should propose under this Bill to give £2 million to a group of people who certainly cannot be regarded as among the most deprived in our society.
Second, I object to the setting up of yet another quango—the public lending right authority, commission, body or whatever it will be called—with yet another 40 civil servants and yet more public expenditure. However, perhaps that is a less serious reason for objecting to the Bill.
However, in addition to the £2 million which I regard as being wrongly directed by the Government, I mention on this occasion one specific respect in which, in my view, the proposed administration of the Bill is thoroughly foolish. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) and I welcomed it, because I felt that he introduced into the generally rather superficial euphoria with which the Bill had been launched some of the hard practical reasons why such a measure has never passed the House of Commons before. There are many more objections and difficulties. It is not enough to say that we want justice for authors, that the Bill will give that justice, and that we ought therefore to pass it. There are many serious practical difficulties which we shall have to consider.
I come now to one such difficulty. As I say, it is proposed to set up a new quango to distribute £2 million, but what will this body with its £2 million actually achieve? For the average author it will provide the amazing sum of £12 a year in total. Can it seriously be maintained that in our country's present economic state we should set up an organisation with £2 million at its disposal so that the average author will benefit by £12—
—minus tax, as my hon. Friend says? It is just absurd. Moreover, although one may state that the average author will receive £12 a year—with the Treasury losing £2 million—let us not forget that other authors will receive even less. Perhaps run-of-the-mill authors or slightly less than average authors—whatever may be the tactful phrase—will receive only £2 or £3. At the other end of the scale, however, there will be authors getting £1,000 a year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, said that there should be a cut-off point. It will be interesting to discuss in Committee where the cut-off point should come, but my comment at this stage is that one can hardly say, on the one hand, that justice should be given to authors and, on the other, say that if someone is a very successful author we shall not give him the justice to which he is entitled but shall cut it off at some point or other. That is an interesting principle that we can pursue in Committee.
Who are the authors who will get £1,000? They will be authors who are extremely successful already. They will be authors who are making a large amount of money from books sold through retail outlets. In other words, we shall be giving taxpayers' money to the tune of £1,000 a year to authors who are already extremely rich. That must be offensive not only to myself but to anyone who preaches Socialist principles. Surely it is an offensive proposal to take from the general body of taxpayers to give successful authors £1,000 a year and average authors only £12 a year. That cannot be right.
Even if we grant the principle of public lending right, which we shall be able to explore in more detail in Committee, surely a scheme that deprives the Treassury of £2 million to give authors £12 a year must be rubbish.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the successful authors of whom he speaks are probably paying tax at the rate of 87 per cent.? Therefore, the absurdity, as he calls it, is very much less. In any event, the sum that they receive will all go back in tax.
Surely it is an absurdity to hand out money with one hand and to take it back with the other, with civil servants being employed to do it.
For example, Alistair Maclean is a rich author. I am happy that he is a successful author. I understand that he lives in Switzerland. Therefore, he will not be paying tax at the rate of 87 per cent. My impoverished constituents would have the great pleasure of seeing their taxes go to a man who is already a millionaire and who lives in a tax haven. He would get £1,000 of their money when he already has millions of pounds in the bank from authorships.
A successful author who lives in Britain is Dick Francis. I am a great admirer of Dick Francis's thrillers. However, I do not see why Dick Francis, who must be a comfortably off gentleman by now —I am glad he is—should receive £1,000 of taxpayers' money.
Another example is the estate of Agatha Christie. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford said that he welcomed the fact that in wills the property, as it were, of public lending right could be passed on to others.
I understand that the estate of Agatha Christie is now owned by Booker McConnell, a large sugar interest, and tied up with the New Statesman, Lord Campbell and others. Are we seriously saying that we shall take £2 million of taxpayers' money so that the estate of Agatha Christie may prosper? I suspect that Agatha Christie was a millionairess even when she was alive. She made her money from her books. The right hon. Lady the Secretary of State spoke about authors not doing very well from their books. We must not make generalisations of that sort. Some authors do well and some do not. That applies to professional footballers or anyone else who has a talent.
There are rich authors who are living abroad. There are the estates of rich authors—for instance, the estate of Agatha Christie. For another 50 years the estate of P. G. Wodehouse will receive money every time someone takes a Jeeves book off the shelf of a public library. I cannot accept that it would be right to hand over £1,000, if that is the cut-off point, to a successful author. If £1,000 is not the cut-off point, no doubt the sum will be even larger.
Are we seriously telling the British people that under the Bill we shall use £2 million of their money to give money to Harold Robbins, who is already a millionaire and who lives in California? He is not even a British subject. Of course, we read his books. As I read the Bill, it means that foreign authors will receive the money of British taxpayers. It is infuriating that throughout the saga of the public lending right Ministers have made glib statements about justice for authors. They seem to think that that banner or slogan is enough to get them by the hard, objectionable details of the Bill.
I hope that, when the Bill is considered in Committee, serious consideration will be given to whether we are to give money to Harold Robbins or Alistair Maclean or to the estate of Agatha Christie. That would be a total injustice. I cannot believe that there is not a better way of spending taxpayers' money. I have drawn attention to the second specific foolishness in the Bill. Many others will emerge in Committee.
The third area of foolishness, which is perhaps the most important, is the whole principle on which the Bill is
based. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) quickly spotted that the Secretary of State appeared to contradict something that the Under-Secretary of State said when dealing with the Public Lending Right Bill [Lords] 1976—namely, that the Bill is based on the fact that libraries deprive authors of sales. There appears the classic phrase in one of the pieces of paper sent to me by one of the writers' action groups:
High borrowing means low sales.
That is the basic argument upon which the Bill started. The right hon. Lady shifted her ground quickly. She said that that may be the basis. Even within the first couple of hours of debate, the Government have moved slightly.
After about the fourth Committee sitting of the previous Bill, the Under-Secretary of State admitted that writers did not do too badly because of the existence of public libraries. The key question is whether authors suffer a financial loss because of the existence of public libraries. I do not believe that they do. It is a fine balance that probably evens out.
The argument is put forward that high borrowings from public libraries mean low sales in bookshops. It is said that somehow the existence of public libraries and high borrowing facilities does authors down and they do not receive their "just rewards". I do not accept that. I shall totally support the hon. Member for Springburn if he is to continue his argument about the excellence of our public libraries and the need for them to be preserved. I totally abominate the idea that to give rich authors a bit more money we should get rid of our public library system. That would be an abominable principle to adopt.
Authors positively benefit from the existence of public libraries. At one stage in my career I was a publisher. I know what my firm thought when it was considering whether to publish a book. The sales manager would be told "Here we have a first novel. How many copies do you think we can sell?" He would reply "Not many people buy first novels. We shall be lucky if we sell 500 copies." We would say "We think that it is a book well worth publishing. However, if no more than 500 copies are sold, we shall make no money. To make money from the book, we shall have to pitch the price so high that we shall not be able to sell 500 copies."
We would go on to say "The public library system will probably buy about 800 copies. The 800 copies sold to public libraries"—from which authors receive their royalties—"plus the 400 copies sold through the usual retail outlets, 1,200 in all, just makes it an economic proposition. Therefore, it will be published." In that way, authors positively benefit from the existence of public libraries: If public libraries did not exist, many books would never be published.
Public libraries act as a showcase for authors. On many occasions I have plucked from the shelf of a public library a book written by an author whom I did not know very much about, certainly not enough to warrant my putting down hard cash to buy a copy of the book either in paperback or hardback. I read him and I think that he is good. The next time that I go into a bookshop or I hear that he has had a new book published, I will buy it. It may be that I shall not buy it in hardback, but if I am travelling to my constituency I may buy it as a paperback at the airport bookshop. In short, public libraries act as a spur to sales for authors. Therefore, to say that somehow the existence of public libraries actually deprives authors of money is totally contrary to the truth.
I have looked into my own experience of buying books—though other people's experiences may be different—and I find that there are very few books about which I say "If I cannot borrow it from a library I will buy it." Frankly, if the library did not have the book I probably would not read it if I had no intention of buying it otherwise.
I see that the Minister of State, Privy Council Office is frowning. It is a tricky concept to describe. What I am trying to say is that there are certain books which, if the library had them, one would read. If the library did not have them, one would not go out to the shops to buy them. That is my own personal experience. If I want to buy a book, particularly in paperback at 50p or 75p, I do so. Whether that is a general habit I do not know. Certainly my belief is that, first, public libraries make economic the publishing of books which would not otherwise be economic and the books would therefore not be published; secondly, they provide a showcase, for authors and therefore, on balance, actually act as a spur to sales rather than the reverse. Those are the three main areas of objection I want to touch on at this stage.
In conclusion, I take up one point mentioned by the hon. Member for Spring-burn when he spoke about the free library principle and whether people ought to pay for their books.
I happen to believe that there are three options open to us. There is a public lending right system of the kind that this Bill proposes. There is the present system which, by and large, we might call the free public library system, although, as was mentioned in an interjection, one does have to pay for gramophone records. Different libraries have different customs. One can also have a system whereby one pays a small amount, the Brophy penny, for each book that one takes out. On consideration, I do not like that idea. None the less, there is at least a certain justice in it. If one is borrowing an Agatha Christie book from a public library, it can hardly be described—not wishing to write down the lady's literary value—as an act of necessity—it is sheer entertainment. There is a very good argument which says that the person who gets the entertainment is the person who pays for the entertainment and that the cost of the entertainment value should not be placed on the general public.
If one goes to the theatre or the cinema, one pays for a seat. Therefore, if one borrows an Agatha Christie book, one ought to make a small recompense, such as 2p or 5p, whatever it is. That is one argument and, in justice, it is a superior argument to the one which the Government are advancing on the Bill, particularly when one realises that about three books out of every four which are borrowed from public libraries are works of fiction.
At this stage I shall not argue as to whether fiction is superior to nonfiction. Some is and some is not. Nevertheless, by and large most of the books borrowed are used for sheer entertainment, and I believe that it is quite wrong that the general public should have placed upon them another burden simply in order to provide entertainment for people through public libraries.
I would basically agree—I think I am agreeing with the hon. Member for Springburn—that we have a very fine public library service. Let us keep it free. Let us not allow the articulate claims of a small group—in this case authors, though it is not only authors—to prevail. The group also includes some publishers, because publishers know that they will be benefited because they will not have to pay their authors so much or will not have such a row over their contracts if they can say "You will be getting a little more from your public lending right." Of course publishers are in favour of PLR. It helps them: it underwrites their finances.
I do not think that we should allow any of those considerations to stand in the way of maintaining a free public library service in this country.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) will forgive me, but I shall not spend time at this stage dealing with the points that he has raised. I may refer to one or two of them later, but most of the points were raised by him in an earlier Committee and were dealt with previously. He rather specialises in putting up Aunt Sallies and knocking them down again. I do not know whether we shall have to endure it all over again in Committee this time. I hope not, but, if so, such matters will be dealt with in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for introducing the Bill, and particularly for introducing it so early in this Session. That seems to me important. In a moment or two I shall deal with one or two points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), because I thought his objections were serious objections—much more serious than the rigmarole we have just heard from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South—and they deserve an answer.
In the 1960s, when I was an unofficial PPS, as she called it, to Jenny Lee, now Baroness Lee, who was at that time the first Minister responsible for the arts, I became convinced that there was an injustice to authors which ought to be rectified. I discussed it at that stage with Miss Lee, as she then was, and she had one absolute proviso without which she would not give her support to that proposal. It was that under no circumstances should the cost fall upon the libraries.
Therefore, at the beginning, back in the 1960s, we had to throw out the original idea of the Brophy penny. The idea not only that the libraries should pay but, even worse, that the borrower should pay was something which, quite properly, the first Minister responsible for the arts threw out, and she was right to do so.
From the beginning, therefore, I believe that the notion that the borrower should pay, and that there should be an impediment between the reader and the book, was one which has, rightly, put up the backs of the public libraries. It is not easy to live down the feeling that there is a payment involved which will fall upon either the borrower or the library. Memories are long and this is the basis of the objection which the libraries have had from time to time. I understand that. It was the first consideration of the then Minister—and she was right—that neither the libraries themselves nor the borrower should pay, and that if a scheme could be devised under which the central Government would be responsible she was prepared to look at it.
There were great difficulties involved, of course, and the curious fact is that until the invention of the computer and until the adoption of international standard book numbering the notion of a public lending right—which has been around for a very long time—did not become practicable. It became practicable only when the technical means for implementing it became available in 1974, on a basis that was satisfactory to the authors. By that time they had become convinced that a scheme related to the number of books borrowed was the only scheme which they could support, though at an earlier stage, as has been said, the Society of Authors was prepared to settle for a scheme related to the number of books on the shelf.
Both authors' organisations eventually came to the conclusion that a scheme related to the number of borrowings was the only one they were prepared to regard as a real public lending right. Such a scheme became possible only when we had an international book numbering method which a computer could recognise, because computers cannot distinguish between the names of books or those of authors—at least, not cheap computers.
With technical investigation, we were able to work out a means whereby it became technically possible to do it. Only then did this scheme become practicable.
When the scheme was being introduced, we carried out on the ground tests to see how it would work. We tried out the purchase-based test to see whether that would work satisfactorily, and we tried out the loan-based test—books being measured as they are borrowed—because it was the deep conviction of the Department at that time that the loan-based system would be far too expensive and too cumbersome to operate. The Department was wedded to the idea of a method related to purchase. That was the scheme which the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas)— I mean, the hon. Member, although he always seems a right hon. Member—wanted to introduce. That was a purchase-based scheme which the authors' organisation rejected. However, we found that it was practicable.
Nevertheless, we tried out both schemes —the purchase-based scheme and the loan-based scheme. One of the first things we discovered was that with international standard book numbering and the introduction of light pens which could translate a bar code on the inside of a book into a number which could then be read by a computer, it was not more expensive to have a loan-based scheme and it had some considerable advantages.
On going around the libraries where these tests were being carried out, I discovered that the objection in principle of the Library Association was not felt by the library people on the ground. On the contrary, those who had tested a public lending right scheme discovered that there were considerable advantages because it gave them all sorts of information, which hitherto they lacked, in relation to the pattern of their own lending.
In fact, it may have enabled them to save money because they could order more accurately after they had discovered what patterns began to emerge. Quite a substantial sum of money could be saved by libraries not over-ordering and by having a greater knowledge of how their patterns work out. In short, the scheme has become practicable.
Perhaps at this point, since I have not already done so, I ought to declare that, although at the moment I do not have a personal interest in this Bill, I may have one coming up. I have just written a book which, if all goes well, will be published in the new year. I do not know whether one ought to declare an interest before one has it, but just to be on the safe side I think I had better declare that I shall have an interest in the near future. However, I do not anticipate that I shall be all that much richer as a result of this Bill. That is not the point about public lending right. The point is not the enrichment of the individual; rather it is justice to the craft of writing. That is what this is all about.
This Bill is essentially the same as the one introduced in the House of Lords on 18th March 1976 by Lord Strabolgi, who was then Government spokesman for the arts. That is getting on for three years ago. Of course, there is an important improvement in that the figure is now £2 million instead of £1 million. As has been rightly said, that is more than the rise in inflation would justify. That is excellent, because it means that the cost of administering the scheme will be a lower proportion than would otherwise have been the case. It is now a much more sensible scheme in terms of proportion of cost to total expenditure than was the scheme when the limit was fixed at £1 million.
When I was Minister, I looked forward to carrying the Bill through the House, but I ceased to be Minister at the crucial moment. However, as I had worked on the Bill for two years, I hoped to see it go through as a Back Bencher. Second Reading was not obtained at first bite. I think the Government at the time believed that the Bill would be unopposed. That belief was somewhat rudely shattered, and consequently the Bill had to be brought back. It was brought back at 10 o'clock in the evening, and once again the debate had to be adjourned.
Therefore, in the end, it was very late in the Session by the time the Bill went into Committee. It was reported to the House, again quite late in the Session. Perhaps the Government did not take the Bill quite as seriously as they should have done. There was a rather weak two-line Whip. At Report stage the opposition was so demoralised that it was not whipped at all. The consequence was that there was not the necessary quorum to carry the Bill on Report. It was therefore lost so late in the Session that it could not be reintroduced. That is the rather sad story of how it was lost.
Although there was determined opposition, I believe that it was unfounded and unwise, as is all opposition of which we disapprove. It was certainly effective opposition, but it was confined to a small number of people. As Winston Churchill once said—I mean Sir Winston Churchill and not the unfortunate incumbent of the name at the moment—
The purpose of recrimination about the past is to enforce action in the present".
I therefore hope that this retracement of the recent history of the Bill will be a warning to my hon. Friends who now have the responsibility of carrying the measure through. It must be regarded, not only now but when it is dealt with in Committee and on Report and goes to another place and comes back again, as a matter of first importance, otherwise there is a grave danger that it may be lost again. That would be a disaster. To lose a Bill once might be regarded as a misfortune, but, as Lady Bracknell said, in another context, to lose it twice would look like carelessness. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be convicted of that. Let us hope it is a case of third time lucky.
One of the objections to the Bill has been touched on by hon. Members opposite and was also mentioned by some of my hon. Friends. It is exemplified by the hon. Member who asked me the other day "Will you now get your Bill to make rich authors richer?" That is what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South suggested. Of course, it will do that—and we must face this fact squarely—just as welfare State benefits make millionaires richer. But one deals with that situation by taxing them. One does not abolish the benefit. One does not say "We shall not have a welfare State because some people do not need it". Similiarly, benefits payable to the disabled are payable to the wealthy disabled, as are pensions. But that is not an argument against disability benefits or pensions. Nor is the argument that some authors are not in need of the payment an argument against public lending right.
The hon. Gentleman is making an absurd point. The point is that rich authors are rich because their books are successful, and it is those people who will get £1,00, if that is the cut-off point, whereas everyone gets the same pension. There is absolutely no comparison between the equality of distribution of pensions and the distribution of this money, because rich authors will get more money than will the poor authors. It is therefore a totally different principle.
The hon. Gentleman evidently did not hear my argument. However many times I were to make it, I do not believe that he would hear it. But other people have heard it and will have understood it, and I believe that other people will carry through this Bill. It is absurd for us to hope that after the hon. Gentleman's dedicated opposition he will recognise that a Bill which will make rich authors richer is none the less a good Bill because it recognises the craft of writing.
In this country books are borrowed rather than bought. We are one of the largest book-borrowing countries in the world and one of the smaller book-buying countries. It is rather absurd that this is due to the excellence of our public library system. The public libraries are at present the largest buyers of books. It is not an argument against the public lending right that authors depend on libraries for their sales. That should not be so; there should be wider sales outside. But that is not the case, so every book in a library is read by two or three and sometimes by 1,000 people. The argument that an author has the right to receive royalties for multiple use of his books is incontrovertible.
I would not regard this as discriminating. I regard the public libraries as the pioneers in this area. The scheme will be introduced in the public libraries and tried out there. The libraries will begin to recognise the virtue of the scheme and it will then spread to other libraries. Also, I believe that it will spread from books to other works.
It would be a great mistake to try to do everything at once and thereby lose the whole. When this Bill travels to another place, I hope that those people who share my belief that ultimately the scheme should be extended to all forms of library and to works other than books will restrain themselves and not seek to amend it. If they do not restrain themselves, the Bill will be subjected once again to delay when it returns to this House. As a result, we may succeed in losing the essential beginning of the scheme by trying to spread it over a wider range than can be done at the first bite.
This system will not replace the awards which will still be made by the Arts Council and others to authors of excellence. The PLR is not an award to individual authors. It is a recognition that just as an actor receives remuneration related to the number of times that his commercial is transmitted—and I had a hand in bringing about that process—so an author is entitled to a payment for the use of his work. Payment for use is part of our society. Most of us buy our television sets on that basis—we pay for the use of them. Some of us buy our houses and pay for the use of the money.
This Bill extends that principle to a group that needs it badly. Some of our most excellent and talented authors are among the most poorly paid people in society. I commend the Bill to the House, and I trust that this time our determination will last until we see it on the statute book.
I very much agree with the speech of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins). My right hon. and hon. Friends and I welcome the re-entry of the Public Lending Right Bill in the legislation stakes and not only wish it well, but congratulate the Government on bringing it forward at this stage and appointing the Minister of State, Privy Council Office to carry it through. He has a considerable history of success in these matters.
The two speeches that we have heard today against the Bill were very different. One sought intelligently to argue against it. while the other reiterated the old arguments that have been demolished so often and it was merely boring to hear them all again.
PLR is a principle of which every decent thinking person approves. A man writes a book and if people do not buy it but borrow it he is denied any benefit. That is wrong and it should be put right.
In a debate of this kind, when one is in agreement with the principles of the Bill, one is torn between the need to sit down and shut up so that more time can be used to demolish the professional wreckers and, on the other hand, to give reasons why the Bill is right. There has always been a tremendous incentive to say that we should not do anything because we might not have got it right this time. Obviously we must be careful. There are aspects of the Bill which need careful consideration, but let us get it on to the statute book and then consider how to improve it.
The hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr, Sproat) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate) talk about making rich authors richer, and this argument is valid. But their political party has never before shirked making rich people richer.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has returned from lunch.
The Point about reference books should be looked at carefully. This was brought out previously by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). It takes a great deal of time to write a reference book, and it is wrong that there should be no reward under PLR. The maximum sum paid per author should be looked at, and the disqualification of citizens not resident in the British Isles might merit consideration in due course. If the public lending right is intended to reward authors, it might be wrong to allow their heirs to receive money—50 years seems an extraordinary long time. Whereas it is in line with the period that royalties are given to next of kin, we should consider whether PLR should be paid to the heirs or to commercial companies who have bought the rights of dead authors. I feel that the idea that MPs should be excluded is a typically lunatic suggestion. It would make the Bill a Hybrid Bill and it would be thrown out when it is on the brink of success.
The question of libraries will have to be considered. It is true that at present only a number of libraries are sufficiently computerised to give an idea of who borrows what. These libraries might not be the most representative, and therefore there could be an injustice.
Let us get the Bill on to the statute book and see whether in time we can improve it. At the beginning of the debate Mr. Speaker ruled that it was essential for Members to declare an interest. He made it clear that we should declare an interest in respect of past, current or future writings. With respect, I believe that that will be a waste of time in this debate and it is unwarranted. There is no man elected to Parliament who can state categorically that he will never write a book. Therefore, each of us, unless totally illiterate, which the electorate would have had every chance of finding out, will have to say that he may write a book.
I have written children's books and cookery books and, if things go wrong, I shall write my memoirs—so much for declaring an interest—but I believe that the aim of public lending right should not be to make reasonably affluent authors richer. A substantial number of people, such as myself, who write books that sell will say that the money that is due to them should be given back to a fund to be used for the encouragement of new authors.
All this is unimportant; what is essential is that the principle of public lending right should become the law of the land. My party and I totally support that principle.
I welcome the Bill as part of a comprehensive and progressive policy for the arts which I hope will develop. I suppose that I should take the advice of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and say that, although I have not had the opportunity to benefit from royalties on books so far, I have expectations for the new year. I have a book with a publisher, and we shall see what happens.
It was my privilege to chair the working party of the Labour Party national executive committee which took evidence from a number of distinguished artists, including distinguished writers, and I am delighted that the public lending right part of our policy is being implemented and that the Bill has been brought forward early in the Session.
Part of any progressive Government policy must be to encourage more people to read, to make more books available, and to support creative writers. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Spring-burn (Mr. Buchanan) seemed to support the Bill yet not support it. He had serious reservations about it, but I must say to him that inherent in such a progressive policy must be support for public libraries, which have a vital role to play in enabling more people to have greater access to literature. We need greater funding for public libraries. That is part of the whole strategy for promoting public lending right and encouraging more people to write and to read.
There is, of course, a great deal of room for improvement. I understand that less than one-third of the population belong to public libraries and that we buy an average of four books per household every year. Not many of us will get very rich on that rate of book purchasing.
A small printing makes books expensive and fewer low-paid families are able to buy them, but there is a return because we earn more than £100 million a year from exports of published works. The amount allocated under the Bill to support PLR is a tiny proportion of what we get back from our exports. Indeed, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) made a cogent case for pressing in Committee for a larger amount to be made available for PLR.
There are many ways in which book sales could be encouraged. If libraries were made more attractive and there were more mobile libraries to visit housing estates, more people would borrow books. If institutions such as prisons and hospitals had good libraries and there were more books in braille for the blind and partially sighted, there would be a greater use of books.
In order to bring about an increase in the number and variety of books by British authors, there must be more support for writers. Unless we provide that support, talented writers will become discouraged. Producing a book is enormously hard work and a great deal of money often has to be spent on research and on making visits in connection with the book. I speak with a certain amount of feeling because my book was expensive to write and I shall not get much back. It entailed a large amount of foreign travel which I had to finance myself.
The Bill is a modest step towards helping more writers—not only the best sellers, but the new writers who want to earn a living from writing.
The major problem facing writers is that most books are published in small numbers and, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South said from his experience as a publisher, public libraries are their main outlet. The poor author gets only 10 per cent. of the price of each book and, even though there are more than 600 million library loans each year, they do not give much more to the authors. Public lending right would give some boost to their earnings.
Feasibility studies have been carried out and I hope that we shall be able to devise ways of speedily providing more resources for those we want to encourage and support. A number of countries operate a public lending right scheme, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, West Germany, Iceland and Holland. If they can manage to do it successfully and without complication, I think that we can do it, too.
Some countries pay when there are several authors of a book and some pay book illustrators. I should be interested to know what the attitude of the Secretary of State will be if we try to amend the Bill on those lines. Will translators of foreign books in our libraries be able to get help through PLR?
I warmly welcome the Bill. It will not create great financial difficulty for the Government or make any authors very well off, but it will give them some encouragement. It is a useful first step towards encouraging new writers, which must be our aim.
The Bill must surely stand an admirable chance of getting on to the statute book when the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) and I have similar thoughts. I am not as clever as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas), but I have had six books published. One was reprinted about a month ago and I have three on the stocks. I declare an interest and welcome the Bill.
I agree with the Secretary of State that this Bill has a long history. It is in fact much longer than the period she dealt with, which was substantially the period of Labour Administrations, because, as one of my hon. Friends said, no one can review the history of this Bill without taking into account the massive influence of the late A. P. Herbert. For 20 years before this issue came before Parliament, APH was toiling in the background and constantly publicising the idea. When I entered the House as a young Member in 1959, he was good enough to hand me all his papers to carry the torch on. I was well aware of the amount of work he had put in.
I remember that in 1961 and 1963 we had all-party motions drafted and encouraged by APH each of which attracted between 150 and 180 signatures. I wish he had lived to see the day when, as I believe now, any such early-day motion would probably attract about 630 signatures. I do not believe that there is anyone, apart from one or two eccentrics, who is not in favour of the principle.
My hon. Friend says that there are a few eccentric people in favour of it. I very much take the point, made particularly by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), that even though this Bill has massive imperfections, for goodness sake let us get it on to the statute book as a first step, even to the extent of forgetting Committee points if necessary, because we can always have further legislation in a later and more enlightened Parliament which does not have the burden of me in it.
One thing that is basically wrong with this Bill is that the taxpayer should have to pay. There is a good deal of support for this view on both sides of the House. It is the view that the taxpayer should pay that allowed my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. (Sproat) to advance what is a most damaging idea, that successful authors should be penalised. Literature is a property. Like any other property, if one builds a house, that is a property and that one should be at a disadvantage merely because one has created a better property than anyone else strikes me as a very perverse doctrine.
I can see what my hon. Friend is getting at. He is trying to save the public purse and make certain that a very thin smear of butter spreads over a rather large slice of bread. But surely the ultimate answer must be that the borrower pays. I am not impugning the principle that a public library should remain a free public library to anyone who wants to go along to the library and take any book off its shelf, or to any student who wants to go and look at a book of reference, but there is all the difference in the world between using a public library on the premises, and at the time, and taking away three or four books in a string bag to enjoy as weekend leisure reading.
It is essentially the borrowers of books who take them away who should be asked to pay, in the same way as they pay for cigarettes or anything else that they consume, and, as the hon. Member for Putney has pointed out, modern technology makes this perfectly possible. There is no earthly reason, even though it may take two or three years to evolve, why it should not be done.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) referred to countries that have such a system. It will not have escaped her notice that all these are countries with a minority language, whose books do not go outside. It is inevitably much harder to do that in the English language, a world-wide language, than it is in, say, Icelandic, but luckily modern technology solves that problem and answers her question and mine.
Do I take it that my hon. Friend is proposing a general system of library charges? If that is so, surely we should learn from our experience over museum charges, which raised such intense opposition that they eventually had to be abandoned. Surely, to move from museum charges to library charges would be to go out of the frying pan and into the fire.
I am perfectly prepared to accept the fact in this Bill that half a loaf is better than no bread, but I am suggesting that in the future it would be proper to go to a system of library charges; indeed, it would be proper, in the fullness of time, when people are more enlightened and discriminating about how they spend their money, that they should be charged for museums. All the interest that exists now in the national heritage ultimately depends on people being prepared to pay to go into cathedrals or museums or anything else.
It was a retrograde step when we abolished museum charges. I know a large number of people—I must declare an interest—who go round houses of interest run by the National Trust or the private sector and who have no earthly objection to paying 50p or some such amount because they recognise that this object has to be kept up and that if they are not prepared to pay towards it being kept up it will fall down. It is as simple as that.
While on this subject of charging, my hon. Friend has pointed out that the late A. P. Herbert is often given the credit for being the inspiration for this type of proposition. Can he tell me —I am genuinely seeking the answer—whether it was A. P. Herbert's idea that there should be charges, that the cost of the public lending right should be passed on directly to the public?
I should have said "Yes". I should need, if my hon. Friend is asking a serious historical question, to go back to my sources. I never heard him, to my recollection, suggest anything else. I am not suggesting that we should even attempt to amend this Bill to incorporate this principle because, as I say, I would accept half a loaf rather than no bread. But in welcoming this Bill on Second Reading it would be very wrong not to say that sooner or later Parliament will have to decide that this is a quite unfair burden to place on the taxpayer and that it should be borne by those who wish to borrow books.
I am very glad to add very briefly my views to the views of those who support the principle enshrined in the Bill of a public lending right. When one looks back to the history, which has been referred to by a number of right hon. and hon. Members, of the last few years, it is quite amazing to find that we have not already established a principle and got it into operation. We cannot say too often that that has been because of the efforts of two or three people in this House who have filibustered the Public Lending Right Bill to death. Although they have an absolute right to put their objections, I hope that we shall on this occasion get the Bill through once and for all and on to the statute book.
The arguments have been well deployed from both sides of the House, including the Liberal representative, the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). They have been put most clearly and forcefully in favour of the principle. But there are two or three points that I should like to underline, because it is important to get them on the record as often as possible.
The first—it follows directly from what the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James) said—is the view that there should be no charge to the borrowers. This is absolutely fundamental, I should have thought and hoped, to the drafting of the Bill. If I thought that there was any chance that the Bill was the thin edge of the wedge towards charging borrowers, I should be one of the first to oppose it.
As this matter has been raised not only by my hon. Friend but by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James), perhaps I should make it clear, as I shall if I catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye, that the Government are not prepared to countenance any form of charging or any interference with the principle of free access to the public library system.
I was sure that that was so, but I am very glad to hear the Minister reiterate it so forcefully. I am sure that the great majority of hon. Members, and certainly the great majority of people in the country, believe in the principle of free libraries and that the system we have in this country is one of which we can rightly be proud. Any infringement of that principle in the way that the hon. Member for Dorset, North outlined would be unthinkable.
I am glad to say that in my part of the London borough of Barking we have a very fine new library. But in general in the borough public libraries not only do not charge for borrowing but do not impose fines on people who keep books too long. It has never been the policy to do that. In fact, I have received a card reminding me that I have two books overdue. I shall return them this afternoon when I go to my constituency, but without charge. It has always been considered not worth the expenditure and bureaucracy to collect fines. On balance, public libraries in my borough do not lose many books and do not have many borrowers keeping books too long.
I have not declared an interest, as every other hon. Member has. I have no direct interest in the Bill. I do not know whether I shall ever have an interest. It is always said that there is a book in each of us. The only interest that I might declare is as a borrower and as one who in the past has typed many pamphlets for other people. Perhaps one day I shall type a pamphlet or a book for myself—who knows? I have no special plans at present.
Reference has been made not only in this debate but in previous debates on this subject to the fact that there might be a charge to the libraries' funds—in other words, that libraries might have the money which they spend on books reduced as a result of the institution of a public lending right. I am sure that that is not behind the Bill. It is accepted that we are committed to central funding for this system. That is the way that it will happen.
The third misconception, which has been dispelled many times but let me try to do it again, is that it is assumed that all writers are rich people. There are some rich writers, of course. There are rich people in almost every walk of life. But most rich authors tend to become rich not because of the lending or selling of their books but because they have managed to sell the film rights or the serial rights to them. The number of writers who are rich is very small when set against the number of writers that we have. The majority of them are very poor, and it is their welfare that we are considering when we talk about a public lending right.
There are some people, including a number of hon. Members, who are snobbish enough to want to try to dictate to other people what they should read and who, when talking about a public lending right, tend to say rather disparagingly that there are some books which people borrow which they should not borrow because they are trashy reading. That is their judgment, and they are entitled to make their judgment about what they read, but they have no right to decide for other people what they should read. The reader's taste is often defined by the books which he or she takes out of the library, and which he or she may not like having read them. But the books should be there if people want to have them there.
It must not be overlooked that we are involved in a widespread campaign to improve literacy. We have literacy classes all over the country. We want people to learn to read. We want them then to extend that learning by going to public libraries and borrowing books. Those people are not likely to be sufficiently well off to buy books regularly, and it will be a pity if we restrict our literature by starving our authors and thereby in the end knock at the public library system.
We are concerned not only with people who are established writers, rich or poor. We are concerned also about encouraging young people, or even older people, who have not written previously—some of them, as we now know, in this House.
Why should not they be encouraged to put pen to paper and to recount their experiences or draw upon their imaginations? If we do not have a public lending right, they will be discouraged in the way that I have described.
On average, a book is borrowed from a library about 40 times. Most of those who use libraries and change their books once a week or once a fortnight will never be in a position to buy a book once a week or once a fortnight. It would be ridiculous to suggest that they would. I believe that the writers of those books have the right to some benefit out of the reading of the books which are borrowed.
Thank goodness, reading is still highly popular. As we know, it is more popular than television and the cinema. I believe that it is Parliament's responsibility to try to encourage it. We want to encourage those who read and those who write. I hope that we shall get the Bill on to the statute book as quickly as possible and that there will be no nonsense this Session. It will be a sad day for the survival of literature if it does not reach the statute book.
I wish to confirm the claim made by the Secretary of State that the Bill has support in all parts of the House. Certainly it has the full support of my hon. Friends and myself. I congratulate the Government on introducing it at such an early stage in the new Session.
I hope that the point will be taken that the charges arising from this measure are proper charges to fall on the public purse. This would be a barbarian, philistine society if that were not to be the case.
I assure the Government of the full support of my hon. Friends and myself in the passage of this Bill.
I do not think that I have any interest to declare, either past, present or future, though one can never be certain about the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) concluded his speech by saying that we treated our authors extremely meanly. My hon. Friend may be slightly partial in his support for the Bill, because he is an author, whereas I am an artist. However, I do not hold that against him, because we are able, within the long title of the Bill, to talk only about authors. Perhaps I might comment on my hon. Friend's speech by quoting Shakespeare:
He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument.
Amongst all the pleasantries at the beginning of this debate between my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State and many other hon. Members, there was a slight shortage of argument. The argument emerged in the speeches of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James) and other hon. Members, when the uncomfortable question was touched upon whether this was a proper charge upon public funds or whether it should be a charge upon borrowers.
I do not believe that any hon. Member feels that authors are propertly rewarded. I think that it goes without saying that this country has a finer tradition in literature than, perhaps, in any other of the arts. Perhaps the nature of our language and of our people is such that the literary arts are those in which we have excelled. But that is not in question, and it is not in question that authors should be properly rewarded.
Therefore, I ask myself why it is that we have had, have and will have such excellence in literature if those who are excellent in it have not been properly rewarded. We have all agreed that they should have greater rewards. Why have they not had them? The answer seems to me to be that the retail outlets of the literary trade are largely to be found in the public library system, which in the nineteenth century was nationalised and made into a free service, and that which is free to the public cannot produce a reward of any significance to those who provide it.
In 1978 we come to the question of how we should deal with this problem. Should we cease to make the product free to those who consume it or should we take from the public purse £2 million to assist the producers? I am sorry to reduce the matter to a commercial level. It is not at all how I feel that literature is. It is not a commercial activity in many senses, but in a way the Government have reduced it to a commercial level by pointing the finger at the taxpayer as the person who should pay for the increased remuneration of authors.
I have a number of friends who are authors and authoresses. They have urged me to vote for the Bill and to say nothing, to allow its passage to proceed as smoothly as possible. Some have done so because they believe that the Bill contains provivisions for making the borrowing public pay a charge to finance the public lending right, others because they believe that once the Bill has reached the statute book it follows as night follows day that, because of the Treasury's parsimony, an order, regulation or amendment—they know not what—will be produced to transfer its cost to the borrowers.
I detect that in some way the Bill has been sold to the authors on the basis that whatever may be the parliamentary niceties of the measure its cost will eventually fall on the borrowers. But that is not so. I can reassure the hon. Member for Springburn. There is no question of its being the Government's policy to charge for borrowing books. That was confirmed by the Minister of State, Privy Council Office in an intervention in which he said that there was no question of a charge for borrowing.
That raises the fundamental question: is it better in a free society for the taxpayer's money to be given to those who do not have the means to acquire what they want, so that they may exercise their freedom of choice, or is it better for certain commodities to be subsidised, so that those who are of moderate means can afford to buy them? We have had that argument over tobacco coupons for pensioners. We have now had it over public transport. We have had it over a multitude of items.
I believe that it is far more dignified for the less well off to be given the resources with which to exercise their choice as to what they want, whether it be tobacco, bus fares or library borrowings. It seems to me infinitely better that we should increase the standard of living of the lowest so that they can afford to make some choice. Clearly, without excessively large resources we cannot provide complete choice.
But in a matter alleged to be so important, and one that I entirely agree to be so important, as reading, it is infinitely preferable that members of society should exercise their choice to spend part of their resources on paying a fee to borrow a book, rather than that it should be forced down their throats in the rather patronising way that it has been over the past 100 years and that it should be free.
There is another defect—that it is free not only for the least well off but for the best heeled members of society. There must be a defect in a subsidy—now a twofold subsidy, in that we have free libraries and a subsidy from the Bill—going to those who can perfectly well afford to pay the cost of borrowing a book.
I believe that the Bill is the wrong way to go about the matter. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford regards it as jumping out of the frying pan into the fire if we move away from museum charges and back to library charges, I believe that there is something much more fundamental than that rather superficial remark of his, because where does it all stop? The difficulty with free services is that there is no limit to the number of free services that will be demanded.
We are rather ambivalent in this House. We were all here at 10 o'clock last night, at the end of a debate that had centred around money supply, the importance of containing public expenditure, and our parlous economic condition. It was agreed on all sides of the House that we must have a rigorous policy to control inflation. All the hon. Members who attended that debate have gone away. They went on the sleepers last night or the early trains this morning. They have disappeared.
The only hon. Members present are those in the pressure group on this matter, the lobby in favour of this particular piece of public subsidy. On Monday it is the midwives, on Tuesday I forget what, and on Wednesday something else. The moment the economic debate is over, and the need to contain public expenditure has been expressely honoured by genuflexion, in come the little groups of people who always find that the interests of a particular minority will prevail over the interests of the majority, provided we do not debate them on the same day, on the same occasion.
I believe that it would be better for us to concentrate our help on increasing the pension, or even supplementary benefit, and to conserve our resources. We should finance public libraries or the public lending right not through the taxpayer but through the consumers.
There is another reason why I believe the Bill to be misplaced. In some ways I am tempted to vote for it, because I entirely recognise the just claim of authors. I share their view that they have been exploited. It is easy to say "Let us let the Bill go through, and perhaps later we can convert it to a system whereby people pay for their borrowings." But I know that that will never happen, and so I begin to feel suspicious.
What we must also consider is that today we are privileged to take part in the birth of another quango. It is interesting that quangos have become unpopular. The Secretary of State for Employment was yesterday heard to make disparaging remarks about them, as was the Minister of State for Overseas Development this morning in her statement about the Crown Agents. It has become part of the popular mood to be against quangos. If those two Ministers have rumbled the popular mood, it is indeed a roaring current. Something that they latch on to is something that long since passed by. The mood is that quangos are bad. The quango gives power, responsibility and public money to people who are not really responsible.
Today we are witnessing the birth of a glorious new quango. As at all acts of birth, the head appears first. The head is entitled the Registrar of Public Lending Right. We see glimpses of the body which is to have 35 to 40 members of staff. It will probably have more staff because we do not know what extra staff will be required in the libraries.
We are told that initially it will cost about £600,000 a year. Out of the £2 million a year in the Bill, £600,000 is to go to the quango and only £1·4 million to the authors. What a terrible ratio that is. What an inefficient way of spending money that is. Almost one-third of the benefits under the Bill are to go not to the authors but to the quango.
I am worried about the activities of the quango, which will pass beyond the control of the House if the Bill becomes law. It will not pass beyond the control of the Government because the Government have the power to sack and replace the registrar. In a curious way, a body is to be set up which is without the political control and accountability of the House but which ultimately is within the control of the Government.
Let us suppose that the registrar were to say that he was not prepared to pay public lending right to the author of a book which contained racially discriminating sentiments. That conflict will arise inevitably. It is against the law to express racially discriminating sentiments. Rather than become involved in nasty law suits before the race relations court, I can imagine that the registrar might be tempted to follow the line of one or other of the political masters and say "It is not right to let that chap have his money."
Sex discrimination might be involved. A man may write a book which castigates the role of women and denies their importance in society. That is also against the law. Is that man to be paid his public lending right? One could examine the political situation. We know that the Labour Party detests the National Front.
I also detest it. It would never occur to me to allow the registrar to discriminate against works written by a member of the National Front for which public lending right might be demanded. However, it is a temptation which Labour Members find irresistible. I shall give an example. Let us suppose that a book were written by a man who paid his housekeeper an increase of 6 per cent. in her wages. That would be different because that is in breach of the pay policy. Although there is no express statutory power, the Government can move in and say that there are to be no grants, no loans, and no Government contracts for that author.
The Government would therefore say to the head of the quango—the registrar —"We understand that Dr. Rhodes Boyson—" to pick a name out of the atmosphere—"has written a book which is in popular demand. All the libraries have stocked it and it has been borrowed by people in their millions. But we understand from informers that he has awarded his secretary an increase of 6 per cent. during stage four. That overrules his entitlement to public lending right because we say so."
Such events are trivial but they are not unlikely. That is exactly what the Government have done with something more important—the commercial determination of wages and prices.
The Government will say that I am being fanciful. However, I do not believe that I am. What is the author's right of appeal? We are told that the public lending right is to be worked out by computer. We all remember the case of the old lady who lived by herself in a bungalow and who received an electricity bill for £1 million because the computer got the sum wrong. That can be sorted out, but how is an author to know whether he has received little or no lending right because the computer has gone wrong, because none of his books has been borrowed or because there is discrimination against him? That is a relevant question. How is such a person to know and to whom can he appeal?
If any of the examples that I have cited were to become reality, or if there were similar incidents, what could the aggrieved author do to establish the truth? How could he find out whether there was any jiggery-pokery? With this lot—I cannot call them a Government, but only a lot—this could happen because this is the type of thing that they get up to. The present Government are hell bent on the promotion of their own moral values. They are hell bent on the destruction of everything that seems to stand in the way of their permanent acquisition of power.
I do not know who will be appointed registrar. I should like it to be the secretary who failed to include the pledge in the Tory Party manifesto.
The Bill provides that the registrar may not be a civil servant. We have already established that the person who typed the manifesto was a civil servant. If that is not an abuse of public funds, what is?
For once I agree with the right hon. Member. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford has revealed something which shocked me. I wonder whether he got it wrong. Perhaps he misremembered who failed to type that part of the manifesto.
Perhaps the lady with the typewriter has found her way into the department which prints the Bills. Perhaps she is a civil servant and perhaps she was employed in typing the Bill. The registrar is not to be a civil servant and yet he is to be dependent upon the Government for his reappointment or dismissal. In some ways that makes him one step further removed from parliamentary control but one step nearer to ministerial control.
The essence of quangoism is that it is at the disposal of Ministers and not accountable to Parliament. I should prefer that the registrar be a civil servant and able to be sacked only by a resolution of the House. That seems to me to be a much more impressive guarantee that he will be impartial.
We see here on this quiet Friday afternoon, Mr. Deputy Speaker—which is perhaps even less prime parliamentary time than Friday morning—the commitment of £2 million a year public expenditure, the increase in taxes of £2 million. It is just a little bit now, but it will grow. We see a new area passing out of the market pricing system and into the system of Government decision. We see the birth of a new quango. Quangos cannot be put down. They cannot be killed at birth. They cannot be aborted. It is very much better to use birth control in relation to quangos than to attempt to kill them later. We see once more a new area of our national life transferred from freedom of choice to Government and bureaucratic decision making.
All the Bills foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech seem to have unpleasant features. I do not include, of course, that of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), who is sitting close to me. Once every six months we shall meet to condemn the level of public expenditure, to condemn the number of quangos, and to condemn the fact that the area of free choice is being diminished hour by hour. Then, after that debate and vote, the House will go back to indulge in its favourite sport of currying favour in the Lobbies by exploiting the taxpayer.
I do not know whether I should vote for the Bill or against it, because the prevailing wisdom is so confusing. It is against the Bill in principle but for it in detail. This double standard, this ambivalence, among the British people, is one of the things that is taking us into the situation where we no longer have confidence in ourselves at all. Until we realise that this sort of silly legislation, based on the wrong principles, based on the wrong people, and based on a Friday debate, is something that we cannot get away with without the general body of the taxpayers chastising us, our country will continue to decline in morality and in economic performance and in its general standard of understanding of what it is trying to do.
This is the first Bill which is due to be read a Second time this Session, and I rise briefly, on behalf of my colleagues and many people in Northern Ireland, to welcome the fact that it extends—as legislation of this type should extend—to Northern Ireland.
We consider it particularly fitting that this Session—in which we hope that we shall see rectified the injustice of under-representation of Northern Ireland in this House—should begin in this manner, for if the scheme is eventually approved it will cover lending by the libraries in Northern Ireland that is provided by the education and library boards in the Province.
We hope that this is an omen that the Government are gradually abandoning the intolerable practice whereby legislation, even if identical for the whole United Kingdom, has been applied to Northern Ireland by Order in Council under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 whenever it refers to a subject which could have been transferred to the Assembly set up under the ill-fated Act of 1973.
You and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will welcome the fact that we do not have to waste one and a half hours next year in the middle of the night debating an order which we can neither amend nor change. I shall be relieved of the frustration, which will be felt increasingly in coming years by hon. Members from Scotland and Wales, not because their countries are being governed by Order in Council but because daily in this House they will find legislation coming forward on which theoretically they will be able to comment whereas in reality, as we well know, they will have the feeling that it is none of their business and that they cannot relate their own experiences to it because the legislation does not apply to the part of the United Kingdom from which they come. We welcome the fact that that frustration will be removed increasingly from Northern Ireland Members if this practice continues.
Whatever lies ahead in the future, I doubt whether anyone in any part of the House would expect or desire the 1974 Act to be resurrected. I hope that in legislation, as in everything else, we in Northern Ireland may start to look forward instead of backwards.
Legislation on education and libraries is undoubtedly a subject which would have been transferred under the 1973 Act, and there is equally no doubt that the matter of this Bill falls within that orbit. Nevertheless, here it is, with the name of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, along with the names of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales and other colleagues, being presented here today by the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Education and Science. When it becomes an Act, it will be administered for the United Kingdom as a whole, with one national register.
Admittedly, nothing else would have been common sense, but common sense has not marked the dealings of this House with the Province. Nevertheless, I shall be glad to join with hon. Members on both sides of the House in seeking to put the Bill on the United Kingdom statute book.
I intervene briefly to support the Bill and to raise issues of specific relevance to the minority publishing which takes place in the Welsh language and the effects of the provisions of the Bill on that area of publishing.
Governments have always recognised the relatively restricted number of publications and potential in the Welsh language book market, and in order to ensure a viable Welsh language publishing industry successive Governments of both parties have, for a long time, been giving aid to develop publishing in the Welsh language.
Recently the Council for the Welsh Language produced a major report on publishing in the Welsh language. I shall be quoting from some of the recommendations and some of the statistics in that report. We already have within Wales a system of public expenditure support for Welsh language publishing. It is administered by three separate bodies. One of them is the Welsh Books Council, which brings together representatives of the Welsh local authorities and is in fact subsidised by them. That scheme last year provided about £6,000 directly to authors writing in Welsh. In addition, the Welsh Books Council operates a scheme of direct sales to libraries to ensure that there is an adequate distribution system for Welsh language books. It also has a distribution scheme to shops. It has recently been allocated an advance factory by the Secretary of State for Wales and the Development Board for Rural Wales, to act as the headquarters for its distribution. In fact, the Welsh Books Council publishes work for libraries only in certain categories of fiction. These works are not available on sale to the public and no royalties are paid for them.
In addition to the work undertaken by the Welsh Books Council, the Welsh Arts Council grant-aids and subsidises the publication of books of literary merit in Welsh and English in Wales. This includes the payment of financial contributions to authors. Here I declare a future interest, in that I still have not completed my commission from the Welsh Arts Council, to which I referred in the arts debate in the Welsh Grand Committee earlier this year. The Welsh Joint Education Committee also grant-aids children's books and administers a scheme for Welsh books for children. This scheme is supported with a Vote from the Welsh Office.
I have mentioned the schemes already in existence because one of the issues that I want to raise is the bearing of the existing public expenditure commitment to Welsh language publishing on the proposals in the Bill.
I would argue that in a limited market, such as exists for Welsh language publications, and to maintain the viability of that market, obviously even the most popular books published in Welsh, with only ½ million Welsh speakers in Wales, not counting about 3,000 in North America, cannot expect the kind of sales expected for comparable books in the English language. Therefore, it is essential that the contribution that is already made from the sources to which I have referred should continue and should not be reduced in any sense with the introduction of the public lending right scheme.
I consider that the special problem of Welsh language publishing and the low level of remuneration to authors of Welsh language books indicates that the grants to authors scheme should be maintained. I refer to the schemes now being funded by the Welsh Arts Council, the Welsh Books Council and the WJEC. I suggest that there should be no reduction in payments made by the Welsh Books Council to authors of popular books when the PLR scheme is introduced.
I have here the final report of the Technical Investigation Group. It sets out an example of how the scheme would work per £1 million available and specifically refers to the likely benefit for a regional Welsh fiction writer. It shows the benefit as being an average of £2. As we have £2 million, let us assume—perhaps it is too big an assumption—that the benefit will be £4 per author per year. Does that not demonstrate that it will be totally useless in assisting the Welsh language? Therefore, would it not be better to concentrate on the grants about which the hon. Gentleman has been talking and to use this money for grants rather than to spread the benefit so thinly as to be absolutely useless to the people to whom he referred?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of that figure, which I have not quoted. It bears upon the argument that I have been advancing—that the various forms of public expenditure commitment through grant aid need to be maintained. The fact that remuneration to Welsh language authors through the PLR scheme will be relatively low is not a condemnation of the scheme itself. Rather, it reflects upon the position of Welsh language culture.
I was proposing to argue that perhaps that matter might be considered when we come to the details of the scheme. We can discuss this matter in Committee or when the details of the scheme and the consultative document are published. I suggest that there should perhaps be positive discrimination in favour of Welsh language authors to enable their remuneration to be more realistic than the levels offered in this technical document.
The essential argument is that the existing provision should be maintained. That, as we have demonstrated, will be more important in its implications for authors in Wales than the revenue which will accrue in Wales from the PLR.
Looking at the work which has been done by the Welsh Books Council and the Welsh Arts Council, we find that there has been almost a doubling in the publication of Welsh language books since 1971. The latest figures, which are for 1976, are contained in the report of the Council for the Welsh Language entitled "Publishing in the Welsh Language". It indicates that 312 Welsh language books were published in 1976 compared with only 177 in 1971. These vary with eight works on literary studies, six autobiographies, 27 books on poetry, 13 biographies and memoirs, six books on music, 16 on religion, nine lectures and addresses, 12 books on drama, seven second-language Welsh books for learners, 27 standard textbooks, mainly for use in schools, 15 history books, six language vocabularies, 30 novels and stories, 73 children's books, one travel book, two eisteddfod publications, nine essays and letters, four in the miscellaneous category and 41 reprints, The memoirs do not include the memoirs of any hon. Members currently serving in Parliament. Some of the reprints might refer to some of my predecessors.
That indicates the breadth of publishing and, therefore, the essential need to maintain the present grant aid system and to refine it. The Council for the Welsh Language, in its report, has made a number of recommendations on the rationalisation of the existing grant schemes and on the fact that the overall strategic planning for the market in Welsh language publishing should be the responsibility of the new Government body, the permanent commission on language policy, which was advocated in the council's final report. We are still awaiting the response of the Government and of the Welsh Office to that report.
I welcome the fact that there is to be a central fund. That means that the burden of the scheme will not fall upon individual library authorities. I also welcome the fact that the scheme is to be related to payment on lending, not on the amount of books bought by libraries.
It is important that, after we have the details of the scheme and the consultative document, there should be maximum consultation with bodies in Wales, such as the Welsh Books Council, which have built up an expertise in this area.
When we come to the sampling, if that is to be the basis of the number of books borrowed, the sampling in Wales must be accurate if it is to reflect the borrowings of Welsh language books. We shall have to consider this matter in greater detail either in Committee or when we consider the scheme.
Finally, there are no proposals to devolve the structure of the public lending right scheme. A working group which reported in 1973 put forward proposals to establish a Welsh lending rights agency. That would give some degree of devolution to the scheme. I understand that the Government are anxious to keep this matter as tightly organised as possible. They do not want to duplicate functions between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If I am to support a Bill which does not include any devolution of powers, it is important for the cultural interests which I represent here that the scheme should have adequate safeguards which will operate positively in favour of increasing Remuneration for Welsh language authors. I should like an assurance that, when consultations on this scheme take place, the consultations within Wales will be adequate. The working party set up by the Conservative Administration did not adequately consult interests in publishing or of authors in Wales. I look for that kind of assurance from the Minister.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to ensure the maximum contribution for Welsh authors, he has only to get his friends to go into Welsh libraries once a week and to insist on borrowing Welsh language hooks. They can then put them hack—I am not suggesting that they should read them. Such action will score more points on the computer for Welsh authors at the taxpayers' expense. It would be a marvellous piece of money for old rope.
This is an important point, and perhaps I may pursue it with the hon. Gentleman for a moment. The number of libraries in the sample will be 72 across the United Kingdom. We can presumably take it, therefore, that in Wales there will be a handful, and their identity will become known. I do not think that there will be any secret about it. Therefore, it will be relatively easy, and quite sensible, I suggest, for Welsh language enthusiasts to make the maximum use of those volumes in the library, thus distorting the sample more perhaps than it could be distorted by any author who tried to influence the number of books borrowed. Indeed, I think that the Welsh language enthusiasts will be on to quite a good thing in Wales if they make use of it.
The hon. Gentleman has already said that the average benefit will be only £1. Therefore, if all my friends were to use all the library sampling points throughout the year, the effect on the sample result would, I suggest, be minimal.
There is, however, an essential point here. The sampling has to be adequate in order to reflect the culture of ½ million of the people of Wales, and I am certain that in the consultations which the Government will undertake this will be taken into account. If I am to support a centralist measure, I want to do so with a quiet conscience.
I greatly welcome the obvious support of our parliamentary colleagues, both from Northern Ireland and from the Welsh nationalist party, for this Government measure, long overdue as it is. I am delighted that they do not intend to take part in any of the filibustering operations which we may expect from other quarters.
I assume that the House will not expect me closely to examine the political and economic fallacies of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). He is known in the House—and loved for it—as the master of the high fantastical comment, and his speeches are always worth listening to and reading for that reason, although they do not bear much serious critical examination—certainly not when we are examining a long-standing injustice to authors and we hope to put it right in the Bill. Although of course, the hon. Gentleman wants to make his political point ad nauseam, if I may say so, I am not too surprised that he shows much concern about the birth of yet another quango, as he terms it, but shows absolutely no concern about the long generations of neglect of authors' interests through the denial of public lending right.
I ought to make this clear. I am 100 per cent. in favour of library charges which, if at 1p a borrowing, would produce £6 million for authors as opposed to the £2 million in the Bill, but I absolutely insist that it should be done by making the borrower, not the taxpayer, pay. That is the fundamental point of my opposition.
The hon. Gentleman now shifts his ground and apparently cares more about the authors than about the borrowers. He wants to abrogate the long-established principle that libraries in this country operate a free loan scheme. We have to preserve that. It is an essential element in our education system.
I am delighted to have that enlightment from my hon. Friend, who cares so much about this measure. In fact, I had heard about taxation once or twice in exchanges across the Floor. The truth is that people on lower incomes pay rather less tax, for obvious reasons, and my hon. Friend should know from his constituency experience, as I do, that there are many people both in my area and in Nottingham, too, I suspect, who do not possess the sort of funds which, even at the rate of 1 p a borrowing, would make them flock to the libraries as they do now. It is my hon. Friend's failure to realise that critical element in library borrowing which staggers me, especially since he is a colleague on these Benches. But perhaps I should not be too staggered. We had to listen to his comments during so many months of the Committee proceedings on the previous effort to get a Bill through.
I have no interest to declare, although I think that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) is right when he says that every Member of Parliament has a book in him. Perhaps I ought to warn the House and the country that, if at some point my parishioners decide that they have had enough of my services as the best parish priest around, I may have to write a fairly revealing volume on my experiences as a healthy animal in politics. I shall have a few kind comments to make on some of my colleagues, I shall have a few comments which will not be so kind on others of my colleagues, and I may make a few revelations about my own personal and political life. I suspect that that book will sell a great many more copies than the commentaries —I wish that he were here at the moment; he is our friend—of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). I think that his commentaries on Bagehot—
In my long experience now, Mr. Deputy Speaker—on which I do not wish to comment—I have always found that I have been, surprisingly, treated with the greatest courtesy by all those right hon. and hon. Members who have occupied your present position.
There is one matter which I wish to make clear, since so many of us today want to seek recognition of our paternity of the Bill in some small degree. It has many parents, but I hope that the House will accept that I am one and have played some small role. I have long supported the idea of public lending right since I had the good fortune to lodge once with a man called Richard Findlater, whom some of my colleagues may know. It was during that period—he later wrote a sort of primer on public lending right—that I appreciated for the first time the gross injustice done to authors throughout many generations by the lack of returns which they received, after the initial purchase, from the reading of their books hundreds of times by borrowers who paid not a penny for it. There was, of course, no Government provision for such payment.
While I was Shadow Minister for the arts in that happy period from 1970 to 1973 which the House will recall with delight, I prepared a document. I cite this only because I think that it was the first time that such an exercise was undertaken. It was called "A Scheme for Public Lending Right", and I must say that I am a bit aggrieved that it is not mentioned in the history of this project in the Library. Perhaps that will shortly be put right.
It was an interesting document because that was, I believe, the first time that anybody had prepared an examination of the introduction of a public lending right scheme in which a computerised basis of returns was suggested and examined in some detail. It became clear, following my researches—which, I should add, were aided by colleagues outside the House—that it was quite possible to introduce a practical scheme whereby borrowings could be counted at a central registry and the necessary payments worked out and deducted for authors.
Also at that stage—I hope that the House has forgotten it—I made the longest speech of my parliamentary career, speaking from the Opposition Dispatch Box on a motion by John Gorst—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), who is still with us, regrettably. In those halcyon days, at the early stages of this project, we had a colleague here, Ernle Money, who was then the Member for Ipswich. He was very concerned and spoke very responsibly—surprisingly, perhaps, in those days—from the Conservative Benches in support of the introduction of a public lending right scheme. We had a very good debate in which the whole issue was aired on both sides of the House, and it was, I suppose, one of the necessary stages in getting general acceptance of the introduction of the scheme.
In Committee, I sat as a silent supporter of the Bill at that time. I imagine that my colleagues will remember that there was a great requirement that we should be quiet, because there were so many others wasting time filibustering and the less we said in support of the Bill the better.
I presume that my hon. Friend recalls that the Committee stage ended by an understanding between the opponents of the Bill and those in charge of it that we could, no doubt, have filibustered it out so that it never did come back to the Floor of the House, but my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Miss Jackson), who was in charge of the Bill, and its opponents, reached an agreement which caused the Committee to end in time for it to reach the House.
I do remember that my hon. Friend played a distinguished, or, perhaps, an undistinguished part in wrecking that Bill. I recall that clearly.
For four years I have been on the Council of Europe delegation. During that time I have had the opportunity to prepare a report on the introduction of a European-wide public lending right scheme. The report concerns the introduction and promotion of a scheme that will be compatible throughout the various countries of the Council of Europe.
I was delighted that the report received wide support within the Council of Europe and eventually was passed unanimously. It is called "Payment to Creators for Library Loans (Public Lending Right)". The members of the Committee of Education and Culture were all keen that the scheme should be introduced on a European-wide basis. We had the general support of most of the members of the Council. We did not have mavericks such as we have had to suffer in this place, who wanted to do the greatest damage that they could to earlier measures.
It is most important that we should have put such a report through the Council of Europe, especially as the EEC has produced a document called "Community Action in the Cultural Sector". I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) will know more about it than I do. It is a good document in most aspects but it is extremely feeble on public lending right. I think that I have the agreement of my colleague about that.
The proposals of the EEC document are that, compatible with the European scheme, they should be based on the public lending right systems now in operation in Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany and, in a related form, in the Netherlands. However, those differing schemes are not nearly as effective, straightforward and overall as the British loans scheme. It may be that some of our colleagues do not realise it, but the great pity is that the British scheme that the Government are now introducing in the Bill would in all probability have been the pattern for the EEC document if our filibustering colleagues had not kept it off the statute book at the crucial period. That was an additional achievement to their wrecking of the earlier Bill.
As a member of the Council of Europe delegation I was able to introduce and steer through the document to which I have referred. It is similar to the Government's present scheme. The report is an attempt to get a Europe-wide public lending right of some—it cannot be complete—compatibility. It is a much better scheme than the feeble effort proposed in the EEC document.
I shall read a letter that I wrote to Roy Jenkins, our well-remembered colleague who is now President of the Commission of the European Communities, about the document entitled "Community Action in the Cultural Sector". The letter reads:
Dear Roy, I am writing to you about the EEC Commission's communication to the Council 'Community Action in the Cultural Sector'.
There then followed the numbers that apply and the date. The letter continues—
which is due for consideration by the Council of Ministers. Although this document contains much that is valuable, particularly on the subject of reprography licensing, it unfortunately also contains a brief section…on public lending right which is jejune in the extreme. The basic suggestion that PLR should be applied through the Community is of course laudable, but it is couched in a way that makes nonsense to anyone with any knowledge of the subject. As it stands, it is bound to confuse and delay, and possibly even set back, the PLR cause. I enclose a memorandum setting out the trouble precisely. I also enclose a document 'Payment to Creators for Library Loans'…"—
that is the Council of Europe document on which I was the rapporteur—
which embodies the infinitely more thorough and well-informed research done by the Council of Europe on this particular subject together with the logically inevitable recommendations that follow from an exploration of the facts. I very much hope (and I am endorsed in this hope by the main writers' organisations in Britain, whose PLR policy coincides with the Council of Europe document), that Britain's representatives will exert their influence towards steering the EEC Commission in the direction of adopting the Council of Europe's work on PLR.
As the enclosed memorandum remarks in detail, British influence on this subject has a right to be considerable, since libraries (of all types taken together) in Britain almost certainly make more loans per year than those in all the other EEC member States put together. Since PLR is bound eventually to develop into a reciprocal network throughout at least the EEC and probably throughout Western Europe, all European writers have a direct interest in British PLR and in British views on the European future of the subject.
I put that letter on the record although it may seem somewhat irrelevant—I am delighted that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not called me to order—to our Second Reading debate. If we can get
through this time round the measure which the Government have put before us and which we are now considering, we can enormously strengthen the arguments in European circles to get the EEC to adopt the Council of Europe approach, with its close similarity to the British scheme. It is essential that we make that contribution to the introduction of a wider European scheme of some considerable compatibility. It is our responsibility to get the Bill through without the delays and prevarications that have prevailed previously.
I mentioned earlier my old friend Richard Findlater. I wanted to put on record his valuable work in examining PLR many years ago. It is only fair—I think that many of my colleagues who have been concerned about PLR would like to make the same comments—to put on record that in our researches and for the advice that we have sought from those who know about it, we owe an incomparable debt to Brigid Brophy and Maureen Duffy for the work that they have done through the Writers' Action Group, which saw the light and fought for the proper introduction of the scheme when the Society of Authors was still enmired in its wrong approach—a purchase scheme rather than a loan scheme. It is only right that these two distinguished ladies should be mentioned in our deliberations.
One or two improvements and extensions to the scheme may be considered in Committee. That is where some of us hope to meet again. Some of my colleagues I shall not be quite so keen to meet again, but I shall be happy to meet the majority. On this occasion we must ensure that the Bill gets on to the statute book to ensure, after years of neglect, simple justice to our authors who play such a distinguished role in creating the outstanding literature that Britain produces.
It was a rare privilege to hear the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) speaking on public lending right. He will recall that when considering an earlier measure we were in Committee for quite a few long sittings and we did not have the privilege of hearing him. He sat in the Committee room in almost Trappist silence.
Trappist silence is not really my line. I think that the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) does me less than justice. I explained why I was quiet in Committee. There was a wish to get the damned thing through. The less the supporters of the measure spoke, the more hope there was of wearing out the filibusterers who were opposed to it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to do some happy reading at home during the weekend. I can assure him that I spoke at great length on the motion introduced by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst). I intervened fairly frequently and at some length on the Second Reading of the earlier Bill. Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that I hope to do so on this occasion.
I was about to spoil the atmosphere by suggesting that I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman most when he maintained total silence in Committee. I look forward to more contributions on those lines. The hon. Gentleman managed to compress into some of his remarks when talking about the Bill before us rather than about his peregrinations in Europe more anomalies and contradictions than anybody else so far. I should like to return to that matter.
However, the hon. Member for Warley, East was also most anxious that he should register his claim to some part of the paternity of this measure. It seems to me that that has been what this debate has been about, to a certain extent at any rate. Various hon. Members have been anxious to ensure that their name goes down on the record to show that they have had some part in the subject of public lending right. I think that they are more concerned with that and with getting some credit somewhere for having done something for authors than they are with the efficacy of the measure or whether, ultimately, authors will be any better off. The purpose of the battle that has taken place between the Front Benches, in which the hon. Member has now joined, has been to show that they are responsible, in part, for the paternity. It is an indication of that.
I genuinely believe that this Bill is very largely a cosmetic exercise by certain politicians trying to prove their culture and concerned to curry favour from certain groups of authors. It has also become a virility symbol for certain pressure groups, and the merits and the fundamental arguments of the issue have been forgotten long ago.
The fundamental point to which I return is the question of justice for all —the phrase used by the hon. Member for Warley, East. It has been used by many other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Warley, East managed to say that for all these years authors have been denied their rights and denied their legitimate income because of the absence of a public lending right. It is on this fundamental point that I disagree with the Bill, and it is because of my fundamental disagreement that I intend to vote against the measure and will oppose it to the best of my ability. I believe that it is fundamentally unsound.
However, I recognise that if a Government bring in a measure early enough, as the present Government have done in this case, and are determined enough to get a measure through, and if they survive long enough, they should get measures such as this through the House. Frankly, it is sheer nonsense for Labour Members to say that the measure was filibustered out by a few hon. Members. I should like to think that it was true, but I do not believe that that can happen. If one is dealing with a Government measure—as this legislation was last time and as it is this time—and if the Government are resolved to get it through, they will get it through.
What happened previously was not that a handful of Members managed to talk the measure out late at night. What happened was that the Government gradually lost their will. I suspect that that will happen again this time. Everyone starts by saying "Is not this a splendid principle? It is good for authors. Therefore, it must be a good thing. It is a sound principle. We have talked about it for so long." However, when we examine it in detail, when we begin to look at some of its flaws, anomalies, contradictions, unfairnesses and injustices, some of which have been touched on already, people suddenly begin to realise that the scheme is a bad scheme and that it is bad because it is impossible to get a fair scheme. Ministers and Whips gradually start to lose their enthusiasm, and Back Benchers start to lose their enthusiasm.
I do not suppose that the Treasury ever had any enthusiasm for the measure. The support of Back Benchers drifts away. I do not think that on any occasion there has been a substantial vote in the House in favour of PLR. It is only because of that lack of will that a few individuals are able to prevent a bad measure from getting on to the statute book.
Yes. The right hon. Gentleman comes to the task anew. To him the Bill is a novelty. He obviously likes the principle, and he will approach it with verve and vigour. However, I suspect that as the arguments develop he, too, will become disillusioned. When he has spent nearly the whole of this Session discussing the Bill, he will suddenly realise that he has been wasting his time and that this is a bad measure riddled with anomalies. I suspect that he, too, will not be sorry if at any given moment —this is likely to happen—the Prime Minister decides that there is to be a General Election, when he thinks that it is to his advantage, and all the flotsam and jetsam of legislation that has been gathered together to make up the Queen's Speech will be abandoned cynically. The public lending right and a lot of other bits and pieces will go straight overboard. That is what is likely to happen to this legislation once again. Nevertheless, if the Government persist and are determined, they will have their way.
I want to concentrate on the question of the fundamental principle—justice for all. The argument is that injustice to authors has been done to authors over the years through our public library system. That is the proposition. It has been put forward in Opposition statements and the document entitled "The Arts—The Way Forward". It has been put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It has been put forward by the authors' groups. The fundamental proposition is that this Bill is needed to remedy the injustices caused by the excellence of the British library system. It is argued that it is the libraries which are the villains of the piece. There is no getting away from it.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science tried to argue that that was not her case. Nevertheless, what has been repeated time and again by other hon. Members today is that it is a fact that high borrowings in Britain cause low sales, which hurts authors.
I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Surely he must realise that, in the Bill as it is worded, it is only some libraries that are the nasty people who lend books, from which authors should benefit. It is only local authority libraries which lend on, say, housing estates in my constituency. Anyone who lends a book in Nottingham University, the Reform Club or the Athenaeum will not contribute one penny to the authors, as the hon. Gentleman is aware.
I would not say that it was elitist because it leaves out some very elite libraries. In that sense it is very unfair to many of the authors who need the most help. However, we shall return to that point later.
It is essential to the case for the Bill that the position of authors as regards sales has been damaged by our extensive lending library system. I do not believe that that is true. I think that it is fundamental nonsense. We should examine it to see whether it is true. The Bill should not proceed until the proponents have proven their case.
It seems to me that there is ample evidence—much of which was advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat)—to the contrary. He has some experience of publishing, but I thought that he put some rather modest figures in the examples that he gave. I have heard from many publishers and certainly many libraries that the very publication of many works depends upon the existence of the library system. My hon. Friend referred to libraries ordering about 700 or 800 copies and said that that made it profitable for a book to be published. I have heard figures such as 1,500 or 2,000 quoted as being a fairly typical library ordering of a first work.
If that is true, it means that thousands and thousands of publications are printed only because of our library system. If the libraries did not exist, it is probable that many authors would not have their works published at all. I do not think many would dispute that as a proposition. Therefore, in that sense alone, the libraries are an immense benefactor of the authors of this country.
I shall not enter into arguments about whether or not we should have library charges. Personally, I am passionately in favour of the free library system, because it is that system which has contributed so much to the literacy rate in Britain. It is the literacy rate which allows people to buy books at all. The very fact that we have so many books lent from libraries encourages book sales.
I agree that it is difficult to prove that. It is certainly very difficult when one starts comparing one country's buying, borrowing and reading rates with rates in another country, because social conditions are totally different. But there is not a scrap of evidence to suggest that book sales in Britain are harmed by the public library system. On the contrary, I would argue that it is the libraries that help to ensure that we have 36,000 new publications every year. The library system is one of the principal causes of the high reading rate in this country. Authors should be grateful to the library system, and the libraries should not be seen as the culprits in any problems faced by authors.
It is no part of my case to argue that authors are not hard done by. As a generality, I believe that authors have a cause of complaint. But I do not believe that they can look to a miserable little scheme such as this, or to the State, for redress of any grievances which they might have. It is in our interests generally to see that there is a fair level of remuneration, because it is in our interests that we have a high level of cultural activity and a large number of books written each year. If the rewards were so small that that was not happening, it would be a matter of concern. But it cannot be too bad, because 36,000 new books are published each year. Therefore, the deterrent effect of low earnings cannot be total.
Nevertheless, where should we look for the cause of that low remuneration? Should we look to the taxpayer or to the public library system? I believe that we must turn to the publishers and ask whether it is not the 10 per cent. or 7½ per cent. remuneration—or perhaps, on paperbacks, 3¾ per cent.—which is responsible for authors not being able to carry on their work. Of course, we are not talking about all authors. There are plenty of successful and immensely rich authors. No doubt there are plenty of authors who, by general consent, would not merit very much income. There must be some very bad authors who merit very little. But there must also be many in the middle who strive very hard to produce works of considerable value, not necessarily novels, yet the rate of return is too small to ensure that those people are encouraged to keep on writing.
Before my hon. Friend castigates publishers—and I have been a publisher as well as an author—will he bear in mind that the publisher has to put an uplift of fourfold on the price of a book in order to allow for discounts and all the other concomitants of putting a book on the market? Therefore, if the author was to be given an extra 10 per cent., that would put the price of a book up by 40 per cent. Is my hon. Friend really prepared to suggest that as a way out?
It is a fascinating line of argument, but I do not believe my hon. Friend could argue intellectually that the putting on of an extra 10 per cent. for the sake of the author would produce an increase of 40 per cent. on the retail price. I am sure there must be a better way of producing a surcharge for the benefit of the author, if that was the publisher's intention, than loading it on the cost in the way that my hon. Friend has suggested. He mentioned discounts. Who gets the substantial discounts? It is the libraries. If publishers and authors are so resentful of the fact that the libraries are buying their books and lending them out frequently—not hundreds of times but usually a maximum of 40 times before they are pulped or discarded—why is it that they give such substantial discounts to the libraries and do not actually put a surcharge on the libraries?
Substantial discounts are given to the libraries. The libraries represent a vital outlet for the publishers, and that is why they are given substantial discounts. Far from resenting the activities of the libraries, the publishers realise their importance as a commercial outlet and as a guarantee of a certain volume of sales which will allow publication to take place.
We then come back to the taxpayer. I believe that the taxpayer is doing a pretty good job for the publishers of this country. One has to demonstrate far more clearly and convincingly that the taxpayer should now pay out another £2 million or whatever extra sums might subsequently be demanded. Already the publishers of this country are largely dependent upon the taxpayer for a large slice of their income. The only figures I have available go back to 1976, but I do not suppose that the ratio has changed very much. At that time the Secretary of State for Education and Science told me that estimated total public expenditure on books came to about £82 million, which was then about 45 per cent. of the total turnover by United Kingdom publishers in the home market, in the calendar years 1973, 1974 and 1975. That includes education authorities, the library authorities, the national libraries and the universities.
Therefore, the taxpayer is already paying 45 per cent.—perhaps now 50 per cent.—of the total United Kingdom turnover of publishers. Taxpayers are entitled to say to the publishers "Are you sure you have your margins right?" I make this appeal to all hon. Members, whether or not they are for or against the Bill, because they know full well that the £2 million in the Bill—or what is left of it after expenses—will not go very far towards helping authors. That is the truth of the matter and they know it. That is why I believe there has been a lot of humbug in this debate.
Everyone talks about helping authors, but they know full well that the amount of money is absolutely useless for the majority of authors. On average it will be perhaps £10 or £12, and the average must take into account people such as Harold Robbins, Alistair Maclean and others who will get their £1,000 if that is to be the maximum. But at the same time many others will get £1 or £2 or virtually nothing. We know that this is a humbug Bill. It will not do much good for authors. That is why I return to the proposition that if we really want to help authors—because there are better ways of doing it—the £2 million could be better spent by the Arts Council or some other body selecting authors who are struggling, who are in need and whom they consider to be of some merit. That would do much more good for English literature and would be a much more genuine way of spending our money.
But that would not satisfy those who have been campaigning for so many years, who see this PLR business as some sort of virility symbol, or as a means of putting their own mark on history and saying they have done their little bit for culture.
The Bill is fundamentally unsound in that it is unfair to authors themselves. I think that authors will be cheated anyway because the amounts involved will be so small that they will be frustrated and annoyed. But, apart from that, it is not even fair to all authors. This is a Bill essentially designed for novelists. Why? It is because they are the ones who have brought the pressure to bear. This scheme is essentially one which will benefit those authors whose books are lent from the library shelves.
If the hon. Lady will wait for a moment, she will realise how unfair she is being to authors who will not benefit. Many such authors are, by definition, popular. They are the Harold Robbinses of this world whose books will be borrowed over and over again. They do not need our money. I do not think that the hon. Lady is saying that these people who are living in Switzerland or the United States need the £1,000 a year, less tax. Why should they benefit from the taxpayers' money?
We are concerned with all authors, not just the wealthy few. That is what the Bill is all about—giving a fair deal for the first time in Britain to those who write novels.
The one thing the Bill does not do is deal with all authors. Even the Minister, when he winds up, will have to concede that. It deals with books that are lent. Many of the most successful and rich authors are the novelists—good luck to them, I read their books and I do not begrudge them their success—but the authors who struggle are often those who write the heavier works, those whose books are found on the reference shelves of our libraries. Yet reference books are excluded from this Bill. Moreover, many of the more important libraries where reference books are found on the shelves are excluded, and this is fundamentally unfair.
Last time we tried very hard to improve the Bill, and I am surprised that the Government have brought it back in an unimproved state. I am not just talking about amendments for which I argued, but those carried in another place. These were amendments to extend the Bill to include other works, cassettes and tapes, and amendments to include works of reference. That makes sense, and I am sure that the hon. Lady would agree with that.
I see the hon. Lady shakes her head: she does not want to include reference works. But do we not want to help all authors? Those who need the most help are those who have to put the most into research work. It costs more in time and money to produce a reference work, and all the author will get for it is perhaps a few hundred pounds, which is not sufficient return. Yet hon. Members will be able to go into a library and refer to that book as often as they like, and the author will not get a penny. At the same time the popular novelist who does not need help will find that every time his book is borrowed it will be chalked up on the register as being yet another credit for him.
The Secretary of State has said that this is a Committee point, but that is fundamentally not so. One cannot have a scheme that includes reference works if it is to be on a loan basis. Essentially one does not take a reference book out of the library; one simply refers to it. This is why reference works are excluded. The Government do not care about all the reference works, the serious and heavy books produced by the serious authors. They are concerned only with the popular novelists. That is what the Writers' Action Group is all about. It is a small pressure group concerned only with a few authors, not with the serious authors whom we should be trying to assist.
If we are spending this sort of money to help authors, we should do it through some body like the Arts Council, and we should do it selectively. I am against public expenditure in general, and I do not think that this is the time to spend £2 million on this cause. If we have £2 million to spend, I can think of better causes. I would rather it went on nursery education or some other form of education or hospital beds in my constituency. We can all think of more important causes than this one.
I am not against State patronage of the arts as such. That has been hallowed by time. Throughout history the State, in various forms, or rich patrons have selectively helped worthy artists or authors. That is a fairly sensible way to approach the problem. I would much rather give some money to the Arts Council specifically to help needy authors. How much better that would be. We could avoid this crazy scheme in that way.
The scheme will be very expensive and cumbersome. We have not been given the full facts. The total cost of the Bill has gone up from £1 million to £2 million, which in my eyes makes it twice as bad as it was before. We have been told that this is essentially to deal with inflation.
I have to concede that the right hon. Gentleman is right. The Secretary of State did not say that, but while the right hon. Gentleman was vigorously shaking his head at the suggestion that the increase was intended to take account of inflation the hon. Lady was vigorously nodding her head in agreement with the suggestion.
If my recollection serves me right, it was said at the opening of the debate that the increase was necessary to take account of inflation, but it was said not by the Secretary of State but by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who rather overestimated the inflation that has occurred, even under a Government whom he dislikes. It has not been 50 per cent. a year.
The figure of £1 million was put in the 1976 Bill. I understand that it is not expected that the scheme will come into operation until about three years after the commencement date of the Bill, which we may assume will be 1979. We are therefore talking about 1982 and the £2 million figure will be in operation six years after the £1 million was first suggested.
Will the Minister of State give me an estimate of inflation between 1976 and 1982? I should be surprised if £1 million in 1976 does not become rather more than £2 million by 1982. The increase must be to allow for inflation and I suspect that it is not enough.
More important, let us look at the expenses ratio because that is where the Government have tried to cheat us. According to the Bill, which was, presumably, printed only about a week ago, the expenses will be £400,000, but the Secretary of State told us today that the figure would be £600,000.
There is a limit to the amount of misrepresentation in which the hon. Gentleman should indulge. If he had been listening with any care, he would have noticed that the Secretary of State said that the initial cost—before the scheme was in operation—would be up to £400,000 and that she distinguished that from the cost of running the scheme when it was in operation, which would be up to £600,000. Before he accuses anyone of cheating, let him get the facts correct, as, plainly, he has not done so far.
Let us pursue this point. I believe that I am right and that the right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The first mention of £600,000 for running the scheme came from the Secretary of State today. That money will come out of the £2 million allocated in the Bill. It has nothing to do with running the scheme.
The hon. Gentleman should not evade the point. He said that the Government had misled the House by referring to the cost of the operation as £400,000 and suddenly changed it to £600,000. It is clear and is said in the Bill that the £400,000 is the cost before the scheme comes into operation. That is quite different from the cost of the scheme when it is running. The hon. Gentleman must know that these are different matters. His allegation was based on the fact that he had confused the two figures. Will he not now have the grace to withdraw his accusation?
No, I shall persist. We have had the Bill before and we were given a figure of £300,000 for the operating costs of the scheme. We are all interested in the operating costs and how much will be left to the authors out of the £2 million. We do not want to know what the scheme will cost in the first or second years. We are concerned with the expenses ratio of the £2 million. For the first time we have been told that out of that £2 million there will be a £600,000 operating cost.
In one further attempt to clarify the hon. Gentleman's misunderstanding of this matter, the Government have made it clear—it is published in the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill—that the initial costs are £100,000, going to £400,000. The Secretary of State said today that the cost of running the scheme on an updated basis at the upper estimate would be £600,000. These are all the facts which legitimately the Government should disclose to Parliament, and they have done so. How is it possible, then, to make any allegation of cheating?
In all the debates we have heard so far the vital figure that has been presented in the House has been the operating cost of the scheme once in operation. What expense ratio will there be in relation to the £2 million? That was the £600,000 figure given us today by the Secretary of State. So that figure should have been in the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill. That is the way that it was done before and the way that it should have been done today.
This will finally resolve it. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the previous Bill, he will find that it was done in precisely the same way as in this Bill. It was done on exactly the same basis. It is the charge that will be incurred in the operation of the scheme, of building up to the scheme before it is entered into on a fully operating basis. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the allegation of cheating, which is a serious allegation in a situation in which the Government have behaved with total propriety and disclosed all the estimates it is reasonable to do to Parliament.
That may be so. Let me just try to pour a little oil on troubled waters. What the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill says, exactly as my hon. Friend says, is £400,000:
…at an estimated rate of £100,000 in the first calendar year rising to £400,000 in the year before the scheme is in full operation.
That is absolutely correct. What the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is saying is that the Secretary of State, in opening this debate, said that the cost was likely to reach £600,000 per annum. It seems to me that those statements are totally reconcilable. I do not know what this argument is about.
Let me pursue this point, without taking up too much time in sterile argument. In our previous debates, we had before us—I have the old Bill —a figure of £300,000, being the operating cost. That was the figure on which we were working. Now the right hon. Gentleman is giving us a Bill with £400,000 on it and has told us for the first time that it is going up to £600,000. I accept what he says—that this is a different figure that he has given us—and he has not tried to pretend it would be £400,000.
May I pour a little troubled water under the oil and suggest that what we have inadvertently stumbled on is an admission by the Government that inflation will get much more serious in the years ahead? What we can deduce from these figures is that there will be a considerable increase in the inflation rate, roughly 50 per cent. over the next year or two, which is easily predictable from recent events in the financial management of this country.
I hesitate to withdraw the charge of cheating, but it is not against the right hon. Gentleman personally. He is too formidable an adversary either in the House or on the tennis court to cross swords, or rackets, with him. I would never accuse him of cheating, but what I do not withdraw is my opinion that all Governments cheat on this sort of question.
I should like to know what the expenses are going to be. What base year has been taken for that £600,000 calculation? Is it 1975, which was the old figure, when we had the original Technical Investigation Group? Is it the figure for 1982, when the scheme might come into operation, or is it based on values in 1978? The £2 million figure is the fixed figure, presumably, for the first year of operation. I cannot imagine that the Government would come forward and ask for more money before the scheme was even in operation. It would start at the £2 million. By 1982, what will be the figure? I believe that the £600,000 can be based only on current values at the very most. If that is true, I suggest that the operating costs will be £1 million out of the £2 million when the scheme comes into operation.
The hon. Gentleman has now asked a question. I can tell him that the figure of £600,000 mentioned by the Secretary of State at the beginning of the debate is an updated figure of the £400,000 which was referred to in previous debates, but not mentioned in the previous Bill. It is described in the Bill as the costs before the scheme comes into operation. But the hon. Member made an allegation of cheating against the Government. I do not care whether he makes it personally against me, but he made it against the Government and against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Plainly, it is totally unjustified by the facts. It is the practice in this House, when caught at something like that, to withdraw it. It is about time that the hon. Gentleman did that.
Before my hon. Friend goes any further, may I support what he is saying? It says in the Bill that the costs will rise to £400,000 in the year before the scheme is in full operation. The heading in the explanatory and financial memorandum is
Financial effects of the Bill.
We were told this morning by the Secretary of State that the costs of the Bill when it is in operation will be £600,000. Why is not the figure of £600,000 in the financial memorandum? That is where it should be. I suggest to my hon. Friend that it is cheating to say £400,000 in
Financial effects of the Bill",
whereas the real figure is £600,000, as we were told this morning. I support what my hon. Friend says.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. However, since it upsets the Minister so much, I shall withdraw any charge against him of cheating. But that does not make me any more happy about the costs of this crazy scheme. The fact is that £2 million will be given, in theory, for authors, and I suspect that at 1982 prices, when the scheme is due to come into operation, half of that will go in administration. I reckon that half will go to pay the registrar and his 35, 40 and who knows how many more staff —who knows how we can control an operation such as this once it has got under way? It is a quango, and a quango with a vengeance. I believe that Parliament should resist this invitation to set up yet another Government-inspired body. We are not even told whether these are civil servants.
I think we are. However, I was wondering whether the hon. Member would care to comment on the fact that there is a specific provision in the schedule which says that the registrar and therefore, presumably, all his subordinates, shall not be regarded as servants or agents of the Crown. I can think of only one reason for the desire not to call them civil servants. It is a practice which the Expenditure Committee has criticised in the past. Simply by not calling them civil servants, it is possible to reduce the number of civil servants in the statistics. Every time anyone asks successive Governments how many civil servants there are, the answer is given, but that answer excludes people whom the Government choose not to call civil servants.
A great example of this was the Manpower Services Commission. When it was created, 12,000 people disappeared from Civil Service statistics. Then it came back into the Civil Service, and 20,000 people suddenly appeared as civil servants. They were all the same people, with a slight addition of numbers. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would care to comment on why it is that the registrar should not be regarded as a civil servant.
I believe that that is a matter upon which the Minister should comment when he winds up the debate. We are entitled to an explanation of the seemingly odd arrangements described in the schedule. Why are the people in question described as not being civil servants? The schedule says that the registrar
is not to be regarded as the servant or agent of the Crown".
The schedule later makes it clear that these people are very much under the
thumb of the Minister for the Civil Service and the Secretary of State.
It seems to me that the only explanation can be a desire by the Government to have quasi civil servants created so that they do not appear in the total Civil Service figures. I can understand that, as a natural desire of Government to try to make the figures look better than they are, but it is odd that we have a statement that they are not to be regarded as servants or agents of the Crown and then the statement that
The approval of the Minister for the Civil Service shall be required for any directions or determination
and so on, and
The Secretary of State may direct
everything, pretty well, with regard to payments, gratuities and the like. Therefore, it seems to me that they are civil servants in all but name.
I shall not say that we are being cheated, because the Minister of State gets so upset about the use of the word "cheated", but it seems to me that the fair and full picture is not being presented to the House.
I conclude by reverting to the fundamental point. I hope that for once in this debate someone will try to put the case for the principle of the Bill—the argument that authors suffer some deprivation through the high level of borrowings. No one has tried to prove it. If it is proved that authors lose through the high level of borrowings, which seems to me to be the only case for the Bill in its present form, many other people lose as well. They, too, are entitled to some form of redress, but they are not getting it under the Bill.
There have been references during the debate to translators, illustrators and others. We were asked why they should not receive some benefit. The author's equity in a book is perhaps 10 per cent. at the maximum, and it is often much less. I suggest that that is a cause for legitimate grievance. What about the other 90 per cent.? If a book sale is lost because of a borrowing. the author has lost his 10 per cent., but the publisher has lost his margin of profit, as have the printer, the translator, the illustrator and everyone else involved. If there has been a loss, all will lose.
If it is argued that the State should look after those who have lost, we should be reimbursing on a much broader scale than to the authors alone. But if we are saying "We know that this is a pretty flawed principle, that we are putting forward a 'phoney' argument, and that all that we are really trying to do is to help authors, because they are in a special creative category", let us be honest about it, let us acknowledge that we are not helping the others whom I have mentioned, whose creative talents should also be recognised. That is why I say that we should be honest and state that the Bill is to help authors.
If the Bill is to help authors alone, regardless of whether they are deprived by library borrowings, let us do it more sensibly. If we want to make a special payment to them, let us do it on book sales, through the retailers, the publishers or the Arts Council. There are many ways in which we can help authors. Let us not do it through a crazy scheme of this kind, with so much going on administrative expense, building up yet another quango, another bureaucracy, with most of the benefit going to civil servants or quasi civil servants and not to authors.
I believe the Bill fundamentally to be a fraud on authors—it is cheating them —and a fraud on the taxpayer. Because I believe the Bill to be fundamentally unsound and wrong—apart from the implications for public expenditure and the follies it contains, such as the exclusion of reference works and so on—I oppose it.
I declare at the outset a relatively minor interest as a part-time author. I shall return to that matter a little later.
I came to the House this morning prepared to accept the Bill almost without qualification. But, having heard the debate, I entertain some reservations about it. There have been some frivolous, superficial arguments against the Bill but there have also been other matters of substantial importance which deserve consideration. This is a classical example which illustrates the value of pre-legislation committees to investigate problems of this kind which cut across party lines and yet involve important principles.
We are making an assumption in the Bill which is probably not capable of a great defence. The assumption that is being made is that authors per se write books to make money. That assumption does not bear close examination. Authors have enormously different motives for writing books.
Full-time authors presumably write books to earn a living. Part-time authors write perhaps to satisfy their ego or perhaps to influence and educate the public in a particular problem which they believe deserves ventilation. Authors have all kinds of motives.
I shall illustrate my argument with an example. Let us suppose that William Shakespeare were alive today. Under the Bill I suspect that Barbara Cartland would make a hell of a lot more money than he. Who deserves the best reward? There is no doubt about it, but this Socialist Government are saying that Barbara Cartland should get the kudos and that William Shakespeare should go on supplementary benefit. This is the crux of the matter.
Moreover, only those authors whose books are placed in the public libraries will benefit. Not every author has his books placed in the public libraries. The Bill singles out for beneficial treatment only those authors who happen to have their books in the public libraries.
The hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) might take up my next point. The authors of school textbooks do not usually have their books placed in public libraries. Those authors are to be excluded from the provisions.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) said that the average author would receive £12 a year. When I heard him say that, my heart dropped into my boots. I suppose that I am less than an average author. But my book was not written for cash. Indeed, I did not make much out of it, although it has been published in Japanese and Spanish. Some of the most reputable booksellers and one of the biggest stores in Oxford Street have refused to sell my book. My brother went into a big bookshop in Newcastle upon Tyne and found the window full of a new edition of Hitler's "Mein Kampf", but that shop refused to sell Willie Hamilton's "My Queen and I".
There is a myth about free speech which is a lot of rubbish. If one happens to write a book which is anti-revered establishment institutions, it will not be sold. I agree with the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that my educative role is operated through the public libraries. I am glad that it is. I do not give a damn if I do not receive even the £12 a year.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has written enormous tomes about Walter Bagehot. I do not suppose that they are popular bestsellers. He did not write those books for cash. It satisfies his ego. He is very interested in Victoria and Victoria's knickers and the rest. That is the sole reason why he has devoted hours, days and months to producing these enormous tomes, and not for the cash that might come from public libraries.
I do not know and I do not much care. If that book goes into the library, I do not suppose that anyone will benefit except the members of the National Front, who will get some satisfaction from taking out the books and reading them.
The very important point that has already been made is that this money is peanuts to the authors concerned in comparison with the top-heavy administrative machinery that will be set up to handle the scheme. The scheme overall will cost about £2 million, and of that at least £500,000 will be devoted to administrative costs.
It is interesting that the salary of the registrar is not indicated in the schedule. I wonder why. I think we have a right to ask the Minister about the salaries of the registrar and his assistant. Incidentally, the registrar will have power to appoint an unknown number of assistants without our knowing the kind of salary involved.
I am opposed—and always have been, ever since I came here—to the principle of patronage. Here we have a slight extension of the patronage principle, to which I and many other people object.
I have great reservations about the Bill. I agree in principle that we have somehow to reward the authors of books in a better and more rational way than we have done hitherto. I do not believe that we should reject out of hand the principle of paying 1p per loan of a book from a public library. Many years ago a Labour Administration introduced the National Health Service on the principle that it should be free. Successive Governments have had to infringe and to breach that principle, and there is no prospect of returning to it in the foreseeable future. All public services, whether public libraries or anything else, have to be looked at again in the light of the increasing demand for them and in the light of the increasing and continuous financial stringency over the whole gamut of public service provision. The Bill deserves a much greater and more fundamental examination than it has had so far.
This Friday debate has emphasised to me once again that very often our Friday debates are of very high calibre, in inverse proportion to the attendance. I recall the packed house yesterday and the hour of rubbish that we had from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., and compare that with the very high standard of debate today, despite the relatively sparse attendance. I believe that the quality of debate on a Friday bears comparison with the quality of the debate that we have at any other time of the week, or in the other place.
We have had a wide-ranging debate, as is proper on the Second Reading of a Bill, and there has been a good deal of critical analysis of it from each side of the House. The Conservative Opposition welcome the Bill and would like to see it on the statute book.
I have written a number of books, but that is not the reason why I am supporting the Bill today. As the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) pointed out, people write books for many different reasons. Sometimes they do it in order to get something out of their system. They do it because they think that from time to time their ideas are worth propagating. I have also been connected with a couple of publishing firms over the past few years.
Many different views have been expressed concerning the principle involved. We have accepted the principle of free libraries in this country. I can understand some people saying that there should be no free libraries and that all books should be bought, or that people should have to pay to join a circulating library, and that the whole thing should be done in terms of a market. I can understand that as a point of view. It is one that not everyone on the Conservative Benches would accept. It is one that I imagine most Labour Members would reject. Nevertheless, it is an argument that can be made.
For 100 years we have accepted the principle of free libraries and we have paid librarians out of public funds. If we pay librarians out of public funds, because we have accepted and put into effect the principle of free libraries, authors similarly should have some return because in the beginning they wrote words. The beginning comprises the words of the authors who wrote the books. On that principle, we support the Bill.
There are advantages in the way that the system will be carried out. I like the response of the market to some extent. If we are to pay on the basis of books bought by libraries, in many instances there will be a response to prestige in libraries elsewhere. The Secretary of State knows that I believe in the response of the consumer in education, in schools and in every other sense. Built into the Bill is the response of the consumer as the basis for payment to authors according to popular choice. This bears out what was said by the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) about the censorship of books. The response will come from library users.
I should prefer not to give way at this moment. We are limited for time and I want to give the Minister sufficient time to reply to me and to the interesting observations made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English).
Some authors, not as well known as others, do not attract the attention of the media. Yet they give considerable satisfaction to library users. Having sampled one book written by a particular author, people will often read the rest of his books. Under the public lending right scheme, such authors will get a financial return which they would not obtain if they depended only on sales of their books in response to what the media and critics may have said about them.
The suggestion was made that this was a novelists' Bill. I take the point. It means that in Committee we must consider the payments to be made to those who do not come into that category. Pressure for the Bill came from authors. This goes back to 1951. As I understand it, the Bill basically—
I am sorry to persist. We cannot discuss this matter without discussing the existing subsidy to authors. The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) did a service to the United Kingdom by abolishing resale price maintenance for everything except books. As a result, the prices of books are artificially held above their market value, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. I suggest that matter must be considered in conjunction with yet another subsidy to authors.
I do not really have time to reply to that point in deep textual analysis. I am sure that there is a depth of thought behind that intervention. However, I had better deal with it on another occasion.
The amount to be paid is small, but the question really is acceptance of the principle. I reckon that it will be a farthing per book taken out. It is not a large sum, but it is an acceptance of the principle of some return to the author.
There are parallels elsewhere. The performing right Acts was in response to people who wrote music, and so on. It gave them copyright. For example, if the BBC repeats a broadcast, there is a repeat fee. It is not large, but it is certainly more than a farthing—if we can recall what a farthing was. Similarly, there are patent rights. Therefore, this scheme is not exceptional.
I understand that 72 libraries will be used in the sampling procedure. We shall have to consider in Committee whether we need 72 libraries for the sampling. Apparently about 90 per cent. of libraries are efficient. It appears that payments will be made to authors whose books are most regularly taken out from libraries.
The many important points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House will have to be considered in detail in Committee.
There is the question of payment for the authors of reference books—heavy tomes which take a long time to write—which people take down from the shelves in the reference libraries and then put back without taking them out. I understand that Sweden has had a scheme of stock sampling since 1965 so that payments could be made in respect of books used in or taken from reference libraries as opposed to books borrowed from lending libraries as such.
There is a further question regarding books in libraries which are not public libraries. The universities have been mentioned. There are many interesting tomes—history books, books of criticism, and so on—to be found in university libraries in respect of which the authors are not provided for at all in the Bill. Not many such books will be held in the sampling libraries except, perhaps, in university towns—for example, in the Manchester reference library.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central spoke of school books. There certainly is a great problem here, although the school book author may in many cases do better than other authors. The author of a good school book, perhaps an old grammar, may find that his book continues to be sold for a surprisingly long time. We must nevertheless see whether there is the possibility of some form of payment to authors where there is a long run for books of that type lent to class libraries as opposed to lending by the normal public library.
There has been reference to the amount of money involved, and one has in mind here the 30 per cent. or thereabouts for administration. This seems a heavy cost to come out of the £2 million which is being provided. We seem to do this sort of thing rather badly in this country. The cost of collecting taxes, for example, is far heavier in this country than it is in America per pound or dollar collected. We ought to devote some analysis here to the question of cost. Is there any way by which more of the money coming from taxpayers could go direct to authors instead of being used in administration?
Next, there is the question of the date of operation, which is left rather vague in the Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Bill."] Since we have waited so long for the Bill, I am inclined to say that this is Act V, scene 5, in some ways. This is a project which was being pursued long before I entered the House and in which others have been involved since I came here. However, we shall have to concern ourselves in Committee with the date of operation once the Bill is passed.
Many points have been raised on both sides of the House, and I enjoyed the critical analysis offered by my hon. Friends the Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate). Obviously, they have made a deep study of this scheme and what they regard as its effect upon the whole economy and future of this country, suggesting how the Bill will be a "make or break" measure by changing the whole attitude of everyone—workers, borrowers, librarians and authors alike. We all enjoyed their comments today.
I conclude by giving the view of the Conservative Opposition. As a party we are committed, and have for some years been committed, to the Bill. I entirely accept that commitment. I have in mind that some people have argued for a full market system as an alternative. That seems to me to be a defensible view, but it is not one that we shall get through the House at present. However, inasmuch as we have accepted the principle of free libraries for 100 years and reasonably paid librarians—there has always been difficulty on the question of librarians' salaries —it would seem that authors themselves should have some share out of the public purse.
On the other side of the matter, we shall in Committee carefully consider how we can make a payment in respect of the authors of reference books, and, as I say, we shall consider how the system can be made more efficient so that less of the money need be used on administration. Perhaps we may have to consider indexation. There has been a lot of talk about indexation in the tax context. Should one index the amount which is given so that one does not regularly have to come back to the House to ask for an increased amount from year to year?
I wish to give plenty of time for the Minister to reply to the many questions raised. I assure him that we shall support the Bill today, in Committee and through its later stages. We hope that it will reach the statute book in this Session. In one sense, we hope that it does not do so in this Session since we look forward to an early General Election. Our commitment to the Bill does not take us as far as saying that we are prepared to delay a General Election for its benefit. I should not like the Government to imagine that if a General Election stood in the way of the Bill we should be very worried about that.
However, if the Session does continue long enough, we hope that the Bill will be passed. We look forward to improving it in Committee so that not just the authors of novels which have the really large sales, who certainly deserve a response, but other authors producing reference books, school books and books in other spheres may have a proper return. That will be our attitude both on the Floor of the House and in Committee.
I am sure that those who support the measure will be grateful for the constructive tone struck by the hon. Members for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) and for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). I thought that it would be difficult for hon. Members to raise new arguments about a subject traversed so often in the House and elsewhere. However, the House has managed to raise a few new arguments, or at least to put in a different way some material matters.
The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said that there was not much justification for what he called the principle of the Bill. With great respect, the very first words uttered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science in introducing the Bill to the House were a justification of the principle of the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman has not understood it, I shall repeat it once more. We believe it to be an act of simple justice that some recompense out of public funds be made to authors whose works are fundamental to the whole public library system. Without the authors there would not be a large and magnificent public library system such as we are privileged to enjoy.
At present the only payment that authors enjoy for their books being used repeatedly—perhaps being borrowed 40 or 50 times from a library—is the amount that they receive from the original purchase of the book by the library. We believe that to be wrong. We believe it right to introduce a system of paying authors for the number of times their books are borrowed in the public library system.
As the hon. Member for Brent, North said, if it is proper, as it is, to pay the librarians, the people who clean the libraries and those who mend the roof when it leaks, for example, why not pay the authors without whose work there would be no public library system? That is the principle of the Bill. We have stated it time and time again. If the hon. Member for Faversham has not comprehended it, that is something perhaps beyond our capacity to cure. However, we can state—we have stated it before and we shall state it again—that that is the principle behind the Bill.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford accepted that principle. If I may say so, I think that he was a little grudging about the fact that more money is offered in the Bill. That is not merely a matter of inflation The Government reached the decision that it would be wise to have a larger scheme. It is normal to have Treatury consent. That is not an unsual feature.
At one stage I flatly disagreed with the hon. Member for Chelmsford on a point of detail. The hon. Gentleman did not want any increase in money by affirmative resolution. He wanted the negative resolution procedure. The proper way in which any Government should seek extra money from the House of Commons is by way of affirmative resolution, whereby we have proper parliamentary control over the spending of public money. That principle has been correctly and properly followed in this instance. In that respect the hon. Member for Chelmsford was guilty of a slight aberration, although not perhaps so much as with the intriguing story of how the Tory Party manifesto was typed out by a civil servant, which was the most entertaining feature of the whole debate. We heard how an important commitment went in and out of the manifesto. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that he has that one slightly wrong.
The major objection over the years to the Bills that have come forward and to the whole idea behind public lending right has come by and large from associations of librarians. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), who has had a life-long interest in libraries, adequately discharged the job of being spokesman for the libraries. I know that my hon. Friend has had to leave the Chamber to catch a form of transport. My hon. Friend carried out his task and explained the fears of the librarians.
I happen to think that those fears are largely unfounded and misguided. If there were embodied in the Bill the notion of introducing a charge for the borrowing of books from our public library system, most of us would be 100 per cent. behind objections to such a system. As I made clear in an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), the Government have no intention at any time of breaching the principle of free access to our pubic library system. We consider that to be quite inimical to the whole public library system.
I disagree with the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) that there would be merit in considering a system of charging the public for borrowing books at public libraries.
Indeed, if that were the only way in which a public lending right would be obtained, I believe that we would have to be against a public lending right. That was what was wrong with the original proposals, the Brophy penny and other proposals which were put forward, and I make it clear that we entertain a public lending right only on the basis that it does not and will not breach the free access public library system.
However, the injustice remains, and the only way to cure it is by central funding, by the taxpayer providing a fund so that we do not put a charge on the borrower or on the local authorities, because the libraries are apparently worried that somehow their budgets for the purchase of books and the provision of their other services will be eaten into as a result of this public lending right. I believe that to be a quite unfounded fear because a public lending right will be run through a central fund and managed by a registrar.
We have heard some arguments, which I think are slightly hypocritical—I say that with no great disrespect to the hon. Member for Faversham—about the lack within the proposal of a universal element, as it were. The hon. Member for Faversham says that it does not cover all books. That is quite true. So far we have found it impossible to include a system for reference books. But the hon. Gentleman seems to attack the system saying that because it does not cover everybody, therefore it should not help anybody. That seems to me to be an odd proposal.
Let me deal first of all with the question of reference books. Obviously there is a case—
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me give the Government's reasoning, and then he can perhaps attempt to rebut it. I shall give way to him.
We do not include reference books in this Bill because we believe that it is a fundamental principle of legislation that we should not attempt to legislate for hypothetical eventualities, however much we might wish to achieve them, when we have no foreseeable practical means of doing so.
We have looked at this matter very carefully. Although we shall be receptive to ideas in Committee, I assure the hon. Member for Brent, North that we shall look carefully at any ideas that are advanced, because obviously there is an equitable case for the writer of reference works. But we have found it extremely difficult to find any practical scheme of doing this. I put it quite simply. So many people use reference books. They go up to the shelves, look at a book and put it back. It is extremely hard to devise a method whereby the number of times that is done can be counted.
Therefore it is not a matter of injustice or inequity or anything of the kind. It is that we have not found it possible to have a practical scheme in order to cover reference books. That does not seem to me to be any justification for saying that we should not do anything at all just because we cannot do everything.
I put to the right hon. Gentleman the proposition that he should use the argument that has been adopted by so many of those in favour of the Bill but who find it defective and say "Let us at least get the principle on the statute book." My principal reason for intervening is that he was extremely sensitive earlier to the suggestion that he had cheated. I then graciously withdrew the accusation of cheating. Why does he think that he can accuse me of being hypocritical?
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I think that I can substantiate the charge. I believe that the hon. Gentleman signally failed to do that. Let me remind him that he accused the Government of cheating and was unable to substantiate that, and rather gracelessly he eventually withdrew that accusation. I say that the hon. Gentleman is being hypocritical because he says "You are unfair to the authors of reference works. You are unfair to those whose books are largely borrowed outwith the public library system." On a previous occasion, I think, he referred to this matter and said "You are unfair to those who produce cassettes and other works which cannot be defined as books." It really is crocodile tears to weep on behalf of their interests when he is using them to deny a public lending right to all authors.
The truth of the matter, as the hon. Gentleman revealed in his speech, is that it is not because of the lack of universality of application of the scheme that he is against it but because he would rather spend £2 million on something else. He said that himself. He said that he would rather spend it on school crossing attend- ants, hospitals, or whatever. We all have a long list of things on which we could spend money. Indeed, one could argue—it is one of the typical arguments—about spending money on the arts, although the hon. Gentleman is in favour of public expenditure on the arts.
However, because we have not at this stage, with the techniques we have available, been able to overcome some of these practical problems, I do not see that that is any reason why we should continue to deny a public lending right to those categories of authors which we can cover by a practical scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who, in his period both in office and out of office, has pursued a public lending right with real dedication, hit the nail absolutely on the head when he said that it was an idea which seemed totally impractical until we had modern sampling techniques and an international standard book number. From what I have been able to see, that is exactly the case. I believe that it was during his period as Minister responsible for the arts that he commissioned a Technical Investigation Group, which has looked into the matter, and the reports are available to the House and will be available for the Committee when it comes to consider the matter in detail, and there the practical scheme and the difficulties are worked out.
Basically, the scheme is organised on the basis of a number of sampling points. It is impossible to record every borrowing of every book from the public libraries, which amounts to about 600 million borrowings in the United Kingdom each year. It would cost £5 million just to record that. Therefore, what is proposed in the scheme which will follow the Act, once it is on the statute book, is a system of sampling.
The hon. Member for Brent, North asked whether we needed as many as 72 sampling points. That can certainly be gone into in Committee. But the smaller the sample, the more inaccurate will be the monitoring of payments to authors. One obviously has to balance some concern for public expenditure in the size of the sample with the equity which can be obtained from it. With regard to public money, there is a total misunderstanding in the mind of the hon. Member for Faversham, and I regret also in the mind of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), over the question of the £600,000. When the scheme is in full operation, we expect the cost of administration to be £600,000, but the cost to the public purse will be £2 million, and that is made clear in the Bill. It is not necessary to specify the other figure separately, but my right hon. Friend thought it right to give that information to the House and she did so when opening the debate.
No doubt, when we come to Committee we shall go into a lot of practical details. It is entirely right that we should do so. But the allegation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)—that, on the previous occasion, certain hon. Members spoke at quite excessive length—is quite justified, as any fair-minded and objective person will see if he looks at the reports of the previous Committee.
Representatives from almost every political party have made it clear in the House today that they accept the principle behind the Bill. I can quite understand that they might have reservations about this or that clause. That is what the House of Commons is for, to go through the whole matter carefully. But when there is widespread support for a Bill such as this, and moreover a Bill which has been discussed at length previously and has gone through the whole of its Committee stage, this time the House should resolve that it must have the capacity to act as well as to argue. It must be able to come to decisions and must ensure that what the majority of hon. Members want finds its way on to the statute book.
That is the way in which the Government intend to approach this Bill. After all, this is a manifesto commitment of the Labour Party. We said that we would introduce a public lending right. This Bill is one more in a long list of manifesto commitments which this Government are putting on the statute book. We intend to see this manifesto commitment put on the statute book, and we have taken the first available opportunity to do so. Indeed, this is the first Public Bill in this Session of Parliament. We have done that deliberately in order to give less scope to those who seek to obstruct it and to frustrate the majority will of this House of Commons.
We are grateful for the support which the other parties have given, not only to the principle behind the Bill but also to the tactics which we are adopting in pursuing it through the House of Commons. As I said, the case for it is one of simple and elementary justice, a justice which has been denied for far too long to a category of people who, as the Secretary of State said, have helped to create the literature of this country which is perhaps our most outstanding achievement in all the arts.
Although this scheme will not give large amounts of money to those who write books—indeed, that is one of the difficulties—none the less, a very important injustice, and one which clearly rankles with the distinguished authors who write the books which we borrow, will be righted and may be the basis for a bigger scheme in the future. But that is a matter for other Governments, perhaps in other economic circumstances, to consider.
I believe it absolutely right to remedy this injustice now. We should do so by carrying through this Bill to a successful Second Reading today, or by a closure motion if necessary. I therefore hope that the House will support the measure. We can then go forward, get it through Committee and put it on the statute book.
(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you inform us whether this is a Division on the closure motion? I was standing in my place at 3.59 p.m., I had not spoken and I was not called by you. I had privately informed you that I had intended to do precisely that. You then put the Question on the Second Reading.
As the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) claims that he rose, and as I did not catch his eye, I am prepared to put the Question once more so that there can be no continuing grievance. The question is, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
(seated and covered): No, Mr. Deputy Speaker—That the Question be now put. I was prepared to take part in the debate. I have not spoken. I have a right to speak in the debate. I have been here from the beginning. I heard the opening speeches and I was here for the closing speeches. I have a right under the rules of the House to take part. I have the right of free speech as an hon. Member.
(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I submit that the Division should not have been called until all Members wishing to speak had addressed the Chair. We are not concerned with whether the Question should have been put in a different way, but that it should not have been put at all until all hon. Members had had an opportunity to speak.
There is only one way for you to resolve the matter and that is for you to declare that the debate has not been concluded and should be adjourned. Otherwise, it is inevitable that—